Happy 2018!!! May It Be A Site Happier Than 2017! The Farmer Had His Restrictions Lifted!!

Hello everyone and welcome back to the JAZ Farm blog!  I am happy to finally be back.  I looked at our last post and it was dated August 31, 2017.  It was only a month after back surgery and what a wild year this has been.  I am happy to report that I am doing very well.  The pain in my legs is all but gone, the fusion has taken hold and the surgeon lifted my remaining restrictions.  I had a bit of a battle with pretty mind numbing leg cramps and some pretty serious anti-inflammatories helped make that go away.  A huge thank you goes out to the physical therapy staff in Strasburg.  They helped get me on my feet, didn’t flinch when I cussed like a sailor, and were observant enough to know when to lighten up on the exercises.  I’ve been walking, swimming and after a year of watching the weeds take the farm, doing CHORES and CONSTRUCTION!  It feels so good to be re-taking the farm.  We have high hopes for 2018 and the list of things we hope to get accomplished is yet again, LONG!

After the first months of recovery, I was still forbidden from bending over (which isn’t possible now anyway because of the change in the way I bend) but I could now lift between 30 and 40 lbs; up from the 10 lbs prior.  I was also given permission to get back on the tractor.  That was a slow process as the tractor’s suspension and the uneven ground made the jostling a little more than I could tolerate.

So the first task once back on my feet, so to speak was to reclaim the farm from the mountains of weeds and undergrowth that took the gardens and, because it was such a dry summer, threatened us with wild fires.  One day, Zina and I got the mowing deck attached to the tractor and I cut the weeds back along the driveway and mowed down the 3 foot tumbleweeds in the pig pen and chicken run to get them ready for the new arrivals in the spring.

Our biggest heartbreak throughout the whole healing process was losing more than half of our egg laying flock to a sly fox.  We were still letting the hens out into the big free range field, and with the weeds as high as they got, the fox took to hiding in the weeds and using our chickens as his own private buffet.  Of the 40 that we started the year off with, we are down to 15.  Those remaining are fairly traumatized and won’t go out there willingly anymore and egg production has dropped way off.  As of a week ago, I placed the order to get new chicks in the spring and begin rebuilding the flock and hopefully also start hatching our own so as to offset the cost of ordering birds every spring.  We also have an order of 50 meat chickens that will be arriving the first week of May (we usually target 4th of July weekend as freezer camp day).

Next up, because of the tremendous weed overgrowth in the big garden was the decision to start building raised beds around the greenhouse.  We didn’t know if we’d be able to get the big garden cut back down (looks like we will) and useable.  It was heart wrenching to see just how badly it got over run and not being able to do a damned thing about it.  That garden is going to become more of the root vegetable, berry patch, bean, garden.  We will also be growing a fair amount of sunflowers too to help feed the chickens.  Once I get on with that project, I’ll post the before pictures, and then, with any luck, be able to show you the transformation.  It was spreading manure on that garden that was the last straw on the way to surgery.  It still gives me a little pause.

I did get creative in my construction endeavors.  I was not about to be stopped from getting back after it.  So I built 4 saw horses to use as a work bench out by the greenhouse and had Home Depot load 1300 lbs of lumber in the back of the pick up.  I was able to build 9 new raised bed boxes (still on lifting restrictions) by pulling the lumber out of the truck, onto the saw horses, slide the boards around into position, screw them together and then use the front end loader of the tractor to move them into place.  My compost and planter’s mix supplier brought me a load of composted soil, and I used the tractor to fill them up.  The only thing left to do in the spring is attach the drip irrigators to them and we are off and running for next year’s organic vegetables!

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This addition gives us 29  10 to 12 foot raised beds in and around the greenhouse in addition to the 18 50 footers in the half acre garden.  We may try to get wheat and corn in again this year but the amount of time available will determine that.

Shortly after getting this done, I had my 3rd follow up with my surgeon.  I was ecstatic to find that I had no more lifting restrictions.  It wasn’t that I was going to go out and do stupid things, but I had been waiting for him to tell me that the fusion was in no danger of being broken.  It simply meant that I didn’t have to be hyper-careful with everything I do.  I will never be able to touch my toes again by bending over, when I do head for the ground its supposed to be via a squat or a lunge, and lifting must be done with my legs.  There is always the danger now that I could blow a disc above L3 and start the whole mess again.  That is something I decidedly do NOT want to repeat.

