Might As Well Get Something Done Before Stormaggedon

It’s almost 60 degrees and no wind.  The calm before it all cuts loose.  The weatherdude just gave us a 100% chance of a blizzard tomorrow with over 75 mph gusts.  Evidently, the farther out onto the plains you go, the more snow is to be expected.  So that puts us at a foot or more of wet heavy slop.  We are definitely east/central Colorado.  Unfortunately, because the mountains are expecting up to 2 feet, that means that very soon when spring runnoff starts we are going to have to contend with hail again.  The last wind storm cost us shingles.  All the other buildings have metal roofs…. just not the house.  Figures.

That being said, I finished up the last of the hail guard frames for the raised beds and tried out the screens.  Looks like they will work.  One down and “only” 26 more to go.  This is the part that pokes and scratches.  I’ll just turn up the radio so no one hears my cherub like expressions and colorful chanting.

Tomorrow is a canning and weaving day intermixed with clearing the snow off of the chicken coop netting.  We had it collapse once under the weight.  Lesson learned.

 

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Battening down the Hatches

The whole county is bustling like a hive of bees.  I was just at the feed store and everyone was talking about getting the generators out, critters hunkered down, and closed up in the barns.  The Colorado beast has awakened.  Whenever a system comes up from the Gulf, it brings a buttload of moisture.  This one, coupled with very low pressure, is bring up an alleged humdinger.  They are projecting 35 mph winds with gusts to 80.  In addition, it is supposed to dump up to a foot of snow, yet at the same time it isn’t supposed to get down to 32 F.  We’ve seen this before….. it’s going to be scary windy and the snow is going to be crazy heavy.  So as with all the other worker bees, Zina is coming home, the batteries are all charged up (because we are sure to lose power), and we will be closing up all the creatures and putting the boy goats, who usually just hang out in a pig hut, into the chicken barn.  Here we go.  Just a typical Colorado spring rain.  Then, of course, it’s all supposed to melt off…. Yay! Mud!

https://www.denverpost.com/2019/03/12/colorado-weather-blizzard-bomb-cyclone/amp/

 

Gardening Class BIO

I was asked earlier this year to teach a series of gardening classes at the gardening store where I buy my potting soil.  The classes range from Starting Seedlings to Planting them out, Building good soil, Planting bare root vegetables and fruits, Constructing raised beds, and Growing awesome Tomatoes.  I’ve done two of them so far, Zina being my Vanna White, and everyone seems to think they are great.  It’s a lot of fun to be able to show off what we do and have it be helpful to folks as well.

The store asked me to write up a bio that they can use in the marketing they do to promote the classes.  Because of that, it dawned on me that we hadn’t done that here on the blog.  “Who are these loons?”  “What are they doing and why?”  So I decided to post the bio here for the curious.  I will have to do some searching (I probably won’t – LOL) that shows me how to pin this bio to the top of the page permanently so folks will be able to see who is doing all this weird stuff.

Anywho, here is us:

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>>Jon and Zina DeJong (pronounced Dee-Young), are homesteaders on Colorado’s high eastern plains. They call their place JAZ Farm (Jon, Aaron, Zina – Farm)

Jon, a recently retired financial planner, and Zina, currently a CPA and Federal Tax manager, felt a need to live life in a more self-sufficient manner in keeping with the lost ways of generations past. The industrial food system and other issues led them to investigate and then build, their own small farm near Byers.

The DeJongs first began their gardening endeavors as hobby hydroponic growers, raising all of their own salad in a grow room in their basement. This evolved into Urban Farming in Westminster, Colorado where they turned their entire backyard into a vegetable garden and landscaped their front yard using Xeric principles. From there, they found 40 acres out east of Denver and have spent the past 6 years building 50 raised garden beds, as well as livestock barns and fencing in pastures and, where possible using Permaculture guidelines to work with nature to provide for a more self-sustaining lifestyle.

