The Last Week of May The First Week of June


HAIL article 2016

It is unbelievable how spring works around here.  The melt off in the Rockies turns to some of the most violent storms I have ever witnessed… EVERY YEAR!  This past Thursday I was off to pick up my mother from the airport.  As per usual the severe storm warnings came up.  We had a bit of a hail storm and I thought not much of it.  However, the memo’s being issued from Denver International Airport had multitudes of flight delays.  They weren’t allowing planes to land and were re-routing them either above the storm or way north into Wyoming to avoid the golf ball sized hail we were being hammered with down on Terra Firma.  I left to pick up mom and didn’t get 3 miles down the road and had to hide out under an over pass to keep from having my truck destroyed by hail.  It was like being in a 55 gallon drum while someone shot a 12 gauge shotgun at me repeatedly.  I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I was in 4 wheel drive in a big old pickup, and it wasn’t enough.  The hail was golf-ball sized and was coming down horizontally and breaking itself into pieces on the side of my truck.  Springtime in the Rockies… no matter how romantic…. completely sucks!!

This is what exhausted looks like if you are a Lab:

Even the dog is wiped out

This was from today (May 31st):

However, we have been weeding and manure spreading and tilling and planting like there is no tomorrow.  In fact, tomorrow, the root garden gets planted, the drippers pressurized and tested, and the meat chickens go outside (which will be a blessing considering our house now smells a lot like chicken shit).  Here is a “so far” update on the big garden:


We had a day or so with a sick piggy but all seems to be ok.  He was throwing up but the day before he was just fine.  My suspicion is that he ate some of the weeds we had pulled up and something didn’t sit quite right.  As of today he is up and running so all is good.

We put the new layer girls out into the “grow out coop” – a coop that allows them to grow up to the size of the existing hens so they can defend themselves once the new pecking order ensues.  I have had to dispatch a couple of our 3 year olds because the flock was pecking them to death and while it might be part of nature, it is painful to watch.

Here are the new little ones:

babies on the roost 2016Babies in the grow out coop 2016

The piggies are all healthy again.  Which is fortunate.  I had to give our last ladies Penicillin shots for a week and there is nothing more deafening than a screaming piglet!

Baby sized wallow

So during the “holiday” we all weeded, spread poop, roto-tilled, flame weeded and got the garden ready for the summer.

Aaron with the flame thrower with dad hoping he doesn’t start a wildfire!

Flame Weeding

Grandma has been a weeding machine!  She seems to love it so I’m not going to look a gift horse…..

Grandma the weeding machine!

Because we couldn’t put the beds to bed properly last fall, here is what we had to contend with…. metric tons of the nastiest taprootiest, grassiest crap mother nature ever invented!

The Zombie apocalypse of Weeds

Once we could find the soil again then came the job of spreading composted chicken crap on it for fertilizer…. guess who got THAT job?


Then out came the tractor and the tiller to flatten it out and make it plantable.

Tilled beds 2016

Tomorrow the meaties go out in the chicken tractor, the drippers get pressurized, the onions get planted, the beans get seeded and we are off to the races to get it all in before the end of the week.  Vacation?  What stinking vacation?  I stop doing my real job for a day or so and this stuff happens….. why am I doing this?  I must be neurotic.  Time will tell.


Why We Don’t Plant Until June!

Spring melt is happening up in the mountains.  May is always a nail biter here on the plains.  It is almost a certainty that we will have severe thunderstorms and hail through Memorial Day weekend.  This year was no exception.  This is why A: we got the greenhouse (to protect the more delicate plants) and B: why we don’t plant outside until Memorial Day weekend.  I was lucky to escape hail damage to the truck on the way to the airport to pick up my mother.  I was pelted with golf ball sized hail and it made it impossible to see or hear and even in four wheel drive there was enough ice on the road to make me slide around.  Of course today it was 75 and sunny and we spent the day weeding out the big garden to get ready to plant.  The damage to the thistle plants was apparent (not that we cared) as many were broken off.  Looking forward to getting past this part of the year.  It is always a bit nerve wracking.

