Two years ago, we had an unintended test of the farm’s solar system. While drilling post holes for the fence around our garden, I put the tractor’s auger right through the main power lines to the house. It also coincided with one of the coldest days of that winter. The house is all solar, and if the power goes out we have a 48 volt battery back up system to carry us through just as one might use a gas powered generator (We also have one of those). The batteries kick in automatically when the grid goes down. About 2/3’ds of the house is hooked up to it including the well pump (so we don’t lose access to water) and the main turbine on the furnace. During that fiasco, it was also cloudy for a good three days, which is kind of unusual here. Given that the system is solar, that doesn’t bode well for recharging the batteries. As a result, I spent the next two days rationing battery juice and working to make sure we didn’t get into a situation where we could have had frozen pipes.
The lesson learned was that while in sunny conditions, the batteries can carry the day, but it is quite a burden to put on them. For instance, even if the battery bank is fully charged, it can’t power the turbine all night because the charge, of course, is finite. Everything does well during the day and batteries do well for everything else at night, but we discovered a flaw in the system. Heat.
When we still lived in back in Michigan, and also when I lived up in the high country here in Colorado, we heated exclusively with wood. Times have changed, regulations have become more stringent, and our house didn’t have any venting available to hook up any kind of wood stove. Also, because physically I can’t spend all summer going up into the mountains to cut firewood and still expect to be able to farm, we had to figure out some of the pieces. The bottom line though is that we decided that in some fashion, we needed a more self-sufficient way to heat that didn’t involve propane (not to mention the potential for propane to skyrocket in price) and mechanical parts.
I won’t go into the details of trying to get the stove installed using the contractor we signed up with. It was awful ….. just awful. However, once the county got the permits approved and then the stove got installed and the stove got inspected and signed off on, the ridiculous story of installation came to a close. It is a great unit, it was installed well, and it is ours……. all ours.
The biggest issue in the set up was that we decided to have it placed in the basement. As the basement is a big concrete box, we didn’t have to mess around with heat resistant shields and flooring. We just didn’t want the stove pipe to stay in the house so as to reduce fire danger. This meant we had to have a core driller come out and put a big hole in our foundation so the chimney could go up the side of the house outside. It turned out great. Watching the hole get drilled was really fun and nail biting at the same time. If the installation didn’t work, we could have ended up with a big hole in our basement.
The stove itself is a very highly rated Blaze King Princess model. It is all EPA approved so even when the Front Range issues burning restrictions because of air quality, we don’t have to stop using it. In fact, it burns so clean that even with a raging fire in it, there is almost no smoke visible coming out of the stack. We discovered in short order that it can have you removing clothing rather quickly.
So this latest installation makes the farm about as off the grid as she is going to get. Sure, most of the posts about building the place had to do with fencing, barns, garden beds and corrals, but this one filled in a gap. Other than the fact that the solar system is still somewhat tied to the electric utility, we are not dependent upon it and virtually everything else here is self-contained. We have solar electricity, septic instead of a public sewer line, well water and water catchment, a propane tank instead of natural gas lines, gardens for growing food, animals for the same, and multiple ways to preserve our food as well. With our freeze dryer, my goal for as long as it takes is to have about 2 years of just freeze dried meals available. Not only is this easy in a pinch while we are working outside, it makes putting together meals for Zina when she is in the city, a snap.
We could, if we really wanted to get all purist about it all, build a root cellar and a composting toilet and install a solar hot water system; but I think that given how the majority of this country is dependent on grocery stores, for profit utilities and this glorious just in time delivery system that I have been squawking about ever since the world thought out-sourcing was a great idea, we are doing pretty well. We have another wood stove in one of our barns. I have downloaded some plans on how to turn that into a smokehouse. This will give us yet another way to preserve food – not to mention how good smoked meats taste! Should be fun!
We are going into a pretty cold few days next week. So far, the furnace hasn’t even turned on with this thing burning. We still have to tweak things a bit to get the heat to rise upstairs a bit more efficiently, but that is the fun of new projects like this. Just a short while ago, it was just another vision like all the other visions we have had here. Now here it is. As far as we are. concerned, living off-grid is the only way to fly..
Today is December 4th, 2021. Happy ninth birthday JAZ Farm! What a year this place has seen. I am sure that most of you are feeling some of the exhaustion from the myriad issues that seem to all be converging all at one time in our lives. While yes things have been tumultuous, the farm has continued to provide projects, entertainment, sustenance, and peace in a world that has become certifiably insane. We won’t get into any of that here, but most of you who know me know that I do not ascribe to the common political and economic narratives that get thrown around at each other like so much worthless confetti. We live in a troubling age and we are so thankful that we made the decision to build this place and use it as our own family Shire against all the Orcs and Goblins that seem to inhabit the “civilized” world.
It is hard to believe that 9 years have passed. Not only has the farm changed since its inception as a dilapidated house on 40 acres, the surrounding area has seen massive changes as well. Sure, we can wax poetically that these things happen, but given my propensity to be able to connect dots and come to pretty accurate conclusions, it seems that forces have been set in motion that will see the start of significant exoduses from the urban and suburban world as people see the writing on the wall and understand the need to escape to more rural areas or places that will let them provide for a certain amount of self-sufficiency. For those who have done it here, you have my support. We are now one of the elder statesmen on our road. Because of the insane and meteoric rise of real estate prices, folks are selling out left and right (I guess if I had any sense we might do the same, but that isn’t why we moved here and built the Shire). People who never thought they would see a financial boon like this have been cashing out with hundreds of thousands in profit and moving to cheaper states, where, they say, they can live like they do now but with no mortgage and significantly cheaper costs of living. But what that means, however, is that for every seller there is a buyer and there are buyers in spades. After 9 years of practically no sounds coming from our neighbor to the south we now have loud music, gunfire, and now the introduction of their livestock (I only resent 2 of the 3). This has been a theme throughout the community. We all wish that the city folks that bit the bullet and moved would have left the city behind. Oh well, they will calm down eventually I guess. Interstate 70 is the main artery from us into Denver and the development has been following that corridor like a virus. The concerning issues with this have to do with the availability of water, and the digging up of wheat and cornfields to create this Oasis of suburbs in the countryside. I told Zina that other day that if we keep moving east to escape these Zombies, we will wind up in Kansas. The primary constant of the universe is that nothing stays the same. It is understanding these changes that prompted much of what we did here on the farm this year and is informing how we live here going forward.
THE COMPLETION OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE:
As you know, if you have been following along for any amount of time, the idea that I actually “retired” was a joke. I quit my job for any number of reasons, but at the age of 50 I became a farm construction engineer. Up until just a post or two ago, the physical labor involved with the farm design continued unabated and would have bested some folks half my age. Not only did we complete all the paddocks and pens we hoped to have, my body was there, towards the end, letting me know that it indeed was over and that I best not come up with any more cockamamy ideas. 2021 began with our finishing out our garden fencing, fencing in a second 5 acre grazing pasture, then enclosing the whole place along the back and south side with yet more fence (This last one being a way to feel like it had become a completed enclosure). It also allowed us to let the dogs out without having to wonder where the hell they went. They now have a good 5 acres to run around in.