With all of our time to think about the future of the farm now that I knew that I wouldn’t be a cripple forever, we wanted to figure out what still needed to be added to really make the farm feel “finished” (he laughs hysterically).  The last big push that we wanted to use some of the equity from the sale of our house this past year for, was to fence in a pasture and get a barn built for livestock.  As of tomorrow (January 2nd) the holes for the   footers will be dug and barn construction is underway.  Aaron and I have been the construction crew for the fencing.  Its a quarter mile of fencing to enclose approximately 3 acres.  The inhabitants at this point will likely be turkeys, goats, a chicken brooding room, and we plan to rescue a pair of donkeys from a shelter just west of here.  We haven’t decided if we are going to use the goats as just eaters and poopers for fertilizer or if we will also use them for meat and dairy.  It looks like we will be getting Nigerian Dwarfs to start and see where it leads.

The humorous part of the fence installation (Its funny now, it wasn’t then) was burying the auger.  The ground here is very hard.  It is about 80% sand and 20% clay.  I’ve always had difficulty getting fence post holes punched and have stuck the thing on several occasions.  This year was no exception, except that this year the ground won.  I broke 2 safety sheering bolts and stuck the auger in the ground.  This time for good.  I had to unhook it from the transmission box, cover it up and go by another auger unit.  It will be there for the alien archaeologists in the future.

The barn itself will be a standard 30 x 40 pole barn with an overhang on the south side to house the tractor, rain catchment, and implements.  I will be building pens on the inside for the critters and getting power and heat run to it for the few cold days we still seem to have left around here.  As goats are very playful and inquisitive creatures, keeping them from escaping can be a bit of a trick.  One suggestion I ran across was to literally build them a playground to keep them entertained.  So I’ve tracked down a place that will give away those big wooden cable spools and will use them as a foundation to build up a bit of a castle for them to hop around on.  They are very agile little beasties.  Here is the beginning of all of this craziness.  To date Aaron and I have dug in, cemented, and tensioned 31 8 foot wooden posts, a gate assembly, and hand driven 117 6.5 foot metal T posts.  Its been quite an undertaking.

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I’ll be posting more pictures of the barn construction progress and when I start stretching fence to enclose the pasture.

Lastly, in the greenhouse, we have had some trouble using some old wimpy trellises that we had at the other house, to try to stand up the tomatoes.  That had to change.  After seeing someone use cattle panels at their homestead for trellises it looked like just the ticket.  Aaron and I pounded some more T posts and wired them up for the spring.  They are very stout and even the 12 foot tall Cherokee Purples won’t be able to pull them down (fingers crossed!).

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So 2017 has been, as the novel said, “The best of times and the worst of times.”  I have been altered in so many ways mentally and physically, but at the same time we have built a life we don’t need or want a vacation from.  I promise to put up more of the progress as we move forward.  There is a tremendous amount happening and I am thankful to be able to be back after it.  I still suffer from some pain, I move a lot slower and am not as limber.  It is also amazing how badly my aerobic stamina declined after being on my back for a year.  It is coming back, but if this grand experiment is going to succeed going forward, the main supplier of the labor (me) needs to make sure he is in good repair.

So here are our farm goals for 2018:

  1.  Get the barn built
  2. Finish the remaining fencing
  3. Get the pigs back on the land
  4. Rebuild the layer flock
  5. Restock the freezer with meat birds
  6. Build the pens, corrals, and brooders for the new critters in the livestock barn
  7. Install a solar hot water heater (being designed as we speak)
  8. Get the big outdoor garden reclaimed from the weeds and planted again
  9. Get the seedlings started and planted for the greenhouse and surrounding beds
  10. Set up the rain catchment system on the new barn, the garage, and the chicken coop
  11. Be able to simply use all of this infrastructure instead of spending all of my time building it
  12. Enjoy my telescope again
  13. Set up the range, dust off the bows, and once again use arrow flinging as my meditation.

