Re-Stocking The Aisles

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I had a strange feeling this past New Year.  It felt like the twenty teens were somehow the last “normal” decade we were ever going to see.  Forces have been arising that seemed to have enough clout to really rock our world through the 2020’s.  The markets were too long in the tooth, being held up by rubber bands and paper clips as well as massive amounts of money being fed into the system by the fed and companies doing the same thing that helped cause the Great Depression (Buying back their stock).  This, and the fact that over half of this country didn’t participate in the recovery from 2008 and are incapable of handling an emergency that would require them to come up with $400.00.  If you have read this blog for any time, I think Climate Change is the ultimate trump card.  There is no escaping it and if the IPCC is correct, the talking points say that we only have this decade to turn things around (I am not of that camp.  I don’t think it can be turned around at all).  So the clock is ticking and the doomsday clock was pushed closer to midnight than it has ever been.  I just didn’t think we would see it all happen in the first quarter of the first year of the new decade!  I had been calling out warnings for a couple of years now that a life changing event was coming.  I just didn’t know the catalyst was going to come from a bat.  Welcome to the jungle.  And you thought Mother Nature could be controlled and wasn’t in charge.  Baaaa, baaaa, says the sheep.

(As an aside, it is remarkable to me that we could mobilize all of these logistics globally to fight a bug because it is killing and maiming people, but human extinction due to climate change?  Virtually nothing.  Save ourselves from the bat bug, so we can die from accelerated habitat loss.  Humanity, if nothing else, is certainly a conundrum.  But I digress).

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Vacuum sealed and stored Black Beans.

We, like everyone, have been pretty scope locked on this infernal virus.  But, because we live the way we live, we have been prepared for just about everything for many years.  As I have some pretty hyper-vigilant situational awareness senses, we were out ahead of this thing.  We filled in the gaps (Not Toilet Paper – because of where we live, you ALWAYS have extra) and instead of having to freak and scramble for basic daily rations, I went out and filled in the more comfort items:  snacks, drinks, chips, etc.  For any of the more long-term food storage items we simply add to it as a matter of course.  My spidey senses told me that the window was closing fast to get prepared, so I went when all the others still seemed to think all was normal.  Friends, relatives, neighbors at the cafe’, as usual, poo poo’d it because that thing we call media, was convincing everyone it was “over there” and it was just a bad case of the “flu” and those bad government doobies were just trying to scare us.  We in the prepper and homesteader – verse were not convinced for a minute.  Most of those I follow and are friends with were on the same page we were.  The mantra was “get prepared now before everyone else suddenly realizes how serious this is.”  And, of course, here we are.

It was the week after I did all of this that the hoards descended en-masse like the pictures and videos everyone is now familiar with (maybe you were even featured in them).  We have always had some masks and gloves around (we use the masks to clean the chicken coop).  We have always had an extensive first-aid supply so all I really did was pick up a bunch of cold, flu, nausea and cough meds for possible first response needs (Oh ya, and a new thermometer and finger mounted Pulse Oximeter).  The weekend AFTER the first feeding frenzy was entertaining.  I went to Costco to get some meat I needed for some canning I’m doing.  I got to joke around with the staff amidst the empty shelves and cardboard boxes.  They said that past weekend was worse than Christmas.  The photo below is a clerk at our closest grocery store.  She is a friend.  She and I had gone to physical therapy together.  The woman she is checking out had 3 carts loaded to over-flowing, and every check out aisle was similar.  All I was after was some whole milk that we make yogurt for our pigs with!

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Keep in mind this is a full size grocery store out in the sticks in a town of 2500 people.  They did this to the shelves in 2 days:

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Because we produce so much of our own food and because we always keep the things we don’t grow stocked up in the pantry or freezers, we were fortunate not to have to go out into the freak show for very much.

Our virus prepping was quite a bit different from the norm.  Some of our food walks around and eats grain.  In addition to this little pandemic surprise we are now confronting, climate change hasn’t gone away.  Last year, for the blissfully unaware, was a terrible year for grain crops.  Severe flooding prevented many farmers from planting.  Many had their grain stores ruined or washed away and the freak freezes in the mid-west this past fall made harvesting a challenge.  As a result, there have been warnings about possible grain shortages (potatoes too).  We are expecting an El-Nino this coming summer which, at least here, usually means drought conditions and heat.  Should we experience another poor growing season for crops, animal feed will get expensive.  So in order to withstand this virus shindig and to get out ahead of potential grain price increases, we prepped for our critters more than we prepped for ourselves.  For us, feed means a continuous source of eggs (a re-producing breakfast supply), feed means pork (we have breeding stock now so our pork will beget more pork).  Hay means milk, cheese and yogurt from our goats. They all make compost and that means vegetables.  We feed a lot of our eggs to our pigs as a protein source, so, in essence, the chicken feed gets used twice!  Our goal is to have a year each of chicken and pig feed and a year or more of stacked hay (In a drought, hay gets ridiculously hard to find and, as a result, expensive).  So while the citiots were out mobbing Costco, Sams, Walmart and Target, we were just up the road ordering skids of feed.  With the eggs, pork, chicken and dairy taken care of, we are well situated, and it will help stretch the stored goods for quite some time.

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Other preps have included, butchering 125 lbs. of turkey and grinding it up and putting it in the freezer; making gallons of turkey and chicken soup along with the ingredients to can loads of other meals.   Now that the weather is turning for the better, we will be collecting our Jersey Giant meat bird eggs and hatching them out.  We have Cornish Cross chicks due in in a month and they will add to the freezer in short order (they grow very fast).  We have one goat in milk right now and will be breeding the others.  They will kid in the fall and the milk faucet will continue on unabated.

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We only milk once a day so we are getting about a quart per morning.  Plenty for us.

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We WEALLY Likes to Play!

