Saturday, November 26, 2011

That's a darn fine looking gate.

This is what you do on Black Friday when you have a farm and you want to eschew the consumer craziness all around. You go out on your place and work all day putting in a handsome looking 16 ft welded gate. Not a bit of money was spent at a mall buying stuff that will be thrown away by June next year. We hope to hang on to this for a good long time.

You are porous.

Every now and again, I get challenged when I tell folks that I am farming organically. The last one was in the parking lot at a major home improvement store in town.  The employee who was helping me load some bulky items was sneering at my "Support Organic Farming" and "Beekeeper!" bumper stickers.  He asked me if I was one of those tree hugger types, and really deep down I just wanted to ask "why aren't you?".  Instead I tried to flank his argument by a bit of reverse psychology. I told him that I was just farming "the old way".  For me the old way is just at the edge of the Edwardian period. The pre-petroleum era.  I farm like your grandpa used to. For some reason this appeals to the grouchy, anti-hippy type that seem to oppose what I am doing based on the mistaken idea that I am somehow doing something aberrant or weird.

You see, we humans are not the monoliths we would like to imagine we are. Every day our bodies absorb compounds and chemicals both natural and unnatural. Lots of us would like to imagine that our skin and internal systems are a great big barrier to the outside world.  They aren't.

I was flying to Germany this spring and watched a very astonishing film on my little personal TV on the back of the seat in front of me.  It was a science show that started off talking about the wonders of modern genetic sequencing and what it has discovered.  Apparently there is a great deal of what scientists once considered "junk" DNA in the human genome.  Now with the aid of computers these scientists have discovered that a percentage of the junk is actually DNA that belongs to virus and bacteria. Whut!?! The scientists go on... over the years, humans have been infected with special types of these bugs that are able to penetrate the cell wall and nucleus and insert their genetic code into human the human DNA strand. Now this bacterial DNA is a part of what and who we are.

Astonishing. This means that as we go along, we can potentially encounter a virus that can change what and who we are. And, we can pass this on to our offspring. Now this is the sunny side of the story if that is at all possible.  The down side is that over the years this may have been happening a lot, and some of the cases where virus insert their DNA may occur in a bad way, producing a genetic defect that is fatal to the human host. We are porous.

So you may ask what has any of this to do with organic farming? I point straight at the work of Big AG and their bio-engineering of new species. This type of viral or bacterial gene insertion is what they use to put fish genes plants or bacterial genes in corn.  These same companies are very interested in protecting their laboratory investment by also inserting a DNA marker that shows up in testing so they can detect the special DNA when they think someone is stealing their special corn.  They take samples of the crop they think is stolen and look for the unique DNA flags.

So, what is wrong with this?  From my point of view, crops aside, if humans are susceptible to DNA modification, how do we even know that what we do with plants won't cross a boundary into us?  Yes, being a technical person, I can appreciate the scientists who say that it isn't that kind of bacteria or virus that infects people, and that they have it totally under control. That's what Frankenstein thought, or ignored, when he made the monster, and the monster turned out to have its own will in the end. Some of our greatest ecological and human disasters have been preceded by arrogance and greed.

And now to the other side of the story. You are what you eat. Did you know that if you donate a strand of hair they can tell how much corn you have in your diet? It turns out that most of the human diet is corn, especially if you eat processed food. When the government subsidises corn it makes it a very cheap component and most food processors love cheap components. Plus, when you grow that much of anything, you have to find a place to put it. You put it in cars, in plastic, in soda, in cakes, in chips, in cooking oil, in starch, into the stomachs of school children.  You put it into cows, that just aren't made up to digest the stuff.

