Contemplating The Next Evolution

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Vegan Dog


This post is more of me thinking it out as I type.  I believe completely that there are no mistakes and where you are currently is exactly where you should be.  Why that is the case isn’t always clear, so sometimes one has to sit down, shut up and simply let it all unfold.  Now anyone who knows me knows just how difficult that can be.  After all, if something needs fixing (even with my clients) by god it gets fixed!  There is none of this waiting around nonsense.  There is a problem, it has a solution, get after it!

Not so trying to figure out what does and doesn’t work on a farm.  We have met with success and failures this year and it is the job of a good homesteader/farmer to learn from both and improve.  So indeed, some navel gazing time is in order.  Considering that it is cloudy and looks of rain today, what better time to ponder.

The successes:  We got the place and built the majority of the infrastructure inside a year’s time.  The chickens both for eggs and meat have gone without a hitch.  The building of windbreaks and irrigation systems have worked pretty well but I need to remember to keep checking the timer systems and the associated screw joints.  I have had a couple of leaks but all in all it looks like this system will work out.  The observing field is a great place to star gaze and the new deck (that was forced to be replaced because of dry rotted wood) is a fabulous place to sit outside and just look at the expanse of the plains.  Our seeding rooms at both places are working great.  I am so pleased and thankful to have such a big space to get the plants started in the spring (although some ventilation in the farmhouse basement is in order as all of those plants made it incredibly humid – bad for the telescope).

The setbacks:  To sound like a politician, “no one could have anticipated” the massive hail beatings we took this year.  After the shock, and trying to salvage the garden at the farm, I have been hearing tales of whoa from just about everyone.  It did bring some things into focus.  Unless it is a storage crop, it simply cannot be planted out here.  Kitchen garden vegetables (those with leafy stems and produce fruit) are on a roulette wheel and cannot recover from these peltings in time to be useful.  We planned almost exclusively to encounter drought and wind.  We got the exact opposite:  Hail and thunderstorms.  So how do we adapt?  This next season the urban farm will be home to all of the kitchen garden plants (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach, kale, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, basil, etc).  That garden already has hoop covers and it has proven itself to produce huge amounts of vegetables.  The only thing that needs to be done to it prior to next season is to trim back the tree.  Since we cut down our aspens, the ash tree has gone nuts.  It is casting too much shade.  So this winter some of it will become firewood.  The plan is then, as we replenish our cash reserves, to wait for the greenhouse I have my eye on to go on sale.  This will give us a year to get it constructed and not disrupt the growing season.

The soil:  In the city, I was able to hand tailor the soil in the garden beds by bringing in 50 yards of planters mix to put over the rock hard clay.  That soil has been developed over the years to become a black sight to behold.  At the farm it is simply too big to do that.  It is also mostly sand.  In good organic gardening fashion I made all 18 rows, raised beds.  They average about 45 feet long and at the beginning of the season they were about 15 inches high.  Ordinarily that would be a good thing; unfortunately with the hail and thunderstorm deluges the erosion was awful.  The sandy soil wore away to the tune of more than an inch per storm.  So a couple three things need to happen:  1.  The beds need to be lower or flat to the ground.  To achieve the same result as a raised bed they will need to be broad forked so the root depth is adequate.  A six inch raise is ok but unless I can find free timbers to box in all of those beds they can’t be raised.  2.  Huge amounts of compost needs to be worked in.  I did some this year and those beds where I did have held up pretty well.  Fortunately I have about  50 yards of compost.  If that isn’t enough then we will need to check into bringing some in from off property.  3.  Each year a section is going to have to be held out of production and have cover crops like alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, beans, etc. to help get more organic matter into the ground.  4.  Because it is the winter that is the windiest time of year, to keep all of the above in place, the beds need to be covered and staked.  It appears that the rolls of burlap I ordered will come in handy.

