Monday, May 27, 2013

Garden and Orchard Progress

The gardens and orchard look to produce well this year, lets hope it pans out.

Does this have anything to do with gardens and orchards? No....I just liked this picture of Maybelle and Louise.

Just a picture of a Poppy we grow..they don't do anything to produce income but we like them.

Same thing with Clematis. We have many varieties of them on the farm and we just like them for their beauty...and you know, that's important.

This Snapping Turtle wandered across our barn yard at a leisurely pace, he was probably 10 years old and if he is lucky he will make it to 80 years or so...we sure don't have any intention of hindering his progress.

The gravel we laid a month or so ago has worked out well and provided the parking and turn around areas we needed for the farm sales. The fact that there is less grass to mow is a bonus!

I love my old IH tractor and use it most days but we have found that lots of folks who stop at our farm shop are really attracted to some of the old equipment we have including the 424. The old timers like to reminisce, the soon to retire baby boomers remember it (or something like it) from their child hood, and the younger set think its retro we try to have it out and about. 

The grass is slowly coming back from the sewer project but the cool weather isn't helping

I finally got around to splitting and stacking the wood we had accumulated last year but had left in the round. It was making a mess of the yard and Holly made it one of my priorities so...Thankfully we found a new farm hand to help out.

This was an experiment in companion planting and it seems to be very successful. The huge cabbages are way farther along than the other ones we planted elsewhere and they seem to be thriving with the spinach we planted with them. Bandit approves.

One of several lettuce patches.

One of several onion patches..

Row crops from the truck garden..

One of several potato patches...

The orchard

Bradford Pears..


Asian pears

Knock out Roses..

And finally apples and yet another cameo by Bandit.
Things are abundant at the Stone House Farm and we are thankful.
I have not mentioned Memorial Day, its not because I don't think about it or don't respect it; rather its because I do on a very personal level. I hope you understand.

Wood Lots and Pasture

This year has been the opposite of the drought we had last year, its been mild temperature wise, we have had a fair bit of rain, and things are green like they should be.

I don't know if I can describe it adequately but we have several small wood lots that we get great enjoyment out of. We like to walk through them and just listen to the sounds of the forest if you will and are usually treated to the sounds of birds, the squirrels jumping around, we scare up rabbits, wild turkeys and the occasional  white tail deer and its just very satisfying on a deeply hard to describe levels.

Our main pond is surrounded by Cedars, Oaks, Maples, and what we think of as "weed" trees but it has a very vibrant and distinct ecosystem all to its own. Fish, frogs, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, snakes, lizards, Herons, Ducks, and the always popular Deer and Wild Turkeys can all be found here.

The back woodlot is mostly deciduous hardwoods and it changes from what seems like a small piece of open woodland in the winter to a jungle of immense proportions in the summer. Last year we found several Peach trees in this wood lot we didn't know we had and this year we have found some wild Cherry trees.

We are still exploring this and find things all the time, including animal burrows, old fencing, and a couple of rock cairns we are trying to identify.

In winter we can look through here and almost always find our cattle but as it grows up it gets almost impossible as you can see.

Down in this little draw we found a bunch of peach trees..why were they there? Were they planted long ago as part of the farm stead that was here in the late 1800s or was it accidental?

I know, its just woods...but its our woods...and its very pleasing. If your going to buy a farm or a homestead...get some woods along with it.

This pasture looked like desert last year..its much improved though weedy.

Our Cows may not be California Cows by they are happy Cows none the less.

Just seeing our pastures come back from the disaster of last year is satisfying. We were really worried but this year has proven to be a blessing. 

We will be haying our non grazing pastures in about a week and we hope to get something over 300 square bales. Then we will spray to cut back on the weeds, then hopefully we will get two more cuttings this year.

Looks better than dust and weeds eh?

Emergency Services Cruise In

This past weekend we attended an Emergency Services Cruise in where the Police and Fire Departments from the surrounding area all came to the farm of the local State Trooper to show off their stuff and do some demonstrations.

In an area as rural as this, folks have to work together to take care of each other and the Troopers, the Sheriff's Dept, local Police (in the larger communities), the Ambulance Service, the various Fire departments and even the operators of towing services all have a role to play in Emergency Services.

You know, most boys want to be Firemen when they grow up but then life happens and people get careers and that dream fades. But then sometimes you retire from your main career, you hit your AARP years and the dream re-ignites. Who doesn't like to see Fire trucks and related equipment or hear sirens and see the lights?   

Our host for the event was a State Trooper who lives down the road from us and as everyone knows, Police really want to be Firemen, so he is also a volunteer with our Fire Department and we had a lot of fun. He was issued this brand spanking new Hemi Dodge Charger and wanted to show it off so......

