Greetings earthlings! No, we haven’t died. We are all here and well and looking forward to some major transitions for 2019. I looked at the blog and realized that I hadn’t really posted anything since October of last year. One reason, partly, was that I didn’t have a lot to say. Another was that we had lots of visitations this past year and it kept us pretty busy (we are becoming the sandwich generation).
Unfortunately, it is never any fun to post failures, but I guess for intellectual honesty, I need to. Last year’s gardens were almost a total bust. According to the USDA and NOAA, the western US is enduring one of the worst droughts in the last 1000 years. We didn’t really get much from the gardens and we are working to remedy the problems we face here. For those of you more easterners directly under the broken Jet Stream who are getting constant rain and snow, we are on the other side. We see almost no moisture and our world is trying to burn itself down. Just west of us we had a 150 acre wildfire in January. Ya…… nothing to see here!
Grandma came out for harvest and there largely wasn’t one. She was pretty funny trying to keep polishing this turd (To be fair she was also here to celebrate her birthday). Realistically, though, because of the extreme heat and lack of water, we got skunked. This hurts though because we rely on our gardens. They aren’t just a hobby. So when our crops failed, not only did we eat the cost of production, we had to go out and buy what we had hoped to grow.
On a positive note, the livestock have been doing spectacularly well. We harvested our first turkeys for the holidays and the meat was simply excellent. Between them, the layer hens, the meat birds, and the pigs, we have not had to buy meat of any kind really (Thus avoiding eColi and Salmonella outbreaks). My son loves ham lunch meat so we do buy that. For beef, we tend to can it in stews, and soups so we buy bulk, process it, and put it in the pantry.
Our little goats keep getting bigger. Considering that these are the most ADHD animals I’ve ever been around, they have calmed down substantially as they’ve gotten older. All of them now come into heat once a month. Their screaming over to the bucks is pretty entertaining….. until it isn’t. It’s loud and virtually non-stop for several days. I can only imagine what raising a daughter must be like (HA! Did I say that out loud!? I’m going to hell now for sure!).
My new weaving enterprise has taken up a lot of free time. I absolutely love my loom time. Watching a pattern emerge after all the planning designing and threading is very satisfying. I’m now getting things done for us here at the farm. Most of what I have made so far has gone out the door as holiday gifts. Some folks in town suggested that I start an Etsy store and also start going to craft shows. It sounds like fun so I am starting to build some inventory.
Here are some of the latest projects: Christmas table runners, Scarves, Placemats and Napkins and also everyday colors for the table:
It has been about a year and a half since I quit work, and a bit less than that since I was down for back surgery. While we worked very hard on the farm during that time, there was also a lot of down time. The farmer fatigued pretty easily and mentally. It has been quite a challenge to heal up and figure out who I am now that I’m not play acting as a financial guru (turns out I knew all along). The dust needed to settle and while I may have not done that perfectly, especially with a lot of interferences trying to find a calm center, we seem raring to go in 2019. I am very eager to actually be able to work the gardens like I’d hoped to be doing pretty much full time. The building of the place, and then going down for the count, made that difficult. Every effort is being made so that I can be a full time gardener this summer instead of the construction engineer of the past six years. It looks like it is on track.
So as I sit here looking out the window at a whiteout blizzard today, I thought I’d get caught up and kind of outline what we have planned for the coming year.
- Garden, Garden, Garden.
I have not had a season yet where I could just go out and play in my garden beds. That is now changing in a big way. As you know, if you have been following over the years, we have one garden that is about a half an acre. When I wasn’t injured, it produced mountains of food. When we bought the place, there was an area that used to be a corral for horses (this made it the most fertile place on the property). Unfortunately, living out in the prairie, wild grass and weed seeds also thought that was a particularly wonderful place to put down roots. If we are to continue this lifestyle into the future, we have had to take into consideration the concept of “aging in place”. There is no way that we could keep up the weeding pace necessary to keep that garden flourishing when we are into our older years. If we get a good rain, those weeds will grow a foot in a week. Considering that there are 18 50 foot rows involved, it is a frustrating job at best. This past summer, I was trying to keep up with the weeding and also work on projects with my son (who was working for me). Considering that I wasn’t fully healed, and kind of a mental wreck, I don’t see how I could keep up that pace for the next couple of decades.