The Plants:  I found some neat hoop covers from Grower’s Supply that should work well to keep some of the more sensitive plants covered.  Winter squash still has big leaves so they need some protection.  The beets and carrots could use some cover as well as the onions when they are young and fragile.  So some of the beds will get hoop covers similar to the one’s in the city (only more stoutly constructed).  At the farm, anything that has been started indoors shouldn’t be planted outside until the first week of June.  Not because of frost but because of the violent weather that accompanies the snow melt in the high country.  The urban farm can be planted around the week before Memorial Day as has always been the case.  At the same time we will be investigating greenhouse construction that will eventually bring all of the vegetable growing to the farm.  The urban farm will likely become a pollinator garden, along with greens and my usual huge garlic crop.

The winter project then will be to get the pig pen built and the front 5-7 acres fenced in anticipation of putting up a barn.

So the universe didn’t seem to be telling me that we were idiots for starting this venture and that we should get out.  It was showing me in pretty “right between the eyes” fashion what works and doesn’t work here.  OK OK!  I get it.

I notice that when I get going on this farm construction kick, that I see it in the fashion of it being an organic farm designed for production of veggies and such to be marketed at places like farmers markets.  That simply isn’t true.  We may do some of that in retirement, but it was never intended to be that.  It is a homestead; a little house on the prairie (literally); and its mission is to try to provide the maximum amount of food this family consumes in a year.  While we have had a learning setback this past spring, it is still well on its way to accomplishing that mission.  It is the farmer him/herself that needs to maintain the proper perspective.  It is now time to grow the place now that it is built.  The fun part, it seems, is within grasp.  I hope this helps with anyone else looking to do something like this.  Sometimes mother nature swings her bat pretty hard.  I wish you all the best successes.  Keep persevering.  What else is there?

The Wheat Harvest Is Rolling In

As of today the paper says the wheat harvest is about half in for farms along the I-70 corridor.  The wet summer delayed cutting by about 2 weeks but the reports are pretty good.  It sounds like yields are high.  Our field was abandoned by the farmer leasing from us because of the hail storms.  I am still contemplating cutting a bunch and see if it grinds.  No sense in letting it go to waste!  This time of year Byers turns into Big Ag central.  The combines are turning and the harvest trucks are stacked 20 deep at the elevator.  The trains continually come through town to fill up the grain haulers.   Doesn’t look like there will be a shortage of hamburger buns!


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A Blog Posting From Another Homestead

A Facebook Friend posted this article.  I give all credit to them and don’t think this could have been written any better.  That folks, as they say, is that.  QED

Cold Antler Farm:  A Scrappy Washington County Freehold

An Open Letter To Angry Vegetarians:

About once a week I get an email or comment from the Animal Rights contingent. It is expected and usually I do not engage. I need to remember that when I published my first book I was a vegetarian raising a few laying hens and pet rabbits. Readers who knew me as the 25-year-old girl they read about (at the time just farm-curious and toying with the idea of homesteading) meet a very differnet woman on my current blog. To read that book and then pop into a blog where just seven years later that same vegetarian is raising hogs, lambs, and poultry for meat is unsettling and shocking to some readers. And so I get these notes from what I call the Angry Vegetarians. The folks who feel personally betrayed, not just for my change of diet but my change in ideas. Yesterday I was called a murderer. I’ve been called that many times, and in some emails, that is the nicest part of the correspondence.

The following is a letter to that Angry Vegetarian and to any others who may feel the same way. But before you read it please understand that this letter is not directed at the vegetarian diet in general. I have no qualms with it, at all. Millions of people avoid meat for religious, health-related, or various reasons of preference. This letter is not directed at them. This is a letter for the angry folks who think not eating meat makes them morally superior to those of us who do.

Dear A.V. Club,

I recently received your note, the one that accused me of being a murderer. I understand why you are angry and I applaud your compassion. I understand because I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade, the same breed as yourself actually. Meaning; I chose the diet because of a love for animals, passion for conservation, and concern for our diminishing global resources. Avoiding meat seemed to be a kinder, gentler, and more ecological choice. I supported PETA. I had ads in Vegan magazines for my design website. I am no longer a vegetarian and do raise animals on my small farm for the table, but we have more in common than you may realize.