Its hard to mistake the signature Hemi heads on this thing and though its kind of a tradition in the rural Ozarks to run from the cops, I am thinking not too many will be successful with this rig.

The radio communication system is top of the line with various narrow band radios to conform to the new FEMA standard, GPS, direct data links etc. I would also point out that as tax payers we should all be pleased with how well these guys maintain their issued property, this pursuit rig was about 4 months old and still spotless and we live where dirt roads are more common than paved.

CPL Dudley from the Hartville PD was on hand to give a demonstration of the capabilities of his drug detection dog.

This old ladder truck was from 1948 I believe and still had the original tires. The wide running boards were so that you could ride on them while holding on to the ladder.....current regulations discourage that!

Our district is intersected by a two lane highway and a four lane limited access highway to the far south so some of the recovery/towing requirements are heavy lifts. These guys are every bit a part of the EMS team as any of us and we all work together.

We demonstrated the use of hydraulic extractors (Jaws of Life) and here I am using the hydraulic cutters to notch the floor pan so we can do a dash roll.

We train constantly and have used the extractors numerous times and the really are very important pieces of equipment...and very expensive (as in about 40K).

The Cruise In was successful on many fronts, it got us all together to share ideas and issues, we all conducted demonstrations and shared techniques, and the training was good.

We also did a bit of a snake round up. I am not sure about where you live but the snakes have been really numerous this year around here. We rounded up several during the Cruise In and relocated them away from the homestead because of the kids and chickens (these were harmless black snakes).
It was a good time, good training, and just part of life down on the farm.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Graduates

We had a couple of life milestones happen last week where we just got a tremendous amount of satisfaction and sense of well being. Our youngest son Alex graduated from the University of North Carolina - Charlotte with a bachelors degree in English and our oldest grandson Caleb graduated High School with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

Alex is an Army National Guard veteran with three years of active duty under his belt including over a year in Operation Iraqi Freedom and a memorable training exercise in Japan and he will stay on in Charlotte and begin a masters degree program. And we are pleased that Caleb will be starting at Oklahoma State this fall which is only about a three hour drive from the farm.

It was a whirl wind trip out to NC with us driving down the boot heel of Missouri, crossing the Mississippi river from Missouri to Tennessee at Dyersberg and then spending the night on the Tennessee/North Carolina border and going on the next day through the mountains into Asheville and eventually Charlotte. It was a beautiful drive but traffic was very heavy once we got into Tennessee. We took the southern route coming back going through Spartanburg, South Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia and then Birmingham Alabama (horrible traffic all the way). In Birmingham we picked up Hwy 78 north through Tupelo, Mississippi and followed it all the way to Memphis where we again crossed the Mississippi river into West Memphis, Arkansas where we spent the night. Hwy 78 is a very pleasurable drive with little traffic, an outstanding perfectly maintained freeway, and virtually no development along the 145 miles or so we spent on it. Better take it quick though if you want to experience an interstate freeway the way it used to be because they are billing it as the new I-22 corridor and it will no doubt soon be bumper to bumper traffic and full of eye sores masquerading as progress.

After a night in West Memphis and observing first hand the flooding happening along the river we embarked home on Hwy 63 and what a pleasant surprise that was. Starting on the river flood plains  of West Memphis, Arkansas it gradually takes you into the Ozark Mountains through many small towns like Mammoth Springs, Thayer, West Plains, and many other interesting places. We were traveling on a Monday and we had virtually no traffic and this is a highway we are going to return to later this summer for a mini vacation.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has a beautiful campus but its clear to me why college costs have gone out of control. Lots of fancy buildings, stadiums etc and though it was very nice, I couldn't help thinking that so many more people could gain an education if some of that brick and mortar ostentation was re-directed. But here is Al coming off the stage having been granted a baccalaureate degree in English.

There were 3000 students receiving degrees and there were two ceremonies to accommodate them all.

We are pretty darn proud of the boy I can tell you that. We were concerned that his decision to enlist right after High School might result in him not attending college but he persevered.

The Red, White, and Blue rope designated him as a Veteran and I cant say enough about the opportunities that the GI Bill have afforded people. I am not a big fan of government largess but this is an investment in America.

People have commented before that they find it strange that divorced people can remain friends and all I can say is if you have kids together why would you not? Holly and I and my ex-wife Mary (Al's mother) and her husband Mitchell all get along very well and we had dinner and breakfast together and we really enjoyed the visit. When they visited Alaska a number of years ago we loaned them a car and took them whale watching on our fishing boat and when I was in Mississippi trying to get home after coming back from Iraq the last time Mary came over and drove us around and got me some decent food! 