Tomorrow our newest layer hens head out to the coop and on Memorial Day the broilers head out into the tractor.  Its always an adventure and we play Farmville here for real!

Have to Vs. Want to

As of today, the JAZ Farm “have to” projects have practically ended.  There are some things yet to be done with the drip irrigation to get water to the greenhouse, but other than that we have a functioning homestead that we can now enjoy with all the infrastructure built to support our goals.

It has been practically 4 years since the start of this endeavor.  Looking for the place, rebuilding the place, putting in the coops and pens and gardens and greenhouse and alternate power source, and all the other “pieces” of it all finally have come to an end.  Should we want to add more pens or livestock or other “homestead things” we can do them at our leisure and want.  The last bits have happened in the past week.  We built a sub-divided chicken coop, added a pig loading corral, strung the drip mainlines to the greenhouse, moved plants out to the greenhouse, built the chicken tractor, and started the bed prepping for the root vegetable gardens.

I was about to the end of my physical capabilities and wouldn’t you know it, the world conspired to attack me mentally through work.  The times they are a changing’ and I must change or retire (the jury is still out, I love my clients and I hate having to continually defend them against criminals).  Every generation thinks they are changing things for the better, but my experience has taught me that it is simply one big circle.  Everyone forgets history, repeats it, and then says “no one could have anticipated that….”.  What nonsense.  Sorry, I digress, but in our efforts to be prepared, the one variable I didn’t anticipate was “real” work.  Now that the farm is done, I guess I can focus my attention on whatever the Department of Labor thinks we need to change at work.  They are attacking the wrong people.  Why aren’t the banksters in jail?  Why haven’t hedge fund managers and those responsible for the worst heist in the history of the world been summarily jailed or executed for crimes against humanity?  Instead, lets target those who already work in the best interest of their clients.  Let the criminals go free.  Such are the ways of things.

So I am thrilled about the fact that the JAZ Farm is as self-sustainable as it can be at this time.  That in itself is a sense of security.  The rest of the world?  What a joke.  We are just big apes with big malfunctioning brains thinking we are the superior species on earth.  Arrogance and sociopathy rule.  I long for the gentle and the kind.  My motto, probably for the rest of my life is:  Live Like A Hobbit.



We Had A Very Productive Day

The big push to get caught up and get the gardens in has commenced.  This is when Zina and I take time off of work as a spring break and spend the time many people take to go to some pretty beach, digging in the dirt.  Today began that effort.

We discovered that big pigs aren’t as willing to do what you want as little ones.  Our most recent freezer dwellers were about 270 lbs when we took them to the processor.  As I had mentioned previously, we discovered that we are not ready with the right infrastructure to breed pigs yet.  We will be, but not yet.  There are a couple of pens we need to build and we need to have some way of getting electricity to at least one of the huts to run a heat lamp when the babies are born.  One of my pig gurus also said that our girls are likely too big to be bred as first timers.  Ideal I guess, is under 300 lbs.  Ruby is closer to 400 and a force to be reckoned with. As a result, we decided to make them additions to the freezer.  Well folks, not only are we not really set up for breeding, until today, we weren’t set up for getting a small VW Beetle replica on the horse trailer either!  Yesterday was quite a site.  I’m a big lineman looking sorta dude and I was physically bested by these ladies.


We didn’t really care which of the big girls got to go for a ride.  Whomever got on the trailer first was the winner!  But there were no winners.  They decided that getting on that trailer, even if there were tasty treats, was not on their agenda.  We chased them around the pen until both we and they were exhausted and panting.  You can’t just get in their way and hope to turn these beasties.  They have a low center of gravity and when Ada decided that going between my legs was a good escape route she damned near upended me!