 

Currently, the couple raises all of their own meat and eggs. Except for plants and ingredients that don’t grow well in Colorado, they raise all of their own vegetables and do extensive food storage via canning, freezing, vacuum sealing, and dehydrating . They recently acquired a small flock of Nigerian Dwarf goats for milk, cheese and soap, rescued two donkeys, and raise a flock of turkeys and some pigs. The farm is “mostly off grid”. They generate their own electricity via solar panels and batteries. Water, septic, and heat are all disconnected from any public utilities. The gardens are all irrigated with timed drip irrigation systems for water use efficiency.

Jon and Zina raise and grind their own wheat, churn butter, make soap, start all of their vegetables from seed, compost, process their own meat, weave, quilt, and are amateur astronomers. They bring years of experience to the classes from their research, the trials and errors of learning the challenge of vegetable growing in Colorado, as well as the mistakes and hurdles and successes they have encountered along the way. They love sharing their knowledge and experience, encouraging people to create community through the use of growing and raising great tasting food.

Homestead Goals For 2019

Greetings earthlings!  No, we haven’t died.  We are all here and well and looking forward to some major transitions for 2019.  I looked at the blog and realized that I hadn’t really posted anything since October of last year.  One reason, partly, was that I didn’t have a lot to say.  Another was that we had lots of visitations this past year and it kept us pretty busy (we are becoming the sandwich generation).

Unfortunately, it is never any fun to post failures, but I guess for intellectual honesty, I need to.  Last year’s gardens were almost a total bust.  According to the USDA and NOAA, the western US is enduring one of the worst droughts in the last 1000 years.  We didn’t really get much from the gardens and we are working to remedy the problems we face here. For those of you more easterners directly under the broken Jet Stream who are getting constant rain and snow, we are on the other side.  We see almost no moisture and our world is trying to burn itself down.  Just west of us we had a 150 acre wildfire in January.  Ya…… nothing to see here!

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Grandma came out for harvest and there largely wasn’t one.  She was pretty funny trying to keep polishing this turd (To be fair she was also here to celebrate her birthday).  Realistically, though, because of the extreme heat and lack of water, we got skunked.  This hurts though because we rely on our gardens. They aren’t just a hobby.  So when our crops failed, not only did we eat the cost of production, we had to go out and buy what we had hoped to grow.

On a positive note, the livestock have been doing spectacularly well.  We harvested our first turkeys for the holidays and the meat was simply excellent.  Between them, the layer hens, the meat birds, and the pigs, we have not had to buy meat of any kind really (Thus avoiding eColi and Salmonella outbreaks).  My son loves ham lunch meat so we do buy that.  For beef, we tend to can it in stews, and soups so we buy bulk, process it, and put it in the pantry.

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Our little goats keep getting bigger.  Considering that these are the most ADHD animals I’ve ever been around, they have calmed down substantially as they’ve gotten older.  All of them now come into heat once a month.  Their screaming over to the bucks is pretty entertaining….. until it isn’t.  It’s loud and virtually non-stop for several days.  I can only imagine what raising a daughter must be like (HA! Did I say that out loud!?  I’m going to hell now for sure!).

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My new weaving enterprise has taken up a lot of free time.  I absolutely love my loom time.  Watching a pattern emerge after all the planning designing and threading is very satisfying.  I’m now getting things done for us here at the farm.  Most of what I have made so far has gone out the door as holiday gifts.  Some folks in town suggested that I start an Etsy store and also start going to craft shows.  It sounds like fun so I am starting to build some inventory.