As part of our effort to be as self-sufficient as possible we brought in a couple of American Guinea Hogs to breed. They are the most docile of animals, loving ear scratches and tummy rubs. As they will eat most anything, including grass, they are pretty low maintenance. However, it is ironic that if you leave the males and females together, their propensity to breed goes way down! We had two boars and 3 gilts (females) together and they put each other in the “friend zone”. No babies. So upon some advice and research we separated them like we have the bucks and does of our goat herd. We will probably try in early spring to breed them but in the meantime we had to have a place to put the boys. So this prompted the last small fencing project as seen above. You can see in posts from years ago that the space we have used was our original vegetable garden. It was already fenced on three sides so all I had to do was enclose it on the 4th and add a gate. It should have been a piece of cake, except the drought we have been in baked the ground to cement and I had a devil of a time getting the auger into the ground and ended up dulling it and having to replace the corkscrew unit that actually digs the hole. After pounding in the last of the metal posts, I limped away promising myself and Zina that the days of building fences have indeed become a thing of the past. All of it looks spectacular if you have an eye for such things; But one of my to do lists for this winter is to clean and straighten the garage and put all of the banging and clanking devices in their proper places and leave them to gather dust.
To kind of punctuate the completion of all the construction, it was time to clean the place up. 9 years of building and adjusting accumulates a lot of remnants and crap. We called and had a roll off dumpster brought in and loaded the thing to the gills. If any of you have any experience with farms or ranches, you undoubtably have seen the boneyard junk piles that can accumulate on them. Some of them are hideous and show a certain level of slobbery that we didn’t want here. Old rolls of windbreak fencing, fencing remnants, sawed off sections of wood, and all manner of things no longer needed, were bid farewell. While I hate the idea of using the landfill, there were precious few options. We could have burned off a lot of the wood things, but because of the drought there has been a never ending burn ban, so off it went. It will likely be the only time we will need to do this and considering the amount of waste that is generated simply from people buying too much plastic, breakable and unwanted crap, I figure we are still much farther ahead.
We value our privacy and security here almost as much as our ability to sustain ourselves. While the fencing was mostly to house and pasture our animals, the last close off to our east gave a feeling of completion. For some additional security (and to close off the last escape avenues for the dogs) Aaron and I installed an automatic gate opener/closer on the entrance gates. It was super easy to install and when it closes, it has something called a “Zombie Lock” that locks the two sections of gates together that can only be opened either with a key or one of the remotes. It is so nice to be able to go in and out and have the gates close behind you without having to get out of the truck and manually latch them. It is much the same as people that have automatic garage door openers. It is secure and very convenient. Well worth the money. If anyone is interested, the company we used is Ghost Controls. They work great even on our oversized ranch gates.
THE YEAR OF THE VET:
As you know, we lost our oldest lab (Basil) in August, but that was only one of several animal issues. We have been in to the vet and had the vet come out on several occasions. Our youngest lab had bladder issues, we had one of our baby goats break a back leg and we had a pig go lame with arthritis in her front ankles. Sage is fine, Basil died, Rosemary the goat healed up and Petunia the pig became bacon. Life on the farm. Just recently, we had the vet out again to have the donkey’s teeth brushed. This is called a “full float.” They give them some pretty happy drugs to sedate them. This proved to be a rodeo as they didn’t like the idea of being poked. It is intravenous so it is something they really don’t want to be a part of . Donavan, the youngest, had to have a dose for a full sized horse. Once sedated they have their head lifted with a rope, a bit put in their mouths to open it and then the vet uses a cordless drill (DeWalt) with a grinding device on it to smooth out the back teeth and remove any spikes. If the teeth get too rough it can cause abrasions in their mouth and get all infected and all sorts of other happiness. They pulled through without a hitch and it gave the young vet some experience. Fortunately, she had two techs with her and me. We were able to keep them relatively stabile so she could do her magic. Now the boys are good for another couple of years. It was nice to have them compliment us on how good our stalls and pens look. They said they have seen some pretty bad places.
All of the rest of the animals are doing great. We have rethought the way of raising our turkeys so we will be re-arranging their coop. For various reasons, hatching them doesn’t seem to be a good option, so we will just order them from the hatchery every year. We have hatched them before, but the hatch rate is ridiculously low. We have excellent incubators so it appears that the Tom’s just ain’t up to the task. We have hatched more layer chicks and they will fill in the gaps as our current girls are getting along in age. This past molt saw them stop laying altogether. These new ones should be old enough and laying come spring. The pigs are as happy as can be and seriously only care about food and the occasional scratching. We bred three of our goats in September. We should have babies sometime in February. We are getting to the point where we need to look into selling them. Between the bucks and the does, we have 13 head. They are eating machines so we certainly don’t need more. Fortunately, with all the new urban and suburban farming happening because of the pandemic and the economy crumbling, baby Nigerians fetch a pretty good price. Also, 4H is always looking for animals for the kids to raise. Our cheese making has been a fabulous success. We just had some cheddar that had aged 6 months and it was amazing. There are always tweaks to learn, but at this stage, we are impressed. We also built a goat breeding pen and then constructed a playhouse for them to hang out in. We got the idea from a You Tube channel we follow and the goats seem to love it. It is an A frame construction that gives them all manner of ways to jump and play. It also gives the does a way to escape should the buck get a little to aggressive.
Without having to show you yet more pictures of baskets of produce and jars or preserved stuff, suffice it to say that the gardens, yet again, performed admirably. We made a switch to growing both the tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. The peppers seemed to approve and we ended up having them coming out of our ears. Our Asparagus forest went crazy and again we were able to harvest a few hundred pounds of potatoes.
Because of the faux supply chain crisis and because it seems that everyone learned to can in 2020, Ball canning lids became almost unobtainable. We have a pretty large store of them, but because of not knowing how long the shortage would last, we investigated our options. We had currently been freezing, dehydrating and canning as much as we could. From some videos and articles, we happened upon a company called Harvest Right. They are one of the only manufacturers of household use Freeze Dryers. If you have ever gone backpacking you are undoubtably familiar with freeze dried meals from companies like Mountain House, Legacy, Augustan Farms, Thrive life, etc. They are great food storage options but a freeze dryer lets you store your own. We purchased their medium sized unit and the thing has been running non-stop since we got it. It is absolutely amazing how many things you can freeze dry. If stored properly the vegetables can last for up to 25 years. Because it can all be put through the machine, we have had virtually no waste from spoilage out of the garden. We have freeze dried bushels of beans, eggplant, ground turkey meat, potatoes, onions, cheese, fruit and things I am probably forgetting at the moment. For we homesteaders, this thing is a game changer. Oh yes, tomatoes. I wish I had gotten the larger unit, but this thing is serving us very well.
SO WHAT IS NEXT?
That brings us to today, the end of the year. As I write this it is about 70 degrees. I just got back from the store wearing shorts, a T-shirt and Crocs. This weather is insane. Denver broke a record of over 225 days with no measurable snowfall. It is dust bowl era dry here and yet Hawaii is expecting a foot of snow and 100 mph winds. After having been out of the drought for a spell, we are now in an “extreme drought” according to NOAA and the USDA. This is a bit scary. While we have good water with our well, I will be ramping up the creation of our rooftop water catchment system. We had an issue (now resolved) with our solar system and battery back up. Should that system go down, as our well pump is electric, we would not have water. Sure the humans can get water and we have an apartment in the city, but watering the animals would become a significant issue. We have so screwed things up as a species that the north and east are bracing for a very snowy and cold winter and we are wondering if it will ever freeze. I still have Broccoli growing in the gardens and I have had to regularly water the apple trees, Blackberries, Asparagus and Garlic. Our solar guy said that not only did he wish more people had systems like ours, he wished more people would choose to live like we do. I have always been open to teaching these techniques but I largely get silence with just crickets in the background.