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The Single Dumbest Farm Animal In Existence…. and one of the tastiest.  Both For Meat And Eggs

Like so many people who are privileged to be able to, Zina has been ordered to work from home for the foreseeable future.  We are very grateful to her company to be out ahead of the problem as well.  Aaron came home for spring break and it has turned into a year ending affair.  He will be taking the remainder of his classes on line this semester and then he will be home for the summer.  It remains to be seen if school starts back up in the fall.  Given the blundering way the powers that be are handling this, don’t hold your breath.  For those who can’t work from home, we certainly hope for the best.  Too bad we can’t count on those living off of our tax dollars to do anything important.  Isn’t it ironic that those who have the low “skill”, low wage jobs are now considered indispensable?  Quite frankly, I think this bat virus is exposing “capitalism” for the two tiered sociopathic farce that it is.

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So after getting hunkered down at the farm (which didn’t change much except that I’m not alone for most of the week now), we started looking to the long term.  You see, it is my contention that if we are to survive not only through this virus, or if there are others (which there are sure to be), and the changing living conditions in which we find ourselves, there is going to be a re-ruralization – or at least a massive re-structuring of urban settings.  The supply lines will become more localized.  Globalism will be seen for the failure that it is (Who’da thunk that a virus from a poor wet market in Asia could get on a plane and kill people all the way around the world.  Globalism….. the perfect model.).  Knowing this, it makes sense to get out ahead of that curve as well.  In World War II they were called “Victory Gardens”.  Due to food rationing and military mobilization, people were called upon to farm their yards.  It is currently going on in Russia and it is a large part of how Cuba has survived its sanctions and horrendous treatment at our hands.  It is a remarkable thing, abundance.  If you have the means and some space it is time to start growing a garden.  It is great exercise, the taste of the food is without equal, and if you do it with your neighbors, the bartering and sharing (gasp!) creates community.  Hey!  You are locked up anyway, its something to do instead of shooting zombies on the PS4 and produces an actual result!  If the supply lines get disrupted because of this, you will be ever thankful for taking this advice.  We do save our seed every year, but for those we can’t we are even getting a supply ordered for 2021 ahead of time (seeds can last for several years in a fridge – we have a little one just for that purpose).

We are calling this year’s garden planting, “re-stocking the produce aisle”. While it hasn’t changed from what we normally do and because the building projects here are largely done, I have been able to give it more attention than years past.  This is an aisle restocking for the late summer and fall.  The seedlings are up and loving the basement “suns” as they get set to go into their pre-garden grow out pots.  Later this week I am expecting 20 tons of planting soil to be delivered so that I can finish my last 2 48 x 6 foot row crop beds.  Then the composting and amending begins in earnest for the planting to begin in the next 6-8 weeks.

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I have also begun making tinctures.  For those who don’t know what these are, they are extracts made by soaking an herb or spice in grain alcohol or vodka for about a month.  The resulting filtered liquid can be used for many medicinal situations.  For instance, our garlic tincture is great for regulating blood pressure, can act as a blood thinner, and has strong anti-viral properties (hint).  Considering that 97% of our antibiotics come from China, learning the old medicinal ways only makes sense.  Get ahead of the curve!

So, personally, I think all those that are acting like my eldest Lab when we put her out in her pen and then just stands there staring at the house like we have locked her in prison, lack creativity.  This should be used to learn, to experiment, to develop new skills to adapt to a life that is certainly going to be different.

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Learn to bake, cook, sew, knit, crochet, can, wood work, weld, garden…. anything!  Get off yer butts!

I assert again that the twenty teens were the last “normal” decade.  The new normal will be something akin to living like an Amish Hobbit in the 1850’s.  You can prepare for it, or you can sit around like baby birds in a nest waiting for momma Robin to come stuff a worm down your gullet.  Of course, that makes one dependent upon the same government they claim to hate.  Hey, I just call em like I see ’em.  As I learned to affirm in therapy, “I wasn’t wrong then, I’m not wrong now.”  Given how many people are now contacting me about what to do, I get to feel a little smug.  The days of insulting or dismissing homesteaders and preppers are over.  We don’t engage in Schadenfreude, but there is some shaking of our heads.  A certain amount of “I told you so” is well deserved.  We earned it.  We in the community do hope that there can be a civilized transition to the new normal and not Mad Max. But rest assured there is preparedness for that too. We are at a crossroads and where it goes from here and how it goes from here is destined to be incredibly entertaining.  Keep your wits about you.  Don’t believe any rosie short term forecasts, this is going to be with us for a very long time to come.

Hunker down.  My favorite meme from this:

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Kremmling Revisited

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When I was still working, even my housing while I was traveling was pretty much off the grid.  I had an office in Boulder, but my main office was up in Frisco near the big Colorado ski resorts.  The office itself was at 9200 feet above sea level.  If you are familiar with Breckenridge, A-Basin, Keystone and Copper Mountain, that’s where it was (About 20 minutes east of Vail).  For many years when I was up there I stayed overnight in my “Hotel Room”.  My hotel room was my 24 foot fifth wheel camper.  I kept it parked full time about 40 minutes north of there in a small hunting town called Kremmling.  During the summer, things were fine.  I had the usual full hook ups of electricity and sewer and could use the shower in the trailer.  Winter, however, was a different sort of duck.  As Kremmling was about 7500 feet above sea level instead of Frisco’s 9200, the coldest air from the high country would come rushing down and settle in that basin.  This rendered water hook ups impossible.  It is February 2nd 2020 right now as I write this, back then during a February in the mid-2000’s, I ran out of propane in the middle of the night up at the trailer.  I got schooled right quick about what it must be like to live in a deep freeze.  I piled every sleeping bag and blanket I could find on top of me along with my sweat pants and sweat shirt.  That morning, as with every morning, I had to get up and head over to the showering facilities to get ready for work.  The thermometer at the main building showed 35 below zero F.  I took my shower and after the 50 yard walk back to the camper, my hair was frozen.  The memories of my life would scare most people.  It has certainly not been ordinary.