That oughta keep us busy for awhile.  I love doing this better than most anything else.  I could easily stay here and hide.  The world is a crazy and terrible place anymore as far as I see it.  My refuge is to be with the plants and animals.  They don’t try to stab you in the back.  For that I am thankful and look forward to a great and productive farm life in 2018.

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Farmer Juan Where Have You Been!?

Hello everyone.  I come to you with hat in hand, apologizing for such a long absence.  My life took quite a turn for the bad over the last few months and I’ve had to attend to some health issues.  Unfortunately, it isn’t going all that well.  I have taken a full formal leave of absence from work.  I’ve had some “issues” to deal with that caused 3 doctors to ask me if I could retire and if I could, I should.  You can tell just from that statement what beating organ it pertains to.

So instead of leaving outright I worked to bring on a partner to take over while I was gone.  Between now and at least Labor Day, I will not be doing anything work related except to consult on client cases.  Everyone will be well taken care of, but even if they weren’t, I don’t really have the time to care right now.

On top of that!  No sooner did I pass the baton to Eliot, that I practically became a cripple.  I’ve been in Physical Therapy for 2 months now, had Cortisone injections, had to use Prednisone, and next week will be going to a spine and pelvic specialist.  I have pain in my left hip that is so bad that I can barely walk.  Trust me, if I had a wheel chair, I’d be using it right now.  The anti-inflammatories are doing some good (thank god – I hate crying out in pain) and it appears to be a combination of my Sacroiliac joint, an impingement of my Femoral Nerve, and we are going to go in to try to rule out spinal compression or degenerative disc issues.  The fun never ends.

We have still managed to get the seedlings started in the basement grow room.  The tomatoes are about a foot tall, the peppers, eggplant, onions, and tomatillos are all started.  This weekend we will get some of them transplanted into larger pots and then start the herbs.  In a week or so we will start the cucumbers, squash, and melons.  One of our goals is to have fruit on the farm.  25 Blackberry bushes and 15 Raspberry bushes arrived and need to go into pots and then out to the greenhouse.

The biggest problem has been trying to stay on top of the maintenance of the big garden. Last year, we didn’t get the big beds covered to keep the weeds down.  We were met with a small forest and they all had to be weeded out before we could even think about planting.  This year we bought a few rolls of plastic to lay on top of the beds to smother them.  As usual though, gardening on the high plains presents some unique issues.  In this case, WIND!  No sooner did we get the plastic staked down, we had a spell where we had 80 mph gusts.  It tore them all out of the ground. So! re-evaluate and go to option B.

Option B was to re-lay the plastic and we went and bought 16 foot cattle panels (a stout fencing) to put over the plastic to keep it down.  50 mph winds, poof!  It lifted them up and threw them all off.  The plastic was laid in about 60 foot sheets and it was like unfurling the spinnaker on a sailboat.

Option C:  Zina went out and laid them down again (I can’t… I’m an invalid).  This time she laid cinderblocks on top of them.  Again, spring 50 mph winds.  Did it again.  What frustration!

Option D:  Did Option C again but this time cut the sheets into 3rds.  It reduced the sail effect and so far they are still down.  Fingers crossed.

The beds that haven’t been covered are starting to sprout weeds.  I do have a new rear tine tiller and am hoping to get out there and till the weeds under before they get seeds so that we can keep the onslaught of these deep rooted horrors down.

I have also, over the years, built windbreaks around the garden and between every 3rd row.  One of the breaks was a tin wall that was left over from the previous owners.  It was pretty chewed up and I had plans to take it down and rebuild it.  Well, thanks to the wind, half of it isn’t standing any longer.  Yes folks, wind out here is something to behold!

So given my predicament I am trying to get at least one or two tasks done per day, but if you have ever had chronic pain, and on top of that being a little concerned about your cardio system you know, sometimes I find myself just sitting because I know how badly it is going to hurt.  So of all the things here that we have put in place “just in case” we got blindsided by both leaving work and then having the primary farm laborer become disabled.

I don’t know yet.  If the summer passes and I am still not back to my old self, it is quite a question mark at this point if I would actually go back to work.  We are debt free so it gives me some options.  I will always consult and it is WAY to early to think about it, but when you are feeling the emotions of the low ebb in which I currently reside, it pops up in the back of your mind.