As I stated earlier, nothing stays the same. The economy is collapsing, fuel and food prices are sky-rocketing and home heating is supposed to get out of hand. There are predictions of propane and natural gas shortages. The specter of the issues like happened in Texas last year, have the potential to spread everywhere. We are a nation under siege and I wish my giant YAWP into the universe would actually yield some results. But, alas, the Siren’s song of golf, theaters, malls, new cars, fast food, and shiny things, call too loudly and we are indeed screwed. So all we can. do is just live our lives and ignore the noise and criticism of others.
The one dependency I have always wanted to be rid of is propane delivery. While we are not tied to a natural gas line, some shmoe has to come out a couple of times a year and fill our propane tank. Given that we have been warned all over the country that propane shortages could indeed be a thing, and that our furnace runs on it, we decided this needed to be remedied. I am not going to get into the details of the BS we have endured trying to buy and install this thing (same as everything else we have had someone else do here), but we invested in a wood burning stove. It will be our primary heating source and the gas furnace will be set at about 50 degrees just to ensure that we don’t have issues with freezing pipes should there be no fire. We have about 10 cords of wood out back and the final installation (after having to report them to the BBB) will likely happen this coming week. That will be a relief. We found out through experience that while our battery back ups can run the furnace turbine if the power goes out, it can’t do it all night. So this way we will lower our propane consumption, take the burden off of the batteries and allow us the ambience of a fire and its soothing heat. We could probably be completely off of propane if we had a solar hot water system so if you are so inclined to do a Go Fund Me for the farm, we would appreciate it greatly! LOL.
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, it ain’t lookin’ pretty. The economy is in shambles and is only being held up by corporate share buy-backs and insane Fed money printing. People are leaving abusive employment in droves. The pandemic and inflation (being created by the fed) is taxing people’s purchasing ability to the hilt. Food shortages are starting to hit home and all that cheap Chinese crap everyone seems to like to buy at Walmart is languishing in a mathematically unsolvable problem called “The Whiplash Effect;” not to mention the many flying penises being launched into space who’s worth could solve world hunger. There is no way we will ever see pre-2019 “normal” again. Given the droughts and major climactic events, we will be lucky to have anything resembling a functional eco-system ever again. Here, let me just tell you where I am….. There will be precious few humans alive on this rock in about 10 years. You go ahead and live in denial. The data favors me.
So given this rosie news, I simply won’t involve myself in politics and social issues. They are pointless. I will help others as I can but I am not a crusader. If people want help doing what we do they need to seek us out. If not, it is nothing but a circus side show. I have my popcorn and a good seat. Bring on the show.
On a personal and familial note, we are indeed done building. The 10th year of the farm will be transitional, hopefully leading to a whole new life paradigm. We will be living the farm life always looking to de-stress and find peace. In my case, I have bent to the whim and scapegoating of sick people enough in my life. My family owes no one, including other family or anyone else. We did the virtuous thing and the kill ourselves thing to please others long enough. As we move into our sixties, the farm will be our oasis, our Shire, our place of reclusion and peace. The 10th year will help us to transition to this life, hanging up post drivers and screw drivers and hammers and pick up feed bags, hoes and hay. We will live and love and move away from this insane society and culture. In a philosophical/spiritual sense it is a death and rebirth. Personally, I am walking away from our virus of a species. I don’t have many in-person friends anyway and I have no desire to interact with the insanity that this abusive culture is inflicting on it’s citizens. There is peace in reclusion. There is virtue in being a hermit. There is love in being a hobbit. Animals love in a way that humans are incapable of. Nature heals, civilization destroys and if I have to die a hermit refusing to participate in a diagnosably mentally ill society then I am willing to do so either by natural or personally chosen ways. I am saying goodbye to all things except my efforts to heal our little piece of Mother Earth. We are at the toxic end of a badly damaged and corrupt empire. I refuse to participate anymore. I hope that my life not only helps to heal, but that it makes a statement. I hope from a personal note that this will rebalance me after a lifetime of abuse and living in survival mode. I gave enough to everyone. My wife has done the same. We now will work on healing ourselves and loving each other throughout the time we have left. JAZ Farm is our safe haven. She deserves our care and I am sure, she will care for us.
Planting this year was relentless. Going from constructing two major fences to planting in the 50 raised beds was seriously taking its toll on me. I haven’t had a rest in several months. I was starting to wonder when this old ass was gonna simply collapse. Yesterday was brutal. Got the drip irrigation mostly up and running. However, as usual, what should have only taken a few hours, took all day. As with anything, including people, it is possible at times to start to hate what you want and love in your life. This planting season got me there. Now that it is done, I sit here on the porch looking at it all and think, “You know, this place is pretty neat when the Demons and Devil Sprites aren’t rending me with anal probes.” I think we will survive another season.
The last project in the garden will be to get the new Blackberry hedge planted. We got the holes drilled for the plants this past weekend. We still need to run the water lines to them and then mix soil and compost together to put into the holes so that we can plant the bushes into them. The fun part of having this much space to grow things is that we can try out new things. If it all fails, it won’t affect our food for the year because it can be grown in other spaces. This year we are attempting to grow Peanuts, the Blackberry bushes, and intercropping the Strawberries with the Asparagus. It is all just one grand adventure; my kind of adventure in that I can do it all right here. Frodo can go to Mordor…. I prefer just staying put.
I got a laugh a couple of weeks ago from something a friend said. He said something to the effect that “He was impressed at what keeps getting accomplished out here on the farm especially considering my “young” age.” The reference was, as others have said, that it is funny how many times I have said that the farm is “finished” and no sooner is that project done than another one pops up in my head and is made manifest here on the land. Part of that comes from the fact that the work here, if you have never done it, is butt bustin’ stuff. It leaves you pretty spent, especially the necessary infrastructure. Every time I said it, I thought I meant it. This time though……….. I have had many signals from said universe (and my wife) to tell me it is time to stop the building and live in the creation. So that is exactly what I now intend to do.
You see, I was sitting down in the craft room contemplating my next weaving project, when it hit me; “This is how a farm is built!” I was looking at a book that uses a weaving style called “Overshot”. To describe it in painting terms we will use the idea of a blank canvas upon which your Monet masterpiece will be brought upon the earth. You start with a blank canvas, you dream something up, and then you start smearing paint all over it hoping something cool emerges (It might not get discovered until after you are dead, but that is beside the point). In weaving Overshot, you actually weave the canvas while weaving the pattern at the same time. So at the end, you not only have the canvas, but you also have the painting. If you think in terms of needlepoint, the artist starts with a blank mesh base to begin from and the stitches form the image as she sews through it. In Overshot, you are creating the blank mesh AND the picture all at once. THAT is building a farm and a homestead. In our case, we started with nothing and as we went along over the past 8 years, we built the canvas (infrastructure) while at the same time allowing the painting to emerge as we built. For instance, the first infrastructure we built was our chicken coup. There was nothing else here but a house and garage. We wanted chickens so we built that piece of the canvas and the painting was the actual chickens themselves. We wanted a big garden and a greenhouse, so we built it (canvas) now have a big garden and a greenhouse (painting). We wanted goats, turkeys, donkeys and pigs, the canvas was fencing and a barn and corrals. We want to rotationally graze animals and incorporate Permaculture principles (irrigation, water catchment and fencing (canvas), having those things incorporated into our farm (painting). You get the idea. The painting and canvas emerge evolutionarily together as you proceed. The funniest rookies I’ve seen online are those that get the animals, bring them to their property and then scramble to house them because they did nothing with the canvas portion first! It is quite the experience to watch someone buy a cow (a 1200 pound creature), and then scramble to figure out how to keep them from escaping! Happens here all the time.