Which leads me to this current SHTF fiasco (When the Excrement Hits The Revolving Oscillator).  I would have never dreamed this scenario up if I was playing for money.  Ok, so I’m not the first person to attempt suicide via digging into a cable or gas line.  It’s getting fixed, and all will be well.  In fact, I just got a call from the electrician and he will be coming out tomorrow!  Something about a “Butt Joint” – an unfortunate name in any case.  Anyway, this whole episode reminded me of living in my trailer in Kremmling during that cold February.  This cable severing couldn’t have happened at a worse time.  I was out working in 70 degree weather when it happened.  That night the temperatures plunged into the 20’s and tonight will go into the single digits.  As I have described before, the power grid is our back up.  Should the solar not produce enough because it is CLOUDY! The grid fills in the gaps.  The next day (today) the forecast is 5 inches of snow, single digits, and no sun!  I have been playing the power conservation game all day!  Because it is cloudy and everything is covered with ice, the solar panels aren’t charging the batteries like they should.  So to combat the problem, I’ve shut down the water pump, turned off any and all vampires, turned the thermostat down to 55, put on layers of clothes, am proud that this winter’s weaving project has been blankets, got a propane heater for the basement to keep the water pipes from freezing, hooked my sleep machine to a separate deep cycle battery, cooked on a propane stove and hunkered down.  It might not be 35 below like Kremmling, but the years up there taught me a lot of tricks.  Hopefully, it is only one more night if this guy shows up.  Otherwise, Tuesday night will be down to 1 degree F and I will NOT have the battery power for that.  “Well, Jon, why don’t you use a generator as a bridge??  &*^%$#$%^&%$#@$%^%$!!!  I DO have a generator!  When I realized what I was up against I tried to fire it up and found out that the carburetor is gunked up!  It might be time to replace it.  The generator WAS supposed to be a redundant back up (The one we have is more powerful than the panels and is supposed to run on gas or propane.). Doesn’t anyone make anything reliable anymore?  So as with the food challenge I took in November, this has exposed some big gaps in the farm’s sustainability and self-reliance capabilities.  Namely, if the grid is down (In this case it is because of a severed cable) and it is winter and snow-storming, we have some serious adjustments to make.  My first take is that we MUST have a non-electricity dependent source of heat.  If I didn’t have to worry about running the furnace turbine on the batteries and we had a pellet or wood stove, this would have been a piece of cake.

So the moral of this story is that you can find yourself stranded for any number of ridiculous reasons – especially this one that we shall call, “Head Up Your Ass-itis.”  Prepare to improvise.  There WILL be things you can’t imagine.  Now if we can just keep our goat from kidding until AFTER the power is restored that would be fabulous.  Stay lucid ya’ll.  Dementia comes in all forms!

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Emergencies and Setbacks. 2020 starts with a ….. bang?

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I guess being prepared for the unforeseen also means those things you do to yourself.  We are expecting very cold temperatures on Monday and Tuesday, then returning to the forties thereafter.  At the same time, however, it is forecast to be in the high sixties, perhaps even hitting seventy today.  When the temperatures drop tomorrow, they are saying to expect a few inches of snow as well.  This would be about right as we have a goat expecting to kid around Tuesday, and Tuesday night is expected to go down to zero.

Now, of course, that alone would present its challenges, but it couldn’t stay that  simple.  Noooooo, Jon has to up the challenge ante because, well, I don’t know why, I just do.  We are putting up a permanent fence around our gardens.  The last 3 long beds for potatoes and Asparagus are going in (6 feet wide x 48 feet long) and then it gets buttoned up to keep out rabbits, dogs, the neighbor’s goats, etc., and be able to graze our own goats and chickens in there during the fall to provide fertilizer and weed control.

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So I decided, during the nice weather, to get the holes drilled for the wooden posts.  Makes sense.  Do the outdoor construction stuff when the weather is good.  Of course, though,  I needed a near brush with death to go along with it all.   It didn’t even cross my mind that there might be an issue. At the main corner I dropped the auger to drill the hole and put it right through the main power line to the house! Evidently I was well insulated on the tractor. It could have gone badly right quick. I’m still alive, the solar and batteries kicked in so we still have power where we need it except for the water troughs and if we need a heat lamp should our goat kid in the next day or two. I can move the generator out to the barn to supply the critters should the need arise. All I wanted to do is put in the posts today. Emergencies and mental shocks suck. Fortunately, it wasn’t another kind of shock. Looks like we might have a guy that will fix it. The question, of course, is when?

Ok, yes I feel pretty stupid.  He who is without sin and all that. This is why farmers have a high rate of injury. We’ve discovered that potential mis-haps increase proportionately to the amount of work being done.  7 years of projects increases the rate of trips and falls, cuts, bruises, broken things, sick animals, versus having done no projects at all.  When we had our barn and greenhouse hydrants installed, the contractor put an auger through our main waterline.  Yesterday, I drilled through the power cable.  There aren’t any others, so I guess it’s out of our system now.  Although, I did go through a pretty good panic attack later when the realization struck that I could have gotten myself pretty dead.

So now we are waiting for a guy to come and dig up and splice the cable.  It is Super-bowl Sunday, so no one is coming for awhile.  Snow and cold is coming for the next two days, so no one will come then either.  As a result of my remarkable post hole placement, we are now completely off grid and will be relying on the solar system and batteries to get us through.  Instead of putting in posts, I will now be changing the generator oil and making sure it runs so we have an additional electricity source (After all, solar panels don’t produce if they are covered with snow, or if it’s really cloudy).  We are going into town to see if Tractor Supply still has kerosene heaters.  If the batteries don’t get charged up for some reason, the furnace won’t come on and then we risk frozen waterlines.  The generator can power space heaters as well.

