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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Harvested Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoesgreen-beans-2016

 

The growth in the Greenhousegreenhouse-growth-2016

 

Tomato Saucemater-sauce-2016

 

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

 

Canned Habanero Salsasalsa-2016

 

Tomatillo Salsatomatillo-salsa-2016

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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It’s May And Everything Happens At Once

This past week or so has been the usual frenzy involved with the impending planting season.  The past two weekends really set me back as we had snow storms that made the outdoor projects impossible.  You can see in past posts that we had an urban farm at our place in town.  I had 24 raised beds all with their own little hoop greenhouses attached to them.  Now that the greenhouse is up I don’t need that garden any longer.  Frankly, to have that one, the greenhouse and it’s surrounding beds along with the half acre food storage garden, it was way too much work for me.  After all, my wife and I also work full time.  I get to work at home, but I am on the road a lot going to client appointments.  So I began to dismantle that garden.  It entailed pulling up rebar, cutting off plastic, and dis-assembling the PVC frames for all of those beds.  Our aim is to smooth all of the dirt out and plant it full of perennials that will attract and help out the bees, much like we did when we landscaped the front of the house.

After the wagon loads up to the truck it was off to the dump.  Why does everything I do have to be so damned heavy?  My back was pretty spent.  When I came out to the farm yesterday I started work on the watering system for the greenhouse.  So today, my body said “ENOUGH”!  I had every intention of getting back after it but my body had other plans.  Now the moral of this story is that even when you “don’t get anything done” on the farm, you still get things done.  By the time we reached this point in the day when I’m currently typing (4:30 pm),  I have cooked breakfast, gotten the solar oven out and heating up to make dinner, been to two local feed stores to get ready for the new chickens coming next week, ordered a semi-load of planting soil to fill the remaining beds in and around the greenhouse, contacted a local pig breeder to get two new “weaners” (pigs that have been weaned from their momma and are being sold to be raised for food), taken alfalfa out to the chickens, moved some of the plants from the seedling room to the greenhouse, unloaded the truck, fed the pigs and did the real job thing.  In the next week we will have 90 chickens and 4 pigs to take care of.  My mom and sister get to play FarmVille for real when they come to visit in the next month!

May is insane.  Everything comes to a head at once.  The trick we have found, is to just keep showing up.  Do one thing at a time.  Rest, drink water, do something else.  If you hurt, stop and sit down.  It’s not a race and virtually everyone I know is not doing this, nor could they keep up if they came to help. The only person who cares if it gets done on some kind of time frame is yourself.  Remember, its a hobby.  Its a hobby that feeds you but it is still a hobby!  If you are slave driver to yourself you will only kill yourself.  The MAJOR projects are done. The ongoing upkeep and planting and daily chores on a farm don’t require a starting gun (Roosters crowing are good enough!). Nor are you trying to best your previous times.  It’s OK to sit when tired, drink when thirsty, sleep when fatigued and never, ever care what others think.  If someone is a critic who hasn’t got skin in the game, they matter not one iota.  Homesteaders – be good to yourself. You know it will get done eventually…. even if it snows a foot.

Check out the Sun Oven and the Lazy Porkers: