Sunday, April 28, 2013

Planting in the Rain

So its 27 April, we have had rain almost every day for a week or so and we had a hard frost two nights ago...its been a very cool and wet spring but its hard to complain after the hot dry mess of last year. Still....a little sun and some dry would be nice!!

But before we get to the planting, since this is a blog about our journey in trying to live a simple country life I thought I would talk about a couple things that have come up as questions from folks I correspond with. One recurring question that pops up is whether we ever feel isolated or get lonely and I can emphatically say no. We live in the country outside of a small community of 109 and have to travel half an hour just to get to a small basic grocery store but because of the small community and our isolation everyone knows you...good or bad. We fit in well, we get involved in our community, we have lots of friends and to be honest I felt more isolated living in the city.

The people in these small rural communities have learned to create their own entertainment and social structure and besides church there are various groups that mostly exist to get people together to do things, folks around here go "visiting", and there are always potlucks and the like to support this or that charity, the senior center etc. We also happen to enjoy home time and our own company so we don't feel the need to be entertained. We like to listen to NPR and various old time country stations, we get a few channels on TV with the rabbit ears including the Ozarks Public Television (looking forward to the new season of the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes and Doc Martin soon), and every Sunday our bachelor neighbor Roger comes to dinner and we usually play yard darts if its nice out or a dice game called 10,000 if its cold and rainy and then we watch a movie on DVD. Everything is over by about 2100 because Roger has to get up for work at 0330 and we rise early as well. One tip, there are sometimes elected leaders (we live in an unincorporated community so no elected leaders) but in almost every small rural community in fly over country there are the real leaders and it pays to recognize those people right away even if they are not elected. They may be local long time residents with a family historical connection, they may be business owners with influence, they may be religious leaders, or they may just be dynamic people who have risen to positions (unofficial) where their opinion is respected....these are the people who make these small communities so run a foul of them at your peril.

I personally would rather read than watch TV and we have hundreds (literally) of books at the house and keep gaining more because of the great used book store in a nearby town. There is a book mobile that comes to town once in awhile but lots of folks trade books around here and of course the magical Interwebs has greatly opened the literary world to more and more people but please understand something - WE DO NOT HAVE HIGH SPEED INTERNET AND ITS NOT UNIVERSAL IN THIS COUNTRY OUT HERE IN THE EXTREME RURAL AREAS- glad to dispel that misunderstanding. I just finished Farley Mowat's "And the Birds Never Sang" which was about his service in the Canadian Army during WWII and it was quite a departure from his usual humor but I enjoy everything from British crime novels to historical biographies and arctic fact the only genres I don't read are science fiction or romance novels.

Hopefully that gives a bit of a picture of our social life on the farm, we like our peace and privacy but we are far from isolated and we enjoy a rich interaction with the community which is important to us. On to the joy of spring planting:

If you have never had the privilege (and I do mean privilege) of experiencing the feeling of turning dirt in the spring after a long winter you have missed out on one of life's simple pleasures. Its hard to describe but the smell of the earth and the feeling that your embarking on all that spring promises may just be the real 6th almost seems genetic.

We have spent the last three years carefully amending our soil and trying to create a viable truck garden out of not much more than rock and seems to be working.

Those who knew us in a prior life are often shocked by the path we have chosen ...but the signs were there all the time and we feel like this was our destiny.

"How do you know how or what to do on your farm?"...we get asked..."You Tube and lots of reading" we reply! Seriously, prior to buying this place we had a cat and grew some things on 1/5th of an acre so its not like we were raised on a farm or bred to this life. But we had a dream and a desire to go back in time if you will to when the world seemed to be just a little kinder and simpler. We are also baby boomers who came of age during the back to the land movement of the early 70s and I remember pouring over Mother Earth News issues in my secret because it wasn't cool....kind of like looking at dirty magazines except it really was about dirt!!!

Look at those rear tires...if you have been following the blog your remember when we bought those and changed them out last year and I can tell you they have performed great. They are Rural Kings and made in India and to my friends in India "Dosti, Namaste, Vanakkam". This particular tractor tooling (IH 424) was mostly taken over and purchased under license by Mahindra and even though my tractor was built in 1966 you can still buy new parts for cool is that.

A man around here (not slighting the women folk...its just how it is) is measured by the straight rows he plows...I am serious...its a stress inducer!

That is a happy old guy right there. This tractor has no power steering, it belches, it pops, it sounds old, I need to replace the tie rods and steering couplers....but its like the old base ball glove I have had since I played little just fits.