The chemical signature of corn comes up through the food chain and rests in our tissues as the critter at the top of the food chain. The unconsumed consumer.  The guy in the middle of the scientific hubbub and shown in a part of the movie "King Corn" is Stephen Macko .   He demonstrates that if a cow is fed corn, the chemicals (isotope of carbon) specific to corn accumulate in the cow's tissues. We eat the cow and other corn products, and those isotopes accumulate even further in our tissues. This is well worn adage "you are what you eat" smacking you in the face. Do you get it?  I do. The same goes for soy, and there is a low hum, a growing suspicion that components of soy accumulate in the tissues of our food animals (chickens and cows).  Some folks with soy allergies state that they can also be allergic to chicken and eggs if the chicken ate soybean meal. The chicken is porous.  The animal is not merely a tube with a torturous path through which feedstuffs pass and come out the other end all pulverised with basic raw materials being absorbed on an elemental basis. The chicken's body, and ours absorb and store entire molecules be they natural or  factory made, some that are not so good for us.  So when you consume toxic (pesticides or synthetic fertilizers) or even borderline toxic materials (proven safe at low levels) they can bio accumulate. In other words, they can stay in your tissues for a really long time.

Frightening stuff now to know these things and relegate my nourishment to Corporation X. 

So my dear sir, yes I am an organic farmer.  Why aren't you?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Farming is Embarassing

It is safe to say that I don't know everything. I prove this to myself and others on a daily basis. This spring I proved it on my farm (not for the last time). There are just some abilities that seem to come naturally to rural folks. There is a knowing that goes with using a tractor to finesse a round bale into the last small corner of a barn. There is instinct in how to lift the mower "just so" to not scalp the hillside on that little high spot. There is a touch of the steering while plowing that makes furrows like lines on paper. I do not have these skills;  yet. I logged mile after mile mowing the lawn at my parents' house with this tractor when it was new. I never had the opportunity to use implements with it.

The lovely thing about a tractor is that it is always stronger than me. Thank God. We decided to facilitate the installation of the fence along the back line of the property (over 1000 feet), we would invest in a post hole digger for the Bolens. I did some research and found one that was designed for a compact tractor. The linkages are shorter, the auger is shorter and it was supposed to save our backs from all that digging. So I thought.

My Dad, who has "the Knack" or the uncanny ability to master all things mechanical or electrical warned me to take it easy digging with this thing. He warned me that it could get ahead of you and get stuck. We assembled the implement after uncrating, and this took the better part of an hour. Then I fired up the tractor and took off out of the barn.

I just drove about 50 feet from the barn which is on the back side of the property, and I lowered the auger, engaged the PTO on the low speed and started to dig. The whole idea was to dig in small bites. Down a little then up with the 3pt. I thought I had it made, and then I came face to face with the vagaries of hydraulics. Just a small touch to the elevator lever and the auger went down. Down way too far. I tried to compensate by lifting but it was too late. That auger took hold and buried itself to the shear pin. The tractor promptly stalled. Great. I tried to jog it, I tried to bump it. Nada.

So we shut everything down and tried to make sure that everything was not in tension and started to dig with shovels. The auger bit is designed to take a good bite of the earth and it didn't want to let go. We dug all the way down to the starter point on the tip before we could free it. There! now we had a first class post hole. It was two times wider than it needed to be and plenty deep, and right smack in the middle of the barn lot. William is great with a shovel. Better living through technology huh?
William looked at me finally and asked "why did you dig right here? We need the holes near the road for the new gate posts." It seemed strange to me that William, my sweet Chicago man would ask, because Ms. Cleda's picture window is less than one hundred feet from the desired post hole location.  I suspected this would happen and my tractor operator skills would be insufficient to prevent it. It was like destiny, like the surety of the sun rising in the morning. I was going to mess the first hole up, and in a big way. The first rule of country living; you are entertainment for your neighbors. It is a given conclusion. I wasn't about to give that dear woman the best laugh she had had in a month.


PS: I dug the second hole fearlessly, and right in front of Miss Cleda's window. Got that one stuck too. And yes, you are supposed to laugh, I did!

Friday, July 29, 2011

What was lost, must be remade.