Here are some of the latest projects:  Christmas table runners, Scarves, Placemats and Napkins and also everyday colors for the table:

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It has been about a year and a half since I quit work, and a bit less than that since I was down for back surgery.  While we worked very hard on the farm during that time, there was also a lot of down time.  The farmer fatigued pretty easily and mentally.  It has been quite a challenge to heal up and figure out who I am now that I’m not play acting as a financial guru (turns out I knew all along).  The dust needed to settle and while I may have not done that perfectly, especially with a lot of interferences trying to find a calm center, we seem raring to go in 2019.  I am very eager to actually be able to work the gardens like I’d hoped to be doing pretty much full time.  The building of the place, and then going down for the count, made that difficult. Every effort is being made so that I can be a full time gardener this summer instead of the construction engineer of the past six years.  It looks like it is on track.

So as I sit here looking out the window at a whiteout blizzard today, I thought I’d get caught up and kind of outline what we have planned for the coming year.

  1.  Garden, Garden, Garden.

I have not had a season yet where I could just go out and play in my garden beds.  That is now changing in a big way.  As you know, if you have been following over the years, we have one garden that is about a half an acre.  When I wasn’t injured, it produced mountains of food.  When we bought the place, there was an area that used to be a corral for horses (this made it the most fertile place on the property).  Unfortunately, living out in the prairie, wild grass and weed seeds also thought that was a particularly wonderful place to put down roots.  If we are to continue this lifestyle into the future, we have had to take into consideration the concept of “aging in place”.  There is no way that we could keep up the weeding pace necessary to keep that garden flourishing when we are into our older years.  If we get a good rain, those weeds will grow a foot in a week.  Considering that there are 18 50 foot rows involved, it is a frustrating job at best.  This past summer, I was trying to keep up with the weeding and also work on projects with my son (who was working for me).  Considering that I wasn’t fully healed, and kind of a mental wreck, I don’t see how I could keep up that pace for the next couple of decades.

So, we have been changing things around.  There is water to those big beds and the soil is pretty decent after all the amending I’ve done to it.  We are going to turn it into an orchard and berry patch.  There will still be weeding to do, but with trees and berry bushes, it can be done with a weed whip and a hoe.  Part of a good permaculture homestead is developing “food forests”.  These are areas that produce food every year and don’t need to be replanted.  A neighbor told us what trees he has had luck with and we will be putting in more apple trees, cherries, maybe a couple of nut trees, and peaches.  The Berries will largely be Blackberries along with some grape vines (This is a very challenging climate to grow things).  After getting the vegetable gardens in this spring, I will have the rest of the year to get the trees in.  It does entail re-plumbing the drip system, but once it is in, it should significantly reduce the maintenance that we have had to devote to it thus far.

“So if the big vegetable garden is being turned into an orchard, where are the vegetables going to go? (says anonymous someone inquisitively).  Answer:  In and around the greenhouse.  Raised beds made with lumber are much easier to maintain.  The soil is retained in the boxes and the walk-ways can be mowed.  Thus, weeding and maintaining the beds is much less intensive.  The weeds won’t take the place over, unlike the prairie grasses in the other garden (those beds were mounded without boxes so the weeds just crawled up the sides.).  Also, the larger leaved and sensitive plants will go in the greenhouse as usual.

I added outside beds around the greenhouse last year when I had my lifting restrictions lifted.  I have now started getting the lumber to add 9 more.  This will bring the new vegetable garden up to 40 12 foot beds, making it as big as the old gardens that will now be the orchard.  We will then have an acre of gardens, but the work should be much much less.

So goal numbers one and two for 2019:  A:  Get the orchard ready and then plant it in.   B:  build the rest of the beds and hail guards in the new vegetable garden and PLAY FOR ONCE!!

Thanks to grandma, this fall we got the old plant carcasses out of the greenhouse and Zina and I composted them.  I have been busy spreading chicken manure on the beds and amending the soil in the greenhouse.  I put Perlite, Fertilizer, and Sulphur (for PH) on all the beds and then it snowed so I haven’t been able to compost them yet (The manure is all frozen).  Once applied, I’ll take the little electric tiller to them all and get them good and fluffy for the spring.  —  Lest anyone think that winter is synonymous with “down time”.

