NINE

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.

Before
after

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:

The end of fencing

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.

It was a garden, now it is a pig pasture

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.

CLEAN UP:

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.

The wretched refuse

SECURITY:

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.

Say ah!

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.

THE GARDENS:

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.

This is what tomatoes sauce looks like when it is done…. a tomato styrofoam.

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.

BUT!

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.

Just need an outside chimney and we are all set

2022

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.

Spring Is Actually Arriving!

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!

BIRDS EVERYWHERE!

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.

Food For Our Food

IMG_3726BB0D5DA1-89B6-4CCA-9900-1BE35103A0F5img_3096img_3291img_0693chickens-2016Solar Oven2015 wheat 3

 

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.

It’s Amazing What Has Transpired

 

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What an amazing week this has been.  I guess I should be grateful to it for exposing what I had suspected in our system, but wow did this whole week go from an experiment to reality in the blink of an eye!  The neighbor to our south, who also owns our local wine store and raises angus beef cattle, said she completely feels our pain. One does not simply up and leave a farm on a moment’s notice.

We were simply going to check our ability to survive off-grid for a month and all hell broke loose.  1.  Our farm hand had surgery (we knew that was going to happen).  2.  Zina’s father had a stroke and is in the hospital for the foreseeable future.  3.  Zina is now not at the farm as a result and if he passes,  I have to now call my mother here because evidently one layer of farm hands as a back up is insufficient.  4.  Of all the damned luck.  I am seeing yet another therapist.  All I did was take ONE step down from his office and sprained my hip (It felt like a paper towel being ripped off the roll).  Of course, this set off a cascade of panic as I had to literally crawl to the house from the car when I got home because my hip couldn’t take any weight.  That set off all sorts of worry as to whether or not I’d be able to take care of the creatures in the morning.  Fortunately, by using dual hiking poles, like one would do cross country skiing, I was able to get it all done.  The last couple of days have pretty much been lying about, icing my hip, and cursing the universe.  It is mind blowing just how much could go unexpectedly bad in such a short period of time (Oh ya, our youngest Lab had a diarrhea episode last night in our bathroom.  Try cleaning that disgusting mess up while not being able to bend down!).   I’m pretty convinced that the universe is sadistic and it costs too much to live here on this rock because of our “civilization”.  We have a lot to consider going forward.  Please spare me the God and all things happen for a reason BS.

So, obviously, not much got done here the past couple of days.  BUT!  I have made goat milk soap in the past week or so, and just made my own CBD oil from Colorado Catnip grown right here on the farm.

That’s the important take away I think.  So many of us are completely tied to the grid and to corporations to supply us with our needs.  Instead of working towards self-sufficiency, our society has worked to tie us to a dependency system.  This is a Catch-22 in my opinion.  You get educated to get a good job.  Once you have said job, you have to pay for your own transportation, work clothes, housing, food, and insurance, all so you can earn money at a job to pay for all of those costs.  In financial planning jargon we call those “fixed expenses”.  You wake up in your dorm or fancy suburban prison cell, dress, go to your job, do your job and then come home and shelf yourself back into your housing unit to store yourself until the next day – all on your dime.   Essentially, it is the percentage of your earnings that are required of you to keep earning.  The rest is retirement savings (that you can’t use for decades), taxes to pay for military conquests abroad, extortion level medical insurance premiums and then “discretionary cash” – the money used to have a “lifestyle” so you don’t go insane from the treadmill job you spent precious time, money and life to get and keep.  In that venue, under the illusion of convenience, you either go out to eat, or go to the grocery store to acquire your necessary and, in many cases, unnecessary calories, of which you have no control over and which gets more expensive every year.  Because of this frustration, you end up spending more of your discretionary income in therapy trying to figure out how to survive in a world that is completely, and non-hyperbolically,  insane.

What we have discovered on the homestead/farm is just what usury levels of costs are built into the system for this convenience.  Canning, dehydrating and freezing food you grow yourself, reveals just how much of your earnings are being sucked from you because you let someone do it for you – because your slavery doesn’t afford you the time.  Can some food and compare that cost to the cans on the shelf.  Grow some broccoli and compare that to the produce department.  Shoot, even buy the ingredients for bread and compare that to a loaf of bread-like-substance at your so called grocery store.  If that doesn’t show you the stark madness of being dependent on our industrial ag system, not much else will.  Then, if you still remain unconvinced, compare the taste and nutrient quality of your tomatoes to a factory produced can of diced “tomatoes”.  The differences are stark.

