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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Rhubarb patch

Rhubarb here on the farm lives in three places.  
The original patch lives at the edge of the yard; it hasn't been well weeded nor well maintained since it was planted there. 
Newly planted rhubarb on the edge of the back lawn and adjacent to the Christmas trees - this rhubarb was found on the side of the road in the Northeast Kindgtom of Vermont and relocated here very well.
Brand new rhubarb started from seed in old hoophouse - the only green rhubarb here on the farm.

The goal was to consolidate all the rhubarb this spring, but the weather and the greenhouse project took entirely more time than we expected.  Recently I heard something about homesteading that resonates with me - the 1.5 times principle.  For every project you are planning to do on the farm - plan 1.5 times more time and 1.5 - 2 times more money than you thing it should take.   Every big project here on the farm has taken far more time than I budgeted for.  Thankfully most come in right about where I budget them financially.

In this case, postponing the rhubarb move is working in my favor.  I am able to work on killing the weeds in the area I want to move the rhubarb to before planting.  Weeding on this farm takes up an inordinate amount of time because I have not prepared my planting beds well at all.  My best performing bed is the 4 ft x 20 ft raised bed that we put in last year.  Planted in the square foot gardening method it only requires weeding early in the spring and the occasional maintenance weed eradication here and there.

The best location for the rhubarb is where we put the Northeast Kingdom plants.  Tonight, I weeded and heavily mulched around the existing plants; weed whacked a 25 - 30 ft square area down as close to dirt as possible; pulled out some saved feed bags, cut them open and laid them on the ground around the existing patch; collected rocks (which grow better on this farm then most plants) and started killing the weeds around the rhubarb.  I would like to add four to six more sacks around what you see above and let them all sit and kill the underlying weeds until late September.  At that point I will dig up all the rhubarb from the front yard and greenhouse and move it to this spot, mulch it heavily and hope for the best come spring.

On to the herb garden? 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Modest harvest

Last night's harvest from our early July garden was modest - the radishes were cleaned and put into the refrigerator awaiting their place in a salad or a batch of radish relish this weekend and the rhubarb frozen for its use in strawberry rhubarb jam, pie or delectable rhubarb bars.

The stalks on the very left are only about eight inches long.  To be healthy, rhubarb should be split and separated, ours did not get moved or separated this spring.  Tomorrow night's farm task is mowing the location for the new rhubarb patch and putting down weed suppression in preparation to move the rhubarb this fall.

I spend far too much time weeding.  Better bed preparation results in better yields.  Valuable lesson learned.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Greenhouse - reclaimed windows, plywood, lumber

It was a driving, Spring rain when Little man and I returned to the farm last night.  He played in the garage while I set about on evening chores.  When Zeb and Sandwich were fed and watered, the chickens fed and watered and the eggs collected, I took a walk across the driveway to the better than halfway finished greenhouse.

I stepped inside and stood between the raindrops.  The pitch of the roof is not ideal, however, it is built to the length of materials I had sufficient quantity of to make a roof.  Available window sizes were not matched to the rafter length so patching will be required with half windows or poly-carbonate sheets. She isn't square and any contractor worth his training would shake his head and walk away after looking at how she is constructed.

Another ten to fourteen hours of work will be required to put on the last of the windows for the roof, the side windows and the door.  There is a little patching on one or two broken panes and then the caulking/flashing of the roof so that it doesn’t leak like a colander but is limited to a few drips here and there.  The the windows will need a good scrubbing. When that is done, I will start seeds.  They will be started well over a month late and will be complemented with some plant starts traded for with friends and acquired from the farmers market to ensure sufficient production for our consumption and preserving.  Tomatoes and peppers will be grown all season in the greenhouse in hopes of increasing our yields.  The rhubarb that didn’t get moved out of the hoop house last fall will also stay inside until it is done producing and will get moved at the end of the summer.

Raised beds will be added on the sides and in the middle as time permits this summer and fall. Wall and roof supports will be constructed to support next winters’ snow load.  Brick flooring will be laid on top of gravel or sand for heat retention.  Shelves will be installed over the raised beds and a rain catchment system added along with a black collection barrel for additional heat retention.  There will be at least one compost pile inside for heat and I hope to obtain some poly-carbonate sheets to help protect the roof a little better.

I will post pictures of the project as it progresses throughout the summer.  She isn’t pretty, but she will last me several years to come if I keep up with the regular maintenance.  The dirt spot on the left of this picture is where the first, small greenhouse came down (there is a little bit of size difference between the two).  The only thing rotten on that were the foundation boards where it sat directly on the ground.  Most of that wood and many of the unbroken windows have been re-purposed in this greenhouse.  