Once the livestock barn was constructed, we bit the bullet and had power strung to it (primarily so we could run water heaters in the winter, which has been spectacular in ensuring that we didn’t have to haul buckets of water from the house all winter).  We also had a friend come out with his skid steer and install water hydrants at the barn and at the greenhouse.

The greenhouse (as are all of the gardens) is on timed drippers.  Unfortunately, the way things were plumbed we had to run the water line up from the basement (about 200 feet away).  With these new hydrants there is a spigot right at the greenhouse and will pump water directly from the well head.  This will give us a lot more water pressure and help to keep things irrigated during these drought conditions (which, all predictions are that it could be worse than last summer.  Days on end of over 100 degrees).

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Goal number 3:  Water Catchment and storage.

In our quest to be self-sustaining, not only have I always taken inventory of our successes, but also our weaknesses.  The farm is largely off grid.  Yes, we tie in to the electrical grid, but the power company is a back up for us.  Also, in the winter when you are running a half dozen water heaters to keep water thawed for critters, they are mostly on at night (which renders solar panels useless, and our batteries are for critical loads, not heavy amperage heater coils).  We have septic, we are not hooked up to natural gas or sewer, we generate our own electricity, and grow and store most of our own food.  Our weakness out here in the semi-arid plains, is water.  We are on a very deep well into an aquifer.  The well pump is hooked up to both the solar/electrical grid as well as the battery backups.  BUT, the weak point is the pump itself.  Colorado finally has legalized catching rainwater so we are going to take full advantage of it.  We currently have a 1000 gallon water tank that will catch snow melt and rain off of the barn roof.  If we find that we need more capacity, we can daisy chain additional tanks together.  The idea is to keep water reserves above ground, so what doesn’t fill the tanks with rain, we can fill with the well water too.

An issue though is longer term storage.  While a lot of the water tank will be used to help water the animals and gardens, it is a whole different story when the water is in the tank and it is 12 degrees.  A frozen tank will burst if not partially emptied.  So what we will be doing is putting about 500 gallons of storage in our basement.  In the fall, if the barn tanks are still full, we can siphon the water down to the tanks in the house, keep them thawed, using them for drinking water and seedling water in the winter.  In the spring, when the barn tank fills, we can use the remainder of the water in the basement to water the sage and other pollinator plants  (I hope to add bees); all the while, having hundreds of gallons of water always above ground for use should the well pump fail.  Our other weakness is propane.  If we could just bite the bullet and get our solar hot water heater installed and put in a rocket mass heater, our propane bill would drop to nil.  As a prepper friend says though, it is One Step and a Time, One Thing at a time, One Day at a time.  These WILL happen.  Just not all at once.  Considering how much we have put into the homestead over the years, it is apparent that homesteading from scratch ain’t cheap!  So Goal number 3:  Get the water catchment hooked up.

Goal Number 4:  (We are already working on this one too), is to minimalize.  While I was laying on a dog bed wondering if I’d ever walk again, we also sold a house (yes we are nuts).  The result of the deal, though,  is that we have no farm debt of any kind. Involved with that, though,  was the combining two houses into one; much of the junk landing in the garage.  So after 6 years of projects, and things being tossed into the garage from exhaustion and things being put in there as a staging area for other projects, and the garage from the city house finding a way into it too, the decluttering and downsizing has begun.  We have (had) 2 of EVERYTHING!!  Phase one of getting rid of the junk is complete.  The garage (which is a detached steel barn) is organized and can now be used without tripping over everything.  The shelves are up and the storage bins are now organized.

Next up (besides the continual quest to get rid of unneeded crap) is the basement.  I put a door (which was missing since we bought the place) on the pantry room which allowed me to cut off all the heat to that room.  Previously it was food storage along with paper goods and all manner of storage, including Christmas decorations and our backpacking gear.  We are now going to be moving all non food stuffs onto the shelves in the rest of the basement (like 6 months of toilet paper, etc), and dedicate the pantry just to food.  Our goal is to have (between frozen, dehydrated, freeze dried, canned and vacuum sealing) 3-5 years of food on hand at any given time.  If our layer hens keep laying, that makes thing pretty easy.  The food storage just takes up space, so we are making the most efficient use of the space that we can.  For instance, even though we have a guest room doesn’t mean that Christmas decorations can’t be stored in that closet…. hence the term guest, not occupant.