It would be foolish for me to try and change your mind about eating animals, and I have no interest in doing so. The vegetarian diet is a fine diet. We live in a time of great abundance and luxury, and that means choices! Never before in the history of the human animal have so many options for feeding ourselves been presented like they are now. If you want to eat a gluten-free, dairyless, low cholestoral, and mid-range protein diet based on whey extracted from antibiotic free Jersey Cows- you can. Your great grandparents could not. There was no almond milk at the Piggly Wiggly and ration cards kinda ruined that conga line. But now there is so much food and your diet is as much a personal a choice as your religion and sexuality, possibly even more personal. So understand I am not writing you this open letter because you don’t eat meat. I’m writing you this letter because you called me a murderer.

Murder is a legal term, meaning the unlawful and premeditated act of taking a life, usually with malevolent intent. To call me a murderer is to imply that I broke the law and there is malice intended in my actions. When animals are harvested here for food, I assure you there is none. There is only gratitude, respect, and blessed relief. I do not enjoy taking animal lives and the bulk of my supposed premeditation include looking up recipes. I am not a murderer.

But I am a killer.

You are 100% correct. I kill animals. I raise chickens and rabbits from young fluffballs in the palms of my hands and mindfully bring them to the age of harvest when they are killed and stored for food. If I don’t do the killing myself I hire a professional butcher to come to my farm and harvest the pigs I raised. I am also a licensed hunter in the state of New York, where I stalk deer and wild game of all sorts. I also do this with the intention of harvest. I am a killer for my table and I fully understand the seriousness of that statement. I also understand why you are disgusted by it. You are digusted because you see me as taking sentient lives when there are alternative choices as bloodless and innocent as the down on a muscovy duckling.

I know that I do not need to eat meat to survive, but I also know now that it is impossible for me to live without killing. It is impossible for you, too. I think this is the heart of our misunderstanding. This is why PETA and the FTCLDF are not working together to be one giant powerhouse for good and ending animal suffering. Most animal rights activists do not acknowledge (or perhaps are not aware) that every meal includes death. The simplest backyard salad from your own organic garden to the fake bacon in your shopping cart — both take lives. I have simply chosen to take lives in a way that causes the least amount of suffering and causes the least amount of wasted global resources. And yes, it means there is blood on my hands now.

I know that is hard to understand. It was hard for me, too.

I was a vegetarian and animal activist before I was a farmer, but that was all about passion for me and did not include much science. The only things I read about meat and the environment were based on giant corporate farms. I did not understand anything about ecology, biology, wilderness, and the personal responsibility of eating local. But what I really didn’t understand was agriculture. I mean I was totally ignorant. I did not think about anything but ingredients on the package, never questioning the methods or politics behind them or the larger picture. As long as my dinner did not include animal flesh or animal products I was content in my righteousness. I was a pro-choice vegan. To be blunt, I didn’t think things through.

The truth is there is no meal we can eat without killing. None. A trip to your local grocery store for tofu and spinach may not include a single animal product but the harvesting of such food costs endless animal lives. Growing fields of soy beans for commercial clients means removing habitat from thousands of wild animals, killing them through deforestation and loss of their home. Songbirds and insects are killed by pesticides at legion. Fertilizers are made from petroleum now, and those fields of tofu seeds are literally being sprayed with oil we are fighting wars over. Deer died for that tofu. Songbirds died. Men and women in battle died. And then when the giant tofu factory harvested the beans they ran over those chemical oil fields of faux-food with combines that rip open groundhogs, mice, and rabbits. Tear apart frogs and fledgling birds. It is a messy and bloody business making tofu or any of that other non-murderous food.

What about organic tofu and vegetables? That doesn’t include chemical fertilizers and the companies are mindful? Right? Well, that is correct. But if you are not using oil to fertilize your crops then you are using organic material: manure, blood, bone, fish, etc. You may be a vegetarian but your vegetables are the most voracious of all carnivores. That small farm at your local green market needed to lay down a lot of swine blood, cow bone, and horse poop freeze-dried in bags marked “ORGANIC” to grow those carrots so big and sweet. Animals are an integral part of growing food for us, as food themselves or creating the materials that feed the earth. And the earth must be fed.

