She Gets Me

So as one does after making it around the sun again, I got another year older in September.  My birthday present and Christmas presents for the next 10 years will be my loom, but Zina surprised me with a great birthday gift.  Plastic gas cans, especially with their infernal safety valves are one of the worst inventions ever conceived.  You can’t get the top off to fill them and then when you use them to fill a tank, they spill everywhere and make you smell like gas!  I had a plastic one for diesel fuel for the tractor and replaced it with a steel one for the same reason.

So Zina got me a steel gasoline can!  YAY!  I detest plastic Chinese manufactured crap!  I never buy junk and these plastic “cans” were way grumping me out.  Now how many of you can say you got a gas can for your birthday!?  Woohoo!!

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Farm Conveniences!!

As most of you who follow along know, we put up a livestock barn this past winter.  After selling the city house and moving out here permanently, The farmer retiree can now take care of critters in a way that we couldn’t do when we were both having to be corporate slaves.

The barn is awesome and we had the guys that installed the solar system come out and run electricity to it.  That alone is fabulous!  Not having to lug my big ol’ generator out there when I have to work on something AND being able to switch on the lights while feeding in the evening is down right decadent.

The issue was water.  Out here we are practically in the desert.  Most of the time you can get things to grow if you can get water to it, but that requires irrigation systems (which we have) and lots of hoses (which we also have).  We discovered in a big hurry what a pain in the butt it is to drag hundreds of feet of hose to different stations for use – Especially when it is full of water!  We had a hose attached to the house that we would drag to the garden, drag to the apple trees, drag into the barn area to water the goats, turkeys and donkeys.  I was loathing this in the morning.  Last winter when the donkeys arrived we also were faced with having to haul buckets of warm water out to them through snow drifts twice a day so they wouldn’t have a frozen water trough.  Now with the electricity out there we can add a trough heater.

Fed up with the hose situation we got in touch with a contractor that we have used before and talked about running farm hydrants.  I was hesitant to do so as some of the last quotes we got were pretty shocking (the cost to trench from the well to the barn (about 350 feet) was considerable).  He quoted far less than this and we pulled the plug and did it.  He worked incredibly fast and had the thing done in a day and a half!  We had a line run from the well head up to the greenhouse, had a faucet installed there, and from there ran the line to the barn and installed a faucet there.  NO MORE HOSE HAULING!!  Woohoo!  The water pressure is fantastic and I’ll be able to hook up the faucet by the greenhouse to the drip irrigation cutting off a good 150 feet of tube and making the flow rate much better.  We now just have to walk out to the barn, turn on the faucet and fill the troughs.  Sisyphus has been freed!

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2018 JAZ Farm Fly Over

My son was my farm hand over the summer. After the projects were completed his final task was to make a fly over video with the drone. It shows the new fence, the new barn, the goats and donkeys as well as all the other critters. He leaves for college this week and dad is feeling melancholy. Somehow it feels very final. I get choked up every time I watch it. Be sure to watch past the credits to get the whole thing.

The Good, The Bad, The Finale

So if you haven’t been completely asleep you have noticed that the weather has been pretty freaky.  We are in a pretty awful drought.  Couple that with intense sun because of our mile-high altitude and heat that started way too early this year, our gardens have been getting the crap kicked out of them.  Most of the outdoor gardens (Those not in the greenhouse) have gotten terribly scalded.  I am going out on a limb and predicting a 50% loss.  Our melons got fried, our peppers are dropping flowers and not producing peppers and we have lost all of the hard bean crop.  There may be some soil issues involved because I had to take a year off because of surgery, but flat out, it is way too damned hot and dry.  The carrots NEVER germinated over two consecutive plantings.  The potatoes and sweet potatoes and some of the onions are doing well and we had a great garlic harvest.  Inside the greenhouse everything is doing well, although the tomatoes are not going to produce nearly what we are used to.  When the temperatures get over about 93 degrees they don’t readily set fruit.  There is some out there but nothing I would call a “success”.  If our garden is any indication what food is going to be like going forward I would seriously recommend learning how to can and store food long term.  We are all going to get a lot thinner.

