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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book smarts vs Real-life experience

As we delve further into our farming adventure, DH and I often disagree on the best way to accomplish a task.  He has a lot of real-life farming experience, although much of it was MANY years ago (I tease him about being older than me all the time).  My farming experience is very limited and I rely on the books of people who are experienced in the various aspects of this life at which I am attempting to be successful.  From things like butchering our first rabbit, to what to feed the pigs, to the plans for the greenhouse and shed, I rely on other people's experience to help me forward. 

DH reminds me that he spent many of his early years on the farm and he never needed a book.  Some of my favorites are the books from Storey Publishing.  They present a wealth of information in an easy to understand fashion.  Their guide to raising rabbits has been an invaluable resource as we embark on this new adventure.  One thing I need to remember is that all of the information is not applicable to every situation - we butchered our first rabbit and it didn't go exactly as planned.  So we live and learn - some of our own real-life experience.

I will; however, continue to rely on the manuals and narratives of others who have and continue to successfully live this life.  DH was extremely fortunate to have his early farming ventures presided over by men whose experience couldn't be sufficiently captured in two or even four agricultural manuals.  We are now two generations removed from those who worked this land before us.  Neighbors and acquaintances educate us and provide invaluable direction for both our rabbit and pig endeavors and I continue to read every manual, manuscript, poem, allegory, blog post, and internet article I can get my paws on.

Friday, April 27, 2012

It may be spring, but...

Mother Nature put me in my place today and reminded me to be careful how far ahead of the game I was getting.  Even though I have mown the lawn and temperatures have been above normal, I need to remember that it is still April in Northwestern Vermont. 

Today there was snow!

Not accumulating snow, mind you, but snow nonetheless.  I am definitely behind in my greenhouse plantings, but a little part of me was thinking I could get some vegetables and herbs in the raised beds and maybe even the garden itself and skip the greenhouse or cold frames altogether.  Today was my reminder that the traditional planting date for this area is Memorial Day for a reason.  I don't think I will be waiting that long but I will ask DH to put an extra layer of tarp on the eight-week-old birds we put outside in the chicken tractor this week as temperatures are forecast to be in the upper 20's tonight.
Photo from Scratchcraft

Farmers market approaches

Spring has sprung and that means that farmers market is right around the corner.  Time to refresh all the recipes, stock up on flour and jars for preserving the fresh bounty.  Goodies from the garden mean fresh recipes and my colleague who remains nameless will be indirectly responsible for a couple of new ones that I have found on pinterest.

We are hoping to offer a few new items this year although we are still working on a refrigeration solution.  The rhubarb is doing fantastic in this early season warm weather and attempts at uncovering the strawberry plants from their winter slumber are underway for fresh pies at the May markets.  Pumpkin saved from the fall harvest was processed and frozen fresh for pies and cookies.  Oatmeal raisin cookies are always a favorite and DH will be very happy if a couple of our berry-oatmeal bars don't sell. 

My schedule has changed which is going to allow me to be at farmers market a lot more this summer; something I am very excited for.  Perhaps I will find some time in the next week or so for new tablecloths and possibly even a farm sign for the booth.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Garbage or gold?

My grandfather always took old vegetables and the soiled cat litter out to the back of the garden and added it to a pile.  At eight years old, I had no clue, I just thought he was strange for keeping the dirty cat litter.  To this same pile he added all the cuttings from flowers in the yard and the detritus from the vegetable plants out of the garden.  Every spring he would turn this pile over and reveal the darkest black dirt that I have ever seen.  He would dig trenches in the garden and put the darker soil into the trench, re-cover it with the dirt he had removed and mix the two together.  He would then transplant seedlings he had started in his greenhouse into the garden.  We had the most amazing vegetables every year, a lot of them and almost always, the first tomato by the 4th of July - he did live in Connecticut.  That was his goal and I don't remember him ever missing it during my lifetime.

