Hello everyone and welcome back to the JAZ Farm blog! I am happy to finally be back. I looked at our last post and it was dated August 31, 2017. It was only a month after back surgery and what a wild year this has been. I am happy to report that I am doing very well. The pain in my legs is all but gone, the fusion has taken hold and the surgeon lifted my remaining restrictions. I had a bit of a battle with pretty mind numbing leg cramps and some pretty serious anti-inflammatories helped make that go away. A huge thank you goes out to the physical therapy staff in Strasburg. They helped get me on my feet, didn’t flinch when I cussed like a sailor, and were observant enough to know when to lighten up on the exercises. I’ve been walking, swimming and after a year of watching the weeds take the farm, doing CHORES and CONSTRUCTION! It feels so good to be re-taking the farm. We have high hopes for 2018 and the list of things we hope to get accomplished is yet again, LONG!
After the first months of recovery, I was still forbidden from bending over (which isn’t possible now anyway because of the change in the way I bend) but I could now lift between 30 and 40 lbs; up from the 10 lbs prior. I was also given permission to get back on the tractor. That was a slow process as the tractor’s suspension and the uneven ground made the jostling a little more than I could tolerate.
So the first task once back on my feet, so to speak was to reclaim the farm from the mountains of weeds and undergrowth that took the gardens and, because it was such a dry summer, threatened us with wild fires. One day, Zina and I got the mowing deck attached to the tractor and I cut the weeds back along the driveway and mowed down the 3 foot tumbleweeds in the pig pen and chicken run to get them ready for the new arrivals in the spring.
Our biggest heartbreak throughout the whole healing process was losing more than half of our egg laying flock to a sly fox. We were still letting the hens out into the big free range field, and with the weeds as high as they got, the fox took to hiding in the weeds and using our chickens as his own private buffet. Of the 40 that we started the year off with, we are down to 15. Those remaining are fairly traumatized and won’t go out there willingly anymore and egg production has dropped way off. As of a week ago, I placed the order to get new chicks in the spring and begin rebuilding the flock and hopefully also start hatching our own so as to offset the cost of ordering birds every spring. We also have an order of 50 meat chickens that will be arriving the first week of May (we usually target 4th of July weekend as freezer camp day).
Next up, because of the tremendous weed overgrowth in the big garden was the decision to start building raised beds around the greenhouse. We didn’t know if we’d be able to get the big garden cut back down (looks like we will) and useable. It was heart wrenching to see just how badly it got over run and not being able to do a damned thing about it. That garden is going to become more of the root vegetable, berry patch, bean, garden. We will also be growing a fair amount of sunflowers too to help feed the chickens. Once I get on with that project, I’ll post the before pictures, and then, with any luck, be able to show you the transformation. It was spreading manure on that garden that was the last straw on the way to surgery. It still gives me a little pause.
I did get creative in my construction endeavors. I was not about to be stopped from getting back after it. So I built 4 saw horses to use as a work bench out by the greenhouse and had Home Depot load 1300 lbs of lumber in the back of the pick up. I was able to build 9 new raised bed boxes (still on lifting restrictions) by pulling the lumber out of the truck, onto the saw horses, slide the boards around into position, screw them together and then use the front end loader of the tractor to move them into place. My compost and planter’s mix supplier brought me a load of composted soil, and I used the tractor to fill them up. The only thing left to do in the spring is attach the drip irrigators to them and we are off and running for next year’s organic vegetables!
This addition gives us 29 10 to 12 foot raised beds in and around the greenhouse in addition to the 18 50 footers in the half acre garden. We may try to get wheat and corn in again this year but the amount of time available will determine that.
Shortly after getting this done, I had my 3rd follow up with my surgeon. I was ecstatic to find that I had no more lifting restrictions. It wasn’t that I was going to go out and do stupid things, but I had been waiting for him to tell me that the fusion was in no danger of being broken. It simply meant that I didn’t have to be hyper-careful with everything I do. I will never be able to touch my toes again by bending over, when I do head for the ground its supposed to be via a squat or a lunge, and lifting must be done with my legs. There is always the danger now that I could blow a disc above L3 and start the whole mess again. That is something I decidedly do NOT want to repeat.