So, we have been changing things around. There is water to those big beds and the soil is pretty decent after all the amending I’ve done to it. We are going to turn it into an orchard and berry patch. There will still be weeding to do, but with trees and berry bushes, it can be done with a weed whip and a hoe. Part of a good permaculture homestead is developing “food forests”. These are areas that produce food every year and don’t need to be replanted. A neighbor told us what trees he has had luck with and we will be putting in more apple trees, cherries, maybe a couple of nut trees, and peaches. The Berries will largely be Blackberries along with some grape vines (This is a very challenging climate to grow things). After getting the vegetable gardens in this spring, I will have the rest of the year to get the trees in. It does entail re-plumbing the drip system, but once it is in, it should significantly reduce the maintenance that we have had to devote to it thus far.
“So if the big vegetable garden is being turned into an orchard, where are the vegetables going to go? (says anonymous someone inquisitively). Answer: In and around the greenhouse. Raised beds made with lumber are much easier to maintain. The soil is retained in the boxes and the walk-ways can be mowed. Thus, weeding and maintaining the beds is much less intensive. The weeds won’t take the place over, unlike the prairie grasses in the other garden (those beds were mounded without boxes so the weeds just crawled up the sides.). Also, the larger leaved and sensitive plants will go in the greenhouse as usual.
I added outside beds around the greenhouse last year when I had my lifting restrictions lifted. I have now started getting the lumber to add 9 more. This will bring the new vegetable garden up to 40 12 foot beds, making it as big as the old gardens that will now be the orchard. We will then have an acre of gardens, but the work should be much much less.
So goal numbers one and two for 2019: A: Get the orchard ready and then plant it in. B: build the rest of the beds and hail guards in the new vegetable garden and PLAY FOR ONCE!!
Thanks to grandma, this fall we got the old plant carcasses out of the greenhouse and Zina and I composted them. I have been busy spreading chicken manure on the beds and amending the soil in the greenhouse. I put Perlite, Fertilizer, and Sulphur (for PH) on all the beds and then it snowed so I haven’t been able to compost them yet (The manure is all frozen). Once applied, I’ll take the little electric tiller to them all and get them good and fluffy for the spring. — Lest anyone think that winter is synonymous with “down time”.
Once the livestock barn was constructed, we bit the bullet and had power strung to it (primarily so we could run water heaters in the winter, which has been spectacular in ensuring that we didn’t have to haul buckets of water from the house all winter). We also had a friend come out with his skid steer and install water hydrants at the barn and at the greenhouse.
The greenhouse (as are all of the gardens) is on timed drippers. Unfortunately, the way things were plumbed we had to run the water line up from the basement (about 200 feet away). With these new hydrants there is a spigot right at the greenhouse and will pump water directly from the well head. This will give us a lot more water pressure and help to keep things irrigated during these drought conditions (which, all predictions are that it could be worse than last summer. Days on end of over 100 degrees).
Goal number 3: Water Catchment and storage.
In our quest to be self-sustaining, not only have I always taken inventory of our successes, but also our weaknesses. The farm is largely off grid. Yes, we tie in to the electrical grid, but the power company is a back up for us. Also, in the winter when you are running a half dozen water heaters to keep water thawed for critters, they are mostly on at night (which renders solar panels useless, and our batteries are for critical loads, not heavy amperage heater coils). We have septic, we are not hooked up to natural gas or sewer, we generate our own electricity, and grow and store most of our own food. Our weakness out here in the semi-arid plains, is water. We are on a very deep well into an aquifer. The well pump is hooked up to both the solar/electrical grid as well as the battery backups. BUT, the weak point is the pump itself. Colorado finally has legalized catching rainwater so we are going to take full advantage of it. We currently have a 1000 gallon water tank that will catch snow melt and rain off of the barn roof. If we find that we need more capacity, we can daisy chain additional tanks together. The idea is to keep water reserves above ground, so what doesn’t fill the tanks with rain, we can fill with the well water too.
