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Sunday, March 20, 2011

It may be over

She may once have looked as nice as this one, but today she sits in a mud puddle in the dooryard with a broken water pump.  For five years she has transported us to powwows; hauled Christmas trees large and small; taken produce, tents, tables, preserves and fresh baked goods to farmer’s market; been shelter from down pours; and even hauled stuck tractors and UPS drivers out of ditches here on the farm.  Twenty one years old, somewhere near 200,000 miles, rusting body, some other minor electrical problems; DH and I are faced with the dilemma of keeping the shaggin’ wagon on the road or retiring her and looking into another vehicle.  The decision to purchase a new vehicle or even new to us vehicle is a major one.  Going into debt for a farm vehicle is not an option. 

My trusty Ford Taurus is also getting up there in years and mileage.  In its lifetime, it has hauled picnic tables and 10 x 20 portable garages on its roof, moved my apartment in almost its entirety twice, plowed through 12+ inches of snow on my road and 6+ inches on may way home from work countless times this winter, carried gravel in the trunk, and been rear-ended three times.  Her trunk leaks from the rear end damage, she is starting to rust, she needs a new EGR sensor, new tires, and after these spring roads, she will probably need some front end work.

Starting a farm can be trying even on the healthiest and wealthiest among us.  I am blessed with a loving husband, my health, a relatively structurally sound body, some great animals, a roof over my head, and food on the table.  We are thrifty, making our own detergents and not spending on new threads, dinners out, new electronics, etc.  A towing bill, gas for the borrowed Jeep, time spent trying to change tires while lying in a mud puddle, fighting with dead batteries and finicky battery chargers, and more postponed farm projects have taken their toll on me this week. 

The search will begin for a trusty farm rig (a.k.a. an actual pickup truck) and a new travel vehicle.  Something that will tow two to three thousand pounds plus its cargo, four-wheel drive to haul wood, rocks, Christmas trees, produce, and equipment around the farm, and maybe has a plow mounted to it for our beautiful but snowy Vermont winters.  A removable cap would be good for farmer’s market days, but also so it can haul a refrigerator, or be loaded with gravel, manure, hay, etc.  She needn’t be pretty, but she must be solid and prepared to work only maybe half as hard as DH and I do around the farm.  We will also be keeping our eye out for a replacement over the road vehicle.  Something that will make the trips to see family in Maine and Connecticut four or five times a year and the 60 mile round trip commute to work five days a week.

Today, I hope to clean up from the messes of muddy shoes, pants, jackets, gloves, etc. and do all the household chores that didn’t get done after two days of mechanical mishaps.  Then I am going to catch up on some much needed sleep before I go back to work tonight.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mechanical woes, chicken nesters & spring cleaning

Check Engine flashed on the dashboard at about the same time as an unearthly squeal starting coming from underneath the hood and bonnet of the old, but reliable conversion van.  Rack the mechanical brain: alternator belt, alternator, tensioning pulley, water pump, engine belt, other pulleys, fan, air conditioning system.  Headlights dimming, battery gauge fluctuating; yup, I am going with alternator.  DH is traveling; I am working overtime at my ‘real’ job.  Perhaps the mechanic fairy will come to visit.  In the absence of his/her visit, I will be calling the shop in the morning hopefully their schedule will allow it to be fixed before I head home.  I am a fairly handy person and a half way decent backyard mechanic.  Attempting that kind of repair after working 12 or 14 hours will not be good for me or the van.  Sometimes it is worth scrounging together the cash to have someone else fix it for you.

Two days, two vehicles.  The little orange tractor was taken away yesterday to repair a problem with the hydraulic system, the correction of which was beyond my realm of mechanical ability.  I am certain given enough hydraulic fluid, a heated garage, some pneumatic air tools and a manual; I might have been able to figure it out.  But there is also that little issue of time.  That is one of those commodities I don’t have right now.  We are shorthanded at work and all of us have been working overtime.  The field where the new Christmas trees will be planted will not prepare itself.  Hand-digging the hill in front of the house for the new retaining wall would probably put both DH and I in the hospital.  Moving gravel and topsoil with a shovel and a wheel barrel, while great exercise would be much more efficient with the tractor.  Someday I will have enough time and not need the money so that I could enjoy the workout of hand-digging the next level of the retaining wall or carrying rocks across the field in the wheel barrel.

Mechanical problems aside, we are making progress towards spring.  Two new nesters were installed in the chicken coop in hopes of allowing our broody hens to become mommas, there were six eggs in one of them this morning.  The outdoor chicken pen has received its repairs after a hard, snowy winter, although since the snow hasn’t all melted no one wants to go outside.  The extra roosters have been removed so that the girls can get a little rest.  Cleaning out of the garage has begun to get a little more organized and to make room for the brooder box in the corner.  Last year I had the babies inside the house – what a dusty mess their mash makes.  This year, they will be outside! 