So that is where the comments came from about being “done”. The continuation of the canvas building was because there was something about it that lacked “closure” and that is definitely where I am now – Creating closure. In this past year, while everyone was scrambling for toilet paper, I was out building fences. Aaron and I built the garden fencing during the beginning of the lock-downs. He helped me until he went back up to school, to build the north pasture so we could rotationally graze. When he left, I continued to build the canvas on my own. Now it is on to the closure, both physically and metaphorically. Our property is a big 40 acre rectangle. The portion we use as our homestead is about 15 acres and we lease the back acres out to a farmer that lives across the road, who grows wheat. The way the canvas developed was from the road to our west and then back towards the east. This wasn’t exactly planned, but the shape of the place lent itself to nice 90 degree angles. So nearest the road are the two big pastures. One has the livestock barn, the other is the new grazing pasture. Come back closer to the house and on one side is the garden and greenhouse, on the other side of the driveway is the boy goat pasture, chicken coops and pig pen. In the middle of it all sits the house and garage (which were the only things on the place when we got it). All of this forms 3 sides of a rectangle. But the 4th side is open to the back 30 and then out into thousands of acres of grass prairie. On top of all of that, for all the critters we have and have made the canvas very comfortable for (they aren’t crowded, they lack for nothing, they all have shelter, etc), our dogs don’t have that luxury. Sure they have a hut and a pen, but so they can range and sniff and do dog stuff, I have to be out there with them. The canvas is incomplete. By closing the back side in, they will have 5 acres to run around on.
If you have never lived in a rural setting, people are a little weird about their dogs. They seem to think that it is ok to let them out and then not worry about what they are getting into or where they have gone. Our neighbors are no different. To our north, the family goes to work in the morning and they leave old FIDO out to roam around at will, which usually means he/she comes through the Piece O Crap barbed wire fence over to our place. Having the back side of the canvas unfenced leaves unfettered access to our place for said foreign critters. Being the more responsible adult in the room, I will not have my dogs returning the favor. With this final closing off of the back side of the 15 acres, the dogs can run themselves stupid and I will never have to wonder where they ran off to. In addition, should any of our other critters manage to escape their pastures (Think goats. They are escape artists that can get past you and out into open field before it even registers in your head that they escaped) they will encounter a redundancy. Nothing can get out without permission. Trust me, I over build everything. The pens are all made with fencing designed to keep horses in and this last side is fencing used for cattle. Unless they are high jumpers, they are staying put!
So I have embarked on what will definitely be the last fencing project (The completion of the canvas). YES I MEAN IT! Fence building is ball busting work, and I have to admit that at 58 years old, this construction stuff is getting just a bit too painful. The last fence closes off the back of the farm and completes a very nice symmetrical canvas with an incredibly cool painting on it that we now get to interact with for the rest of our lives.
Not only did this make sense from a physical standpoint, it was very nicely balanced emotionally as well. When I started this last fencing, I had in mind not only to square off the canvas of the farm, but to have it done by the end of March. You see, the end of March 4 years ago, was when I sold my practice and left work. Unfortunately, 3 months later I was in for surgery and that sidelined about a year or so of canvas building; but, 4 years, to me, was a nice square number to finish the construction career. This last fence is the closing off of the farm, the framing of the painting, and with any luck, the walking away from this psychotic society. A good online friend once said, “I don’t understand the world anymore, so I am opting out.” That is where I am. The metaphor of closing off the farm, living in the painting, and opting out of an insanity that I have no power to cure, works for me. If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, you have seen what we’ve accomplished. At this point, modesty be damned (thus referencing the injured knee picture) I did it, I am proud as hell of it, and what it can provide and bottom line, we certainly deserve it. For those who have said they are jealous of it….. success comes with blood, sweat, and tears. This is the culmination of a 30 year career, dashed dreams and the emergence of what we consider to be a fantastic success. To quote the movie “The Incredibles” – ‘Luck favors the prepared, darling.’ People are often envious of sports figures who seem to be able to effortlessly perform their chosen activity. What they ignore are the thousands of hours of practice and drilling that got them to that point. Make no mistake, I am a black belt in farm building. We are not novices. We earned the scars and now we have earned this closure.
As of tomorrow I will have hand pounded in another 90 fence posts along 900 feet of fence line. My little tractor just wasn’t up to the task of drilling the holes for the wooden posts so I actually hired that done. A local friend came out with his huge skid steer and punched the holes. What would have taken me 2 days, he did in less than an hour. Well worth the money. The gas powered post driver I bought in order to give my shoulders some relief from the relentless pounding of steel posts (when this fence is complete it will mark almost one full mile of fencing installed by yours truly) gave up the ghost after a dozen – #screwTitanpostdrivers. It seems that it is always better to either do it yourself, or work with someone local. This machine was a complete piece of crap. Oh well, as it really is the last fence construction to be done here, as of tomorrow, I will have no need of it. We are expecting what could be the biggest snow storm here in 9 years this weekend, so my shoulders will get a chance to heal before the actual stringing of the fencing commences (We’ll see about that snow prediction, we had the bomb cyclone here a couple of years back and that sucker was no slouch. If it bests that, thank god we are Preppers!)
During the snowstorm, should it transpire, it will be the perfect time to transplant this year’s seeding, fire up the grow lamps, make Mozzarella cheese, and contemplate my next weaving project….. perhaps a nice Overshot.
“Plant like your life depends on it. Because it does.” – Collette O’Neil, Bealtine Cottage, Ireland
Spring is actually coming. Of course we are expecting a snowstorm today, but it is the week here to start planting seedling in the basement grow room! Soon the big lights will be running and the new plants will begin their journey to the gardens. The annual garden grid is up and, of course, I do most of it in pencil because it always changes. This year we are moving all of the tomatoes (as usual) and the peppers, into the greenhouse. Some reading up on peppers indicated that they should do much better here under the cover of the greenhouse and the shade cloth. We usually have quite a large pepper harvest but the fruit always look like they fought a bit of a battle. It will be interesting to see if the protection and elevated humidity (versus none) help them out. One gardener said they saw a 500% increase. Doubt we will see that, but if the peppers are larger it would be fun.
But, before the hot weather plants go outside, the cool weather crops get to perform first. As we aren’t even to March yet, there are 3 months until our big plant in dates (usually around Memorial Day). Given the wild weather swings because we broke the Jet Stream, even if it looks like the temperatures are clear, buyer beware. Last year we put things out about 10 days too soon and we ended up scrambling with row covers to keep things from freezing to death before they even had a chance. In the next couple of weeks the Broccoli and Cauliflower and Spinach will get planted into the greenhouse. We still may need to use row covers (I have no doubt), but these three plants do pretty well in cold weather. Next up will be planting out onions and shallots, but that is still a ways off. Once it is time to plant in the peppers and tomatoes, the Broccoli and Cauliflower will be out and frozen and the same with the Spinach.
The newest addition to the main garden space will be the creation of a Blackberry hedge. This will be along the fence that Aaron and I put in last spring. There will be 24 bushes along the south side and will use the fence as a trellis. The irrigation will simply come from an extension of the hoses used to water the apple trees. More plowing, hole drilling, drip irrigation and composting will ensue. We should see those plants arrive sometime around the end of April. They come bare root, so initially they will go into pots and then, when the plot is ready, be planted in then.