Next month’s big project - the chicken plucker.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Be careful what you write about

Last night after we came to a stopping point in the work on the greenhouse and had everybody fed and watered, we sat in the lawn chairs beside the garage looking at all the spring chores that still need to be done just in the back yard.  Talking over finances with Little man splashing in mud puddles, we heard a slam.  Before either of us could react, a streak of white ran snorting across the back yard and out towards the corn field.  Sandwich had broken out the back wall of the shed and took off running.  So much for relaxing before heading in for dinner.

Little man’s father got up, cursing and swearing and headed for the shed.  Little man brought over two hammers while I grabbed the bucket of used nails and scrounged the pile of salvaged pallet wood so repairs could be made to the shed.  All the while Sandwich tore around the house and down to the corn field and back again, thrilled to just run!  When the simplest of repairs were made, I went to the garage to grab a bucket with some food leaving Little man’s father to finish the repairs.

I was able to walk right up to Sandwich; it was reassuring to see that he is no longer afraid of me.  Not so encouraging was that he had absolutely no interest in my bucket or its contents.  We made one lap around the house before Sandwich decided to join Zeb.  I was a little surprised that the fence didn’t zap him as he went through it, but my concern now was that Zeb didn’t hurt him and getting him back into his shed.  They chased each other around the pig pasture and managed not to hurt one another before Sandwich ran out through the fence again and headed into the corn field.  I retreated to the car for something to use as a snare; I hate them, but there was still dinner and a bath for Little man before Mom could start her evening indoor chores.

I chased him up from the corn field, beside the barn and across the yard, back past Zeb’s pen and into the Christmas trees.  Just as it looked like we were headed for another lap, Little man’s father stepped from behind the shed and Sandwich turned.  He walked beside the shed, up the ramp and directly into his pen.  It was good timing.  Little man’s father shored up the walls with one more board to be sure he would be safe for the night and then we headed in for dinner only a little more than an hour after we had originally planned.

This morning, Sandwich was warm and snug in his shed.  As I came back inside to finish getting ready for my off-farm job, the phone rang.  It was early, that couldn’t be good.  My neighbor just under a half mile up the road was calling to tell me that my pig was on her front lawn.  ‘Is he white or black and white?’  After all, I just checked on Sandwich, he couldn’t have gotten that far, that fast.  Zeb was out!  I knew I should have checked that fence last night.  Thankfully he went north toward my relatives and not south toward the swamp.

Little man’s father tore out of the driveway and up the hill, expletives trailing behind him.  I sent a note to work telling them I would be late, woke up Little man, changed out of my work clothes and back into farm clothes and headed up the hill to catch my other pig.  An hour later we had walked him back home.  I then waded through ice-topped, knee-deep water with calf high boots to raise the bottom wire of the electric fence up out of that water.  We checked and the electricity flowed well again.  Little man’s father repaired the fence post which had been dislodged and I walked inside bare foot on a 30 degree morning since it was warmer than walking in ice water filled boots.

At work they laughed and asked if I got my workout and if I had fun - all but the part where Zeb lifted my not so light person and carried me ten feet down the road!  This body is getting up there and I don’t bounce as well as I used to.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Meet Sandwich

Sandwich is a another rescue pig.  He was found, in February, in a small enclosure with no food, no water, no hay, and his fur was caked with mud and poop.  The hut he was in was chewed on every available corner as he attempted to garner any possible nutrition.  When he arrived on the farm, he was just over ten months old and weighed just under eighty pounds.  Normally a feeder pig reaches eighty pounds around four weeks of age.

He was scared and cowered into the back corner of the shed.  We gave him food but his fear was stronger than his hunger.  Retreating to the doorway of the shed, we watched him devour one pound of food and two gallons of water.  He licked and pawed at the dish for every last morsel of food.  A couple hours later we went back into the shed with more food and water which he again devoured.  Since he had been without food and water for so long, we didn’t want him to gorge himself and get sick.  The first two days we fed him small amounts at regular intervals.   When we didn’t notice any problems, he was put on our regular feeding schedule of twice per day.

When he thought we weren’t looking he rolled and played in the fresh hay trying to rub the mud and muck from his hair.  Unfortunately a bath in February when the temperatures are hovering below zero was not feasible.   It took about two weeks before he decided that it was OK for us to pet him.  An additional week or so passed with us being in and out of his pen before he decided he could initiate play and ask for food or attention.

Today, two months later, Sandwich has gained just over one hundred pounds.  He is happy and healthy and will join Zeb out in the pasture when fences are completed to keep the two separated and safe.  He no longer cowers in the corners but now puts his feet up on the top rail of the pen to greet you.  Food continues to be his main motivator, coming in especially handy the one time he decided he had had enough of the shed.

We are happy to give Sandwich a good home.  Later this summer Sandwich will be traded to the farmer at the end of the road for a side of beef.  Zeb will remain and with any luck we will find a gilt or sow for him soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wandering mind

There are days like today when working off the farm is extremely difficult.  Even after a morning low temperature of twenty below zero, the sun came out and temperatures reached well into the teens this afternoon.  While many may consider teens intolerable, after double digits below zero with double digit wind speeds to match over the weekend, high teens is WARM.