Of course, while all this is going on, it is likely that one of our dairy goats will give birth as well.  We also will be hauling water because the trough heaters won’t have power.  All this, because the invisible gremlins on the farm decided that Farmer Juan needed to be screwed with yet again.  Like there isn’t enough going on right now.

So an SHTF or grid-down situation can come in many forms.  Never thought it would be one that was self-inflicted.  Oh well, now I get to play with all the secondary outdoor kitchen toys.  It’s always something.

Food For Our Food

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So we are at the end of week three of our farm stress test.  The goal of which to assess how both the farm itself and it’s inhabitants could manage should an LCE (Life Changing Event) require us to sequester ourselves here.  I am happy to see that most of it has been positive; however, because this has caused us to look critically at the whole system, it has revealed some issues that need to be addressed.

The Off-Grid Infrastructure:

I see little issue with our off grid systems so far.  We are on a well and that will be supplemented with water catchment and diversion systems.  We have several water filtration techniques so unless we see both the well dry up and have a massive prolonged drought (which could certainly happen – we live in the western end of what was engulfed by the dust bowl) we are as good as we can get at this point.  We need to add some more water tanks, but we already knew that.  Our septic system has been checked out and is running as it should.  We are contemplating a composting toilet system as well.  The solar electric system continues to amaze.  Should the grid fail, I don’t see much of a problem.  Should the solar system fail, we also have a dual fuel generator to back that up and it is even more powerful than the panels.  A weaker point has to do with heat and hot water.  We are completely dependent upon propane.  While there is no shortage of the stuff, it will not be getting any cheaper.  I find it frustrating to no end to have to depend on a guy with a truck who may or may not get to us during an LCE.  I would like to see us install a solar hot water system and a wood stove.  While this wouldn’t eliminate our propane needs, it would drastically reduce it to the point where we’d be able to manage.  We have multiple ways to cook, including solar.  We know that if the grid goes down our electric range and oven will not function unless hooked to a generator (which can be done) but other than the oven (which would be replaced by our solar oven), we can do anything the stove can do via alternative means.  Transportation would need to be drastically curtailed due to fuel scarcities and costs.  I will not be getting a horse and wagon.  I do too much already.
Off farm emergencies:

Well folks, you’d be on your own.  Ironically, as I posted previously, we had the perfect storm of events that tested this issue.  What a fiasco.  Our farm hand had surgery, Zina had to leave town and I sprained my hip and could barely walk.  It was touch and go as to whether or not the chores could get done.   Had it been as serious as my back two years ago, this would have been an epic failure.  This turn of events has spurred me on to really get a community together.  We have a few folks that we can share tasks with now and I hope to expand that.  You feed my goats, I’ll hay your horses, etc.  However, in an LCE, if you can get here just don’t show up unannounced, we likely would do anything possible to not have to leave in the first place.

Human food:

Our food storage and our ability to grow food made this a solid foundation for us.  So far this has been a no brainer.  Between purchased dry goods, freeze dried and dehydrated food storage, vacuum sealed and bucketed items, canned and jarred preservation and pre-made meals, we could survive for a very long time.  That, and knowing how to cook creatively and on a multiple of different sources, is a skill set to be valued.  As long as we have our chickens, breakfast is made for us daily, thus taking some of the burden off of our pantry.   BUT!  That leads us to another discovery that will be leading us to a more in depth plan of action.

Food For Our Food:

If you have only been watching the corporate infotainment channels, you are likely pretty uninformed.  Those corporate mind numbing displays of faux news have likely not let you know that we are on the cusp of some pretty serious food shortages and price increases due to the massive flooding this past spring and the freak freezes of the past month.  This is likely to continue.  If you think food prices have gone up a lot lately, hold on to your shorts.  Between grain shortages and a massive swine fever in Asia that has destroyed close to half a billion hogs,  this is going to get interesting to say the least.

If we can keep growing our own vegetables and greens, and as long as we can raise our own meat, eggs and dairy, we are in good shape.  But that, itself, has a weak link too.  We are incapable of growing the feed needed to keep breakfast miraculously appearing every day. While we won’t be fighting the insane citiot crowds at the grocery stores, hay and critter feed are the same sort of weak link as depending on the propane dude to bring us highly pressurized, explosive gas.  We don’t have haying equipment and simply can’t afford it.  A stout system to hay out our back 30 acres would cost in the neighborhood of $100,000.00.  So we need to constantly be on the look out for sources of Alfalfa/Grass bales.  Secondly, we can’t grow enough grain in diversified enough quantities to feed our turkeys and chickens year round.  There are ways to make or purchase cheaper feed , but currently we feed all organic and that isn’t always easy to find.  We are going to be switching to a new breed of pig that can be raised mostly on hay, which will bring down our feed costs, and we do have ways to mix our own chicken feed from bulk purchases, so we do have some alternatives.  However, just as we rotate our food pantry to continually cycle the older food and replace it with newer, we need to do that with feed.  We also need to fence in an additional pasture so we can take advantage of the grass we do have without having to bale it.  We will be spending a tidy sum here to get about 6 months of poultry and hog feed stored and then rotate through it (Grains that have been milled and mixed have about a 6-8 month shelf life).  From there, we will simply start at one end and back fill to replenish as we go.  Because hay is a local search and we are prone to drought, not only will we keep the barn stocked, as you can see in the photo above, we will be stacking it and tarping it under the barn awning as well.  If kept dry, hay can last about 3 years.  This should help keep the eggs, meat and cheese flowing.  Lastly, I need to do a better job of seed saving.  I do some, but I need to be more diligent at it.  Plants adapt to their environment over time and that gets passed on to through their seeds.  That is important out here given the poor soil quality and hard water.   Lastly, we are an hour away by vehicle, to the nearest hospital.  We have ample first aid supplies, but I’m thinking that some improved herbal knowledge couldn’t hurt.