One of my wish list items was to dig in and build a root cellar.  However, as I researched it and added up the cost to have the backhoe come out and dig the hole and the amount of work it would take, my mind looked up what a root cellar actually needs to do.  They are typically built into a hillside about 8 – 10 feet deep.  They are ventilated to bring in cool air and vent out warmer air to create a consistent temperature (the thermal mass surrounding it keeping it relatively cool all the time),  Well hell, me thought –  That’s our basement! We have a room down there, on the coolest side of the house, (the house is built into a hill) so it is just like it!  Move one door, cover one furnace vent and voila!  Root cellar! (and I don’t even have to go outside in the winter to use it!)  So this goal is to get the root cellar room fully ventilated and organized.  We are about half way there.

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Goal 5:  Breed the goats.

Our little creatures were not designed to be just pets.  We intend to breed our little girls so that we have milk, cheese, and goats milk soap.  While we have no need for the amount of milk a cow produces (upwards of 3 gallons a day), our little girls would keep us well supplied.  Considering that their major food stuff is hay and weeds, we will be turning our pasture into fertilizer and milk.  We are also considering fencing in a second pasture to raise meat goats.  For those of you not familiar, the demand for quality goat meat is growing faster in the US than beef, and suppliers can’t keep up.  Hmmmmmmm, the ex-financial advisor thinks……..

Goal 6:  Slow Down and Ignore The Narcissism of The Rest of the World

JAZ Farm isn’t some little hobby petting zoo.  Contrary to the belief that suburban and resort living is the norm in the grand ol’ US of A, what we do here is a serious endeavor.  We are not “Mr. Green Jeans”, we aren’t “Mr. Ed” or Green Acres, nor online Farmville.  We also aren’t a little place we went to after my retirement to “play” farmer.  This is who we are.  This place is a real, working, farm.  We have goals here and it is a demanding lifestyle. We aren’t having an elementary school “Learning experience” here as some would like to call it.  This IS who we are and our successes and failures constitute problem solving, which is a never ending process.  Our goal here is to transcend the popular ignorant culture and live true to ourselves.  It is not our job to diminish ourselves so that those completely dependent on a corrupt and planet destroying culture can continue to validate itself.  Is our way of living superior to the dominant culture of urbanization and exploitation?  We think unequivocally…. yes.  Developing electric cars and going vegan won’t solve our myriad crises.  Getting local, de-urbanizing, and destroying our consumer culture……. might.  I’ve been thinking a lot about all of this; which is partly why I haven’t posted in the last 4 months.

Contrary to popular belief, what we do here has been normalcy for centuries.  Homesteading, not too long ago, was simply, “Living”.  I put this goal in here just to send a message that we find important.  We mourn our culture and how it has made the rest of the world cut itself off from nature and what it takes to survive.  We have very little time left as a species and it is industrial civilization that is to blame.  The expending of our energy here is well directed and as such, we need to cut off from the “dominant” paradigm so that we can do the tasks that our lifestyle requires of us. So we are going no contact except for this kind of venue.  Personally, I have deleted all my social media.  We don’t have TV access, and the only news I watch is to be kept abreast of the markets because in a fiat currency economy farce as ours, we still need to make sure we can pay the bills.    Justifying ourselves to others, like we are the ones needing to explain ourselves, is exhausting, exasperating, and not worthy or our energies – especially when the dominant “culture” is murdering the planet.  We seriously hope that our endeavors inspire others to do the same, but in the end, we have chosen to RELY on this farm.  Just like we use the electrical grid as a back up, we also use the grocery store as a back up.  This isn’t pre-school for the rich and clueless.  I see mommies with strollers and I cringe, knowing what their spawn will have to endure because of this murderous culture.    This is our major goal: to live true to ourselves, without succumbing to the gaslighting, and sideways glances of those who think their food will continue to be delivered via diesel truck and wrapped in cellophane.  I know this might be confusing, but in its essence, we are dropping out.

What do we do here?

  1.  We grow virtually all of our own vegetables
  2. We grow all of our own meat and butcher about half
  3. We grow all of our own breakfast
  4. We are mostly off grid
  5. We start all of our plants from seed
  6. We save seeds
  7. We take care of a couple of abused donkeys
  8. We make our own soap
  9. We make our own butter
  10. We make many textiles
  11. We will be making our own cheese
  12. We grind our own flour
  13. We try to live a life of self-reliance.
  14. We are working to build local community so when the excrement hits the electrical oscillator, people will band together to help each other.

We hope to be an inspiration here but we aren’t really too interested in criticism anymore:  Hence the title of this goal.  Time is short.  If you are curious and want to know more, then we would love to help.  However, what we have found is that some think this is all just “cutesy”.  I assure you, when we come to the next depression, we won’t be so cutesy anymore.

Since my surgery and retirement I live via the acronym IDGAF.  The last third gets to be mine.  So there is my sermon.  Sorry to go off on a rant, but considering the amount of physical and emotional energy we have expended to live true to who we are and the push back that we have received at times has been revelatory.  Even if you live in an apartment in the Bronx, go buy some extra food and water if you can.  Find a place to go where you can participate in growing food.  Blow up your TV, smash your PS4, develop skills……….. very soon you are going to need them.

Goal 7:  To take care of ourselves physically and mentally before anything or anyone else.  Farmers need their tools and equipment to work properly when needed.  Part of that equipment is the physical self.  Prostituting ourselves before the man has taken a tremendous toll.  You can’t farm if you can’t walk and considering that “Demons ate my spine” I know of which I speak. We aim to make sure the hoe operators are in the shape they need to be in in order to make this place function.

So that’s the get caught up and set goals post for this year.  I do hope to post more as we go forward as well as You Tube videos.  Remember, Live like a Hobbit.

 

 

Learning A New Skill

After retiring I found my mind struggling for something to latch on to.  I literally woke up one day and 30 years of worry about clients and analyzing financial charts was just…. over.  It wasn’t easy.  As I progressed through healing from surgery and then needing something besides just building the farm in my life to give me a creative outlet.  I’ve tried wood carving, I do astronomy, of course there is archery if I choose to pick that back up, and writing like this, but days are pretty long and I needed something to help fill the void of the 8 hour day that used to be consumed with work.  I am not a life of leisure kind of guy.  I like to feel creative and productive; especially since I retired at 54.

Also in the criteria was doing something that my relatives haven’t done.  My sister and brother in law are artists, my mother knits, presses flowers, sews and does needlepoint.  We were all musicians, and my wife quilts.  I needed something unique and interesting both because I like to learn new skills and my genealogy are very critical people and I didn’t need someone looking over my shoulder.  It needed to simply be “mine”.

So I thought and I searched and tried to find something “homestead like” and came up with weaving!  I found a shop in Boulder, signed up for a class and have been progressing along with all thumbs.  But, I love it.  One might think that it is simply interlocking threads and making towels, but it is very intricate and it takes a boat load of concentration to do well.  It is very meditational and you can produce some incredible fabrics.  Ya, I know, for all the stereotyping folks are want to do, it ain’t cars and engines and tools and and and.  Its weaving.  You sit to do it, you need to design things out and concentrate or you end up with slop.  Its right up my alley.