The salvaged, insulated pool cover was trimmed down to size and fitted over the greenhouse today.  I will be a week late in starting my seeds, but with even the slightest bit of sun the greenhouse is heating to at least 50 degrees and with the new cover it was still almost 60 in there when I left for work tonight at 10:30 p.m.  If all goes well with the repairs to the van, I will be stopping at the local supply store on my way home from work to pick up seed starting mix.  I combine ½ seed starting mix with ½ compost and our starts seem to do really well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Great Book Source

This journey into farming has been an exciting adventure; one which I hope to experience for several years to come.  Each day I learn something new (this morning - don't try to drive through a four foot snowbank and expect to get traction on a half-thawed dirt driveway).  Much of my learning this winter has come through books.  I recently posted a review on a great book by Gene Logsdon and now am here to report that I have found a great publishing company.

It didn't occur to me at first, I was simply looking for books, websites, blogs, etc. which would help me learn to do all the things I want to do to facilitate a more self-sufficient lifestyle.  If I can make a life a little easier by selling some of the excesses, that would be great too.  I came across a used copy of Making Your Small Farm Profitable by Ron Macher not too long after I moved back to Vermont and was renting about two acres in a neighboring town.  Next came a country wisdom bulletin on chickens.  Then it was Building with Stone by Charles McRaven.  Most recently it was a book from the library Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits.

WHAAAACK!! - Like a smack on the back of the head from Gibbs in NCIS it came to me - the publishing company on every one of these books is Storey Publishing.  If you are looking for research on country living - I would suggest these guys as a great place to start!

Monday, March 7, 2011

They promised snow

and we got some snow.

This is a standard size sliding glass door.
That is about 25 inches and as you can see, it is still snowing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thoughts of Spring - then More Snow!

Friday morning was spent planning for spring and the garden.  With the 'growing guide,' a calendar and the trusty Old Farmer's Almanac by our side we sat down with the seed inventory and scheduled the planting dates for the vegetables, flowers and herbs we are going to start in the greenhouse and the seeds that get set directly into the garden.  The basic outline established, we discussed the arrival of this years Christmas trees, the average date of last frost in the region, the cash flow for the repairs that have to be done on the tractor, the fencing that needs to go up around the garden and the prospect of including some sort of initial retaining walls for the expansion of our garden up the sloped hill in front of the house.  We re-arranged a few of the dates in the schedule and then I entered all the information into our farming spreadsheet.

Discussions moved to sap and syrup which has been negligible since the weather turned cold again.  But forecasts of temperatures in the low 40's for Saturday and Sunday kept us hoping for the best.  Sugaring will wait until the grand old maples we placed our six buckets on decided to wake from their winter slumber. 

The calendar lay on the table between us open to the month of April and we discussed the broody hens, when we should allow them to start keeping their own nests and the brooder that needs to be built before any new babies arrive.  As we wrapped up our disucssion on several projects we discussed DH's upcoming trip to Maine for the End of Winter Gathering in Newport and the various vehicle repairs which need to be completed before he leaves.  Finally, we checked the most recent forecast to see when in the next ten days would be good for accomplishing even a few of the tasks we covered this morning.  UGH - more snow! 

This morning as we were finally able to see the Christmas trees again, we are getting more snow.  Old time Vermonters call this Sugarin' Snow.  I call it another drive slow drive to work.  The turkeys don't seem to mind it as they peck at the grass which was relinquished from its long winters slumber under the snow only to be covered again today.  So the pots will remain in the greenhouse enjoying the warmer days when the sun graces us with its presence, raising the temperature in the greenhouse to a balmy 50 degrees.  It will too soon be 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity, and we will long for the last remaining, calm days of winter before the flurry of activity on the farm takes the shape of projects instead of frozen precipitation.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Refrigerator (clean-out) Meatloaf

I have been asked a lot recently about the meatloaf that has become a staple in our household.  It all started with cleaning out the refrigerator.  Recently I had a little bit of everything in the refrigerator but not enough of anything to make an entire meal.  A little bit of sausage, a little bit of hamburger, two tomatoes that were getting soft, some mushrooms, shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 can of sliced mushrooms, 1/2 pkg of fresh spinach, three slices of bacon, half of an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, and of course plenty of eggs.  I could have made an omlette, but I wasn't in the mood for eggs.

Refrigerator Meatloaf was born.

In a large bowl I combined the sausage, ground beef, tomatoes (chopped), onion (chopped), mushrooms, bacon (chopped), cheddar cheese, one egg, some breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan, and 1/3 cup of quick cooking oats.  Italian seasonings are a favorite for DH and I, we add a little oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, salt, pepper - whatever your tastes are.

In a skillet, the spinach was wilted in some olive oil and sauteed garlic cloves.  Add the cooked spinach to the meat mixture.  Combine thoroughly, shape into a loaf and place in 8 x 5 x 4 or 9 x 6 x 2 baking dish.  Cook for 30 - 45 minutes at 375 degrees until the meat is no longer pink.

Serve with fresh baked italian bread - delicious!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One Down...

I spent two and a half hours this morning while it was snowing and finally finished the scanning project.  Anything that was paper that could be saved electronically has been.  It is such a great feeling to finally cross a BIG project off the to-do-list.