So this experiment has been fun.  It has let us play the SHTF game, do some thought experiments, experience some of it in real time, and map strategy going forward.  I would highly recommend that you give it a try in your own world.  It can be an eye opener.  I hope this also gives you some ideas as to what we could be facing and help you to develop some sort of plan of action.  Don’t work panicked, work smart.  The 7 year anniversary of purchasing this place happens in three weeks.  It takes time.  Do the best with what you have.  To quote a friend:  “It’s one Step at a time, one Thing at a time one Day at a time (STD), just don’t procrastinate.

 

 

More Successful Off Grid Testing

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I did a solar and battery back up total grid shut down test yesterday. Passed with flying colors. The panels generated all of our power all day. The batteries switched over to the critical loads at night. It powered the well pump, furnace, 3 freezers, refrigerator, a sleep machine, Internet and about 800 watts of lights. They hit 50% of capacity draw down around 5:15 this morning before the controllers shut them down (this is a pretty size-able load). By 11:00 am this morning the panels already had them recharged to 95 %. I’ll take it.

As the biggest power draw was the blower on the furnace, that can be alleviated and allow for more power usage from the battery bank.  Potential improvements:  Install either a wood burning stove or cook stove in the basement or a pellet stove.  This would keep the batteries from having to power the furnace.  That, coupled with a solar hot water heater would make us almost completely energy self-sufficient……. sort of.  It would certainly trim back the load on the batteries in power down situations.

Whadya Think?

032B7637-1B47-4214-BBD5-68D335398F80DD9D3175-3636-47D9-998F-70D4BB95160FA huge shout out to Dorothy at Dorothy’s Colorado Art.  She and her husband Russ are off-gridders across the mountains from us.  We mentioned that we were looking for a new logo for the farm and Dorothy put this together for us.  If we ever do a booth at a craft fair or farmer’s market we need a banner of some sort.  Plus, we wanted something for T-shirts and hats.  Now to find a place to get them printed up when she sends us the file.  We really like them!  Thanks Dorothy!  You’re awesome!  Check out their energetic videos at Happy Off Grid on You Tube.

 

 

Went and Bought Some Help…. Happy Birthday To The Grumpy Old Farmer!

 

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We broke down and bought a helper for the old farmer butts.  If you’ve ever worked on a building project in your mid-50’s, forgot a tool and said tool is in the shop a quarter mile round trip away (especially if it happens more than once), you will understand the need completely.  Hauling straw and hay and 50 pound feed bags will now not seem so torturous.  I’ve heard slavery is illegal, so we went with this instead. Happy Birthday to the grumpy old farmer with the fused spine!

Our son has my old little running around car up at college.  He needs it to get back and forth to his lab job.  As a result, dear old dad just has his ginormous pick up truck that we try to only use for hauling and towing needs.  It is hugely uneconomical for going to the grocery store.  So we have taken to having me go into the city with Zina on Fridays, when needed, to do the necessary hunting and gathering.  This keeps the truck parked.  I’d like this to be one of the last gargantuan trucks we ever need.

But, that means I am pretty much sequestered on the farm alone most of the week.  It can get pretty quiet out here in the sticks, and while I don’t really care about a lot of company, sometimes I just need OUT for awhile.  So in addition to it being a work horse (It’s a 700 and has some serious guts) I will be able to use it to tool around the farm, which has a mile perimeter.  Also on occasion, I will be putting it on the trailer and taking it up to an area where we used to own some property and tool around on fire roads and national forest trails.  My hunting days are pretty well done, but I’m eager to take the camera and zoom lenses up and just run around in the hills.

So far we have been hauling 50 lb. sacks of feed and innumerable straw and hay bails by hand with wagons.  If you put 6 bags of pig feed on a utility wagon, you are in for some pretty good resistance training.  With this beastie, it will be considerably less work and we have certainly earned something of a reprieve.  Even taking out the trash here is a quarter of a mile round trip.  I can’t begin to tell you how much “project time” has been wasted by having to walk around getting things.  While its not a horse and it does burn gas, we think its for a good cause:  growing our own food, saving our knee joints, and having some fun!  Of course, when you are a couple of finance geeks, we even figured out how to cut enough fluff out of the current budget to keep it cashflow neutral… after all, if someone else’s money is cheap, use it and keep yours!  Now if I can just get it off the truck without flipping it over!

 

The Days Are Shortening, Time To Look Back On The Year

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We’ve noticed of late that we can go out earlier in the evening to put the chickens to bed and the sun is coming up later in the morning.  Being someone that really has his clock aligned with the sun cycle, it means a bit more sleep (Don’t fool yourself, I’m still starting to wake up before 4 am.).

But with the change of season (Today is 91. What change of season? – oh ya, the season we used to have before we screwed everything up), it is time to look back on the farm and assess the damage.  More and more we are becoming creatures of farm routine instead of construction engineers.  We declared an end to the expansion of the farm and have found that we are really at the limits of what two old farts can expect to accomplish (especially when one is only here half the week and needs to re-coup from the week at the “money and health care job”).  Every fall, we take a step back and survey all that we can survey and assess how things went and where we are headed.

The first assessment is owning up to our physical limits.  While we can still work most city folk under the hay bunk who are half our age, since adding quite a bit of livestock to the mix, it is an unrelenting schedule.  My back is doing great, but I have to watch how I bend (which makes hay stacking an adventure).  While the pain is gone from the spinal issues, they didn’t put me back together according to the factory specs.  I am never not stiff and sore.  From my neck to my calves, I have to stretch out every day and give myself a bit of time to get it all moving in one direction.  Zina has increasing responsibilities at work, so there has to be something of a balance between doing some chores, but also being able to simply “be” with the critters (Something we have come to call, Farm TV).  What we have learned this past season, is that the most important farm implements, the humans, have been tested to their limits and adding anything more would probably become something of a health hazard.  After all, if you consider that pre-civil war homesteaders lived about 50 years we are pretty long in the tooth.  We STARTED this place at 50.  Of course, we were urban farmers long before this, but the farm started on 12/4 of 2012.  We are coming up on 7 years of an unbelievable amount of work, both in its building and production.  If we do say so ourselves, we are some tough old birds.