So here is a picture of the garden challenge. You can notice in the upper left corner the wall that is being destroyed by the wind.  All is going great otherwise.  Eliot is doing a great job for me at work and all seem to really like him.  We are putting our house in the city up for sale this weekend.  The dogs are my ever present companions.  The farm, even if I can’t currently do the work I would love to be out doing, is my favorite place in the world.  All in all, there isn’t much to complain about.  This year’s batch of broiler chickens arrive the first week of May.  It is always fun to have the little cheepers around.  They are very entertaining.  Because I can’t handle them when they grow up, and not knowing what shape I’ll be in in a few months, we decided to postpone the pig projects.  They are powerful animals and right now I am not.  Very frustrating.  Once the house sells, the farm will get paid off.  When that happens we will be contracting out to have a livestock barn put up for goats, cows, and whatever else strikes our fancy.  We planted a dozen apple trees in March and so far more than half of them have sprouted leaves.  Good news.

So again, my apologies for my delay.  I’m coming to terms with not being invincible.  Thank goodness all of the hard building work is done.  Looking forward to being able to walk without pain sometime in the near future.  As the saying goes, “While you are laying plans, life happens.”  Yes indeed.

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Feeling Very Organized

My wife defined my new career: Supply management and Inventory Controller of the JAZFarm Pantry and Root Cellar.  That is in addition, of course, to Chief Cook and CEO of Farming and Livestock Management!

We spent the day adding shelves to the shelving racks in the pantry and then organizing the whole thing.  It’s like having your own grocery store in your basement! We are trying to consolidate two homes into one because we are selling our place in the city.  It’s not that we need any more “stuff” but every square inch needs to be well organized.  Because one whole room is our pantry we are trying to maximize the use of every inch of shelf space and floor space.  It’s coming along pretty nicely!

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The Newest JAZ Farm Addition

Sorry there haven’t been more posts of late. The garden decided to ripen all at once. The canners have been running non-stop for weeks now and it looks like things are going to calm down a bit. That is until we lost our minds again. Introducing the newest addition to the family. Everyone this is Sage! She is another Yellow Lab that we found north of the farm. She has just been weaned and probably doesn’t weigh more than about 4 pounds.

Zina and I decided that Basil, the four year old, needed a companion. As Sage gets older they will be able to go out romping together giving each other needed exercise. Right now Basil doesn’t quite know what to make of her and as you can see from the pictures there is a considerable size difference. That won’t last long as Sage is expected to be about the same size.

For right now however, we are just basking in the cuteness. As my son texted when we sent him her first pictures, “Oh My God! The Adorableness factor is off the charts!”

What have we done? The pigs head to freezer camp next Thursday and a new puppy is in the house. I’m pretty sure We.Are.Nuts! Oh well, I will have lots of animal friends to keep me company when I retire!

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A Milestone and Proud Accomplishment

So here is what we’ve done on the JAZFarm for 2016. As of our harvest today we will be able to provide almost every major ingredient for every meal for about the whole next year.
Breakfast: Eggs, Sausage or Bacon, Potatoes and Onions.
Lunch: Salad and whatever is left over. For the next couple of months, BLTs, tomato everything, cucumbers.
Dinner: Pork, Chicken, Beans, Salad, Hispanic – particularly Black Beans, Pintos and Kidneys. Three different types of squash at least weekly. Chili, chicken soup, split pea soup, black bean soup, Pizza and pasta with our own flour. If I’m ambitious we can grind our own corn for tortillas.
Snacks: canned peaches, chips with home made salsa. Dehydrated Beet chips. Jerky.
Seasonings for all the recipes: Thyme, Chives, Sage, Marjoram, Tarragon, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary. Our own Cayenne pepper, Garlic powder, Onion Powder, Chili powder.
Various Peppers. Carrots.
It’s not 100% but it’s quite a dent. We are being very proud.

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Harvest Time!

