The Playground Continues

I was making breakfast this morning and when I turned around and looked out the living room window all of the post braces were gone.  The guys were out there working and taking advantage of this incredibly weird January weather.  Not to be outdone, I got ye old overalls on and got the old crate fired up and headed out for a day of fencing.

By the end of the day, the crew had the barn framed up to the headers.  Tomorrow they set the trusses and they should be skinning the thing by the first part of next week.

I am half way through the fencing.  I have the equivalent of two sides done.  I needed some fencing splicers, which came today, and will be out completing 3 of the 4 sides. I’ll get farther if I can, but my back dictates a lot of what I can accomplish.

More to come.

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A Good Old Fashioned Barn Rasing.

The west was not won by people portrayed like the rugged individualist Marlboro man or the John Wayne type shooting a six shooter in a standoff.  It was won by pioneers helping one another build homesteads.  The last big piece of infrastructure is going up.  We contracted with a local builder to put up a 30 x 40 metal pole barn with a 12x 40 overhang for storage.  The theory at this point is that it is a livestock barn to house Nigerian Dwarf Goats, a couple of rescued Donkeys from a local shelter, a turkey coop, and a chick brooder and still have room to stack hay for said critters.  The goats require some pretty fancy fencing and the donkeys need a corral to create security and a place to fed them and care for them so there has been a flurry of work to have things ready for spring.

We have joked that the initial post setting reminds us of buying something from IKEA.  Some assembly required.  Come Monday, after the 7 yards of concrete sets, the crew will be out framing.  They seem to think it will all be ready for inspection in about three weeks.  Too late to change its location now!

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In the mean time, after getting the 1350 feet of posts set, I set to task pulling fence.  This one is affecting my back.  There is a lot of bending and stooping and each roll of fencing weighs 200 lbs.  After throwing momma on an airplane today I started getting the fence stretching routine in place.  The first section looks pretty good.  The come-along, stretcher and the tow hooks on the big pickup make a good combination.

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We’ll keep you posted as it progresses.  Thanks for looking!

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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The Other Famers Still Made A Harvest

I was able to get the seedlings going this year.  After that, my back and health deteriorated to the point that I couldn’t get them planted out in the greenhouse and its surrounding beds.  Grandma and Zina took over and got it all planted along with a new Blackberry patch in the big garden.  I tried to help but I’m afraid it didn’t amount to much.  Here are some pictures of what has been accomplished.  I am so grateful for the help and tomorrow begins the food storage and canning process in earnest.  We won’t have root crops like onions and carrots, or squash and beans, but fortunately we have grown oodles of them in the past so it should bridge this year without too much trouble.  I am determined to get back at this as soon as possible.  After all, what else to life is there?IMG_1185IMG_1188

Just before I had to hit the floor for several months we managed to get a dozen apple trees planted.  So far all but one have survived.  We had to use a post hole digger to make the holes for them because our soil is akin to concrete when it is really dry.  Planting trees is a very optimistic endeavor.  You believe that you will actually be around in five years when they actually begin go produce!

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Because of the fierce winds we have hear we have been trying different things to keep the beds covered when fallow.  This set up has potential but the plastic sheets are like sailboat spinnakers.  We eventually started weighting them down with car tires.  This poor garden is completely over grown now because of my neglect.

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I love my seedling room.  That is all.

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One of the JAZ Farm migrant workers.  Commutes in every year from Michigan to play in “her” greenhouse!

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Another adventure because of the wind was that we had  an old dilapidated section of fence finally blow down.  Because of it, there was now a back door entrance to the big garden, and then to the chicken coop.  Of our 40 hens we lost 20 to foxes.  Again, I couldn’t do anything about it.  We will be hatching more out in the spring.  It was sad to come home and see a field full of feathers.  Because we pay Aaron’s tuition and feed him regularly, his job was to use the old materials and rebuild the fence.  Now that it is rebuilt and that we have a new gate to close it all off, we are hopeful that our fox whoas may be over.

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Did I Mention That I HATE PC’S?

Regardless of what I will do with work going forward, I needed to dispose of one of my work computers as it was getting outdated for company specs.  I detest computers and see them as a necessary evil, along with “smart” phones.  The one thing I will give them credit for is the ability they afforded me to not have to work day in and day out in an office.  Between having an office high in the mountains and being able to work from the farm I loved my commute.  But these work computers are completely encrypted for security purposes which made them really slow and really buggy.  So when it came time to go dark, my Dell met my Smith and Wesson.  I had some fun blowing the thing to smithereens!  IMG_0880IMG_0881IMG_1771IMG_1773

Got Out For The Eclipse

Because I was limited in my travel abilities I was very disappointed that I couldn’t join my friends in the path of totality for the 2017 eclipse.  The consolation prize was that here in Colorado we had 93% coverage but that did not create the diamond ring, Bailey’s beads or the Coronal display that can only come from a total eclipse.  So we donned our eclipse glasses and watched the show.  I took up residency in front of the solar array.  I thought it an appropriate place to observe.

My eclipse observing gear:

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Hangin’ by the panels

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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.