Today I save various items which others might consider garbage, although I do not save the old cat litter.  I use the scoop-able kind - much different than the clay concoctions of the past.  Most of our paper, food waste, spoiled vegetables, and houseplant cuttings go into a 2 1/2 gallon bucket on my kitchen counter.  It isn't one of those fancy stainless steel or molded plastic miniature garbage pails, it is a standard bucket from the local hardware store.  It has a lid and today coffee grounds, spoiled cucumbers, and egg shells are deposited into the bucket.  Once a week or more often, if necessary, the contents are carried down to the garden and added to the compost heap.

Each spring I make my seed starting mix with compost, top soil and commercial seed starting mix.  Once we finished the greenhouse, DH turned over last years compost heap to reveal that same beautiful, rich, dark soil that I remember as a kid.  We put all of our bio-degradable waste into our compost pile.  Chicken waste, rabbit waste, garden and lawn wastes are all added to the heap.  Each spring we use one pile of aged compost in seed starting mix, the flower beds, the raised beds, the herb garden, and anything remaining is added to the vegetable garden.  A new pile is started in its place and the other pile is left to stew for the season.  We try to turn it once or twice to stir up the micro-organisms and let air get to the middle of the pile, but if we forget, mother nature still seems to get her job done. 

I never thought I would cherish dirt, or it's composition.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How about working part-time?

I haven't always been a morning person, but since I moved back to the farm, I have had every reason to get up early and greet the morning with a smile.  Recently I noticed that I have been staying in bed until 10:00 or some days even 11:00 a.m.  I started to wonder whether there was an underlying condition which might be causing this this unusual symptom.  DH brought it to my attention that I have been working a lot of hours at my off farm job and haven't had much time with our son or to work on spring projects.  I shrugged it off - it doesn't matter that I am getting older, I have always been able to run on little or no sleep - it will be fine.

The discussion began with whose turn it was to watch the baby.  Working late the night before I slept until almost 9:30 a.m. on my day off.  Dragging my sorry tail from bed I was greeted with a mug of coffee and handed the four month old and DH proceeded to go outdoors and start working on the pig pen.  I was a little unhappy, but nothing that wouldn't go away.  I started on household chores since the little one was not quite ready to go to sleep.  Almost three hours later I didn't finish either the dishes or the laundry which were started and stopped twice before the baby started crying.  I didn't return phone calls which were promised to my family. I even missed my grandmother's birthday because I have been so distracted.  DH finally came inside to find out why I hadn't been outside yet and I just about lost it.  Several short and probably hurtful remarks later - I managed to put some food in my stomach and realized that this just wasn't working...

A decision was necessary - was I working to live or living to work?  I had found myself in this position before, but at that point I was single and the only dependents I was ignoring were furry and four-legged.  Now I have living, breathing, two-legged dependants who actually notice if I am not home more frequently than when their food bowl is empty.  I had long ago given up climbing the corporate ladder, but lately I lost track of how much I was actually working.

Apologies were made and DH and I discussed the financial feasibility of my working part-time.  I sent an email to my boss and made an appointment to discuss this with her on Monday.  It would be a big change, but it could work...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A little blood, a greenhouse, and baby bunnies

The drill-bit bit back.  To any normal person who runs a drill bit into their finger this isn't much cause for concern.  To someone who is on blood thinners for the immediate future, I had to stop in the middle of my project - go inside, clean the wound and care for it properly.  For many years I have dappled a little blood on most of my carpentry projects.  It is inevitable as I am clumsy or I am using salvaged materials.  But when you are on blood thinners, if you don't immediate take care of the wound, it could spell bad things. 

Finger mended, it was back outside to finish the door for the greenhouse and laying the landscape cloth under the tables.  Now it is ready for seeds and plants.  With any luck I will not be working any overtime at my off farm job and I will be able to spend at least two hours in the greenhouse catching up on all the seeds which should have been started over a month ago.  My step-children are chomping at the bit to use the materials from the old greenhouse to make a fort.  They were disappointed to learn that we are going to use it in addition to the new greenhouse.  They decided to use the pine tree at the edge of the garden as the start of their new construction.