Now.  For today’s lesson.  My cannabis plants are heirloom.  Which means that you can breed them and the seeds remain genetically true to the parent plant as opposed to crosses which do not.  I planted eight plants and kept the three females.  Those plants created close to 10 lbs of buds and dried down to just under 2.  That is more than I could use in a couple of years.  Cost……. 0.  The expense of infusing the oils was only the cost of the oils.  In a dispensary, a couple of ounces would run 50-100 bucks.  How long do you have to work to earn that kind of money?  If I could, for all of my physical pain, I would bathe in the stuff. This way, by doing it myself,  I don’t have to pay extortion level prices for something so easy to grow and create.  Why do you think they call it weed?  It grows like one.  Mine reached 7 feet in height……… just like virtually anything on a grocery store shelf, it is stupid simple to make yourself-  Most bread and pastas: 4 ingredients.  Mayonnaise: three.  Canned tomatoes: one…. and that goes for most vegetables, maybe a little salt.  Pre-made meals if canned or frozen yourself:  no preservatives and have a shelf life of years.   What price for convenience?  Pretty much your life.   What do you have to do that is more important?  Video games? Golf?  Movies? Shopping for shit to spend your money on but don’t really need? Hell, gardening could even save you a gym membership fee.

So perhaps we have been sold a bill of goods for iPhones, fancy clothes, and status.  After all, the best way to keep a prisoner from escaping, is to never let them know they are actually IN prison in the first place.

Use your job to plan your escape, not keep you enslaved to a version of reality that has no more depth to it than your flat screen tv.  We did it, and as Robert Frost said, “And that has made all the difference”.

Peace and freedom ya’ll.  This is what it looks like.  Live like a Hobbit.  Re-learn the old ways.  They work better.

 

First SHTF Check-In

So as I figured, the food portion of our emergency homestead experiment is a no brainer.  A month?  Shooooooooot.  We have enough prepared canned meals put up to last 4 – not to mention the 2 years of dried and freeze dried foods, plus chickens that make us breakfast everyday.  So this isn’t such a big deal.  However, it does give one time to think though.  My next test is going to be seeing how it goes with all the alternative cooking methods.  Again, shouldn’t be a big deal.  Also, as we had planned for, the proper circuits are hooked up to the critical load breaker panel for the solar and all is working just fine.  As I type, I am in the basement on one of the wired up circuits and the internet is simply plugged into the master bedroom outlets.  Both of these are set up to work should the grid go down.  We’ve already had a lot of experience in this as the power goes out out here if a mouse farts in the wrong direction.

As I had mentioned in the initial introduction to this experiment, the cheat here was knowing when it was going to start.  For animal feed, I simply stocked up a bit more than normal and we already had hay enough to last a year and a half.  So the animals won’t be much affected.  Now we did say that we were going to act as though we couldn’t get fuel.  That would pose a problem with the pigs that I’m not going to address this time around.  They were supposed to go to freezer camp last week, and the weather did indeed change plans.  It got down to -2F for 3 days and we had over a foot of snow, making it impossible to 1. Get the pigs on the trailer and 2. Get the trailer out so we could drive them to the processor (About 10 miles from here).  The only way to remedy that problem if everything did fall apart would be to butcher them ourselves.  We already process our own poultry and I have experience dressing out big game from hunting, but processing two 350 pound hogs on the premises is something we will either have to remedy, or just accept the fact that no person is an island.

The next gap in the works has to do with how we inhabit this country.  Most of our relatives live in Michigan (Another in way the hell away Canada).  The week we had decided to try this off – grid experiment out, we found out that Zina’s dad had had a stroke.  Fortunately the airplanes still fly and I just got pinged via text message that she just landed.  But it gives one pause.  “What ifs” abound.  It would have to be assumed that others would simply be able to take care of themselves.  However, with some temperaments, the not knowing part would be crazy making.  Trying to get 1500 miles from here on a horse would be a challenge not worth attempting.  The crazy part of this is that we had a plan in place to take care of the farm in case we had to jump suddenly and hit the road should the worst happen in this situation.  We have a part time farm helper that gives me a break once in awhile and adds a second set of hands when having to deal with animal doctoring issues.  We knew she was going to be out for several weeks and we didn’t really think much of it.  No sooner did her issue transpire that we got the call about dad (I mean within a day or so of each other).  Now what do we do?  Now MY mother is on stand by to fly out here on a moments notice to take care of the animals while we leave here together for the first time since we bought the place.  Bottom line:  This place is well suited for bugging in during emergencies.  It gets kind of dicey should we have to leave.  Not sure how to remedy that but, as I said, this endeavor will reveal the gaps we should consider.

So over all, nothing to report on the domestic front.  All is going as it should, even if we did start out in a snow storm (that almost collapsed the turkey coop from the weight of the snow).  Now I’ll be working toward using the alternative cooking methods. Now that Zina is well on her way. It’s just me now for while.  What a hardship this is!  LOL.  What a tough life.

So what have I been doing to fill the “screen” time up?  Well, a little screen time – my hyper-vigilance doesn’t allow for complete blackouts, but mostly going to a Monet exhibit (That we’d had tickets for for the last year – his nature paintings are my all time favorites) weaving a blanket and making goat’s milk soap of course – doesn’t everyone?