So with that admission, the adding of anything new to the place that expands beyond what we are doing, won’t happen.  We had considered other livestock and such, but we already raise about 85% of all we consume.  There isn’t a lot left to consider unless we wanted some giraffes and kangaroos!  Any new projects will be enhancements of what we already have;  Things that come up that make you say, “You know what would really make this work well…..”  For instance, now that we have jumped into the dairy goat world, we discovered that we don’t really have a good place to milk.  The barn has a dirt floor and is pretty dusty.  So we may get another shed, just like the one we just got for the bucks, to use as a milking parlor.  We don’t milk the old fashioned way by squeezing.  We use a hand held milker.  That does keep the milk cleaner, but having the ladies in a dedicated area, along with our goat gear, makes a lot of sense.  So those kinds of enhancement things will continue.

The farm is a multi-faceted operation.  It is simply not possible to keep the schedule of “have to’s” in one’s head and hope to remain sane.  We have, and are, developing a yearly calendar that has all the reoccurring tasks in it; from goat vaccines, to coop cleaning, house cleaning, animal feeding, etc.  We’ve found that if we don’t do that, our minds stack everything up in front of us like a mountain and it is easy to get discouraged.  I suffer from Complex PTSD and anxiety ramps up pretty quickly when things look overwhelming.  We need to eat this elephant one bite at a time.  If our time is managed well, the anxiety is reduced significantly.

So then, How’d we do.  Overall 2019 GPA:  A  (Last year would have been a C)

The first goal was to have enough of the build out done so that we could focus on our gardens in ways we hadn’t been able to do before.  We were constantly splitting our time between making and building things and trying to stay ahead of the weeds in the old garden.  This year was a splendid success.  The move away from the hilled gardens to the boxed raised beds around the greenhouse was just the ticket.  While we weren’t able to really be intentional about it’s tending like we’d hoped, it was certainly better than in years past (surgery years not withstanding).  I worked like a madman to get the remaining 9 raised beds, hail guards and shade cloth covers up (I will be making 5 more this winter to finish them all off).  Last September around this time, we had water hydrants attached to the well and run to the greenhouse and to the barn.  This overcame yet another drought this year.  The high pressure was able to bring drip irrigation and provide hand watering to all 40 raised beds.  The spring started off cold and wet, which set things back about a month, then it all dried out.  Our temperatures were easily as hot as the drought from last year, but the shade cloth kept the plants from getting scalded in the mile-hi plains.  The hail guards did their job as well.  So unless we move into the 100’s for temperatures next year (a definite possibility), we have the vegetable gardens in a pretty good place.  I have planted Broccoli, Cauliflower, lettuce and spinach for the fall planting and once the tomatoes give it up in the greenhouse when we get our first freeze, I will be getting the cooler weather loving things going out there.  Shameless self-adulation:  I’m a damned good gardener.

Evaluation of the gardens:  Excellent.  Only the Tomatillos failed, but they have been particularly difficult to raise here for years (The grasshoppers love ’em) .  Everything has produced extremely well.  We had our first bout of white flies and tomato horned worms in the greenhouse, but we won the battle (tomato worms are disgusting creatures). The garden has done so well that we are crying uncle.  Next year:  No hard beans.  We have mountains of them and the beds can be put to better use.  You have to grow huge amounts of black beans to get enough to care about.  Probably going to punt on the Tomatillos.  We’ll rotate the tomatoes to the outdoor beds.  We need to get the cool season stuff in earlier in the spring and start the warm weather stuff later.  Try some melons.  Create cattle panel arches for the vining plants.  Foot long beans look interesting.  Grow more Shallots, they are great.  Keep doing celery.  Trust the seeder when planting carrots.  The carrots did great but they are way overcrowded.  Stay on the weeding to the neglect of everything else except the animals.  I cannot believe how prolific the bindweed is here.  They strangle everything.  More sunflowers.  Put in a long raised bed for potatoes and create a dedicated asparagus patch.

Construction to enhance:  Build the permanent fence around the gardens, string drip lines to the apple trees, finish the remaining hail guards, and build the potato, corn and asparagus beds.

Livestock:  We are officially turkey and dairy goat ranchers.  They were the new additions here.  On the bird side, we have begun hatching all of our own chickens and turkeys.  If you have never had a home raised turkey, boy oh boy are you missing out;  Absolutely incredible taste.  We are also hatching and raising Jersey Giants as our meat chicken flock as well as a smaller bunch of Cornish cross “Frankenbirds” in the spring.  We added grow out coops this year and moved the brooders to the barn so we don’t have to have the dust that baby chicks create, inside our home anymore.  All of this has gone great.  The only issue we have had to contend with is that turkeys are Stooooooooooopid!!  Chickens put themselves to bed at night, turkeys couldn’t find their tail feathers with a detailed map.  They like to roost up high so even clipping their flight feathers isn’t completely helpful.  The teenagers have figured out how to jump over to the breeder stock coop and that finds themselves getting their asses kicked by the adults. I mean KICKED!  Like dead.  I guess, if we had to evaluate the turkey flock as a meat source, it would be to hatch a bit fewer and process them sooner.  It is certainly worth the time, but as we speak I’d love to just take my shotgun and …….    Turkeys is dumb, Mkay?

We bred our little Ginger (Nigerian Dwarf Goat) this year.  That has been so much fun.  There is nothing cuter than baby farm animals.  As I write, it appears that one of our other does, Cumin, is pregnant.  We put her in with Tank, one of our bucks, and it was quite the courtship.  All of about 5 minutes.  I think we timed things correctly.