Once we plow, disk, till etc we groom the planting rows and in the front of this picture we have placed the temp cattle panels to support the sweat peas we have planted.

The lower pond is doing better but I wonder if it would make more sense to fill it in ( or half of it) and extend our truck garden. Another thing we have learned is that what used to seem like a huge project or just not doable is just a day or two away from reality.

I had to include this. I found some shade hybrid poplars for sale in the back of the Missouri Rural magazine which is a publication of the electrical cooperatives in the state and I ordered 11 for 14 bucks. Two months later we got 11 sticks...we planted them and they have really taken off..SO BOOOYA to all who doubted!!!

Our salad garden experiment in the gutters has started to out well.

My French Canadian partner Holly (Je t'aime ma jolie femme) and Bandit at our upper pond...keep in mind its 27 April and still cold and rainy.

We have several of these nests in the trees of our wood lot and we aren't really sure what they are. They seem a little spindly for squirrel nests but????

One of the rights of spring is the constant battle with bag worms and we patrol our small farm with a vengeance and Neem Oil. If you don't keep on these pests they will strip a tree or bush of all leaves and leave you with dead twigs.

Ahhh the is good. The orange stick is a cattle stick that is used to keep the cattle in line while feeding. We do not beat our cattle or hit them, the stick is used to place in their vision so they move where we want them but we do not hit them with it.  

 We are not grazing this pasture and this hasn't seen fertilizer in several years but its doing well. We will probably just fertilize and then hay this for the rest of the year. 
Picture taken towards the corn patch from the southern hay pasture

Holly in the new greenhouse with her new found garden frog friend.

Some of the candy sweet onions...doing well.

This time of year we enjoy our various asparagus beds...breakfast, lunch, dinner, and this year ...pickled!!!

Cabbage coming along.
To sum it up....we are a month behind last year because of the cool weather and the rain but thats okay...the ponds are full, the water table is back to normal and evrything is thriving. Cant get much better than that.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The New Greenhouse

Its late, we are tired, and tomorrow is drill weekend for the Fire Department so it will be an early start and this will be a short post but we finally got the new greenhouse in. Just a few pictures and explanations but we like it and in just one day today we have already been using the heck out of it since its going to frost again tonight.....that's frost on the night of 19 - 20 April.....what the heck happened to the global warming we were enjoying?

Anyway, we had prepped and leveled the base and laid gravel so it was a simple task to drop the shed close to where it was supposed to be and then move it into place with the tractor.
The grass is still spotty from winter, the trees aren't leafed out yet and if you look close you can see the old sheets we are using to cover our plantings and protect them from the frost tonight....grrrrrrr

The front of the greenhouse/shed has two windows and flower boxes that will be filled with Nasturtiums or other edible flowering plants.

The entire back is double glazed just like the old greenhouse and part of today's work involved anchoring the building so it wont blow away in a big storm. We used mobile home augers that were then through bolted to each side of the shed...probably overkill but it makes me feel better.

Holly is pretty happy with it and has all kinds of plans for the thing.

Its pretty well set up with two wire shelving units for plants plus gravel at the bottom below the shelves for drainage and to set potted plants.

We have it wired for lighting, 110v outlets, and a thermostatically controlled fan.

Not needed with these temps but someday we will get hot weather and this fan will be welcome.

Its plumbed so we just connect a short hose to an outside fitting and we have running water inside, very handy to use one of those coiled watering hoses and water wands.

And it even has low energy consuming CFL bulbs. If you can see it, the entire non-glazed part of the shed is also insulated inside with double bubble (the same as we put up in the pole barn).
So there it is....a small but pretty well laid out greenhouse that will complement our existing operation. Lots to do yet, this is just the start!

Monday, April 15, 2013

A New Mower

I think I commented last fall that our blue Dixon garden tractor...that we paid a lot of money for.... was going to be relegated to just being a garden mule and towing a trailer because the electric deck lift kept failing. Its a great around the farm run about for us but it was a frustrating purchase and we were in serious need of a riding mower.

I don't know how many of you have ever looked for a decent riding mower but its a real challenge. If you go too low end you get something that just wouldn't hold up to our couple acre mowing needs and if you go the other direction you can spend 5K and up...just to get something to get your grass mowed! We looked at the John Deere selections and liked some aspects of them, we looked at the Husqvarna selections and liked some aspects of them, and we looked at Cub Cadet and liked some aspects of them as well and they all probably would have filled our needs (keep in mind we are talking about the 1000 series type here...not the high end stuff) but in the end we decided on Cub Cadet (LTX 1042 KW) because of the features, the engine and the 3 year warranty. Plus, it has a manual deck lift and manual PTO...less to go wrong.