As I am not a person to give up without a fight, we did some studying of the gardens.  Why were the greenhouse plants doing so much better than the outdoor gardens?  As near as I can figure its because 1. There are fans keeping the air moving and 2. There is 40% reduction shade cloth on the roof and the walls.  If the sun is too intense and the temperature too hot, then wouldn’t eliminating one variable help?  I’m betting yes.

As a result, Aaron and I set to task to put covers on all 18 of the outdoor beds.  These covers will include quarter inch galvanized screen to help deflect hail and also the same shade cloth that is in the greenhouse.  Next season this ought to reduce some of the stress on these poor plants.  In the past, as long as the plants got to get their roots down and established, high heat was tolerable.  This year, the heat started the end of May and hasn’t let up yet and we are yet to get into August.  This set up will create something of a roof over the beds and (fingers crossed) give the plants a chance to get established and rooted to better help with these extreme temps.

So everything we do out here is an adventure.  One of our pigs is off to freezer camp.  Two weeks ago we put 50 chickens in the freezer. The turkeys are looking more and more like turkeys, and the goats are getting bigger.  The vegetables are going to be a disappointment this year.  Because we rely on it for our food, I will be going out to look for other bulk sources to fill in the gaps.  If you are a farmer or a gardener, anticipating success “next season” (if there is one), is indeed optimism.  We will get potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkins, celery, basil, oregano, sunflowers, and green beans.  Still not bad, but an awful lot more was planted.  Melancholy is the word of the day.

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The Farm Hand

Son Aaron graduated from Front Range Community College this past May with an associates in science emphasizing math and physics.  Proud parents!  He graduated with honors!  I don’t know where he got the analytic smarts but what a proud moment!  As a result, he will be going up to Colorado State University to pursue his dream of becoming a Mechanical Engineer.

Between surgery and over 5 years of building every aspect of this farm, I am completely burned out on construction.  We are so close to having all the infrastructure built and I simply can’t wait to just farm the place instead of building it.  So we recruited the college kid to be a farm hand this summer.  In the past couple of years he has worked on construction crews and spent a summer pulling orders for Amazon.  His ME degree will include at least one and possibly 2 summers.  Because of this, he won’t be around as much as we’ve been used to.  So instead of having him work off the farm, we hired him to get the remaining projects done here at the farm so that when he leaves for school, we will have wrapped up the majority of the projects still remaining.

So far he has helped build a chicken coop, build a turkey coop, refinish our deck, repair our wooden fence that blocks light for our astronomy hobby that got blown down in a typical spring storm, and is currently building the fence around the main coop that will house the boy goats (we do not approve of unscheduled breeding with the girls!).  In addition he and I took some railroad ties we had laying around and some cinder blocks and created what we have dubbed “The Goat Bomb Shelter.”  Goats like to hope around on things and play King of the Castle.  This will give them a jungle gym to play on as well as a place underneath to get out of the sun and the elements.  We figure that it weighs close to 2000 pounds!

So having my kid at home, helping me out, and getting things done has been a thrill for mom and dad.

Luke!  I am your father!!

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The Bomb Shelter

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Taking Back The Big Garden

The biggest travesty of not being able to take care of the farm this past year was the signature food producer of the farm…. the “big” garden.  It is the first garden we put in and it has given us huge harvests year after year.  This past year, nature got to keep it.  When I got out there earlier this year I was heart broken.  Weeds grow out here like, well, weeds.  I was confronted with a field of weeds 3 feet deep.  In my determination to get back to the farmer status I was not about to let this garden die.  So I got out the tools, the work gloves and the machinery and we set to it.  It was an immense amount of work but we kicked the weeds out and got it planted.  As we now grow the vegetables in and by the greenhouse, this has been dubbed the “storage garden”.  It is the stuff that we can put up for the year or root cellar without a lot of fuss.  Currently we have Blackberries, Raspberries, Potatoes, 3 kinds of hard beans, Carrots, Onions, Sunflowers and Asparagus.  I have worked very hard to stay ahead of the weeds and I think that we are now back in the driver’s seat.

This is what we were up against.  SOB!

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We won!

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Potatoes getting planted! Woohoo!

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Populating the Farm

No sooner did the barn get completed and the fencing all stretched and wired shut than two new members of the JAZ Farm appeared.  Meet Julio and Donavan (Donny)!