And let us not forget the miles on the road these vegetarian options must travel. That oil-free organic tofu sure needs a lot of diesel to get here to New York…

You can not ignore this. You can’t call a small farmer a murderer and turn a blind eye to the groundhog ripped in two, the owl without a nest, or the blood spilled for oil halfway across the globe through military force. I mean, you can ignore it, of course you can. You can also search the internet for people killing pigs and call them names, but that doesn’t make you right. There is nothing you or I eat that wasn’t once alive save for some minerals. Plants and mushrooms are living things, just as alive as animals. And we take their lives wholesale and without regret. In the words of Joel Salatin,

” …By what stretch of arrogance do you think a life form that looks like you is more important than a life form that doesn’t?”

Though I know you may not appreciate that quote. After all, Joel is a murderer, too.

I eat animals I raise myself because I want to eat local food that causes less animal suffering and empowers my local community. I live in upstate New York. A place where farming vegetables does not make sense. This is a far cry from southeast Asia or southern California. Our growing season is around 100 days. What we can grow here in bulk is grass, and by extension the meat that eats the grass. We can let hogs range our woods and eat grubs, vegetation, and nuts. We can buy local non-GMO feed grown by our neighbors and give our animals full lives, outdoors and on pasture! Eating meat here is eating in a way that respects our region’s food shed.

We can graze our animals in ways that returns good nutrients to the soil and heal the earth. We can grow two or three harvests of those grasses and feed them to animals like sheep, cows, and goats all winter. This is what my part of the world eats if they are serious about saving the environment. We can do this without using a lot of oil, close to home, and harvest the animals we know without driving to a store to waste gas, plastic bags, and pave another parking space. When I kill a chicken I end one life. A life I was present for, grateful for, and worked hard for. I have a hard time taking criticism seriously from someone who swipes a credit card for a bag of groceries they have convinced themselves is more righteous, having never weeded a row or hefted a bag of feed. A really hard time.

My “murdered” pigs were raised from babes, seen to several times a day, carefully tended and lived a life of ample space, porcine company, sunshine, mud puddles, and rooting their snoots in the dirt. They were raised with the help of a small village of folks who bought shares of the pigs to help pay for my livelihood. These people are counting on me to help them buy good food that isn’t laced with antibiotics or factory farm atrocities. And while raising these pigs I purchased feed from neighbors raising non GMO field corn and soy, a rarity these days. I employed a small butcher and his staff to come to my farm so these pigs never have to be loaded into a truck and driven away to a slaughterhouse. They have had one bad day, one bad moment actually, and that moment surprised the hell out of them.

Eat in whatever way invokes respect and gratitude in your soul. Be grateful we live in this time of contrived and soon-to-be over luxury and abundance. But do not come to battle here, accusing those of us raising good meat of murder. Those are fighting words, unkind words, and for someone so intensely passionate about treating animals well you seem to have no issue treating human beings like crap. I’m an animal, too. I would appreciate some ethical treatment.

So, yes. I am a killer. I take lives and eat the flesh of sentient beings. I farm and fish. I hunt and stalk. I fully embrace this primal and beloved part of my person. I do this with great joy and appreciation, savoring every bite of effort, community, time, and grace those meals include. Each slice of bacon or bite of roasted chicken comes with a couple dozen faces of neighbors and friends. It comes with stories of carrying buckets in the rain, of catching escaped piglets, of never leaving for a vacation or even visiting my family for Christmas.

I am a solider for my soil, stationed here at these 6.5 acres to create mindful, healthy, food because I think it makes a better and more peaceful world. And that world is not found in the fake meat section of the grocery store, darling. Life is not a storybook where you get to ignore the fact that the Three Little Pigs boiled a wolf alive. Eating meat you raised means eating food infused with integreity, sweat, loyalty, determination, love, friendship, memories, loss, perserverance and respect.

And none of these things are ingredients you will not find on a package of tofu no matter how close you look.

All Hail The Cconly Chicken Plucker!

The JAZ Farm chicken processing station is fully armed and operational!  If anyone is thinking of raising their own chickens for meat I can’t recommend a plucker enough!  We started this morning around 7 am and commenced processing our 30 roasters.  By our estimation, all of them weighed in somewhere between 5 and 7 pounds .  Some were so big that we had trouble getting them into the shrink bags.  The plucker, after sufficient scalding, had 95+% of the feathers off, two birds at a time, in around 30 seconds.  Had we had to hand pluck it would have taken two days.  We had them in the freezer, the work stations cleaned up and put away by noon!!