So we called the processor and made our apologies and off I went to the stockman supply store to consult about a loading pen.  A bruised ego, pulled groin muscle, and $450.00 later I am back on the road home with ranch panels and a plan.  This morning I got up and assembled the whole caboodle and now we have a fair idea how to get this done at our next attempt next month.  As you can see from the photos below, it is a “sub-pen”  The pigs come in to get their food and the first gate is closed behind them.  They stay there for about a day without food so their bellies get grumbling.  The trailer is backed up to the second gate and the doors opened revealing…. food!  The theory is they should simply self-load onto the trailer.  They can’t escape back into the larger pen because gate one is closed behind them, so while it can get a bit dangerous with half a ton of pork dancing around, it becomes a more manageable feat.  My old fart of a man ticker can’t handle all of that football preseason drilling anymore!  The direction changes and doubling back on us would have made Barry Sanders very proud!  I remember doing this with cows up in Walden a hundred years ago.  Worked on cows.  Should work on pigs.  If not, thats what rifles are for.  I’ve cleaned deer and elk… why not pork beasts!

Pig Corral 2Pig Corral

Next on the agenda was getting the “chicken tractor” built for the meat chickens.  The process we were using for them in previous years was pretty messy.  After being in the brooder for about 4 weeks they go outside into some kind of pen and are grown out to adulthood – which is about another 5 weeks.  Then we process them and they become freezer dwellers.  The problem we had was that these fast growing little critters are eating and pooping machines!  Cleaning up after them was quite a chore and if one doesn’t keep up on it they can get sick.  Because they grow so fast they don’t move around much.  So in order to give them fresh pasture, keep them from sitting in their own poop, and also being able to supplement their food by letting them have bugs and grass and weeds, the chicken tractor was invented.  There are zillions of plans for them on the internet but schedules being what they are having the farmers both working full time jobs, we ordered a pre-fabricated one.  Aaron volunteered to come out and assemble the thing and we are one step closer to much easier broiler raising.  The thing is fairly light weight aluminum so it can be moved easily every day to new grass.  It has a built in feeder.  The only thing we need to add is a waterer and we are set to go.  Because we have predators both from above (hawks, falcons, owls, eagles) and from below (coyotes, foxes, skunks, snakes and raccoons) this will keep them protected.  As a double insurance we will be enclosing it in a 40×40 electric net.  This will give us pasture raised chicken and if it is anything like the ones we have raised before, there is never a reason to go out to eat!  This will hold thirty birds pretty comfortably so we will probably put a couple of runs of them through it every year.

Aaron building the Chicken TractorAaron Building the Chicken Tractor 2

Now remember, this is all one day’s work.  In addition, I needed a bunch more dirt in order to fill in the raised bed boxes I made around the greenhouse.  The 35 yards of that also arrived today and as of this writing they are filled.  Tomorrow starts the assembly of the drip irrigation and using what is left of the semi-load of dirt to fill in the gaps inside the greenhouse.  Anything left after that will go out into the big garden along with the chicken compost.  Nothing ever seems to happen spread out evenly over time, nor does it ever seem to exist on a small scale.  Construction and planting….. the ever consuming activities that render us with very little free time to navel gaze.  We are getting there though. My mother arrives next Thursday to join in the fray and my sister arrives about a week and a half after that.  Let the planting party begin!!

Dirt 2016 BDirt 2016 A

The Greenhouse Is Full!

After having moved through the most recent cold snap, the forecast for at least the next 10 days is over 75 degrees.  Soooooooo, the plants in the basement grow room have been moved into the greenhouse!  The dirt for the remaining beds arrives Friday and I will be stringing the drip irrigation to the greenhouse tomorrow.

In the next 2 weeks we will plant the greenhouse, the raised beds outside the greenhouse and the half acre for root plants.  If you are interested here is what we grow (for both eating through the summer, but also for storage – freezing, dehydrating, and canning):  Blueberries, Blackberries, onions, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, lettuce, spinach, Kale, melons, squash, carrots, cucumbers, herbs, beets, hard beans, green beans, sunflowers, potatoes, asparagus, strawberries, and green beans, wheat, corn, and if we include the animals:  eggs, chickens for meat, and pork.