I’ve completed my first real project and while it isn’t going to win any awards, I’m kinda happy with it.  The class goes through the end of July and concurrently I have ordered a floor loom and am putting together a studio in one of the rooms in our basement.  I am eager to learn and it sure beats shuffle board!  The farm work kicks my butt these days.  I hate sitting around surfing the internet, so I needed something to do.  This is really the first “craft” type thing I’ve ever done and so far I am finding it very de-stressing.  Something my life has desperately needed.

Learning the basics

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The loom I ordered.  Delivery date July 19.  Very exciting!

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There is soooooo much to learn about yarn

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Starting my first real project.  “Winding the warp”

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Just like playing an instrument, its all about learning the proper touch and technique.  I really learned a lot on this one.

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The final product.  We’ll call it a table runner.  It was great fun!

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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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Did you miss me? No I Didn’t Die But ….

There have been times recently when  I wished I had.  I was thinking this week that this year has been a complete waste of time.  I was having stress issues and that blossomed into a whole lot more.  Here I am though, finally coming back to the land of the living; new hardware in tact and healing up and eager to getting back to running the JAZ Farm.

I intended to take a leave of absence from work to deal with what looked to be some pretty bad stress related issues.  No sooner did that happened, the pain in my hips hit a crescendo and became a very serious problem.  I haven’t been on a leave of absence, I have been almost completely disabled.  Except for myriad trips to Physical Therapists, then pain specialists, three steroid injections, “Dry Needling” therapy, then a hip surgeon and then a referral to a spine surgeon, all of them screaming about my blood pressure and elevated pulse, I have been staring at the ceiling and playing a lot of computer Solitaire.  I have been tortured for months – all with no pain relief.  The best way to describe it is to imagine someone taking high voltage power lines and stabbing you in the thighs with them.

The long and short of it.

After navigating the maze of our medical system to get a proper diagnosis, it was discovered that the nerves in my lower back were being badly crushed.  When an MRI was finally ordered, it showed that my entire lumbar spine down to my Sacrum looked like it had been hit by a wrecking ball.  The hip surgeon had even asked if I’d been in a car wreck.  The disc in S1 was gone completely.  The disc in between L3 and L4 was what they fondly called a “toothpaste tube” as it had been completely herniated and was squeezing against the nerves.  Two others were completely dried out and the vertebrae themselves were full of calcification that was further impinging on the nerve roots.  I never really understood what it would be like to actually scream and pass out from pain.  I do now and if you are suffering from chronic pain you have my undying empathy.  For months the only relief I could get from the worst pain I’ve ever experienced was to lay down.  I spent months on my dog’s orthopedic bed in our living room, my wife brought me all of my meals to my bedside, and up until this past week I hadn’t driven for months.  It eventually got to the point where I had to lay down on my right side…. which of course started to affect that side as well.  I haven’t slept well for months.  I have to admit that because of the unimaginable pain, that had I not gotten a good diagnosis and finally given a path forward I was going to have to tell someone who’d matter that I was going to become a danger to myself.  I found out that rock bottom actually has a basement.

So that killed the farm work for the year.  We had to cancel our chicken and pig raising, the big garden has 4 foot weeds in it that has sent me into depression; especially when I think of how much work had gone into it and how much work it will take to get it ready for next season:  I’m optimistic that I’ll be back up and around by the end of the year.  I’m not sure about real work.  It might be time to hang it up for good.  A friend said something that I agree with:  that my lower back was where I hid all of my stress.

So once the spine surgeon got to see the MRI it proceeded almost as an emergency.  I don’t know how they did it but we got the insurance approval and I was in for surgery 6 days later.  It was about a 5 hour procedure because of how much had to be done.  They removed the discs from L3 to S1 (what there was left of them) put in spacers, fused 4 vertebrae, cleaned our the vertebrae so the nerves could move and quit being crushed and then tied the whole thing together with two Titanium/Cobalt rods with 8 bolts.  Here’s what it looks like:  (I post these so the folks that like to diminish the seriousness of someone else’s issues can get a little squeamish.  Also, its for those who love to tell you, “Oh that’s nothing!”  My wife’s cousin from Frog Balls Arkansas had it WAY worse than that”, can seriously jump off a cliff.

