Friday, April 27, 2012

End of April Update

This spring has been so warm that a lot of folks planted early which was tempting for us too. But a few days ago we had a couple nights with a fairly hard frost and I am glad we waited. We had some damage to the banana trees and grape vines but they will recover and all our seed starts made it through with no issues in the greehouse. We are currently harvesting lettuce, raddishes, asparagas, horse raddish, spinach, and a wide variety of herbs along with the many flowers we enjoy.

Our chicken venture has fared very well and they all are getting big and now making chicken noises instead of peeping. Thier personalities continue to develop with one Barred Rock hen in particular showing intense curiosity in everything. She comes right up to the dogs and cats when they come up to the pen and touches thier noses with her beak. Carmine the rooster is learning to crow ever more appropriately and he is as cocky as ever. We are really enjoying being out in the gardens working and seeing them and hearing them...and in a couple months a few eggs wont hurt either.

Spring is also the time of year we do a lot of scheduled maintenance on the various pieces of equipment and vehicles. We just did the Kubota tractor oil change and service along with gear oil change on the tiller and next week we do the 4 wheeler oil and spark plug change along with a valve adjustment and then the Dixon garden tractor gets a 50 hour service and the blades changed. And to top that off, two of our vehicles are due for an oil change.

So we are busy planting, wrenching, and tackling various projects around the homestead.....we love Spring. Anything else? Well, since I am now a couple years over 50 I finally got around to the dreaded colonoscopy and if you are over 50 and havent done it yet GO DO IT. Colon cancer is fairly common but has a very high cure rate if its caught in time. The worst part of it was the anticipation but my results were "no findings" so I am good for another ten years. We have an opportunity to purchase another acre of pasture that adjoins ours and we are going through that process now. Its always an adventure around here because the surveys usually turn up different property lines than what the owner thinks (and it did in this case), there can be liens on the property for various reasons (dont know yet), and people can get some strange notions of worth (not an issue for this one). Its not a lot of property or money but anytime we get a chance to add property contiguous to our existing property we take it and figure its a better place to park our money than anywhere else. We have all the easements signed and submitted to get county sewer so that is on track for this summer, Judy will have a booth at the Baker Seed Company Spring show, and I am now trained to use the various hydraulic extraction tools we have in the fire department (jaws of life).

And finally, a couple days ago we were working on one of the tractors in the shop when we heard a loud bang and some flapping sounds. We opened up the door to find a young man in an old beat up pickup in our driveway with a flat front tire....and it looked like he was really shaken up (rural narrow two lane highway and blowing a front tire...). I asked him if he was all right, had him move the truck to the side and then offered to fix the tire for him or give him a lift. He politely declined, asked if it would be alright to leave the truck there until a family member could come and get it and he took off walking. In looking in the truck it was full of copper wire, had bolt cutters, etc., a quick check by the Sheriff showed it was stolen along with the wire and some other things. Now this was right in our front drive, two police cars, searching this truck and laying things out to photograph and everyone was driving by real slow and looking real hard! We have been asked about it by several people but we can only imagine the rumors that must be swirling!!

Please ignore the black spot on the leaves, I sprayed Neem oil on them after I noticed it but this is one of Judy's roses. This year her various rose gardens have really done well and I think we all have found that the Knock Out roses are the way to go. This one is a standard rose and you have to fuss with them to keep the blackspot down etc and they only bloom for a short time while the Knockouts seem to be easy keepers and bloom all year long. We will be adding many more Knock Out roses to our various gardens over the next couple of years.

People either love raddishes or they hate them...we love them. These are very hot and spicey and I eat a couple a day.

Dogs like Rose the Farm Dog do better when they have a job to do; literally. She already herds the 4 wheeler and garden tractors, keeps the horses in check and now she stands watch over the chickens.

The service on the Kubota consisted of an oil and filter change, re-torquing various nuts, checking hydraulic fluid, checking the radiator etc.

This little 3 cylinder diesel is about the same size as the one we had in our 30' sail boat and its just as reliable and easy to work on. The difference though is that with the Kubota we can remove the side engine panels and the front grill assembly to get access. On the sail boat I was usually hanging upside down and squeezed into various access panels.