For the second year in a row a good snow pack and below normal temperatures have inhibited progress on outdoor projects.  Looking out from my office window as I shuffled papers from in progress to completed and billed, I thought about the greenhouse and how today's sunshine and warm temperatures would allow for some melting around the base if only I were there to remove the top layers of snow.  This warmer weather also might entice our pampered birds out from inside their coop if I could get out and clear some snow from on top of and inside their run.

I turned back to my billing for the items which we moved from their origin to their destination, then proceeded on to monthly statistics.  When I broke for lunch and warmed up last night's supper of shepherd's pie - made with local potatoes and squash from last year's garden - my mind wandered to fences.  Some to keep the chickens out of the garden and some to keep this spring's feeder pigs separate from the boar we bought last year.  The plan is to raise one to trade for half a cow and keep the second for a breeding sow.  While the walking would be a little difficult, the sun would be shining on the pig's pasture right about now and it is pretty well protected from the wind.  Any leftovers from the fence material could go to the minor repairs needed on the smaller of the pig shelters.

Stepping outside for a few minutes of fresh air was probably the nail in the coffin of productivity today.  It was all I could do not to keep walking towards my car - after all my keys and wallet were already in my pocket.  Reluctantly I headed back inside and answered the phone and updated my databases and did a little more billing, all the while the mind was 23 miles northeast of my current physical location mentally working through all the projects which have only seen slow progress; all done in fifteen minute segments before my fingers froze or the skin on my face started turning white from the early stages of frost bite.

As I traveled those miles home with the sun dipping below the hills to my west, I thought about the future of our farm and whether or not my dream of being home when Little man gets off the school bus each day is financially possible.  Being met at the door by a toddler with the story of four-wheeling down by the landing where my cousin is logging on the family's land recharges the desire and fuels the enthusiasm which started this humble homestead in the first place.

Sitting next to the tub while stories of swimming in the lake this summer spill forth from Little man's imagination, I am planning the framing for the revised greenhouse and perhaps scheduling a day off from off-farm employment to work on farm projects.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Planning & Lists

Two things my husband despises!  I have said many times before that I am a list person, always have been, always will be.  

Each year I talk about projects I plan to complete, ones I hope to complete and those that get on the list because they are a dream, something that someday might get accomplished on this farm.   

Growing Magazine had one sentence that justified my lists this month: 
Setting goals before each season is the only way to know at the end of the year whether you succeeded.

As the first month of the new year comes to a close, I have managed to cross several things off my whole-farm-planning list for January.  There is the outside chance I will accomplish most of the bigger items off the to-do list.

Every night when I get home from my off-farm job, I work on something, even if for only fifteen minutes.  I pruned the fruit trees next to the house in three sessions, mostly due to the severe wind, I could not keep my hands warm in single degree temperatures with winds exceeding 15 mph.  The two others that need to get pruned are planned for Sunday morning wind chill permitting.  There are others that would be great if I get to them, but the goal of the three I usually prune plus two will be complete.

The roof did not survive the winds last year.
A major overhaul is on the list for 2015.
Last night, I spent almost exactly fifteen minutes putting away the last of the saved, dried seeds from last summer.  Placed neatly into their labeled envelopes, they wait for the greenhouse to get repaired or the weather to warm up; whichever comes first.

Monday I listed some planters and decorative watering cans on eBay which I had purchased in my wealthier years, items which are impractical for this farm.  When they sell, it will be a little more cash towards the bills and two more boxes out of the back room.

I took the time that Little man was in the tub this week to go through and draft out an order for seeds.  It will need some pairing down, but the basic list is done.

The taxes will not be done, but they are started.
The de-cluttering will continue, but I don't think that will ever be able to be removed from the list entirely.
My attic, back room, workshop and garage are looking better each day.
The list of things for sale on eBay grows.
The garbage man is earning his money this month.

Every little bit counts. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I miss Girl Scout cookies

I was a Girl Scout for more than 20 years.  I started as a brownie and worked my way up through senior scouts and then went on to be an adult leader.  My poor mother even volunteered, year after year, to be cookie mother.  I remember the 53' tractor trailer driver trying to back down our narrow driveway to deliver cases and cases of cookies to our garage. Each year the driver would arrive, look at the driveway and cringe! 

It has been over 15 years since my involvement in scouts ceased and close to five years since I have had the luxury of consuming a Girl Scout cookie.

How might this post have anything to do with farming you might ask?  Well on my window sill sits a mint plant.  It was one of the few surviving plants in the greenhouse after the windstorm.  I brought it inside, fully expecting it to perish; amazingly it continues to grow.  I decided that I would make some mint extract in hopes of satisfying my cravings for Girl Scout cookies.

I found a recipe for alcohol free mint extract in cyberspace and perhaps this weekend or early next week I will have homemade 'Thin Mints.'