These birds arrived May 12th.  They were hatched on May 10th.  8 weeks later they were upwards of 8 – 10 pounds a piece.  All organic, able to range (although they never liked getting too far away from their food and water), and no drugs.

A smoked paprika rub is in order for this evening!

All in all, another success!!

One Ambitious Contractor

Happy Fourth of July from JAZ Farm!

I was making a righteous breakfast Frittata today with home grown garlic, Broccoli, Potatoes, Onion, Red Pepper, Cheese, and and and…..   and who should drive up but the guy we contracted to put up our new deck!  The old one was pretty pathetic and after I bumped into one of the legs with the tractor and cracked it, the decision was inevitable that we replace it.

The lumber came yesterday (the 3rd).  Zina called him to let him know it was here and voila!  He is here on the 4th of July building our deck!  I must say I was surprised.  Thanks to our realtor, who is a referral data base, we have had absolutely no trouble with any of the contractors we have had to higher for the work I just can’t get to.  Thanks Ron!

Now we will be able to sit outside and stare off into the plains once again.  New Deck 2014


Not bad for a day’s work.  Finishing up tomorrow!

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My Favorite Harvest of the Year

The first, and my favorite, harvest of the year is the Garlic patch.  This year I planted three beds instead of the one I usually do.  That way I can save the best and biggest bulbs and use them for seed this fall.  I usually grow all the garlic I need for the year and this past year was no exception…. even more than we needed.  It is also very good for the chickens so they will be getting the rest of last year’s harvest after it gets ground up in the food processor.

It is ridiculous to think that 90% of the garlic consumed in the US is grown in and exported by…. China!  If you have a 5 x 5 plot, some garlic cloves (not from the grocery store) and the brains to water them in the spring, you can grow all you need and it is one of the easiest crops to grow.  It also has FAR more flavor than the junk at Kroger, Safeway, Walmart, etc., and you have the satisfaction of having grown it yourself.  Give it a shot!

Garlic Harvest 2014

Just Keep Growing, Just Keep Growing, Just Keep Growing, Growing, Growing

We are now into the “normal” summer weather.  It has been in the 90s and dry.  Finally, the plants are getting a chance to really heal and progress.  The urban garden has gone to town as usual.  The Roma tomatoes are setting lots of fruit, the cucumbers and summer squash are getting huge We just harvested a bushel of Broccoli and Cauliflower and Kale and the garlic patch gets pulled tomorrow.  All of the vacated beds are going to be planted with green beans.  Gotta get em growing so we have enough to can in the fall.  The two crops I think I will skip from here on out are the Cauliflower and Peas.  They just don’t do well here.  We may plant more of the kitchen garden things in town next year and use the farm as the storage food garden.  It seems that is what each is suited for.  Once we get the greenhouse up, then it all can be done out here.

The farm garden is really doing pretty well.  There has been enough of a break in the damaging storms for things to start coming around.  Even the Tomatillos are full of flowers.  The Cherry Tomatoes look pretty nasty but even they are getting some flowering.

To all of the JAZ Farm followers have a great 4th of July weekend!  We will be processing chickens, weeding, harvesting some wheat and laying out the markers for the pig pen!  Oh ya and eating awesome food!

As my friend and fellow homesteader Paul said today on the phone (After telling me his temporary barn ended up as a kite that flew to the back of his property because of a tornado), the quote on the gravestone will read, “Took on one too many projects!”  So true.

>Potatoes!  Hilled em up last weekend.  If we even only get say 4 potatoes per potato we planted we will have some 300 pounds of potatoes this year.  We will save and put up a bunch of course, but many will go to friends and food banks.

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The onions seem to really like the sandy soil.


Kidney beans for chili in the winter!



We are going to have corn bread!!


Acorn and Butternut squash!


The Tomatillos appear to be indestructible.


Beets for pickling, roasting, and juicing


The sweet corn!  Wonder if it will be enough to put up or if we will have to supplement from a local organic farm?  Looks good so far!



General greenage!  It is starting to become attractive.  Dark green in a sandy tan soil.  Chickens clucking, roosters crowing, plants growing, life is good.