Mini – Coop….. er

I have fingers crossed that I will have a whole summer to just tend the gardens and animals.  The 2016 projects are almost done.  Aaron is going to come out and assemble the chicken tractor for me next weekend leaving me free to install the drip irrigation to the  greenhouse.  We built the smaller coop for the babies to inhabit when they are about 4 weeks old.  They can’t go out with the adult chickens until they are similar in size otherwise there will be pecking and dominance issues.  There will be anyway but at least when re-ordering the flock they will be able to hold their own.  Also, because the new chicks are meant to replace the old church ladies who aren’t laying any longer, they won’t be around long anyway.

So I am eager and excited to have the construction stuff done!  Even having to do the last big project – the irrigation system – just knowing I am at an end for the year makes it much more bearable.  Pain is no fun and after awhile, if you don’t enjoy the fruits of your labor, the fruit starts to smell rotten.  Something I never want to have happen here.  After all, retirement calls!

Spring is Springing!!

I spent the day today moving plants to the greenhouse and also planting the last of the seeds that need to get going in order to have them ready for the gardens.  Today it was the 3 different types of squash.  The big outdoor garden is primarily for storage type vegetables.  Most of them are root  vegetables but the melons and the squash need to be started ahead of time in order to give them a jump on the season.

I moved the pepper plants out today and introduced a bunch of lady bugs to help ward off the aphid attacks I’ve been having.  The Basil and the peppers all had a pretty good assault in the seedling room.  They could only have come in with some of the potting soil I purchased to get the seedlings going.  They have been maddening.

The tomatoes and tomatillo plants will stay downstairs until mid next week.  We are supposed to get some cooler weather Monday and Tuesday but by Thursday it is supposed to be pushing 90.  At that point everyone comes out of the basement and I can turn off most of those high powered lights!  So as usual, while anxious about whether or not I’ll get all the work done and get the garden in, the one step at a time, one day at a time, never seems to fail.  I just get mental when I can’t see my way clear in my head a way to the end result.

So after all the hassles of actually getting the greenhouse, having it is just about as much fun as I know how to have (yes I’m boring – but a move to a simpler life is NOT a step backwards).  Being able to get the plants out there to get ready for the season is such a big help – not to mention the fact that we have had spinach and lettuce since February!  The big spring weather out here has begun and the greenhouse has endured at least one mild hail storm.  The more ferocious ones are on the way – they always come, but another couple I met when I picked up the pigs had a greenhouse too and theirs has stood up to the ice balls.  Here’s hoping ours will too!

All Livestocked Up For Spring!

The first batch of broiler chicks arrived today.  We decided to do them in batches of 30 this year as having to process them all at once is WAY too much work.  This way they will be raised in the cooler temperatures of the spring and fall weather.  So in the past 2 weeks we have acquired 25 new chicks to replace the older ladies of the layer flock, 2 piglets to replenish the bacon and ham in November, and the first 30 broilers.  Next week one of the big girls goes off to the processor.  Of course, if you like, you can always go get factory farmed meat like substances they call chicken and pork wrapped in cellophane at your local “grocery store”.  Ick.

In the next several weeks we will begin planting.  Potatoes, carrots, onions and beets can go out most any time now as they grow underground.  The melons, cukes, Zukes, squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and other above ground plants need to wait until after Memorial Day so they 1. Don’t get destroyed by the hail that comes with the mountain run off and 2. To lessen the chance of them being exposed to a hard freeze.

May is pretty busy.  This year more than most.  We are all proud parents right now as well. My son turned 21 this past weekend and he just found out he aced his Calculus class.  The kid seems to think in numbers.  It was a great confidence builder for him.  Hopefully there will be a good job waiting for him somewhere down the line.

Run Piggy RUN!!

Ever try to catch a piglet when it doesn’t want to be caught and there are no fences to stop it? Better have a good cardiovascular system!! I got quite a workout today. I brought the two new little guys home in the horse trailer. When I opened the door to unload them one tumbled out onto the ground. No big deal, pigs are tough and it was only about a foot drop;  but before I could grab him, he got up and headed for open country and freedom!!