This will be babied and do nothing but mow grass, lawn grass.

The LTX 1042 KW had good reviews and is an upgrade from the regular LTX 1042 in that it has a high back seat, front bumper and the Kawasaki engine. We bought it from a dealer and it was fully prepped and they delivered it to us with a full tank of gas. Having a relationship with a dealer who will service it if needed is a plus in my book. I enjoy wrenching on things but I have a lot of things to wrench on already and for at least 3 years...if something doesn't work as it should they can fix it. I will of course do all the routine maintenance like changing the oil, air filters etc.

The electronic dash (I know, more electronics) has an hour meter, a bunch of idiot lights and a service reminder system to advise you to change the oil when your supposed to.

I find the smaller 42" deck gives a much better cut than the 54" deck ever did on the Dixon and its far more maneuverable. This thing also has an extremely tight turning radius and I have already found it cuts my mowing time considerably. Another feature I like is that you can turn the starter key back one notch and press a button which allows you to mow in reverse until you shut the mower off. On the John Deere you had to push a button each time you wanted to mow in reverse which would be a real pain in the neck for me. Note also the location of the fuel filler on the upper left side just off the dash..this was much handier than the other mowers we looked at.

The 18hp V-twin Kawasaki engine starts easily, its quiet, and has more than enough power for our needs. Its a lot quieter than the 26hp Kawasaki on the Dixon and smoother as well.

And finally, it has a usable fuel gage, something none of the others really had. So we are pleased with it, it cuts great, its quiet and seems to be well made. But it is a 1000 series riding mower and we will make sure its treated as such...just mowing the grass...carefully.

Spring Work has Started...Finally

This has been a relatively mild winter for us because we had such a long and warm fall but it has just seemed to linger a lot longer than we had hoped. We are still getting an occasional frosty night but spring has come to the Ozarks and the trees are budding, the daffodils have almost finished blooming and now we have Tulips and Irises starting to pop.

Of course spring is also the time when the real work starts and we have to mend our slacker ways. We have been back and forth to St Louis to pick up favorite daughter Jenny for a visit, I am now 2/3rds finished with the Emergency Medical Responder course, and we have been busy building raised beds, laying in gravel and prepping the market garden beds. We still don't have our new greenhouse (its supposed to be finished in a couple days) but we leveled the foundation for it and put in a couple inches of gravel so we are ready for it.

So on this day we spent the entire day tilling, picking rock, and doing various chores outside and it was so peaceful with the birds singing and the cows all around us making a ruckus (its calving season).....and then we came in side tonight to the news of the Boston bombings. More and more as I age I find myself rejecting much of what goes on in so called civilized society anymore and I just want to cut myself off from news and anything going on outside of about a 100 mile radius. We maintain this blog to share with family, friends and anyone interested in how we have escaped the rat race and tried to make a living and live simpler...but the outside world goes on and we have 5 kids living all over the place including one on active duty with the Air Force so we are not immune to the impacts of things like today's bombings. It just makes everyone feel a little less secure, it makes parents a little more fearful for their children and if you let it you can spend all day addicted to the latest news from North Korea, or terrorists, or the latest shameful conduct coming out of Washington DC. The best thing we ever did was to decide not to get cable (cant get it here anyway) or satellite TV and just capture what we can with rabbit ears on our $25.00 yard sale TV. I know so many people who watch Fox News, or MSNBC, or CNN almost constantly and all I can say is...turn it off and go will be better off for doing so.

 We have a sloping side yard and Holly had the idea to build some raised bed planters between the house and the greenhouses so we have started that project as you can see. We are using all pressure treated lumber (and the price of lumber is sure a shock) and there will be three separate 8' x 4' planters tiered down the slope. Holly is a true partner and we enjoy working together, she knows her way around tools and has many great ideas so we are a good team. Bandit of course is always around to make sure we get it right.

We added 2"x6" planks on either side to sit on which will not only add seating to the garden area, we are thinking more and more about our future mobility limitations and age. My spine continues its decline and Holly has hip issues which makes it difficult for us to weed so the seats will make that chore just a little easier and we refuse to give in to what we cant do. We may end up with a farm full of Rube Goldberg systems but I look at things from a "how are we going to get this done or make things easier" stand point. We are also trying to make sure that most of the things we put into place on the farm have maneuver area for those with handicap issues, including wheel chairs, so that mobility impaired customers who visit can have access to everything. It struck me when I was nearly incapacitated myself a couple years ago that few places like that exist in a rural area. 