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This Is A Test, This Is Only A Test…..

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We have spent the better part of a decade building our farm and learning the lost skills our ancestors would have considered par for the course.  We try to live a simpler, more old fashioned lifestyle, deliberately.  As we think this society is in collapse, we intentionally separate ourselves from the majority of what urbanites would consider “normal”.  We are about as self-sufficient as two old duffs can be in this day and age so the time has come to put it all to the test.  For mental health reasons, I dropped out of the world for a few months at the beginning of the year.  I pretty much tuned out from society, ignored the news and learned that the emotional well being of others is not my responsibility.  I have three people to worry about in this world and I am one of them. To further this endeavor, it is time to put the farm through its paces.  So the second “drop out” this year is going to last through the month of November; but this time it is more physical than cerebral.  This homestead behemoth needs to be put through its paces.

As I have said many times, I think the biggest threat we need to contend with is economic collapse.  As we speak, the Fed is pumping BILLIONS of dollars a day into the “REPO” system – the overnight lending system  (too much to go into).  We are now in a covert QE4.  If this system freezes up like it did in 2008, It will make that collapse look like a happy ride at Disney Land. If liquidity is not maintained, people will not get paid, food and fuel will not get shipped and those “too big to fail” institutions may actually fail – or make everything else fail (In short, Great Depression mark 2.0).  This country is carrying a debt load, individually, governmentally and corporate that is, in numbers, like the stars in the Milky Way.  We will crash from a much higher height than 2008.  Don’t get fooled.  This whole thing is held together with rubber-bands and paperclips.  We are all whistling past the graveyard.  While the news says the economy looks good, the underlying systems keeping it afloat are collapsing.  Even if I’m wrong (I’m not) with all the other collapse issues happening in the world: fires, impeachment issues, fraud, civil unrest around the world, flooding and grain shortages, corruption, political and racial division, US concentration camps on our southern border, income inequality of biblical proportion, an administration based on nothing but verifiable lies and deceit, Fukushima, swine fever in Asia and a partridge in a pear tree, as well as the military admitting that it could be completely overwhelmed because of climate change in 20 years, we have decided to simulate a SHTF scenario (When the excrement hits the high speed oscillator). We are going to shift our solar system to critical load mode only and then live for the month of November on nothing but what we already have here. We will be pulling out all the non-electric cooking gear, live only off the solar for electricity, use our oil lamps for light, assume there is no gas for vehicles, no trips to the grocery store, and – as importantly – no news (like if the com sats were knocked out). Of course, Zina can’t just take November off from work, so I guess I should be saying “I” will be doing this (although she is only going to eat food from the farm and not go out or shop).  She also carries a “get home bag” in her car.   Simulations aren’t pure or perfect.  We are getting as close as we can.  The number one impurity?  I know when it’s going to start.  Reality would dictate otherwise.  The unknown and the surprise are the issues that will cause people to freak.

We are extremely prepared and this likely won’t be a big deal, but it will expose any holes in the system. Some of the weaknesses I already know about, some might be a surprise.  It’s all about being able to say that not only do we know how to do it, but that we’ve actually done it.

As you know, we have lots of livestock and they get to play along too. We will need to ration feed and not just run to the feed store should we run out. It just snowed a foot here yesterday and it went down to -2 F last night. I’ve already been contending with frozen waterers and those infernal GFCI outlets that kick off when you need them the most (2 am).  As I can’t get to a few of my smaller propane tanks and a couple of them need to be filled, I’d best get at it tomorrow. We are starting November 1st and are going all the way through Thanksgiving (We raise turkeys and we may try to do the holiday bird without the electric oven –  or use the generator to power it.  The oven range isn’t on the solar panel load – too much draw for the batteries).

I am actually looking forward to doing this. It is as much of a detachment from the world as we can simulate. Virtually all of the food will have been grown and stored right here on the farm. Realistically, we could go 2 years on our existing stored food (if you include two growing seasons) so this is more of a real time assessment than a thought process. I’m looking forward to being a hermit for awhile. After all, if it all falls apart, it’s going to do it whether or not I know about it through the propaganda we call media.  We have a couple of appointments already scheduled for the month that we can’t escape, so it won’t be perfect but………

How long could you go if you couldn’t get to the grocery store?  Do you have water should the municipal system shut down?  If you are on a well, can you purify your water should it become contaminated? Could you survive 2 weeks?  A weekend? FEMA says you can’t.  What about power?  Heat?  Should you be working on it?  Do you have medical supplies beyond simple first aid and know how to use it?  No? Our nearest hospital is over an hour from here.   What about simple showering and clothes washing?  Hmmmmm.

Stay tuned.  I will blog the progress as we go.  Tomorrow:  Get the propane tanks filled.  Get the rocket stove and Silver Fire stove and the Sun Oven out.  Make sure the water filters are cleaned.  Shut down the news apps.  Center.  Live like it has already happened.