Ginger gave birth to Switch and Neo.  We have been using Matrix names for the boys.  Our intact bucks are Tank and Dozer (Also, Switch, because we first thought he was a she… nope…. two boys).  Now as sad as it is, bucks, like roosters, are not needed in quantity.  We have absolutely no need for two more stinky, crazy, breed-able boys.  So instead of simply doing away with them (They are our firsts, so of course we couldn’t just drown them), we will be turning them into Wethers (castrated males) and they will spend their lives with the girls.

Which leads me to the next point: Enough having to download more cranial software.  You’ve heard the canard, “It’s all a learning experience”, or “Learning is a life long process….”  all that New Age tripe.  I am tired of having to download new software into my head!  We are virtually all self-taught!  I want to have life be kind of routine for awhile.  Once those babies were born, it was a flurry of activity in trying to figure out what needed to be done.  Sure, as usual, we read everything there was, but its a whole ‘nuther thing to have them in your midst.  When do you de-horn?  What’s the best way to vaccinate?  Is momma supposed to be milked once or twice a day?  What do you do with the milk?  If I drink it will I die?  Whew!  The babies are still alive this morning, must not have screwed up too badly…..  Enough!  Now that they are going on 3 weeks old, we’ve pretty much got this wired, and, of course, if you just shut up and observe, you find out that momma goat has already got a lot of this figured out.  Observation breeds answers in most cases.

Evaluation of Livestock:  Raising goats is way fun.  Like being a first time parent, the unknowns are becoming known.  Considering that we have been raising other livestock for years and that I have experience being around cattle, we probably should have cut ourselves some slack.  We are looking forward to goat’s milk soap, and tasty cheese, and milk for our coffee.

The turkeys are a great success.  They aren’t my favorite animal, but considering that we don’t eat a lot of beef, ground turkey for meat and sausage does the trick (and they don’t weigh 1200 lbs).  Not to mention the fact that a roasted, home hatched and home grown Tom is about the best thing around.

We will be reducing our chicken egg laying flock. We are giving dozens of eggs away and it simply isn’t necessary.  We will hatch any replacements as the older hens get beyond their laying years (and the elders will become soup).  Also, the Jersey Giants are a heritage breed so they will also be laying eggs (and turkey eggs are huge and taste just like chicken eggs). We apparently have the butt nugget area covered pretty well

Meat birds.  Between the Jerseys and the Cornish Crosses we will proceed as usual.  We’ve got that wired too.

Pigs.  We will either keep buying gilts and barrows in the spring, or we may switch to breeds like Kunekunes or American Guinea Hogs.  If we want to breed them instead of relying on someone else to do it, I cannot handle an 800 lb. boar and a mad momma of comparable size any more.  Pigs are awesome.  They are smart, playful and friendly.  However, they are the size of a Buick and even if they didn’t intend to hurt you they certainly can.  We’ve taken to taking a cattle prod out with us when we interact with them. They love to come and rub on you.  They are currently as big as me and can upend you for no reason and then accidentally stomp on you while they run out of the way (I’ve seen them do it to each other…. not conducive to a human chassis).  Pound for pound a hog is probably the strongest animal you can have on a farm.  With the other breeds mentioned above, they are about half the size and a lot more docile.  So it remains to be seen which direction we head.  Again, we already have the infrastructure.  Its not a project that will  “add to” the farm.  More, its how best to move forward given all the above and what makes sense. Stay tuned.

Goats:  I’m all in.  Now that we know how to handle the husbandry issues, these little folk are about as sweet as they get.  And wow!  We eliminate another couple of staple items from the store: Soap and cheese.

Donkeys:  What can I say?  They are the Zen masters of the farm. We love them to pieces. I’d have a whole ranch full of them if we could swing it.  They are very old, wise, souls.

Looking Forward:

Our number one goal is to live with the place and just putz and have a routine.  This is a tough way to live, but now that the construction is on a “want to” instead of “have to” level, we can putz around as we choose.  Putting the gardens and the livestock at the forefront, as well as our personal enjoyment, is goal number one.

What would I like to work on?

  1.  Put the permanent fence around the gardens and get the remaining hail guards and beds built.
  2. If there is anything I would go into debt for (we don’t have any), it would be a solar hot water heater, a wood burning stove and a metal roof.  I hate the idea that we are dependent upon a guy and a truck to bring in propane.  Hail reduces 30 year shingles to 7.  While we are technically considered “off grid” I could virtually eliminate our propane bill just by heating water with the sun.
  3. I am looking into a gizmo called a “Cool-Bot”.  It takes a regular window mounted air conditioner and lets you use it as the cooling unit for a walk-in refrigerated room.  While we don’t need it to be refrigerator level cold, our “root-cellar”/ pantry in the basement still gets too warm in these scorching summers.  If I can insulate the room and use this gizmo, it will further our food storage capacity immensely.
  4. New shed for a milking parlor.
  5. Weave more.  Because of the farm schedule, I’ve not done much this summer.  Also, I was planning on having a booth at a local craft show for Christmas this year.  There is no way I’ll be ready for that.  Next year.  That is my art.  I’d love to see Zina get back at her quilting and needlepoint as well.  Oh ya, get my telescope out.  I miss my stars.
  6. Get the water catchment system up and running.  Almost there, just need to finish it up.
  7. Keep doing the vermi-composting and get the bio-char burners built so we can further develop our on site fertilizer operations

The only expansion (that’s not an expansion):

We operate this place roughly via Permaculture principles.  Everything is based on zones and everything eventually is supposed to bring in or create more than it cost.  So there are two areas that will be addressed (one will take years).

The first is to plant more trees.  We have locust trees down our southern border.  I’m going to be taking some of the seed pods and grow a bunch and plant them down our drive way and other places to serve as wind and snow breaks.

The second is to create a “food forest”.  For details do a search engine for it, but suffice it to say that it will be put into the old garden.  It will be a combination of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and vines, ground covers and pollinator plants, all designed to create a huge area that keeps producing food annually, increases wildlife, supports bees, and feeds us, all in balance with itself.

I have a line on some roofing steel and will begin to create a “roof” or lean-to that will allow me to divert water from that structure (about 1000 square feet) into ponds and irrigation drains that will feed some of the water needs of this food forest creation.  This will kind of be my canvas to paint on.  I’ve seen some in Colorado and it can indeed be done.  However, given the decrepitude of my old farmer butt, it will be a long term work in progress….. I guess, as it should be.

My ultimate goal anymore, is that no matter what the coming climate catastrophe may bring, it is to work according to what I see as “right action”.  I want this forty acres to know that I tried my damnedest to heal it and live with it.  It will ultimately fail, but that is what I know to be right and the only thing I really care about.  When the universe folds up on this minuscule part of itself, I’ll be damned if I go down with a legacy that I was just smacking a white pebble down green grass in stupid clothes consuming everything and serving no purpose.

So the JAZ Farm flourished this year; partly because the weather was more cooperative, but mostly because we improvised, adapted and overcame.  It’s always an adventure and I would suspect there are surprises lurking in the shadows as well as we progress into our 7th year.  What a long strange trip it has been.  Stay tuned.

Club Nigerian Bucks, No Girls Allowed

As I mentioned when we were going through the “Bomb Cyclone” this past winter, all of our animals were fine except our little bucklings.  All they had to hunker down in was a corrugated steel hog hut.  Even with it facing away from the prevailing wind, it still swirled around because of the severe wind speeds and went into the entrance and made them very cold.  They had icicles on their fur and were so happy when we brought out towels to help dry them off.  It hurt my heart to see them.

I was very determined to ensure that that wouldn’t happen again.  Tuff Sheds were stupid expensive.  While out to dinner one evening, we noticed that a lot in the next town over had sheds.  So the next day I went in and inquired.  The company is Cumberland Sheds and are built here in Colorado.  They seem sturdy and given the price, I couldn’t build it for any less.

Hurray! Today was delivery day.  They had this gizmo called a “Shed Mule”.  They slid it off the trailer, hooked it up and moved it right into place.  We were even able to keep it true to the farm colors: Cream and Forest Green.  So tomorrow, I need to head up to the feed store and get some stall mats for the floor so the boys don’t stink it up and have the wood floor rot.

This little hut is 8 x 12.  It has a ton of room for a passel of goats plus their hay.  So one more building on the farm.  I have just resigned myself to “that’s what it takes”. After all, one of the bucks is the daddy of our two new babies!  I think I have found my favorite farm animal, Nigerian Dwarf Goats.  They are irritating, get into everything, have no sense of personal space ESPECIALLY when you have treats and are the sweetest little shits around!  The babies are doing great.  Ginger is being an awesome momma and in one more week, we get to start milking.

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Colorado Government Finally Did Something Right

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>> The photo shown here ^^^ isn’t the completed gizmo but it shows the gist of how it will work<<

I’ve lived in the west for over half my life.  I have never understood why, in a place where droughts can cause water restrictions, that they didn’t allow for rainwater catchment.  In fact, it has been illegal.  I understand that it comes from the complexities of historical water rights (first in time, first in right), but most here would agree with me as to just how ridiculous this is – especially when the real spike in urban/suburban water use goes up in the summer so lawns can be watered.

Recently, the laws changed for the better.  From what I read, if you are on a municipal system (we are not) it is now legal to trap up to 2, 55 gallon rain barrels of rain and snow as long as it is used externally.  If you are on a well or off the grid from a water stand point, the amount you can use indoors and out is now unlimited as long as it comes off of a roof (I think an outdoor solar shower would be awesome!).

Yours truly, Mr. Farmer Jon, jumped at the chance.  Today, after putting it off for other projects this summer, I finally got down to making the first flush system for our water catchment system.  The roof is 1680 square feet.  According to the calculator, 1 inch of rain will provide 1297 gallons of water.  That would fill the tank shown above to over-flow by 297 gallons.  Through the magic of PVC I will be daisy chaining other tanks into the system as we go.

There are a number of reasons why we want to do this.  1. We live in a semi-arid climate that only gets 13.5 inches of rain a year (snow increases this, but not by much).  2. We are on a well that is down into an aquifer.  If you know anything about aquifer depletion, the news isn’t all that rosy.  3. The well is 265 feet deep so manual pumps won’t work.  If the electric pump fails, having water stored above ground until the pump can be fixed is just prudent (Our solar system protects against the grid going down, but not if the pump fails).  4. The water here is VERY alkaline.  Rainwater is not.  I have a pressure tank and pump that will provide enough pressure to water the gardens and not salinate them.

The only issue is winter.  Water freezes in winter.  As a result, we will be putting a 500 gallon storage tank in our basement to hold water through the winter.  It will be our weakest time of year, but unless I can figure out how to keep the big tanks warm when it’s 12 degrees outside, there isn’t much choice.  An underground cistern would be ideal, but contrary to popular and familial belief, we are not among the 1%.

I should have it all plumbed, painted and functional tomorrow.  I can’t wait to see this thing work….. of course, now that it is in, we won’t have any rain.

So here’s how it works:  There is a rubber racket ball in the wider, longer tube.  When it rains, the first water that comes off the roof will be dusty and bird pooped.  As that water washes down, the first water goes into the tube.  The racket ball rises as the tube fills.  Once it gets up to the reducer, it plugs it and the the fresher water will divert over to the green tank and fill it.  At the bottom of the first flush is a screw-in drain cover.  That allows the dirty water to be drained out so as to set it up for the next rainfall.  It might not be big enough, but there will be another one just like it on the other side of the barn.  We will be able to trap thousands of gallons of water, even in our dry climate…. Brilliant!