Each year we have refined our gardening with the ultimate goal of increasing production for sale. But even though we have mechanical means to plow, furrow, cultivate and plant Holly has to play in the dirt to be happy. We have cucumbers and corn planted so far with much to go now that it looks like frost danger is over.

Poor Bandit has really been showing his age but he is the ever reliable companion. His eyesight is failing which is hard to watch sometimes and he generally needs a boost in the butt to even get in the truck now but we figure he has earned his semi retirement and we keep him comfortable and he is a happy guy.

And finally, here are the results of our pasture soil sample. We were surprised at how balanced it came out and the PH level is almost where we want it (we want 6.5 and have 6.0, not enough difference to warrant applying lime). So based on this result, we will be applying a couple hundred pounds per acre of 3-1-1 (nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous) along with a little Fescue seed mixed in. All told, this will cost us around $700 instead of the $1500 plus we expected. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring is in Full Bloom

Just a few shots from around the farm of the glory of spring.

Judy had planted several things when we first moved here in her yard that this year have just taken off. She has Lillies, Dogwood, fruit trees, Wisteria, Mimosas, Clematis, lots of Roses and a host of other plants that have filled her garden. Rose the Farm Dog likes it too.

So many projects!!

Spring in full bloom  and the smell of the flowers is great this year. Holly and Judy have put a lot of effort into making this look like this.
We have a lot of fruit in the orchard like these peaches...but we are still within the frost danger zone so????
We probably have 30 or 40 grape vines and they are all loaded with grapes like this one on the arbor...might be a good wine making season.
We have lots of Peonies around the farm and buds like this beget...

Flowers like this. We have several colours and most havent bloomed yet but when they do its a rich display of colour and fragrance.
We have many Iris beds but this one on the front of the house is the most impressive. We have the traditional blue, blue and white, pure white, salmon, purple and ......
Yellow Iris'...eve see one of these? I have to admit I have always liked flowers and we grow copious amounts here on the farm. Currently the poppies are blooming, the Clematis are blooming, the Dianthus, and many more flowers. Sorry if you live in snow country...

Chickens to the Outdoor Pen

We have been extremely busy of late during this glorious spring. We have plowed, gardened, gotten our seed starts going, landscaped, fenced....,you name it. And our chickens have now graduated from the basement to the outdoor coop. They really have enormous individual personality and I highly recommend them to anyone who likes animals. Now days even most suburban neighborhoods allow a few chickens and I wish we had done this when our kids were young.

We ended up with two roosters and this guy is named Carmine. He is the smaller of the two but way more agressive and he comes right up to you with his skinny neck, puffs up his chest and tries to crow which comes out almost like a crow but strangled. I named him Carmine because in almost every unit I was assigned to when I was in the Marine Corps we had a scrawny Italian kid from Brooklyn or there abouts who thought he was a gift to women, was always getting into fights, wore a gold chain with the Italian horn...and generally was a great guy to hang out with. This rooster has a big personality and reminds me of those guys from long ago. 

They have settled into their outdoor coop quite nicely but they still havent roosted on the roosts. Holly talks to them and they respond which is not surprising to anyone who knows her as she is just an animal person like me. She really, really, has gotten into the whole chicken thing and I actually feel kind of bad for not making this a priority sooner.

It took a day or so before they ventured to the outdoor pen but they seem to really enjoy it. We have watched them eat bugs, take dust baths, and display their individual personalities. So we have a new hobby...chicken watching!!

One of the things we need to do this year is submit soil samples to the University of Missouri Cooperative Extension to test for PH level, Potassium, Phosphorous, Manganese etc.and they will send you a report advising on the appropriate amounts of lime to spread for Ph levels, nitrogen and other mineral requirements etc. You then can have a specific blend brewed up by the feed store and rent one of their giant spreaders which you tow behind your truck.

We dug down 6 to 8 inches in 18 different holes around our pastures and put them into this bucket and mixed it well then took about a cup and a half and submitted it. I know our Ph is going towards acidic and we want about a 6 - 6.5 so we will have to spread lime this year and my plan is to go with a mostly Nitrogen based fertilizer mix but we will see what the sample tests out as (I will post a scan of the results if I can to show you what we look at). Bottom line though, no matter what the results are it will involve lots of $$$$. And for those our pastures are not going to be organic. We are developing a small lab at the farm and can determine the Ph levels of the soil and run other tests (some of the stuff we need to test on our own is vey pricey) but we dont have a centrifuge which limits us somewhat (looking for one on Craigslist but so far...) and the price of the testing from the University is very low so we use them. Frankly, the only reason we want to do some of this ourselves is because we like self sufficiency and we are interested in it.
We had already tilled the garden beds and added what we wanted to incorporate and we decided to get smart this year and use the tractor to make the planting furrows rather than doing it by hand. We tried the middle buster on the Kubota but the furrows were too close together so we switched to the IH and it was just the right spacing.

We made furrows in three of our plots while the fourth will be mounded for mellons. Our 5 year plan is to greatly expand based on what we have learned so we can focus on commercially viable plantings.  

The IH performed well but the lack of power steering sure gave me a workout. There is nothing more satisfying than spending a day on an old piece of machinery, hearing the sound of the old engine, smelling the freshly turned earth, feeling the sun, and just enjoying all that we have been blessed with.

There is so much chaos and acrimony (elections anyone?) being pumped into our homes 24/7 that I think a lot of folks have lost sight of what is important and what is not. We look at the drivel that passes as journalism now or the morally and intellectually vacant offerings of network TV and we just reject them. Can anyone actually respect an elected politician once they have been dragged through the mud on prime time during an election? When I was a young Officer of Marines it was constantly drummed into us that familiarity breeds other words, dont act a fool in front of your Marines and never let them catch you in a lie...too bad most politicians never learned those lessons. So we focus on local issues, we mostly ignore what is happening on the national stage and though some say we shouldnt bury our heads in the sand..I firmly believe we are happier and better off for it. I think we were born a couple generations too late!


Friday, April 6, 2012

Chick Update for Mamita and the sound of Freedom

This is an update on the great chicken empire and is for Mamita who so graciously mentioned the blog on the HT (homesteading today) web site. Something tells me she would get on great with Holly and Judy because her posts are always so upbeat and supportive of everyone..just the kind of person I enjoy being around.

We have been busy enjoying this fantastic spring and have in the last week mainly concentrated on landscaping. We had a great yard to start but it was plain and ill defined like many old farm houses and we suspect that most farmers were just too busy farming to worry about making the old farmhouse look nice with foundation plantings etc. We will post an update on what we have been up to soon in that regard. But I do want to take a moment to try and illustrate what its like in our small town.

We have a small mom and pop grocery that is barely making it and is in an old false front building of about 2200 square feet (not including the small attached warehouse). In that small store that we try and support you can find some basic staples, meat once in a while (we get our bacon there and my favorite...livercheese!), some feed from a local feed mill, you can buy your hunting and fishing licenses, get a sandwhich or icecream both made while you wait, and of course there is a dog that sleeps on the front stoop and there are various benches and a small table to sit and have coffee or a pop with the owner. Of particular note that I find just too cool is that there is a shelf or two of libray books in the store where you can check out a book or two if you have a library mobiles are still very evident and active here...anyone else remember those? This community will have lost something special when it goes away and that makes me sad. Across the street is a small feed store that we frequent and again, you can get a pop and there are chairs for folks to sit and pass a little time talking...something that happens all the time and if you just want to dash in and grab something without chatting a bit and seeing how eveyone is your just ...rude...and missing something special. Its not uncommon to have tractors, 4 wheelers, pickups, and even a golf cart or two pulled up in front. We have a body shop, a hair do place, the senior center (its our polling place and we vote there and since we know all the election officials...I suspect we would get a phone call to see if we were all right if we didnt show up and vote), a very small post office next to the feed store that is a friendly...gotta take a bit of time and chat sort of place (and not slated for closure yet), two churches, a tire repair and general work on what ya got sort of place in an old former gas station (think 1940s) where they do everything from tire repair to welding and lots of old timers like to hang out there, an excavating company, a competent auto repair place, a stop and go gas station and quickie mart sort of deal where you can get some Hunt Brothers Pizza, some fried catfish and other delights, a soda fountain drink and of course your lottery tickets, and in addition we have an elementary school that the whole community supports even if they dont have kids in school, we have a great headstart program, some storage units, and a small fairgrounds owned by the Lions Club that has a horse arena, barns for the 4-H, a cook shack and a clubhouse, and small picknic area...we have our tractor pulls there along with the horse shows, fire works etc. Up by our main fire station we have a nice little restaurant where you can eat pretty well for about 3 or 4 bucks and a small engine repair place that seems to do a good bit of business. In the general area, we have a very nice chocolate making place (Uncle Joe's), an Ozark gift store and nursery (we get mochas there each week), a small wood moulding factory with a breakfast and lunch/bakery with a small dinning room operated by the owners wife that is pretty good, several stables that offer riding lessons, many beef and dairy farms, a U-Pick blue berry farm (2 of them), and you can buy farm fresh eggs from abour 10 different places with prices ranging from $1.25 a doz to $1.75 a dozen.  If you want alcohol have to drive about 20 miles and we like it that way.  If you cant tell we like our little town

I notice that lots of folks mention in various venues how they like thier privacy and are hostile to unexpected visitors, solicitors, evangelicals etc and I guess that even though we like our privacy too, we enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere here. Its not uncommon to have people drop by for coffee or to chat, we have met some interesting people who have stopped and asked about our gardens or other things on the farm....and heck, we wont even be rude to salesmen or women or folks trying to get us to join their religion...might even offer them a cold drink.

Well Mamita and everyone, we have been very fortunate with our chicks because they all seem healthy and happy. They are down in our basement for the time being and though I can hear them chirping once in a while they dont make much noise (it also helps that I am deafer than a door nail) and its been fun seeing them grow. Holly checks on them several times a day and I get a chuckle listening to her walk down the stairs and talk to them in the morning. They do seem to respond to her which is...kind of ..cute if I may use that term. The chicks now can fly a bit and as you can see in thos picture are starting to roost.

We now have two of these guys with the bigger comb and it looks like the 10 pullets and 1 cockeral we bought turned out to be 9 pullets and 2 cockerals. So we have 2 roosters in the making and the smart thing to do would be to cull one know...I cant do it and neither can Holly or Judy so unless one of you wants to come visit and do the dirty deed we will likely have to live with 2 roosters. I may feel different when they are crowing at 0400 but for now they are safe.

The little plastic feeders and waterers were okay to start but we ended up going to the local MFA and getting these metal feeders and waterers. They cant roost on these and they are more suited to our little farm.

They are really a hoot and I admit I enjoy watching them. They are starting to develop their own unique personalities so who knows what will happen next. Holly had one chicken when I met her (Specks) but other than that neither of us has any experience with chickens and this is just another adventure for us.
We have mentioned before that we are in a training flyway for Whiteman AFB in Missouri (up by Kansas City) and we have seen A-10 tank busters flying over several times and they do fly low so we wave and generally act like the patriotic fools we are. But yesterday....we had 12...twelve...yes thats two nore than ten...C-130s fly low and slow over our farm a couple times and it was so cool. We can only surmise that these crews will soon be supporting combat or contingency operations somewhere around the globe and we fully support these men and women. I know personally I have flown on C-130s on several continents and I sure appreciate what these airframes and their crews did for us ground pounders.
We have 2 sons currently serving in the Air Guard and we sure enjoy this infrequent but very vivid reminder that there are those that are risking all to watch over us.

So there you have it, Mamita, I hope the chicken post wasnt a disappointment. We look forward to getting them into the coop and we have plans to extend the outside pen. Tomorrow we have the chain link fence contractor giving us a bid for the front yard (gotta keep those free range chickens contained you know), I have fire department training, and we have more planting to do. Just another day at the farm!