There will be two more planter boxes of the same size tiered towards the outside boiler and there will be planted with Hibiscus and bulbs for flowers.

We have two completed and Judy and Rose the Farm Dog like them already. We are actually practicing a crude form of Hugelculture with these planters as we loaded them up with old rotting wood and brush before we put in the top soil and as the wood further rots and breaks down it adds nutrients to the soil. Right now the third planter will have to wait until we can afford to buy more wood.
Holly had the idea for the tiered planter boxes and this is my bright idea. I saw a YouTube video of a man who put gutters on a wooden fence and then drilled holes in the bottom, filled them with potting soil and planted his salad greens up and out of the way of rabbits.

So we sunk a couple of 4"x4"s and laid cross beams and did our own raised salad garden with 5" metal gutters. The gutters are dirt cheap and we just cut them to fit, added end caps and its worked out great. We will be adding a couple more gutters to these posts and also putting up a couple more of these. You can make them at any height you want to and is another good idea for those with mobility impairments. You could make them at wheel chair height or like these about 4 feet high where I can weed and thin out the salad greens without bending far over to weed. My neck vertebrae were fused a couple years ago so its difficult to bend much at the neck and this really works out great.

We are anxious for the new greenhouse, we have outgrown this one and are having to wait to plant seed starts and cuttings until we get more space.
We plow each garden area with a spade bit or middle buster plow then pick rocks out of the plowed up ground, then let it sit for a couple weeks to let the frost kill emerging grubs and then we use the 3 pt tiller on the back of the Kubota to prep the beds for planting. We will then use the IH 424 tractor to plow the rows and plant. We have been doing this for several years now and yet each year we seem to grow a new crop of rocks. But its getting better, as we glean the rocks and add organic matter to the soil it gets easier to till each year and this year the soil really looks good.

We have several planting areas and the roughly 1/2 acre tilled in this picture is for our market garden vegetables. It has received the most attention from us and the soil is really starting to become a rich and loamy planting area. It takes a lot of work and we incorporate no fertilizer or pesticide into the soil though we do side dress the rows with some organic or commercial fertilizer.

This is our pumpkin and gourd patch and the rock cairns in each corner are filled with rocks we picked from this bed. This will be our third year with this garden and its been a chore to get this up to par as it was a heavy compacted rocky mess when we started.

The orchard is just now starting to bloom (these are pear trees) and we will be doubling the size of the orchard this year.

The new green house will be to the right (and perpendicular to) of the existing greenhouse on the gravel area we have prepared. We also built this new raised bed for cucumbers (a couple more are planned) and we added a new frost free hydrant (what a pain).

Our existing herb garden is in the fore ground with the red bark mulch and we have one new herb bed in the back ground with two more to come.

The grass is still spotty, the leaves are just now starting to pop out and most of the flowers have yet to bloom but it was a nice sunny warm day and we felt satisfied with a good days work. We all already have a tan, our muscles are sore, and I can only wonder how people who work in an office everyday can do it....that was mean wasn't it?
One of the things I like about our piece of farmville is the elevation changes. I took this from back at the pasture fence (behind me would be the front pasture, the pole barn shop etc.) and you see the pumpkin patch by the water tank and then in the distance the greenhouse and market garden.

This newly planted area will be our corn patch this year. We rotate crops each year and never plant the same things in the same areas, not shown in this picture but to the right just out of the picture is another plowed area for our squash.

I took this picture of one of the new raised beds mainly to show the difference painting the wood shed and outside wood boiler made. If you look at the third picture in this blog entry you can see the wood shed was brown and the outside wood boiler was tan....the hunter green matches the house trim, chicken coop and greenhouse and we like it a lot better.
I had mentioned in a previous post about extending parking and turn around areas and laying in a different gravel to combat some of the mud and that project is almost complete. Over 1K in gravel but it really made a difference. 
This is only the first step towards some gravel paths to the garden and greenhouses but I came out nice and we aren't tracking mud everywhere now.

Besides the added parking and turn around areas....less grass to mow!

We gravelled all the way to the road including the sunken mud pit next to the drive.

The area behind the old Dodge is a parking/turn around area up front but it also extends to the road to the leased pasture so we don't have to go out onto the road to get to it or drive over the grass any longer.

So that is what we have been doing since the last post. It feels good to spend our days outside working the soil again and running the machinery. Life is good on the farm.