In planning the garden we always have to assess what we actually need. If you have enough of something that you might never go through, why plant it, etc. I had planned on using one of our 50 foot beds to plant sweet corn. Out here that can be hit or miss, and we have a great source for sweet corn in Boulder. I have been doing the low carb thing lately so the sweet corn would likely just sit in the freezer and maybe end up getting fed to the chickens. So it was with that thought to feeding the animals that caused a shift in plans. Between that and the enormous potato harvest we had this past year, it was actually getting a little difficult to come up with enough plants to fill up all the beds. Enter the critters. American Guinea Hogs are walking scrap eaters. When we got them all the literature said how great they are as you can feed them on mostly grass and table scraps. Unfortunately, we are lacking in both so we have been feeding them store bought alfalfa pellets and pig feed. That isn ‘t too much of a problem but it is still having to turn dollars into pork. I read an article that talked about planting animal plots. They include vegetables that can be used by both humans and animals so nothing really gets wasted. While raw potatoes can be toxic to pigs, boiled ones are not. Pigs are natural rooters, so things like beets and turnips can be fed to them as well. This way we have ready potential pork to feed extra potatoes to and we can store both those and the beets and turnips I am going to plant in the corn bed, in burlap sacks. While this won’t eliminate the need for purchased feed, I can plant hundreds of root vegetables for a few bucks whereas pig feed is 15 bucks for a 50 pound sack. They will eat the roots, greens and all. Brilliant!
Yesterday was the early spring cleaning of the chicken coops. This is probably the nastiest job on the farm. Unfortunately it is a job one can’t ignore if you grow food without fertilizer. Chicken crap is pure gold. It goes from chicken feed to eggs to poop to tomatoes (Both the humans and the pigs eat the eggs). We have never added commercial fertilizer of any kind to the beds since we bought the place. The animals make all we need. However, that cleaning job is a real butt buster. Not only is it simply no fun (it is after all just cleaning out an enormous bird cage) it is insanely dusty. In my case, and Zina’s too, being a bit asthmatic, that dust just locks up your lungs. As it is also quite a bit of exertion, the choice is made whether to inhale the dust and not be able to breath that night, or wear a bandana and pass out from lack of oxygen. It usually winds up being a combination of the two. Truly, if my locked up lungs last night are any indication of what a bad case of the Roney Virus is like, I am not going out into the world ever again.
However, the birds are all cleaned up, the new compost from it is over in the garden area waiting to be used, the coops smell nice again, and I like eggs and fresh chicken….. things could be worse.
As I had posted previously, we put an outdoor brooder in the barn this year. We did it because we were wanting to eliminate the need to have to start baby chicks in the house. They need to stay in a warm environment for about 4 weeks while they feather out and then they go out into a grow out coop before either going in with the flock or to the freezer camp resort hotel (You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave). We have 52 roasters coming next week (52 because that is where there is a price break). Of course, weather being unpredictable like it is now, we are expecting the first part of March to be too cold for them to be out in the new brooder (even with the heat lamps). We lost a bunch last year for the same reason….. live and learn. Soooooooo, back in the house comes the big tank, heat lamps, wood chips, and feed in anticipation of many small cheepers taking up residence in the basement. Fortunately though, after about 10 days to 2 weeks (instead of 4 weeks) we will be able to move them out to the new cage as they will be partially feathered and the lamps out there will be ample. The last week of a 4 week stint is pretty nasty. The whole house starts to smell like chickens and there gets to be a thin layer of dust settling over everything. This way shouldn’t be all bad. By the time they go out into the grow out pen, it will be April and they will have their adult feathers. Besides, you have never eaten chicken until you have had one raised right outside your door. This is a bit of a hassle (processing is a big job) but we never complain at dinner time.
THE GOATS HAVE EXPLODED!
We have posted about our new goat babies. I don’t think there are many animals as cute as baby goats. By now they are about 3 weeks and are hopping about playing dodge the donkeys. It is always so entertaining to see them learning howt to use their springy legs and seeing the wide open world under momma’s supervision. After 2 weeks the milking begins. This is Ginger’s second round of babies so milking her is pretty simple. Because she had 5 kids she is pretty full and I imagine having some of the milk removed in the morning is a welcome relief. That little lady is producing about 1/3 of a gallon in a morning! Momma Paprika is a completely different story. She is petite to begin with and doesn’t seem to understand this whole milking thing (“What are YOU DOING back there!!??”). To be fair, it is her first time, I am human, and neither one of us is known for our patience. When she doesn’t want to be touched she simply kicks at you and lays down. I pick her up by her tail, she kicks and lays down. Oh well, it will come around. But not all goats are great milkers by volume either. While Ginger has opened up the flood gates, Paprika is a bit of a trickle. As milking is why we have them, one needs to evaluate. I won’t breed her again (as we are only getting about a pint from her) so she might have a date with our local community sale barn to be sold as a pet (Nigerians are sweet little kid friendly buggers and Paprika is very cute).
The one thing that makes things a bit of a challenge while milking, is the way it is done. Me milking a little Nigerian Dwarf Goat by hand would be akin to Andre the Giant milking a Hummingbird. No way that is happening. The milker we had been using is a good one, but it was simply a hand pumped device. If you have a skittish goat like Paprika, all that additional pumping commotion doesn’t help matters. So, UPGRADE! We have gone all modern and got an electric milker that doesn’t require pumping. Once it is on and in place the little motor does the rest. The thing, of course, has a fitting name: The Udderly EZ milker. Yep…..
If I could convince Zina that we should have a Jersey Cow, it would work on her as well…….. but for the goats, especially when I am out in cold weather, this thing is awesome. So for those thinking I am some kind of Luddite, think again. This, plus the new filter for processing, is going to save me so much time. By the sound of the dogs barking their fool heads off as I write this, it sounds as though the new cheese press has arrived as well. Time to start making some righteous Cheddar.
So this was kind of a mish-mash of things. It is typically what happens as spring starts to appear. Last year at this time I was finishing the last of our raised beds and hail guards. This year, I am going to finishing our last needed fence. My goal, weather not withstanding, is to have that fence done by the end of March. The gas driven post pounder has come back repaired so, hopefully, I won’t be driving t-posts by hand like I did for the most recent pasture fencing. My shoulders can’t handle that impact much anymore and there are over 100 to do. So far this year I have thrashed my shoulders, popped my right knee again, broken the middle finger of my left hand and sprained the one on the right. I always thought that the old farmers in Iowa, hobbling around in their overalls, must be some really ancient old codgers who have been around the block a few times….. I really need to not look in the mirror. As POGO said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I are one. Maybe I just need a shiny new pair of overalls and I will be all fixed. Add some Bondo, a few bearing and U joint repairs and I’ll be all set to go. Or not. As my t-shirt says, “Everything will kill you so choose something fun”. Peace.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, the next evolution of the farm is to work to regenerate the land and try to create something of an oasis in a sea of dry grass that is on it’s way, according to climate models, to becoming the Sahara. The first piece is putting in the necessary earth works. It will include swales and other water catchment systems as we progress, but the first piece is to allow for better rotational grazing of animals. It’s important to be able to move the grazing animals around so that any one pasture doesn’t get over grazed thus killing the vegetation that is there. Today I finished the new north pasture. I hand pounded 140 posts, drilled in and cemented in H braces and Corner braces and tied on and pulled 1750 feet of horse fence. Actually, I have a last 100 feet to do tomorrow but in essence, it’s done. Using portable fence netting we will be able to direct which paddock the animals have access to. Between the 4 pastures I figure we can block out 8 different paddocks thus rotating the goats, pigs, chickens and turkeys from field to field so they can graze and peck and actually help to heal the land. I do have one last humdinger of a fence to build so that in case of a possible escape by said creatures, they run into a back stop. It will also give the dogs about 4 acres of their own to run around on without us having to wonder where their dumb Lab butts ran off to. After having to pause to throw a bunch of hay into storage (about 60 bales – gasp), I will start on the second fence. The goal being to have all this infernal fence torture done by planting season (Memorial Day). After that, the fun jobs start…. I actually can’t wait for that. Being the gardener and Permaculturist will be so much more enjoyable than pulling galvanized steel fencing around (It weighs about a pound a foot and they come in 200 ft rolls). Pretty tired of construction, but it comes with the territory I guess.