Into the garage we went to install the waste diverters on the racks which hold the rabbit cages.  Salvaged fiberglass roofing is cut and installed at an angle between the cages.  Urine and feces are diverted into neater piles at the backs of the racks.  This installation was my step-daughter's first instruction in the use of a drill, cordless or otherwise.  She was excited to be able to help and to see the fruits of her labor.  It took a little longer than anticipated, but it was valuable instruction for an 11 year old. 

Once completed we turned our attention to the rabbits who were scheduled to go to the processor.  We decided to keep a few more does to even out the breeding schedule and ensure an adequate cash flow to maintain the rabbits and a little extra for the other expenses of the farm.  For them we needed another rack and two more cages.  My step-daughter helped with the rack as well, but much like the battery in the drill her energy level was significantly depleted by the end of the day.

After all of our hard work yesterday, we were greeted this morning by the first bunnies to be born on the farm.  As far as I can tell there are at least six of them.  The adventure continues...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Piggles again

The call came in - six piglets have arrived at our friends farm just 13.6 miles east of here.  More are coming but only two will call our farm home for the summer.  We are hoping for a good mom out of this years piggles and the other will be for our pork, bacon and ham dietary needs.

There remains one minor problem.  The pig pen hasn't been touched since December.  You may remember that this pen was built for two piglets to live in for a few short months in the fall.  We are now talking raising two pigs to almost 300 lbs each before the end fall this year.  Salvaged electric fencing wire and fenceposts from the old cow pasture will be relocated to the 1/2 acre we have selected for the pigs enclosure.  A decision remains to be made on whether we are going to keep the existing shelter made from salvaged pallets and OSB and try to create two pastures coming from it or disassemble it and start over moving the shelter to a new location.  We have researched batteries and solar-powered fence chargers and hope that we can find some money to purchase one before the pigs arrive in about thirty days.

Meteorologists have delivered on their promise of warmer weather this week.  My step-daughter asked if she could go swimming as temperatures approached eighty degrees this afternoon.  We had to remind her that it is still April and the ice only went out of the lake a couple of weeks ago.

Although almost unheard of in Northernwestern Vermont, we will be picking up the battery and the oil for the riding lawnmower - in the middle of April.  Other goals for my 'weekend' will include finishing the greenhouse, putting the floor down for the new shed and finishing the waste diverters for between the rabbit cages. 

The to-do list never seems to get any shorter and I am often left to wonder if we will be able to to make any significant progress towards self-sufficiency while working full-time plus overtime at an off farm job.  Lots to think about.

The rabbits seem to be doing better - thank goodness.  If all went well we should have the first Wandering Moose baby rabbits by Sunday.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Warm sunny beach vs. rainy/snowy retired dairy farm - hmmmm

Today part of my family is relaxing on a beach in the Dominican Republic.  This was an all-expenses paid trip which DH and I were invited to take.  It was forty-four degrees and raining (snowing just 24 miles and a few hundred feet higher in elevation away) in Northern Vermont today and I am not sure if I would have traded it for that eighty degrees and sunny 2,500 miles or so away.

Seven years and three months ago I was relieved of my job due to cash flow problems at the company I was working for in Southern, Connecticut.  My only dependents were furry and four-legged so I decided to move back home.  In the remnants of a hurricane, my two ferrets, four cats and I moved north to a rented mobile home in Enosburg Falls, Vermont.  My mom came to my apartment and helped me pack and vacuum and sent me on my way.  'Are you sure?' she asked me as the moving truck pulled away with all of my belongings save an overnight bag and those with a heart-beat of their own.  'I am sure,' I said as I confidently hugged her, got in my six year old car and drove north in the pouring rain.

Seven years ago, I offered to take my grandmother's dog when she went to the hospital.  My mother asked me if I was sure if I wanted that kind of commitment, kennels and such or taking her with me wherever I went.  I assured her that it was something I wanted to do and Raven came home with me.  