With all of our time to think about the future of the farm now that I knew that I wouldn’t be a cripple forever, we wanted to figure out what still needed to be added to really make the farm feel “finished” (he laughs hysterically). The last big push that we wanted to use some of the equity from the sale of our house this past year for, was to fence in a pasture and get a barn built for livestock. As of tomorrow (January 2nd) the holes for the footers will be dug and barn construction is underway. Aaron and I have been the construction crew for the fencing. Its a quarter mile of fencing to enclose approximately 3 acres. The inhabitants at this point will likely be turkeys, goats, a chicken brooding room, and we plan to rescue a pair of donkeys from a shelter just west of here. We haven’t decided if we are going to use the goats as just eaters and poopers for fertilizer or if we will also use them for meat and dairy. It looks like we will be getting Nigerian Dwarfs to start and see where it leads.
The humorous part of the fence installation (Its funny now, it wasn’t then) was burying the auger. The ground here is very hard. It is about 80% sand and 20% clay. I’ve always had difficulty getting fence post holes punched and have stuck the thing on several occasions. This year was no exception, except that this year the ground won. I broke 2 safety sheering bolts and stuck the auger in the ground. This time for good. I had to unhook it from the transmission box, cover it up and go by another auger unit. It will be there for the alien archaeologists in the future.
The barn itself will be a standard 30 x 40 pole barn with an overhang on the south side to house the tractor, rain catchment, and implements. I will be building pens on the inside for the critters and getting power and heat run to it for the few cold days we still seem to have left around here. As goats are very playful and inquisitive creatures, keeping them from escaping can be a bit of a trick. One suggestion I ran across was to literally build them a playground to keep them entertained. So I’ve tracked down a place that will give away those big wooden cable spools and will use them as a foundation to build up a bit of a castle for them to hop around on. They are very agile little beasties. Here is the beginning of all of this craziness. To date Aaron and I have dug in, cemented, and tensioned 31 8 foot wooden posts, a gate assembly, and hand driven 117 6.5 foot metal T posts. Its been quite an undertaking.
I’ll be posting more pictures of the barn construction progress and when I start stretching fence to enclose the pasture.
Lastly, in the greenhouse, we have had some trouble using some old wimpy trellises that we had at the other house, to try to stand up the tomatoes. That had to change. After seeing someone use cattle panels at their homestead for trellises it looked like just the ticket. Aaron and I pounded some more T posts and wired them up for the spring. They are very stout and even the 12 foot tall Cherokee Purples won’t be able to pull them down (fingers crossed!).
So 2017 has been, as the novel said, “The best of times and the worst of times.” I have been altered in so many ways mentally and physically, but at the same time we have built a life we don’t need or want a vacation from. I promise to put up more of the progress as we move forward. There is a tremendous amount happening and I am thankful to be able to be back after it. I still suffer from some pain, I move a lot slower and am not as limber. It is also amazing how badly my aerobic stamina declined after being on my back for a year. It is coming back, but if this grand experiment is going to succeed going forward, the main supplier of the labor (me) needs to make sure he is in good repair.
So here are our farm goals for 2018:
- Get the barn built
- Finish the remaining fencing
- Get the pigs back on the land
- Rebuild the layer flock
- Restock the freezer with meat birds
- Build the pens, corrals, and brooders for the new critters in the livestock barn
- Install a solar hot water heater (being designed as we speak)
- Get the big outdoor garden reclaimed from the weeds and planted again
- Get the seedlings started and planted for the greenhouse and surrounding beds
- Set up the rain catchment system on the new barn, the garage, and the chicken coop
- Be able to simply use all of this infrastructure instead of spending all of my time building it
- Enjoy my telescope again
- Set up the range, dust off the bows, and once again use arrow flinging as my meditation.
That oughta keep us busy for awhile. I love doing this better than most anything else. I could easily stay here and hide. The world is a crazy and terrible place anymore as far as I see it. My refuge is to be with the plants and animals. They don’t try to stab you in the back. For that I am thankful and look forward to a great and productive farm life in 2018.