Every year, it seems, there is another addition to the farm. Another task arises because of a discovery or an adaptation to surroundings and events. Of course, 2020 was a spectacular shit show for so many people. It put many in danger and it exposed how completely inept people are at governance. It also showed how resistant folks can be to being resilient in the face of adversity and change. My whole life has been something of a fight. This hasn’t been difficult. In fact, I found it pretty interesting. I will post a bit more about how it all affected me in a different post, but suffice it to say that I have been affirmed in all that we do and all that we’ve done to get to this point in our JAZ Farm life. Last year tested the farm and her inhabitants’ mettle. From a major power outage around this time last year, to coming home from school and work and having to work and study at home, to a farmer man who tried to keep all these cats herded when it affected the returnees pretty badly for awhile (Perhaps a more precise phrase would be “disoriented them for awhile.). A crisis will expose the cracks in one’s character pretty explicitly and ours were no different. However, We are all here. We are all still alive. We are all much smarter for the experience; and I must say that if this Bat Bug were to go away, my life wouldn’t change much. We are so fortunate to have had foresight into the fragility of our society – from a medical stand point, a failed economic standpoint, and from an environmental one as well. We were able to not only feed ourselves, but carry on with our lives and also provide for some time down the road (which by the looks of things will be needed). The JAZ Farm homestead and farm did it’s job and we know that we can continue on pretty much indefinitely if we keep on tweaking the issues we find simply from the experience of living it.
The Bat Bug and Economic crisis not withstanding (which we have yet to fully experience), one of the real lessons learned, which is becoming more and more urgent here, is the use of water and how to acquire it. As well as the fires in California, thousands of acres burned here in Colorado this year because of a most severe drought (which continues currently and, of which, climate models show could turn much of the Southwest and Mid-West into a Sahara). This was particularly sad because most of the fire damage was in my old backcountry stomping grounds when I was still able to be a modern Jeremiah Johnson. The devastation is unreal. It will be decades before those scars (if they ever will be – we could see it again this summer) can be healed. We had almost no snow this past winter, virtually no rain this past summer (which included the first recorded “Haboob” dust storm in Colorado and decided to go straight through our place) and so far this winter has only seen dustings of snow. Every footstep here makes a dust poof and larger winds now brown the skies out because of the bare dry topsoil blowing away. All this means that industrial farmers will have to pump more and more water from the aquifers and with all the new homes going up in Colorado, wells are now having to be dug down to 900 feet. On top of the drought, the heat has been climbing with 2020 being the hottest year on record and I mean to tell you, weeks at a time in heat north of 100 degrees F is no picnic if you are out every day trying to keep your food source (garden) productive. As I read in one of my desert agriculture books, a farmer in New Mexico said, “The rain is dying”.
So that is where the title for this posting came from. The Corona crisis instilled it even further for me. It is a realistic understanding and a coming to grips with the fact that all has changed permanently. Nothing is ever going to “go back to normal” so that everyone can continue on with Walmart TV’s and plastic crap, consuming as though it was the only real reason to exist. You either adapt or you suffer and I pity those (which seem to be most) who cannot see it, will not see it, or choose to ignore it. Mother Earth is in charge and I think that only those involved with trying to heal her have any hope for longevity (Understanding full well that it might be way too late). The world is in hospice and living with a species with no Erete (Greek for Virtue) or Wisdom, seems pretty much destined to continue to become an orbiting cinder. Now some may agree with this idea or not, but despite it all, one needs to live. Evidently, the energy vibrating this dream state into existence seems to have me be doing this farm project to the exclusion of much else. So that is what I do. In the end, it might all end up being but one scene in a cosmic play, but if that is what I have to do that is what I have to do. I guess I will continue on until all of me is used up. At least I will be able to say unequivocally, that I tried. That might not matter either, but it gets me up in the morning when not much else can.
So the wake up of 2020 had to do with awakening to the desert dogging my heels (as Derrick Jensen said). According to many, many desert dwellers I have researched and read about, it is all about basically two things: Earthworks (the shaping of the land being used) and, of course, water. The earthworks are designed to slow down water flow and keep it on the property in useful form for as long as possible. Every drop of water should be caught as high up on the property as possible (in our case mostly roofs), diverted to the growing areas and then infused into the soil through the use of swales and waffle pattern gardens all using mulch, cover crops, trees and grasses to hold the water in place. Catching the water involves plumbing. This means water catchment systems to hold water until needed that come off of the roofs of the Garage, Barn and House, as well as the horse run-in shed that will be built in the future. All of this gets plumbed to ponds, large water barrels, as well as simply into the swales where the actual vegetation is planted. Through a combination of earthworks, water catchment, proper “guilding” of plant groups to utilize the shade from trees and bushes and the water retention of leafy ground cover, a veritable “Food Forest” to coin a Permaculture term can be built in a semi-arid climate. By using perennial plants as much as possible, as long as moisture can be used efficiently, the land can be healed not only to produce food for the homestead inhabitants, it will also create habitat for the non-human species that are being displaced as we continue to destroy our only living planet. So if the universe is saying that this is the rock that I must break myself upon…. at least I’m not in Bermuda Shorts on an electric tricycle at some human Romper Room or wearing a pink polo shirt with Khaki’s riding around on a golf cart while white pebble smacking myself into oblivion. In other words, trying not to add to the problem, even if there is no real fix. You have to draw your line in the sand somewhere and mine is in real sand. The picture posted at the beginning of this blog is the area where we will be working. This is just east of the conventional vegetable garden and greenhouse and on the south side of the house. It is a bit over an acre, dry as a popcorn fart, and has the perfect slight slope to aid in water flow. As this is now the Permaculture/Regenerative Agriculture part of the endeavor and we are pretty self-sufficient in most other respects, this will be the painting I hope to create on the canvas that all of the other farm structure building created. It is now time to be able to do what I was born for – biology, husbandry, growth, and being in nature – even if I have to get her to accept the invitation. Trust me when I tell all you easterners, you gotta really turn on the charm to get anything to grow here. Mother Nature needs to be enticed. I gotta be on my best flirtatious behavior otherwise all we will have is weeds and thorns. The ultimate ambition is to go from hell-scape to Oasis, then sit and watch the bees. While not knowing the future of course, this is likely to be the last project of my life. I say that because there is literally no end to it and as I see it, there is no other real reason for me to do anything else. I could spend all my time hand wringing about the collective insanity that everyone sees on those infernal techno-devices, but, in the end, what does that actually accomplish other than allowing sociopaths to invade your psyche and ultimately your peace and your life? Go do something. Don’t let them steal your life. You see, JK Rowling knew this: Dementors exist and they will steal your soul.