Six years and two months ago, I got in the car and drove 92 miles to meet, in-person, a man who I had only spoken with online and over the telephone.  My mother cautioned me about meeting people through the computer and how dangerous it could be.  I didn't tell her that I was going until after I went.  I was thirty years old, I knew what I was doing...  Little did I know how dangerous it would be - I gave my heart away that day and I still haven't gotten it back.

Five and a half years ago we planted Christmas trees and picked up some free chickens.  What did I know about raising chickens or trees for that matter.  But I decided to make an investment in my future.  We have had our ups and downs, but today we sell enough eggs to break even on the chicken food, housing and egg cartons.  Some of the trees have died, but most of the ones planted the first year are chest-high.

Seventeen months ago we were invited on an all-expense paid trip to the Dominican Republic.  Eleven months ago I started to feel pretty sick.  Eight months ago we bought two piglets.  Amazingly enough we ended up with over 200 lbs of pork in the freezer before Christmas.  Three months and twenty-seven days ago I (with some help from the OB-GYN and the entire team in the operating room for my cesarean section) delivered a healthy baby boy.  Three months and seventeen days ago I ended up in the Critical Care Unit with a dangerous condition called pulmonary embolism (I had two really big ones, one in each lung).  One month ago we brought home thirty-six rabbits.  Three weeks ago, DH went and got thirty two more.

Today, I spent time cleaning the house hoping the rain would stop long enough to put plastic on the greenhouse (it didn't), hoping the tarp would keep the OSB dry enough through the rain to get the floor of the rabbit-shed built tomorrow, fed baby chickens, fed fifty-eight rabbits (you can do the math here), chased laying hens back into the chicken coop with DH after dark, played with my healthy, happy, almost four-month old son, cooked a delicious dinner (from one of those pinterest recipes), hugged and patted my dog (who is probably not going to make it past the end of the month, but I love her anyway), and finally relaxed with a glass of wine, some (free-over-the-air, six channels worth of broadcast) television and DH on the couch. 

Only once, today, did it occur to me that I could be some place else.  I was cold and wet chasing the chickens, I didn't get the greenhouse done today because of the rain, several more things didn't get done because I spent quality time with my son instead of completing other farm projects

 - but -

not once did I wish I could trade it for the lounge chair on the beach. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hoop-style greenhouse

A colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless lest she be blamed with my complete disregard for the passing of time, gave me the name of a new site that I should look at while I was bored -  Hours pass now with the perusing of great new project ideas, recipes, and so much more.  It was through Pinterest that I found the hoop-style greenhouse which we opted for to save a few dollars over a traditional stick build.  Before work this morning I was able to get the wall framing in.  Tomorrow, if the weather holds, we hope to get the plastic on.

Sod removed, frame laid directly on the soil - we need to put some Linseed oil on the 2 x 6's so they will not rot - they are not pressure treated.

Rebar added to support hoops

First hoops are put in place while the chickens pick bugs, grubs and more out of the freshly turned soil.
All the hoops and top cross members are in place - this marked the end of the first day and the first two drill bits.
This morning the end wall framing was put in place with the newly acquired drill bits.
You can see the the first greenhouse we built to the left of this newer, slightly larger one (this one is almost four times bigger).  The chickens loved helping throughout this process - save for one rooster...

I guess I must be boring

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Drill bits don't stand a chance

I don't know how carpenters do it.  I go through drill bits like crazy.  I made the executive decision to to buy some materials to expand the greenhouse.  We have been saving parts, windows, lumber from pallets and other scrap items in order to expand the greenhouse.  But there comes the time when we are running so far behind that the savings in time out weighs the savings in money.  The materials were delivered on Wednesday morning so we started in on assembling the greenhouse. 

About 1/3 rd of the way in I broke the first drill bit.
About 1/2 way in I broke the second drill bit.
About 5/8ths of the way in I killed the battery in the drill.

New drill bits have been acquired and all of the batteries are now charged.  Perhaps over the weekend we will be able to finish it.