He ran down the road, across the road, through wheat fields, grass fields, through barbed wire, through a tree thicket, met the neighbors, frolicked in the muddy road ditches and then back to the chicken coop! Damn can those little shits run! Keep in mind he is only about 25 lbs, his legs are only about 8 inches long, and he had his little butt takin’ him around the countryside leaving me panting!  Finally, the neighbor dog came out and saw him and decided he wanted to play with it and ran that little porker until it was exhausted. It went to lay by a tree and I snagged him!!  I’m sure we covered over two miles.

Then, because I was so concerned about catching the one that took off, I forgot to securely close the trailer door and the second one got out too!!! It did the same thing but not as far. It heard his brother screaming and came back and hid under the trailer. I got him to come out and he ran into the chicken run! I finally got him cornered and tackled him. What a freaking morning! Just about lost $400.00 worth of pigs and gave myself a heart attack trying to catch them.

We were concerned that the big girls would bully them, but so far they are just being big mommies.  Looks like things ought to be ok.  I’ll be babysitting throughout the weekend just to be sure.  Whew!

It’s May And Everything Happens At Once

This past week or so has been the usual frenzy involved with the impending planting season.  The past two weekends really set me back as we had snow storms that made the outdoor projects impossible.  You can see in past posts that we had an urban farm at our place in town.  I had 24 raised beds all with their own little hoop greenhouses attached to them.  Now that the greenhouse is up I don’t need that garden any longer.  Frankly, to have that one, the greenhouse and it’s surrounding beds along with the half acre food storage garden, it was way too much work for me.  After all, my wife and I also work full time.  I get to work at home, but I am on the road a lot going to client appointments.  So I began to dismantle that garden.  It entailed pulling up rebar, cutting off plastic, and dis-assembling the PVC frames for all of those beds.  Our aim is to smooth all of the dirt out and plant it full of perennials that will attract and help out the bees, much like we did when we landscaped the front of the house.

After the wagon loads up to the truck it was off to the dump.  Why does everything I do have to be so damned heavy?  My back was pretty spent.  When I came out to the farm yesterday I started work on the watering system for the greenhouse.  So today, my body said “ENOUGH”!  I had every intention of getting back after it but my body had other plans.  Now the moral of this story is that even when you “don’t get anything done” on the farm, you still get things done.  By the time we reached this point in the day when I’m currently typing (4:30 pm),  I have cooked breakfast, gotten the solar oven out and heating up to make dinner, been to two local feed stores to get ready for the new chickens coming next week, ordered a semi-load of planting soil to fill the remaining beds in and around the greenhouse, contacted a local pig breeder to get two new “weaners” (pigs that have been weaned from their momma and are being sold to be raised for food), taken alfalfa out to the chickens, moved some of the plants from the seedling room to the greenhouse, unloaded the truck, fed the pigs and did the real job thing.  In the next week we will have 90 chickens and 4 pigs to take care of.  My mom and sister get to play FarmVille for real when they come to visit in the next month!

May is insane.  Everything comes to a head at once.  The trick we have found, is to just keep showing up.  Do one thing at a time.  Rest, drink water, do something else.  If you hurt, stop and sit down.  It’s not a race and virtually everyone I know is not doing this, nor could they keep up if they came to help. The only person who cares if it gets done on some kind of time frame is yourself.  Remember, its a hobby.  Its a hobby that feeds you but it is still a hobby!  If you are slave driver to yourself you will only kill yourself.  The MAJOR projects are done. The ongoing upkeep and planting and daily chores on a farm don’t require a starting gun (Roosters crowing are good enough!). Nor are you trying to best your previous times.  It’s OK to sit when tired, drink when thirsty, sleep when fatigued and never, ever care what others think.  If someone is a critic who hasn’t got skin in the game, they matter not one iota.  Homesteaders – be good to yourself. You know it will get done eventually…. even if it snows a foot.

Check out the Sun Oven and the Lazy Porkers: