JAZ Farm has just completed its third year. It will go down as the year that tried all of our patience, our tenacity, our physical endurance and our faith in people. The farm itself is now a functioning entity and the major projects have been completed, but getting there, because contractors and other people were involved, always had that end result in doubt.
The year began with the dog having surgery and contracting to have a greenhouse delivered. For two months the dog had to be bed rested and taken everywhere on a leash. The greenhouse story has been well documented in other posts but I have never been through such an ordeal with such a dishonest individual (well… yes I have but its been awhile). It is now built and it does have plants growing in it. We are very pleased with it now that has arrived and Aaron and I built it. We have discovered though, that the summer is going to present certain problems keeping it cool enough to use. Thus, during Christmas break, I will be hanging shade cloth inside so that we can help to diminish some of the intensity of the sun. It will be a 50% sun reduction and hopefully it will keep the internal temperature in the 80s instead of the 100+ temperatures we get here.
No sooner did we get the greenhouse built, we began the work of taking the farm off-grid. We researched and contracted with Solar Mart to put up a solar array and proceeded to get ripped off for our whole cost of purchase and set up. We are still embroiled in settlements and prosecution and may or may see some justice from this. Once the shock subsided some, we found a wonderful group of guys who picked up where the criminals left off.
As a result, I am happy to report that tomorrow, December 17th, the power company will be here to switch out their meter and I will be flipping the switches to make us electricity independent. It cost a fortune because of getting ripped off, but fortunately the federal credit will help to offset some of this. Because, as it always figures, the money we had stolen could have gone to purchase my wife a new car…. which as I type is in the dealership with electrical issues. Both the greenhouse and the solar array put us in contact with the essence of the dishonesty of people. We were hugely disillusioned. Our projects got completed but it certainly didn’t instill any sense of trust in our fellow man. However, we are SO excited to be taking the place off grid. It will make the seed germination process much less expensive, and when the grid goes down, our freezers will have automatic backup to keep our produce and meat from thawing. The meat freezer currently has 45 chickens and 3 whole pigs in it (approximately 550 lbs). A power loss would be devastating. Because we can’t be here every day, it is great peace of mind knowing that the back up will kick in whether we are here or not!
Improvements and accessibility:
We finally have the driveway covered so that we can get in and out of the farm without spinning our wheels when it rains. We had 150 tons of milled asphalt delivered. I took the tractor and spread it out and now we don’t slip and slide in the snot that gets created in inclement weather. We will be bringing more in in the spring to cover the parking apron and to fill in some low spots.
Along with the usual chickens and eggs, we built a pig pen! As usual, this was not a smooth and drama free affair as getting the shed for the pigs to get in out of the weather just about killed me. The posts from this year describe what a tussle I had just getting the thing off the trailer! Because of a disease running through the pork population that was killing piglets, we didn’t think we were going to get any to raise. Thanks to our local feed store, they found 3 Hampshires for us and the JAZ Farm had piggies! So just like the greenhouse and solar array are thrilling, even though it took a lot more effort than anticipated, raising pigs is AWESOME! They are super easy to keep. We only had one issue early on when one of them had a respiratory infection and I had to give her penicillin shots for 2 weeks. Lesson learned: if you have to do that, wear ear plugs. A piglet squealing inside of a steel shed is louder than any rock concert I’ve ever attended! All in all though, they are very friendly and have very few needs. In fact, when we get our livestock barn built, we will probably start breeding our own.
The JAZ Farm experimented with raising wheat this year as well. All in all it went well and we learned a bit about getting the soil prepared for it. Wheat and corn are very nitrogen intensive so we will have to make sure we have the ground thoroughly prepared for it when we plant again in the spring. Zina seems to really love the threshing and winnowing processes involved. She received a Scythe for her birthday so I guess we really need to get the seed ordered for the spring!
