The Good, The Bad, The Finale

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

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

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

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

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The Weaving Studio

My loom arrived this past week!  It is so beautiful and I can’t wait to get started on it.  We are currently working on “blocks” and “Summer and Winter” patterns in class so I haven’t had time to try it out yet.  But, I took a day off yesterday and headed to Boulder and put together some yarn and patterns so I am ready to go!  This thing is an amazing piece of wood working.  We’ve ordered our share of furniture and this is easily as well built as our Amish stuff.  it is all solid maple and I didn’t have any part of it not fit as advertised.  Time to go full on hermit!

The new toy!

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The beginning of the studio.  The dogs checking things out. Very well camouflaged.  They are the same color as the loom!

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The first yarn for the first project on the floor loom.

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The latest project for class:  block design with Summer and Winter pattern.

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The new “Pixar” light.  The loom has holes drilled for lights.  This will help with threading immensely!

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The Boy Goats Get A Home

Aaron and I got the fencing put up so the bucklings couldn’t escape.  They will be living in the grassy run area around the chicken coop.  The girls will stay over with the donkeys.  This should help to prevent unchaperoned breeding!  Tank and Dozer are the cutest little guys.  They are as sweet as the girls and actually are somewhat less demanding.

Aaron and I also built what we have named “The Bomb Shelter”.  It is a stack of cinder blocks and railroad ties we had lying around.  Because goats love having things to climb and hop around on, this gives them a place to play king of the castle.  It is also open underneath which gives them a place to get out of the sun.

To let then live among the chickens, the puzzle was how to keep them from getting at the chicken feed.  While they would love to eat it, it is very bad for them.  Goats, like cows, are ruminants.  This means they eat primarily grass, weeds and leaves.  Corn and other grains can cause “bloat”.  This comes from their inability to digest something and it can be fatal quickly.

So far, all is going well.  They lived up to their billing as being incredibly energetic.  It was explained to me while learning about them that keeping goats is like giving a three year old a hammer.  Yep.  Good description.

Tank eating out of the new feeder I built (Still needs a cover).

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Maybe if I eat from the side I can get my head in there farther.

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The Bomb Shelter (we figure it has to way close to 2000 lbs).

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King of the castle.

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I dare ya to knock me off!

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This buffet is pretty tasty!  I loves me some thistles!

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Dozer

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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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