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These guys are two gelding (castrated) male miniature donkeys.  Julio is the old man (around 20) and Donny is around 13.  There is a donkey rescue shelter about 20 minutes from us.  We did some research and discovered that donkeys are great for small farms.  They are intruder alerts, great companions, and do very well with other animals (except canines).  While they don’t serve a food purpose like everything else here does, they are great protectors.  We have all manner of predator out here and they will sound the alarm if they ever show up.  Its not perfect, but when I was down and hurt, we got badly raided by a fox and he/she took out 22 of our 40 laying hens.  They will be a first line of defense and alert should it show up again.  The new barn is going to be housing these two guys along with half a dozen goats, 15 Turkeys and chickens that get housed over there when being brooded out.

The learning curve was actually quite shallow.  They are very sturdy animals and can withstand a lot.  The two things that need to be monitored is how much they eat (over-weight donkeys can get very sick) and ensuring that they have a non-stop supply of water.  The rest is kind of academic .  They deal with the heat with little issue and we only have to blanket them when the temps are in the low teens (like today).

As usual, we went to see the place this past Saturday.  We knew they had the boys, but Zina wanted to see some girls too…. until she actually saw them in person.  They were trailered out to us that afternoon!  They are the sweetest buggers.  Julio will just stand next to you waiting for butt scratching and Donny will follow him around like a shadow.  He is still a little skittish and won’t really let us pet him yet, but he let me clean his hoofs, trailer and lead him around, and pet him while he was still at the shelter.  He is younger and on higher alert than his partner.

Donkeys need to be adopted or purchased in pairs.  They bond with other donkeys and if the partner is taken away or passes away they actually will grieve for days just like a person.  So if Julio were to go, we would take Donny back to the shelter and see who he might bond to next and then bring them home as a pair.  We hope that is long into the future as donkeys can live 30 – 50 years!  They might even outlast us!

Here are the first pictures of the first couple of days:

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And of course when we brought them home it was 67 degrees.  Here is what we woke up to this morning.

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As long as they have hay and you have some treats in your pockets, they will pretty much stay by your side and follow you around.  They are WAY less work than horses and much much less high strung.  They are going to be great fun.

So this year is going to see the livestock ramped back up.  These two arrived Saturday afternoon, we have the dogs, of course (who are losing their minds over this – they will not be allowed in with them as the donkeys could hurt them and could frighten them pretty badly).  In April, the goats will arrive and 35 new laying hens.  The first week of May the broiler chicks arrive. The end of May the Turkeys arrive.  If we decide we like the goats, then sometime toward fall we will be getting a buck for breeding and a little wether (castrated male) as his companion.  Anytime during that time frame two little pigs will be added who will be destined for freezer camp.  We are also looking for a gilt (baby girl pig) that we can raise to be bred for an ongoing source of bacon seeds.

This week I will start to fill cubes with potting soil, fire up the lights and the timers downstairs in the seedling room, and planting season will begin again.  While I’m not 100 percent and I fatigue pretty quickly, I had a great check up about my back and it is just time and strengthening to keep me moving in the right direction.  Considering the hell I was enduring a year ago and how 2016 and 2017 transpired, I couldn’t be happier with the progress.  The animals are really not a lot of work and once the gardens are in, they need weeding and fertilizing.

I was told that in order to recover from both my old career and the trauma from my injury that I needed to live life in “The Center”.  Not getting to rev-d up and anxious and not dropping into the lap of my old friend depression.  Find a center.  I likened that to the PH scale where 1 was most acidic and 14 most alkaline.  Right in the middle is 7, neutral.  Thats where I am planting my flag.  Neutral.  It is a lot like finding the Zen middle path, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.  I’m finding that being out here on the farm full time is affording me that mindset.  The animals aren’t demanding, spoiled, or, for that matter, psychotic like the world seems to have become.  I simply could not have endured my career through this administration.  With animals, you know where you stand (usually involving manure!).  They need water, food, shelter and companionship.  They accept you for who you are and don’t make you feel like crap if you do something wrong.

We have found our niche.  I have no plans to leave here for any extended period of time.  We believed that we should build a life we don’t need a vacation from….. JAZ Farm is that place.