Because of the hassles of getting the big building projects going, Zina took on the bulk of the garden weeding this year. Aaron and I were continually busy in the heat of the deep summer putting up the greenhouse. Zina put on the garden warrior suit and beat back the weeds in the garden so as not to lose the whole thing from neglect. We had a lot of successes again and a few failures, which is to be expected. The strawberries took root, the beets, carrots, onions, potatoes and beans were incredible. The sunflowers loved the sun of the high plains, the Butternut squash took over the world but the Acorn Squash languished this year. Because of the interminable delay with the greenhouse and an unexpected freeze, for the first time in 10 years, I had almost no tomato harvest. That will NOT happen again. I threw away dozens of beautiful tomato plants and the jerk we bought the greenhouse from is to blame for all of it. The Asparagus continued to develop and had we taken better care of them, the melons were amazing! We didn’t get them harvested early enough so we had a lot that went bad – to the delight of the chickens and pigs – same with the cabbage. Because the big building projects are now completed, we plan to devote our energy this year to making the garden flourish. To build the soil quality and to fill the beds in the greenhouse, we had 60 yards of compost and planters mix soil brought in. We also have been composting the chicken waste, and the pigs completely turned over our manure pile so we will have plenty of fertilizer available in the spring. The addition to the garden will also include about a dozen apple trees. This will both provide food as well as create badly needed wind breaks.
The prepper part of me, in addition to wanting to be off grid, embarked on developing alternative cooking arrangements to the usual kitchen stove and barbecue grill. Our deck is now an alternative cooking area. We are now able to cook with electricity (free now with the solar panels), with propane (grill and outdoor burners – primarily for canning), with the sun (we purchased an amazing solar oven) and biomass (A rocket stove and gasifying stove). It is my assertion that if one lives in a place with the sun as intensive as it is here, there is NO reason to rely on fossil fuels and the corruption involved in that industry. The solar panels and the outdoor kitchen are the start. We will be installing solar hot water and a solar heat collector for heating, and a wood burning stove in 2016. My profession is all about helping people to achieve financial independence, so it stands to reason that self-sufficiency is simply the next level of those goals. Once completed we will have no electric, water, or sewer bills. We will have a minuscule food bill (mostly the purchase of seeds that we can’t save ourselves). The solar water heater, wood stove and heat collector will reduce our propane bill to practically nothing.
Lastly, the permaculturist in me is determined to heal this piece of land from the conventional land that has degraded the soil over the years. We let the land rest this year and were overrun with invasive weeds. Because of the weather swings due to climate change, we either had too much rain or total drought; which made this project a challenge. We plan to bring in cows and goats to rotationally graze the land and build fertility. However, in order to do this we need to get the grass growing here again. We are consulting with a planter to get this done but we weren’t able to get him into the fields this year. So once the spring arrives Tom will be out here to mow the rest of the place and then “drill” in alfalfa and short prairie grass seed to start creating some cover that can be both grazed, cut and baled. This is a big process but in the end, once it takes, the scar that was inflicted here from conventional agriculture will disappear. Even during this past year, letting the land rest has re-attracted Antelope, MICE, falcons, hawks and horned owls. We now have a resident 6 foot bull snake in the garden (great mouser), and the rabbits seem to think the weed cover is just the best. We have hundreds of Meadowlarks as well. I have done a ton of research on this and it is my non-food producing goal for the farm to have this back as much to its natural state as possible.
So as winter descends and the shortest day of the year being next week, it is a time to reflect, evaluate and plan. Over the holiday break I will be laying out the garden and order seed for the 2016 adventures. As the winter proceeds we will be decommissioning the garden in the city as it is simply too much for me to garden in both locations. It is kind of melancholy to think of as the whole farm project evolved from that backyard oasis. It will be turned into a pollinator garden for the bees.
This was an incredibly trying year. Emotionally I cannot STAND what this country has become politically and ethically – we have truly gone off the rails. Physically, 2015 was about all I could handle. Since the construction of the greenhouse I have had to really power down and let my joints heal. I’ve been in pain every day since and it is only now starting to subside. I’ll be getting on the treadmill and exercise bike and get this old crate back in shape so that we can now USE the JAZ Farm that we have spent the past three years building. As my wife is oft to let me know, JAZ Farm’s biggest and most powerful implement is …. ME! If I can’t function, the farm will not exist. Something important to remember…. always. I hope to be doing this until they find me keeled over my broadfork.