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Giant Mater

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The first of the tomato harvest partial-mater-harvest-2016

 

Canned Habanero Salsasalsa-2016

 

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Its been awhile since I posted anything.  I am happy to announce that the dog is healthy again.  I’m doing much better, my son is back to school, real work is back on the front burner and all of the produce is coming in all at the same time!  Needless to say we have been very busy!

There are several projects going on in addition to all of the food processing.  We figured out how to handle the grasshoppers.  The biggest deterrent is making sure all of the weeds and grass around the garden are cut short so they have no where to hide.  The second is to use an insecticide around the perimeter of the garden.  This will help keep them down but also won’t be sprayed anywhere near the produce.  The weeds themselves, particularly Goatheads, Round Up resistant Amaranth, and Kochia need to be cut back significantly.  We are going to have a bumper crop harvest but the weeds are crazy making and we need to find a way to keep them kept down or this will quickly become not fun.

We lost the hard bean crop to the grasshoppers.  Not only did they like to eat the leaves, they also took a fondness to the flowers.  No flowers, no beans.  They also tried to take the squash and melon beds but we prevailed and the melons have been awesome.  We also have had an amazing crop of Acorn, Butternut and Spaghetti squash.

The carrots and beets lost their minds this year.  We canned 70 pints of carrots, have made beet chips and canned pickled beets.  There are still hundreds more of each.  I recently bought new sand to put in our storage bins to keep them through the end of the year.  Zina juiced about 3 gallons of carrot juice and is in our freezer.

We were getting to the end of our green beans from last year.  Not a problem anymore.  We had a huge green bean harvest and were able to put up a couple of dozen quarts of them in the pantry.

Last year’s tomato crop sucked.  Totally sucked.  We had freezes, made some mistakes, had hail, etc., etc. etc.  This year no worries.  In the last picking I have canned a dozen pints of tomato sauce, 10 pints of habanero tomato salsa, and 12 pints of canned fresh vegetable salsa.  There are dozens more tomatoes in the greenhouse.  We’ve had so many cherry tomatoes we have been canning them too!

The pepper harvest has been insane.  We have had the best pepper plants ever this year and have picked bushels of them.  They have been canned, eaten, given away and dehydrated. Its amazing how many peppers one plant can produce.

The blueberries are getting established as well as the Blackberries.  The Blackberries produced a pint or two and are super tasty!

The Tomatillo plants have done well too.  The grasshoppers got into them but didn’t seem to eat them.  I think they just liked the cover.  Because of all the hoppers we had a 4 foot Bull Snake take up residence and help keep the population down some.  We have had a very nice harvest of the Tomatillos and have made one of our favorite Green Salsas in quantity.

We did an experiment to see which way to plant onions – seeds or sets – produced the best.  Answer:  If you have lots of compost rich in Nitrogen, seeds hands down.  Our onions are incredible this year.  Its a bit more work to plant seeds, but totally worth it!

As the year winds down there are many projects to contend with.  The biggest project is putting the beds to bed for the winter.  As we harvest and close them down we will be weeding – both physically and flame – to get the seeds out of there.  We will broad fork them to loosen up the soil, put down straw for mulch and then cover them with black plastic.  This past spring was a weeding nightmare.  A little prevention will go a long long way.

The chickens are making lots of eggs.  We raised and processed 30 broilers for the freezer and the two big pigs weighed in at 550 lbs each thus filling our freezers to the brim.  We have been canning meat and eating pork and chicken to make room in the freezers as we have 2 more pigs going to freezer camp the first week of November.

So other than injuries the summer has again proven fruitful.  We have a very small grocery bill as a result and the activity is much more fun than going to the gym.  I hope that all of you have had a wonderful summer and are looking forward to the coolness of the fall.

 

 

The Greenhouse is Flourishing.

Today my sister-in-law, her husband and my niece came to visit.  It is so gratifying to have relatives come and see what we have been up to.  They got to make friends with the pigs, gather eggs, see the meat birds, hold the new layer babies, and tour the gardens.  They are on their way to a church retreat in Colorado Springs and stopped by after a very early flight from Detroit.

We toured the greenhouse and the cucumbers and tomatoes and peppers are all fruiting!  Even the Tomatillos.  We are going to have boat loads of cherry tomatoes and it appears that the big slicing tomatoes are well on their way!

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