The next lesson that was learned had to do with proper land management; the positive and negative effects of grazing livestock. Our donkeys and female goats have about a 3 acre pasture to roam around on and munch on. The goats love to go after the weeds and the donkeys are primarily grass eaters. So it makes for a good combination. Over the past few years that worked out fine. They would keep the field from being overgrown and the prairie plants and weeds would come back strong in the spring. This past year that was not the case. The pasture went brown almost immediately in the spring. Donkeys and goats graze virtually all day. The result this past summer was a pasture that was grazed down practically to dirt. In a regenerative model this is pretty bad. For instance, the roots of grass only go as deep as the plant is tall. If it is grazed down to a nub the plant gets very weak and, in many cases, can’t recover. I fear that this is the case here. Because we don’t have a huge flock of critters out there it didn’t seem that it would be an issue. Then of course, we plunged into drought and smoke filled skies and voila….. something new to deal with. What we need to do is to be able to “rotationally graze” the animals (Oh ya, our boy goats have another pasture that was originally our old vegetable garden – about an acre or acre and a half – and it is on it’s way as well). Rotational grazing means only allowing the animals onto single divided paddocks and then moving them to other paddocks so the previous ones can grow back. The animals graze and poop. They are often followed by poultry that scratches the poop about, and the paddock provides food and fertilization thus helping to improve the overall health of the land.
I am afraid that this year, that whole pasture is going to have to be reseeded in order for it to not become a thistle field. That means buying seed, borrowing a friend’s seeder and then keeping the animals off of the pasture for most of next summer. There-in lies the rub. We don’t have another pasture to run them on. We have plenty of land to accommodate them, but not the fencing to hold them. Sooooooooooo, this winter’s project (again) has been, you guessed it, fencing. I have set to task of fencing in another 4 acre pasture on our north field. It will look really cool when completed and provide all sorts of room for grazing (It won’t have a barn in the middle of it.). But it is still 1500 feet of wooden posts, metal T-posts, H and Corner Braces, fence pulling, blisters, exhaustion, and yes…. cussing the likes of which navy sailors haven’t heard. Of course I am having to hand pound the posts in because the fancy gas powered pounder I got for Christmas destroyed itself after 6 posts. So it remains to be seen if I get the rest of the posts in before it gets back from whence it came for repairs. I make really nice fences but I can’t say there is anything more that I hate doing. It is painful, time consuming drudgery…. and yes, it is all apart of that whole “This seems to be what the universe is telling me to do” rot. So fences be going up. I am now just seeing it as part of the whole Oasis project. The fences need to exist so the land can stop being degraded. But damn does it hurt.
There it is. Discovery and necessity become the mother of construction. Improvise, adapt, overcome and even when you think you will wind up in a wheelchair, revel in the accomplishments and don’t be afraid to feel proud. I think we will name this the Sam Todaro memorial fence. Zina’s dad passed on this last week just while I was getting the fence project underway. We will miss you Sam…. the old Sicilian farmer would have loved this place. “That Jonathan…..”
Let the last great project of my life commence. If anything, I don’t have to go to the city – Too much to do, too many idiots. I think I am quite ready for the painting to finally begin. Nothing could be any weirder than 2020 right? 2021 said, “Oh ya….. hold my beer.”
It’s a few days late, but as of December 4th, JAZ Farm turned 8 years old! Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but it was pretty fortuitous to have spent all of these years building our Shire here on the high eastern plains. Given the disease of the undercooked bat, we have been so fortunate to have our place and be able to really live pretty much unchanged from normal. Personally, my life hasn’t changed much. Before the Bat Bug I was here full time anyway, usually venturing off the farm simply to get groceries, animal feed and construction items. As with so many people, Zina and Aaron have been here as well, since about March. This has been something of an adjustment. Zina was used to at least having her co-workers and professional organizations to satisfy her more social needs (something I don’t really suffer from), but after a rough patch, everyone is pretty well settled in. Aaron still takes his engineering classes on line and mostly just disappears into cyber-world for his entertainment. I have, however, had him out working on my small engines and generators, and that has given him some hands on experience. After all, a Mechanical Engineer ought to have at least been introduced to a carburetor even if they don’t much use them anymore. Farmer Jon is Doby the house elf. I cook and repair and shop for the bits of food we need and generally keep the place running while the two new full time residents stare at their screens for work and school. We have found that we are really pretty self-sufficient for food. Most of the food stuffs we need to shop for are things like beverages snacks and lunch meat. Most everything else is ordered in bulk or grown here. Because we are transitioning to breeding our own pigs we got low on pork. To make up for the shortfall we ordered a quarter steer from a ranch near here. While the world freaked about wiping their behinds, we stocked up on tons of animal feed and hay so that we have a cushion. After all, they will keep feeding us if we feed and care for them.
Because of the lockdowns this year, as well as simply a fear of going out, there have been many shortages of things we homesteaders have taken for granted over the years. The biggest shortage has been canning supplies; lids and quart jars in particular. Fortunately, we have quite a stock of both because we have been at it for so many years. But, unlike the newbie gardener wannabes, we have been getting out ahead of things for years. The motto, “Two is one and one is none” is something we tend to follow for most everything. As with this past spring, seeds were also in short supply, so mid-summer I ordered all of my seeds that I will need for spring of 2021 to avoid shortages (plus, we save as many of our own seeds as we can)
Chicks! Whodah thunk there would be a shortage of CHICKS! We usually order a passel of meat chicks each year to raise up and put in the freezer. This year we waited MONTHS to get them. Thank goodness we hatch most of our own (both chickens and turkeys). So this year I have an order in for over 50 of them. They are due in the first week off March of 2021. We had some issues with our meat birds this year including, heat, a different breed that didn’t seem to be suited for altitude, and some health problems. We also raise stewing hens, and we had hatched 20 of them. Unfortunately when we put them out into the grow out coop, a skunk discovered them and had a smorgasbord. By the time we got it trapped, it had killed 8 of them. That problem will be remedied by next spring. Our other coops are fortresses, so I need to dig a trench and get the sub-surface concrete put down to prevent burrowing.
As if we didn’t have enough bird cages, we got sick of brooding out the chicks in the house and in a cattle watering tank. It is dusty, smelly and awkward. Because we raise so many chickens, we decided to dedicate some space in the barn for an enclosed, walk-in brooder. I ordered some construction site fencing panels, laid down some rubber stall mats and walled it all off with OSB panels. This thing could easily brood out 200 birds, but the best feature is the ability to clean it easily, not have to get on one’s knees in the water tank to clean it, and just generally create a more efficient environment.
One change we made had do with the pigs. Heritage (traditional) pigs can grow to be enormous animals. Many that we have taken to the processor have weighed over 400 pounds. Most are very friendly, but they are immensely strong and even if they don’t intend to hurt you, they can without even knowing they did it. So with that in mind we discovered American Guinea Hogs. Guineas were actually the pig of choice in the early Appalachian homesteads of the 1800’s. They eat mostly grass, fatten up pretty easily, are docile like dogs, and don’t get to be as big as the traditional Iowa hogs that folks are used to seeing at the State Fair. We are now raising up three and are on the list for a couple of more from a breeder in Colorado Springs. If this works well, just like our chickens producing breakfast every day, these little guys will keep us in bacon and ham. We have 2 males (Pedro and Pablo Pigcasso) and a female (Petunia). They are just now getting to breeding age so we have been building a farrowing pen in the anticipation of little squeakers.
We just got done getting the dairy running again. We bred two of our girls to Tank and Dozer – the bucks. We are certain that one is pregnant as she has turned into mother waddles. The other, Paprika, we don’t know yet. She wasn’t really thrilled with spending a couple of months with Tank. She would have had to have gone through 2 cycles and Tank, shall we say, is very devoted to his purpose in life, so it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t be pregnant but she isn’t shown nearly has obviously as Ginger. Both should be due in February or March so we will see. At that same time in the spring we will breed the other 3. This way we will have milk, yogurt and cheese all through 2021. Goats will try every inch of your patience, but they are very sweet and just riot to watch. They have grown on me and I really enjoy having them around.