I have become slowly obsessed with the notion of growing cereal grains over the past year and a half. Although I am very interested in open pollinated heirloom garden veggies, the grains are captivating me. I think the biggest part of the allure is the impossibility of growing these (or so I thought). I am stubborn and decline to give up on impossibilities.

For most of the last century, the modern concept of grain is a 10,000 acre plot of one crop, with a fleet of combines running across it. This seemed to be so far out of reach for me. I kept my focus on tomatoes, cukes, lettuce and squash, all safe, all traditional.  I was also calculating how much feed costs for my chickens, let me tell you it is a lot when you have 100. Then, by association I started to think about what goes into chicken feed;  corn, soy, mystery pellets, millet, wheat. After making this short list, I had an idea. What if I grew everything I needed?  Novel idea on a sustainable farm, isn't it?

I have this problem. Curiosity is never something I can sit with. When I have a question rattling inside my head, I look for answers. The Internet is a rabbit hole that I frequently follow to the point of falling asleep at the keyboard at night. I bought a book that I enjoy very much, and I think it started me on the correct path for a future with home grown grains.  It is "Homegrown Whole Grains" by Sarah Pitzer.  It is a beautiful little book with pleasing illustrations and nice introduction to both the culture of the grain crops and their uses, including recipes.  I also found an old pamphlet that I downloaded from the Library of Congress (for free). It is "Wheat Culture in Tennessee" by J.B. Killebrew 1877.

This old book opens the possibility of growing my own wheat here in TN. It also gives a first hand account of a history that is most likely completely lost to us. And since it predates the oil boom, it provides information on cultivation that is in keeping with organic methods. There is a list cultivars  that when crossed according to the table included, provides particular results that are either good or bad for the local climate, which by the way, is apparently on an isotherm with the north Mediterranean. The booklet lists the Mediterranean as the birthplace of wheat, and therefore TN is particularly suited to this crop. Who knew? 

So I start looking for the wheat listed in this book:  Old Lammas, Pearl White, Clustered Red, Boston Red, White Cove, Dark Cove, Donna Maria, Oxford Red, Satin White, King's White, Northumberland, Pearl. Gone? None appear in searches, who is growing them? No one? Are small secret samples of these hidden away in the vault of some multi-national company? Perhaps. What would be more tragic is that they are entirely lost. To believe the importance of this statement, one must understand the history of wheat in the US. From what I have found, wheat has been brought here by European colonists, grown, saved and cultivated in various regions. The varieties they carried here were the successful ones.  If you journey for two months across the Atlantic Ocean in a wooden washtub under sail, your are not going to carry wheat seed that you are ambivalent about. You are going to bring that which gives you the best chance of immediate success, what your people have grown for hundreds of years, seed that will keep you from starving to death.

So, our wheat heritage reaches back for milena only to be thrown away in the past 100 years? Are we crazy people?  Farmers were convinced by company XYZ, that the wheat #345 is the ticket to instant success. Throw away grand-pappy's wheat and grow ours, you won't regret it!  And they did. You cannot fault these farmers of the petroleum generation, they were trying to keep their families from starving to death too, except this time they were doing it by exchanging wheat for money. The money protected them. The wheat no longer protected them. 

What drove this ousting of the old varieties? Markets driven by the bushel. The higher yield of these new varieties pulled everyone along. Only problem is that these varieties were bulk and no substance. Heirloom wheat, what is left of it, is purported to have 20% or more nutritional content than "modern" wheat selected for high yield. Yield= bulk.

The solution, if you are into sustainable agriculture, is to redevelop your own wheat, a landrace of wheat as it is known.  This is exactly what some are doing, and it is what I hope to do. One must first start with a seed base. It is preferable to use an existing heirloom variety (today this is the only legal way to do it in a world of plant patents) and save seed from the best plants over several generations. The idea is that these seeds will be the best adapted to your local micro climate, your neighborhood.  The link below gives instructions on how to do it. 

There is something very beautiful about a patch of grain growing. It is like a movie scene, when the seed heads are set, I am compelled to extend my arms to the sides, palms down and just barely brush my hands across the tops of the grain heads as I walk through the field. It is like a blessing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Folklore of Deer

If you have a garden, or a farm, chances are you will have a discussion with someone about deer. There is mythic lore associated with these critters. I never realized the magical properties they possessed. The the terrible truth comes out about Bambi. Everyone reviles his appetites.  Everyone has a story, a tale of battle against these creatures.  They travel in herds and wipe out entire plantings.  Anguished tales of one particular crop being wiped out completely. Often they will do so in a way that is completely unexpected, and unseen while you are asleep.

So far, they are eating my green beans, and inexplicably trampling them. They have also done a strange bulldozer trick in the corn field. The corn for the most part was knee high, except in one area where there we dumped a pile of cow manure. In this spot the corn was 6 feet tall. Wouldn't you know that the deer chose to crash straight through the beautiful tall corn, when all around was corn that they could just step over easily.

To give the impression that they are experts in the matter, every gardener is ready to offer their fool proof method for exacting revenge upon the deer. Its all in a misguided effort to cover up the monumental truth; they just can't stop the little boogers.  Of course it is a sign of perfect etiquette to stand and listen to your fellow gardener proclaim proudly that they have triumphed over the animal kingdom, and it is very good manners to nod and smile and agree to try their methods. Deep down you know the dirty secret;  whatever it is, its not gonna work.

Now I realize that I will probably put some of you in a tailspin. You will protest and possibly write back to me, calling me a fool. You will loudly proclaim your personal triumph over the animal kingdom and say to me " I, I alone have done this, and it really, really works".  "I have never had a problem since" is the phrase uttered as a bookend to this rant.  You my friends, are deluded and in textbook denial.  The deer have got you.

Some of the lovely and broad ranging methods I have heard for eliminating deer damage:

bars of soap tied to the plants
human urine scattered about
garlic juice sprayed on the plants
scattering of moth balls
spraying ammonia on the ground
spreading around human hair swept from the barber shop floor
hot pepper juice/sauce/powder
dried blood

And then there are fences. Deer, in their mythic power are somehow able to leap the highest fence, 8 ft seems to be a nice round number used for deer fence. I understand that deer will still try to give it a shot. There is also the light as gossamer plastic deer netting. It is supposed to thwart the deer because they cannot see it, and walk straight into it making for a very unpleasant experience for them. Ha! If the deer can't see it then I can't see it. It is only a matter of time before I become hopelessly entangled. Then I have heard that deer do not like jumping over wide fences, as in a cattle fence laid down at a 30 degree angle all around your garden, I cannot comment since I haven't tried it either.

So you say, "try electric fence". That doesn't work if the deer don't bother to touch it, but sail right over the zappy part without so much as a touch. I know, put a peanut butter smeared streamer of aluminum foil on the fence.  I haven't tried that one yet.

Fact is, in this universe, you are paired automatically with your equal and opposite deer nemesis, the best you can do is hope to tip the balance in your favor for just a little while.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


What does one do with 15 acres of hay and no money to buy tractors, mowers, tedders, rakes and balers?  Can't just let the hay lay down. Weeds and cedar trees take over a field in short order. What to do then? I have made the choice of an Austrian style scythe for my hay mowing needs. Crazy you may say. I don't think so. For certain it is physical work, for sure it is sweaty and hot at hay time. Some men drove past with a truck and trailer load of square bales looking at me like I was an insane person. Perhaps.  I have used this tool quite a bit.  Without the beef cattle roaming and trampling in the barnyard as they were last year, the barnyard has grown up in dock and other assorted broadleaf weeds.  I mowed them all down in about 20 minutes, and collected the cuttings for green compost. If I had tried to do this with my Husqvarna string trimmer it would have been a nightmare (even though the Husky is a fine tool that I appreciate very much). The stems were just too tough, and though the trimmer would have triumphed eventually, it would have been with great effort. The trimmer is actually more tiring than the scythe in uses like this. It is heavy and needs multiple swipes for the same effect.

The real beauty of this tool is in mowing hay. First, I have to say that the key to enjoying this is that you have to want mow hay by hand to begin with. If you have all the hay mowing implements and want to save time, it is highly unlikely that you will derive any pleasure from this work.  There is something akin to meditation in the process.  You swipe the scythe from your waist, and keep your arms extended. The core of your body does all the work. With practice the swing of the stroke becomes rhythmic and even, and the natural tempo I would guess is a multiple of your heart rate and breathing once you get in a groove.  The magic is the first time a slice arcs through the hay and makes that beautiful ringing scritch sound, the hay falls to the left in a windrow. The activity lends itself to certain songs of your liking and that fall into the natural beat of the snath.  I sing to myself as I go along.  Pick a song, any song, the right one will settle into your brain.

Then there is the raking and turning and curing. I defy you to have an easy time buying a long handled hay rake with wooden pegs like gap teeth. Even on line, all you can find is some hardscrabble permaculture guru with a blog on how he made his own from scratch (it is very nicely done by the by). The other alternative is to visit the old junk shops and antique booths on consignment, and hope someone has cleaned out Papaw Clive's barn and put a rake up for sale. It is equally difficult to find a real deal pitch fork. Not a spade fork, not a manure fork but a real deal 3 tine pitchfork, you know, for pitching hay. Again, we raid old Clive's tools of the trade to turn the hay as it dries, and then to neatly pick up the hay and put it loose in the barn (shut your mouth! no bales?). Or "gasp" make a haystack.  Besides reviewing the paintings of the French Masters to see a haystack, one has to visit Romania or some other like place where they have perfected the technique and still make outdoor haystacks. Modern farming scoffs at this, but truly it is no different from the practice of leaving round bales out in the field for 3 years. Do some checking, you can even rake the external hay down the sides of the stack and make it lay just so, such that it sheds rain. Alas, what we have all forgotten in this country.

So we watch the sky, we "make hay while the sun is shining".  No joke. A good rain or two can turn nice cut hay into something no better for animals than having them eat rope. The sun is at once a friend and and an enemy to hay. The hay must be dry before it is put away for storage, but it can also parch the nutritional value out of it. Many a barn has been lost to the heat generated by rotting green hay in a big mass. There's a knowing to curing hay.  My father tells a cautionary story about rotting hay. My Dad has some great farming stories from his youth:  Old man Gass (this is what Dad calls him) across the street put up all his hay in a beautiful old barn one season. Clearly the hay was still uncured. Sometime in the night, the barn and hay caught fire from the heat of decomposition, all three stories of it.  It burned so hot that it melted the shingles on the roof of the nearby farmhouse.  Richardson, the living  great grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier came running down the street from his farmhouse a mile away, wearing a night shirt, night cap, boots and toting an oil lantern, ready to lend a hand. American Gothic, neighbors looking out and caring. Nothing the fire department, Gass or Richardson could do would put this blaze out.  It lit the night sky, and hay and barn burned to the ground.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's too darn hot 'round here to bake bread.

I don't think there is anything that can stop me in my tracks like a fresh baked loaf of homemade bread. It is too darn hot to bake that stuff inside the house. I am crestfallen, what does one do in such trying times? Why, you just make a cob oven, that's what!  "Yippee, a cob oven!" you say. "What's a cob oven?" It is the most fitting thing a person can do with acres of TN red clay just inches under foot.

Cob is a combination of clay, sharp sand and chopped straw. Ok, still not clear about what it is?  It is basically an earthen dome, outdoor oven that has been used for perhaps thousands of years for cooking.  It is also called a Quebec Style or Crouching Groundhog oven.  You don't really need much to get it going. I bought a copy of Kiko Denzer's book "Build Your Own Earth Oven" and it is really detailed about how to put one together.  It is this guy:

So, hopefully, LJF will have a snazzy wood fired clay oven on the property, just small pace or two from the back porch of the cabin.  Life is beautiful and the bread will be good! Don't forget the pizza.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Picked one helluva year to be a chicken herder.

I just wanted to make a few comments about how the price of corn stinks. I mean really stinks. Can I cuss some more than just in the title?  OK, last year I was paying round about $5 for a 50 lb bag of whole corn for the chickens. This year, it is over $10 for the same bag.  What just happened?  Is it all being foolishly turned into ethanol?  Or, have the Chinese fallen in love with the corn dog?  Right now I have three patches of corn growing. One at the city house, one at the farm and one is at William's house. With my commitment to the USDA to raise and sell chicken products, it is a tall order to turn a profit in such turbulent times. If my corn does come in, it will be weeks before it is ready to pick.  All of it is heirloom variety dent corn, multicolored in fact, red, green and blue. Couldn't just settle for plain old yeller.

The solution in my mind is to get rid of off-farm feed inputs. I hope to just raise as many animals as the land can support, and they can keep their high-dollar corn. That'll show em.

A mast year.

Hi Folks, it has been a long spell since my last writing. I hope to do better at this public journal thing when I am finally settled on the farm.

A remarkable thing is happening this year. It is an "on" year for wild blackberries.  The farm was blooming with blackberry canes during April and May, and now a breathtaking crop of blackberries is the result.  The photo is a small version of what nature and my addition of honeybees can do.  Lore has it that next year will be a pitiful crop.

The birds are full, and ripe blackberries turn into raisins on the cane, going uneaten.  On the hillside of the adjoining property, there is an untapped bounty of perhaps thousands of pounds of berries. I watched in amazement this spring as the slope bloomed all silver-tipped in the distance.  I have not hiked up there, but it is likely an impenetrable thicket of luscious ripe berries.  It is what becomes of a hayfield that is left untended, it becomes a paradise for rabbits, and torture for the beagles that try to chase them.  The old-timers call this kind of thicket a "hell" though the term is most often reserved for Mountain Laurel.  I can envision being trapped without hope on such a hillside.  I could hear the neighbors beagles baying and harassing in the near distance, and occasionally yelping in pain.

I spent about an hour yesterday on my day off waiting for the State Apiary Inspector to reach the farm. I picked a gallon and a half in short order.  I stomped my way up into the thickets and pressed the hay and weed growth down with my boots (passing flashes of fear entering my mind regarding snakes unseen). It is noticeable that the first wave of ripening produces berries as large as the tip of my thumb, the later flushes have smaller less rewarding fruit.  I noticed the agonizing randomness of the ripe fruit, no order to my mind. A berry to the left, and more to the right, close to the edge, higher up, lower down, four together, one by itself. I had to really focus to pick an area clean. It feels like a deliberate effort on the part of the plant to prevent me from cleaning it off. I wonder why?  Clearly though, this is a plant that intends for birds to eat it's fruit.  No mammal would be happy about pushing through those thorns.  Birds however, easily navigate the canes, without so much as a note of worry about thorns, singing as they pick the berries,shielded in prickles.  What a perfect strategy for spreading seed. Seed bombs on the wing as the birds fly off.

I used a gallon plastic milk jug cut out, leaving the handle intact to make a picking bucket. I filled it twice, I didn't even make an impact on the available crop within reach.  Boy, I feel pretty darn lucky.  It is great to be able to forage for food. I can't wait to turn these darlings into jelly. Sorry folks, not a big fan of blackberry jam. It is like eating sweet gravel to me. Let's ditch the seeds, shall we?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Guard dog