An issue though is longer term storage. While a lot of the water tank will be used to help water the animals and gardens, it is a whole different story when the water is in the tank and it is 12 degrees. A frozen tank will burst if not partially emptied. So what we will be doing is putting about 500 gallons of storage in our basement. In the fall, if the barn tanks are still full, we can siphon the water down to the tanks in the house, keep them thawed, using them for drinking water and seedling water in the winter. In the spring, when the barn tank fills, we can use the remainder of the water in the basement to water the sage and other pollinator plants (I hope to add bees); all the while, having hundreds of gallons of water always above ground for use should the well pump fail. Our other weakness is propane. If we could just bite the bullet and get our solar hot water heater installed and put in a rocket mass heater, our propane bill would drop to nil. As a prepper friend says though, it is One Step and a Time, One Thing at a time, One Day at a time. These WILL happen. Just not all at once. Considering how much we have put into the homestead over the years, it is apparent that homesteading from scratch ain’t cheap! So Goal number 3: Get the water catchment hooked up.
Goal Number 4: (We are already working on this one too), is to minimalize. While I was laying on a dog bed wondering if I’d ever walk again, we also sold a house (yes we are nuts). The result of the deal, though, is that we have no farm debt of any kind. Involved with that, though, was the combining two houses into one; much of the junk landing in the garage. So after 6 years of projects, and things being tossed into the garage from exhaustion and things being put in there as a staging area for other projects, and the garage from the city house finding a way into it too, the decluttering and downsizing has begun. We have (had) 2 of EVERYTHING!! Phase one of getting rid of the junk is complete. The garage (which is a detached steel barn) is organized and can now be used without tripping over everything. The shelves are up and the storage bins are now organized.
Next up (besides the continual quest to get rid of unneeded crap) is the basement. I put a door (which was missing since we bought the place) on the pantry room which allowed me to cut off all the heat to that room. Previously it was food storage along with paper goods and all manner of storage, including Christmas decorations and our backpacking gear. We are now going to be moving all non food stuffs onto the shelves in the rest of the basement (like 6 months of toilet paper, etc), and dedicate the pantry just to food. Our goal is to have (between frozen, dehydrated, freeze dried, canned and vacuum sealing) 3-5 years of food on hand at any given time. If our layer hens keep laying, that makes thing pretty easy. The food storage just takes up space, so we are making the most efficient use of the space that we can. For instance, even though we have a guest room doesn’t mean that Christmas decorations can’t be stored in that closet…. hence the term guest, not occupant.
One of my wish list items was to dig in and build a root cellar. However, as I researched it and added up the cost to have the backhoe come out and dig the hole and the amount of work it would take, my mind looked up what a root cellar actually needs to do. They are typically built into a hillside about 8 – 10 feet deep. They are ventilated to bring in cool air and vent out warmer air to create a consistent temperature (the thermal mass surrounding it keeping it relatively cool all the time), Well hell, me thought – That’s our basement! We have a room down there, on the coolest side of the house, (the house is built into a hill) so it is just like it! Move one door, cover one furnace vent and voila! Root cellar! (and I don’t even have to go outside in the winter to use it!) So this goal is to get the root cellar room fully ventilated and organized. We are about half way there.
Goal 5: Breed the goats.
Our little creatures were not designed to be just pets. We intend to breed our little girls so that we have milk, cheese, and goats milk soap. While we have no need for the amount of milk a cow produces (upwards of 3 gallons a day), our little girls would keep us well supplied. Considering that their major food stuff is hay and weeds, we will be turning our pasture into fertilizer and milk. We are also considering fencing in a second pasture to raise meat goats. For those of you not familiar, the demand for quality goat meat is growing faster in the US than beef, and suppliers can’t keep up. Hmmmmmmm, the ex-financial advisor thinks……..