The two Gurus of the farm continue to simply live in the moment. Give them hay, treats and petting and they are as content as they can be. Donovan honks at us around sunrise as if to tell us that we are slacking off and not feeding him on the schedule that HE thinks we should be on. I am working on fencing in another 3 acres of pasture though. Those guys graze all day…. every day. We have been in a severe drought and they actually ate their current pasture down to the nubs. We don’t have haying equipment (very expensive). So in order to feed them fresh pasture we decided that we should fence in another section of grass and bring THEM to IT! It is another huge job, but once done, I can do some proper rotational grazing to help take some of the pressure off of the land. A friend has a ground powered seeder, so I may borrow it next year to reseed the original pasture to heal it back up. Being able to move them around will also help save some on hay expenses. If this drought continues, hay will be hard to come by and be expensive. The goats, donkeys, pigs, and sometimes the chickens all eat it, so staying stocked is important.
Despite the drought, our gardens lost their minds this past summer. We harvested so many potatoes that I am still processing them. It is December and I have yet to get the carrots in. Our new Asparagus patch did very well in getting established and I am looking to a light harvest next spring. Because of the canning supply shortage, I bought a second dehydrator and went to town. We have dozens of half gallon ball jars just filled with produce (In addition to all the canning we have done). The freezers are full as well. Growing food is something I do well.
It is a challenge to grow greens in our environment. The heat makes everything bolt. I ran across a book that described a system of growing greens indoors year round. That is my latest project so that we can eliminate the need to have to buy them in the stores. Mine won’t have eColi!
In addition to all of the issues that we have faced because of the saga of 2020 was a wildfire season for the record books. California usually gets all the press, but it saddened me to no end to watch my old mountain stomping grounds go up in flames. I have hiked all over the Northern Rockies and lived for a time up where the fires have now devastated. We live about 2 hours from there now but the massive smoke plumes still managed to cause some pretty awful breathing issues and very smokey skies. Climate Change is devastating the west with fire and drought. Hurricanes seem to be sexier and happen where more people seem to be living, but forest fires are an experience. We have been in our fair share and hope that we see some moisture sometime in the not too distant future. It has really put a burr in my saddle to get the swales and ponds dug and the water catchment system up and functional. If we are going to see more anniversaries here, water management needs to be the cornerstone of what we do here. A mini-dust bowl is already here. We need to get the core of the permaculture forests done so that we can help tie the dirt down and not have to go through too many more of these awful dust storms.
So I posted this blog just to celebrate the 8th anniversary of the farm and how admirably it has performed for us during this ridiculous year. I am officially declaring homesteaders and preppers off limits for ridicule. Ya’ll are all trying to become us now. Learn from those who have gone before you. This is going to do nothing but get worse. The escaped virus might be brought under control at some point, but the economic depression is just starting. While there is time, get out and get stocked up. I wish I could tell myself that I am over-reacting, but the signs simply don’t lend themselves to that. It is one thing to make sure you can wipe your butt, it is entirely another to ensure that you have food, especially if the supply lines continue to fail. I held off here on the absolute rant that I wanted to include in this…. we’ll save it for another time. Happy Anniversary JAZ Farm, ya done us proud.
So mini-winter is but a memory. This week and next temperatures will all be up around 90 degrees with no moisture in sight. Working outside today was like working around a camp fire. There is yet another fire, this time up in Wyoming north of where I used to live. It is about 14,000 acres and it seems that a good chunk of the smoke made it’s way here. The air quality is quite bad and for we asthmatics, that limits outdoor time. But, while mini-winter was a very strange blip in the weather world, we are now back to getting the gardens harvested and processed at a more reasonable pace.
Probably the most back breaking task involved with gardening is harvesting potatoes. There is no real easy way to go about it, so down on your hands and knees you go trying to dig them up without skewering them in the process. This is not a perfect science, so any potato that got poked scraped or sliced will get canned or dehydrated as they don’t store well with wounds. Zina did the hand digging part and I followed behind her with a shovel to dig down deeper and seek out the stragglers. It worked out pretty well. The trench I dug needs to be done anyway in order to plant next spring. Once done we will line the ditch with peat moss and composted chicken manure and we will be ready to go in 2021. I have always ordered our seed stock; I am currently investigating the best way to store our own for next year as we might be facing the same over-demand for them that we had this year. Worse, I fear. Fortunately, our previous predictions about the yield are proving true. We have gotten through 1/4 of the planted rows and we are already over 100 lbs. This means we have recouped the seed potatoes by weight and are 50 lbs. to the good. The total should be in the ball park of 400 lbs. So if one is looking to stock a pantry, not only to make sure bellies stay filled, but to also have things that taste good, our main preserved staples should do the trick. We still have yet to check out the sweet potatoes, but I fear that that will be our lost crop due to the freak snow.
It seems that from the core of our food stuffs, Green Beans, Corn (from a local organic grower) Onions, Garlic, Canned Tomatoes, Carrots, Potatoes, Peppers, Celery, Sauerkraut and Pickles, we should be able to keep the eating interesting. This will all go along with our Eggs, Turkey, Chicken, Pork, and the Beef that will be arriving in about a month. I am pretty sure we will have at least one pregnant goat, possibly two by November, with three more set to go in the spring. This will keep us in milk, yogurt and cheese. We will also be growing all of our own lettuce during the winter in our basement growing facilities.
So folks, it might not be on this kind of scale, but it can be done. Just be creative. “Oh Jon, you are just bragging.” Well, after all of the work over the last almost 8 years, you bet your ass I am bragging. I am (We are) as proud as we have ever been about anything. And, more bragging, we were right about it all. Makes you angry? Move along. This one is ours to puff up over. Also folks, jealousy (and I am talking to specific folks who have said this), doesn’t accomplish anything. We have never had any real consistent offers of help that have actually panned out (which is a typical refrain among small scale farmers). Mom did help and a couple others very sporadically and we did higher a part time farm hand, but as luck would have it, she crunched herself up in a car wreck. Guys, once you get the hang of it, it really isn’t that tough. Plus! You get exercise. Digging that trench is as aerobic as pretty much anything, unless you are a runner. Given that my legs are pretty deteriorated, using my upper body to dig with works out pretty well for me. All that lacks, in most cases, like setting any goal, is vision and desire.
So from my family to yours, stock up, stay awake, and become as self-sufficient as possible.
Once again, like every year, Aaron dusted off the drone and the Go Pro to do a tour of the farm and to highlight the achievements of the past year. Here you will see our new pigs (Pedro and Pablo Pigcasso and Petunia), both our boy and girl goats, The new baby chicks, the crazy turkeys, the completion of moving the gardens and the new fencing. We have been in quite a drought this year so everything is very brown. But thanks to the well hydrants and timed drip irrigators, our gardens are doing very well. We are up to 43 raised beds. Next year you will see the completion of another pasture fence so we can move the critters from pasture to pasture so none of them get grazed too short. The new apple trees and Asparagus patch are doing great and we expect to harvest a couple of hundred pounds of potatoes. This past week all of those hail guards over the raised beds earned their keep. It isn’t a perfect solution, but nothing got wiped out in our most recent hail storm. Next year we hope to be putting in a Blackberry patch and some grape vines. Work will also begin on our new food forest where the old garden was. All in all it was a very productive year. Sometimes one needs to sit back and admire the accomplishments. This is how one thrives during the Zombie Apocalypse. Looking forward to seeing what the next year brings to the farm.