Here she is, Daisy.  Ready for adventure, defending against all comers. Maybe she is not quite ready yet. She may just make intruders smile themselves to death, she is so cute and fluffy.  This dog is growing at an alarming rate, and at approximately 10 weeks old is nearly the size of a Spitz.  In this picture she is just home with us having just left her litter mates at 8 weeks.  She is actually much bigger now.  Once she grows up a little, about 8 months actually, she will patrol the farm property keeping predators away from the livestock.  By then she will hopefully have a friend, a second LGD to give her backup in those coyote show downs. Most predators won't tangle with two Great Pyrenees.  Daisy is a Great Pyr./ Anatolian Shepherd cross we got from Nature's Harmony Farm in north GA. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tilling the Fields

Last week was a big week for LJF.  We hired a man to do some plowing and tilling with a tractor. One acre is now scratched open and needing planting. The hayfield will take it all back if we are not quick about it. We will be planting feed corn and fox tail millet for poultry feed, market veggies and potatoes.

The plan is to under plant clover as a green manure/ living mulch for the corn.  We will pre-treat the clover seed with organic inoculant.  The inoculant is a specially selected strain of nitrogen fixing bacteria that will colonize the roots of the clover, and grow  in nodules that secrete nitrogen into the soil.  Since corn is a nitrogen hog (and depletes the soil readily) we are doing this to eliminate the need to treat the field with petroleum based fertilizers.  This is considered a "deep organic" method as described by the organic gardening guru Eliot Coleman.  The idea is not to just use processed organic fertilizers but to amend the soil and improve it. Chemical additions,be they organic or petroleum  based, do not offer a long term improvement to the soil.  In  fact, they can burn and kill earthworms and beneficial insect (yes, even if they are organic). The only other amendments will be manure and compost.

Later in the season the clover will  be knocked down and in-planted with Oaxacan Green Dent Corn.  I tried to pick a heirloom variety from a region with a similar humidity and growing conditions to East TN.  I may be wrong about the selection, but that is how things go, you try and see what works.  I also have a batch of Ohio Blue Clarige from Broadened Horizons Organic Farm.  This is a landrace corn that the farm has developed over successive growing seasons. I will plant it on another schedule so it won't tassel at the same time as the Oaxacan so it doesn't cross pollinate and resemble nothing like we intended.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Now the preparation paralysis is over. Planning has to give way to action. The non-romantic truth of the matter is that I have 1253 feet of property line without any kind of fence. The perimeter fence is the last barrier to farm critters making a break for it. It is also the first barrier to critters that want to get in and make a quick meal of my livestock. I worry about coyotes the most now, but then I worry about weasels, rats, owls, hawks and now bald eagles that frequent the lake a quarter mile away. Don't even get me started about people's pet dogs roaming the area looking for blood. This is the secret life of some dogs unfortunately, one that would shock the most loving of dog owners. Everybody loves chicken. William lost about a dozen birds to a roaming Husky last summer. He captured the dog and had a nice conversation with the owner. All was set right with a check to cover the value of the birds. "You lick your owner's face with that tongue doggy?" Sinister, but the dog-ness of the dog I suppose.

This weekend we went out to the property to take a walk around the perimeter, check the existing fences and pick out a place to put our driveway and cabin. We decided on the driveway and cabin, and walked the entire property line checking out the property line fence and seeing how it must be fixed. The old fence is rough in places and is not up to snuff. 1253 gets bigger.

This will likely be a really good fitness plan for William and me, more for William I suspect who will wind up bearing the bigger part of the work. There is just a limit to what I can do with a day job.

We were also happy to meet the neighbor across the street who has lived there for 50 years. She is a very friendly person with a big smile. We got the strange look we sometimes get when we mention organic farming, but when we explained; no chemicals, no poisons, lots of manure and lots of compost, a big smile came over her face. "Oh, so you are going to farm the old way." she said. Yes neighbor, the old way. Call us crazy, and insanity may soon come to pass.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January Deep

The long climb out of winter feels interminable. Here in Tennessee the winter is mild and bearable, others are not enjoying an easy winter this year. My woodpile is not gone yet, but then I have not been trying hard enough. I read yesterday that the sun calendar has today's twin at November 26. The upside is just as long as the downside.