This is 7 inches long:

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For two weeks we had to wrap it with plastic wrap before I took a shower.  It felt like a whole bunch of bee stings when they took out the staples.

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Frankenstein’s child:

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The surgical PA said that they put in heavy duty rods and bolts because this is a typical rancher type injury and they knew that I’d be back at it.  I have been doing the recovery by the book though so save the “don’t over due it” lectures.  I CANNOT go through this again and the most important part of the recovery is getting a good solid fusion.  Yesterday makes the 5th week since surgery and the recovery guides say that by 6 weeks the fusion should be well in hand but it needs at least 3 months to get strong enough for regular activity.  So I am under orders to engage in no BLT’s:  Bending (try putting on socks or wipe!  TMI). Lifting  (nothing over 10 pounds) or Twisting.  I have all manner of gizmos to help me do everything.  I use a gripper to get things off the floor, a gizmo for the bathroom, a shoe horn with an extension handle, elastic, no tie, shoe strings, a thing to help me put on socks, a walker, and my ever present hiking poles.

I am happy to say though, that the surgery seems to have worked.  The screaming nerve and hip pain has gone.  My toes are awake again and I am walking straight up and down (I was canted severely to the right trying to offload pressure from those left side nerves).  I am now in a Physical Therapy program to help recover range of motion and, as of yesterday, restrengthening muscles that haven’t been used in over a year and that have atrophied severely.  I made the joke that a little 5 pound weight is a lot heavier than it was 18 months ago.  I am working to increase my walking and have been out every day with the dogs going up and down the driveway.  I’m currently at about 1.5 miles of steps with a goal of 3 miles by Halloween.  Here is the gimp actually up and around:

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So that is how 2017 has been going.  This, after having had to go to emergency around Christmas time of 2016 because of a ruptured Bursa in my left arm.  Its been unreal!!

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I must say thank you’s for all the help I’ve been given.  I have been completely useless and I simply couldn’t have done it without my wife.  I have never seen someone step it up and exhaust herself like she has.  We have been through so much together, and she had to take up the farm slack, run the house, cook, clean, wait on me, AND at the same time SELL a house and all the requisite issues of cleaning, packing, listing, getting the new apartment set up virtually ALL on her own.  I love her to the moon.

In addition, my mother came out twice to at least get the greenhouse and the surrounding beds planted.  We will be canning tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, salsa, and chili because she came out to take over as JAZ Farmer.

Once my son was done with school he came out and just lent a hand where needed.  He has a very big heart and just having him around was comforting.  The day I first saw the X-Rays, I had a pretty serious mental melt down.  All I could think was that I was Frankenstein’s spawn.  He was there and after having been through his own issues over the years, he had an insight that, I don’t think, anyone else could appreciate.

So it sounds like after 3 months I will be cleared to do housework and light yard work. At 6 months, which would be around the 1st of the year, I should be able to go out and resume the farm project. The fusion will be complete at about 12 months.   I fully anticipate being able to run the farm full time by next planting season.  As it seems I will now be only running the farm and simplifying the shit out of the rest of my life, maybe I will have successfully exorcised the demons that ate my back.

The surgeon pretty much is in agreement that the combination of a seriously stressful job, sitting in a bad ergonomic office, tense, leaned over a desk in front of a computer, along with years of hard farm work (both in the city and then the farm) was a recipe for this.  I will remove the stress component at all costs.  I worried too much about my clients.  If this is what it costs then it is way too expensive.

I am happy to re-engage the farm blog.  We have plans to can big time this weekend and I’ll post the results as it happens.  Thanks for your patience.  Of all my “prepping” this is one that surely snuck in under the radar.  Thank goodness we had a lot of food put up.  In that respect, preparedness proved itself very valuable.