Goal 6: Slow Down and Ignore The Narcissism of The Rest of the World
JAZ Farm isn’t some little hobby petting zoo. Contrary to the belief that suburban and resort living is the norm in the grand ol’ US of A, what we do here is a serious endeavor. We are not “Mr. Green Jeans”, we aren’t “Mr. Ed” or Green Acres, nor online Farmville. We also aren’t a little place we went to after my retirement to “play” farmer. This is who we are. This place is a real, working, farm. We have goals here and it is a demanding lifestyle. We aren’t having an elementary school “Learning experience” here as some would like to call it. This IS who we are and our successes and failures constitute problem solving, which is a never ending process. Our goal here is to transcend the popular ignorant culture and live true to ourselves. It is not our job to diminish ourselves so that those completely dependent on a corrupt and planet destroying culture can continue to validate itself. Is our way of living superior to the dominant culture of urbanization and exploitation? We think unequivocally…. yes. Developing electric cars and going vegan won’t solve our myriad crises. Getting local, de-urbanizing, and destroying our consumer culture……. might. I’ve been thinking a lot about all of this; which is partly why I haven’t posted in the last 4 months.
Contrary to popular belief, what we do here has been normalcy for centuries. Homesteading, not too long ago, was simply, “Living”. I put this goal in here just to send a message that we find important. We mourn our culture and how it has made the rest of the world cut itself off from nature and what it takes to survive. We have very little time left as a species and it is industrial civilization that is to blame. The expending of our energy here is well directed and as such, we need to cut off from the “dominant” paradigm so that we can do the tasks that our lifestyle requires of us. So we are going no contact except for this kind of venue. Personally, I have deleted all my social media. We don’t have TV access, and the only news I watch is to be kept abreast of the markets because in a fiat currency economy farce as ours, we still need to make sure we can pay the bills. Justifying ourselves to others, like we are the ones needing to explain ourselves, is exhausting, exasperating, and not worthy or our energies – especially when the dominant “culture” is murdering the planet. We seriously hope that our endeavors inspire others to do the same, but in the end, we have chosen to RELY on this farm. Just like we use the electrical grid as a back up, we also use the grocery store as a back up. This isn’t pre-school for the rich and clueless. I see mommies with strollers and I cringe, knowing what their spawn will have to endure because of this murderous culture. This is our major goal: to live true to ourselves, without succumbing to the gaslighting, and sideways glances of those who think their food will continue to be delivered via diesel truck and wrapped in cellophane. I know this might be confusing, but in its essence, we are dropping out.
What do we do here?
- We grow virtually all of our own vegetables
- We grow all of our own meat and butcher about half
- We grow all of our own breakfast
- We are mostly off grid
- We start all of our plants from seed
- We save seeds
- We take care of a couple of abused donkeys
- We make our own soap
- We make our own butter
- We make many textiles
- We will be making our own cheese
- We grind our own flour
- We try to live a life of self-reliance.
- We are working to build local community so when the excrement hits the electrical oscillator, people will band together to help each other.
We hope to be an inspiration here but we aren’t really too interested in criticism anymore: Hence the title of this goal. Time is short. If you are curious and want to know more, then we would love to help. However, what we have found is that some think this is all just “cutesy”. I assure you, when we come to the next depression, we won’t be so cutesy anymore.
Since my surgery and retirement I live via the acronym IDGAF. The last third gets to be mine. So there is my sermon. Sorry to go off on a rant, but considering the amount of physical and emotional energy we have expended to live true to who we are and the push back that we have received at times has been revelatory. Even if you live in an apartment in the Bronx, go buy some extra food and water if you can. Find a place to go where you can participate in growing food. Blow up your TV, smash your PS4, develop skills……….. very soon you are going to need them.
Goal 7: To take care of ourselves physically and mentally before anything or anyone else. Farmers need their tools and equipment to work properly when needed. Part of that equipment is the physical self. Prostituting ourselves before the man has taken a tremendous toll. You can’t farm if you can’t walk and considering that “Demons ate my spine” I know of which I speak. We aim to make sure the hoe operators are in the shape they need to be in in order to make this place function.
So that’s the get caught up and set goals post for this year. I do hope to post more as we go forward as well as You Tube videos. Remember, Live like a Hobbit.