I have ordered my obligatory seeds from the 20 pounds of seed catalogs that have arrived in the mail over the past three weeks. They know just how to get me. A few pretty pictures of cucumbers here, a few colorful pictures of tomatoes there, and I am happily ordering seed for plants that I cannot grow for another 3 months. THEY'VE GOT ME. These seed catalog companies have the marketing savvy of the best of the tobacco men. Give the garden groupies pictures of chlorophyll laden plants during the dead of winter, and we will order anything, even seeds for veggies we ourselves don't like to eat. It is a compulsion.

So much planning and plotting is going on. I have ordered (and am waiting to have to pay for) a LGD which is a Livestock Guardian Dog, Great Pyrenees to be exact. He/she will be the chickens' NBF. I have also ordered two splits of VRS honeybees, for pickup in May. All acronyms, all the time. Also waiting for the arrival of the shipment of turkey chicks in late March. These will be be Standard Bronze and Bourbon Reds. I feel that both breeds have a great context for this area of the country, and both are heritage breeds. And, unlike grocery store turkey breeds, these types are able to reproduce naturally. The turkeys you buy in the supermarket were all created via artificial insemination, the bird's breast is too big to allow...well you can get the picture. All I know is that I will hopefully have to only do the minimum to facilitate turkey nookie. The idea is to not have to keep buying livestock all the time. This is the definition of sustainable.

Last but not least, I am waiting for my order of soil blocker equipment for seed starting.
I am a dork, and I am not ashamed to say that I am very excited about the arrival of these garden tools. I have tried several methods of seed propagation over the years, and I am hopeful that this will be the best yet.

I have tried cell trays and peat pots. I have tried those fun but disappointing peat pucks that poof up when you soak them. I have tried bedding flats and hand picked the seedlings with an English made stainless steel Widger tool (it is an excellent propagation tool by the way), transplanting the seedlings into larger pots. This last method is a great space saver, but I loose some to transplant shock and damage, no matter how careful I try to be.

The idea with the soil block maker is that you load up the device with some potting soil and compress it into neat individual blocks ready for seed. No pot, no cells and supposedly the plant cannot get root bound since the sides of the block are just open to the air. Then, when the seedling is at the right size you simply deposit each mini-block, plant an all, into the well in the medium size block....and so on. Minimal transplant shock. Since I've noticed that even the "biodegradable" peat pots do NOT degrade after planting, I figure this is a great way to get my seeds started indoors this year, without wasting effort or money on "infrastructure". The soil block maker is a tool that can be used over and over. It will eventually pay for itself I hope.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What it means

Lightning Jar Farm.

Does it name inspiration, captured creativity, moonshine, or 1860's canning jars? Yes. It means what I think it means after all.

It is the act of holding my breath and diving in. It is fifteen acres to keep open without owning a tractor. It is holding a day job and staying good at it so the dream survives. It is giving the kids a landscape to roam in and explore freely. It is growing and raising really good food, and then eating it, and sharing it with others. It is about learning and teaching, and art. It is conservation, ecology, whole farming, and harvesting the sun.

It is my alter ego, my cape in a phonebooth transformation.

Twenty years of living in the burbs have not put the walking ghost inside my heart to rest. The ghost has been tap, tap, tapping on my strings. The spirit has been walking through hayfields and woods, and wandering amongst newly tipped Christmas trees in the spring time fog (a particular shade of green, impossibly fluorescent), she has been galloping horses, listening to spring frogs, and digging potatoes. In autonomic response, I have planted a larger garden every year. I take my shoes off after work in the summertime and stand squeezing the garden soil between my toes. In this way all the worries and fatigue of the day have drained through the rough soles of my feet into the earth, I am grounded in the warm dirt. The ghost is not yet quiet.

It will not be anything that exactly matches my imagination, but it has an exceptional chance of being wonderful. Anticipation.