Alex with his grandmother Ginny...the poor guy was on family overload but I think he actually was pleased so many of us were able to come to the graduation.
And this is our grand son Caleb who graduated with a perfect GPA. Unfortunately his graduation was the day after Alex's and we couldn't be at both places but with him going to OSU this fall we will be at his next graduation for sure. Personally I cant even conceive of a 4.0 GPA, I mean, if you added up all three years of my HS GPAs I don't think they would add up to 4.0!!!!

We are seriously proud of these two young men.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Knee deep in planting

Its been a busy couple of weeks and at the beginning of May we had snow and now we are having some hot days yet relatively cool nights (had frost on the 13th). This time of year we are crazy busy trying to get everything in the ground, trying to judge the weather, and to top it off its grant writing season (a side line not related to the farm) so there isn't much slack time. I also finally finished the Emergency Medical Responder course and am officially certified....and about all schooled out for awhile if you know what I mean.

This has been a period of reflection for me and I think that because I am spending lots of time on one tractor or another I have time to contemplate things. The world seems to be spiraling out of control (is it really or have we just fallen victim to media manipulation?) but for reasons I truly don't understand myself we embarked on this journey exactly at the right time for us to feel largely removed from all of the chaos. I also realise that this is part of aging, if you haven't reached that point in life you will eventually wake up one day and look in the mirror and go.."wow, what the heck happened?". But with age comes a certain amount of wisdom that was lacking in younger years, wisdom to know when to pull back, wisdom to resist certain urges and most importantly for me, wisdom to recognise when something special is happening at the moment it happens. How many of us look back and think "man, I wish I could have just one more conversation with my grandparents or parents", or "I wish I had recognised how great some of the simple pleasures were when they were being enjoyed"? As an example, last night after dinner my beautiful wife and I and my Mother in Law Judy all played a dice game called 10,000. We played for a couple of hours at the kitchen table til it was time for bed and just enjoyed the easy company and natural competitiveness we all share. It was one of those times and I recognised it.....I'm thinking that's worth a head full of white hair and a few liver spots.

So enough rambling:

May 5th ...

May 15th...two days after getting a fairly heavy frost! Old man winter just doesn't want to go quietly but overall the weather has been pretty mild and enjoyable.
This is just a picture of some work on the market garden but the old Dodge is the main focus here. I have had a lot of vehicles over the years but nothing gives me pleasure like an old truck. Its dents, rust spots and wear are strangely pleasing to me like the wrinkles and scars on a favorite uncle.

We paid $1200 for this old truck and originally thought of it as a parts truck but its become my daily driver. All it took was a little minor wrenching and it now runs like a Swiss watch, the AC blows cold, the heater blows hot, and everything works on it. With new trucks starting at 25K and up, the pleasure index of this rig just goes higher every time I drive it! 
I have mentioned before how much we enjoy flowers and this time of year we have lots of colour. We have plantings so that we pretty much get blooms spring through fall but late spring is the most prolific. We now have knockout roses and our vine roses blooming, the Iris' are thriving, and we even have various brilliantly coloured Poppies in full flower.

We have white Iris, dark purple, salmon, yellow, and some variegated colours but the blue are my favorite and I like them planted en-mass like this.
This will be the third year for the orchard we planted and its starting to pay off. Lots of new growth this year and we already have little pears, peaches, plums, and apples forming. We still have plans to double the size of this this year.
Yesterday I spent 6 hours on the Kubota spraying the pasture we are trying to reclaim from the horse damage. You basically just idle along at a very slow pace when doing this so its not too onerous and it was a beautiful day. I saw hawks, wild turkeys, rabbits, a falcon, squirrels, a large yet to be identified brown snake that was coiled on a tree growing in the back pond (its more swamp than pond really), and there were a tonne of deer tracks on a small dirt pile I had left from setting some corner posts. For some reason they seemed to like to stand on that dirt pile. In addition, the slow pace of spraying gives you the opportunity to really observe things and I saw some interesting insect activity and discovered a couple of the places our cows like to bed down under the trees.

The sprayer has an 80" boom with 4 spray nozzles (if you look close in this picture you can see the spray pattern) and the 40 gallon tank has a Sure Flow pump attached that runs off the tractor 12 volt battery. You can use the spray nozzles on the boom or a hand wand and it works great though its a bit small for this amount of land ... it works for us. The horses had eaten all the grass (they pull it out by the roots) and had left about 2 acres of nothing but weeds. There is some grass slowly coming back but we need to get rid of the weeds for it to make it back as viable pasture. In this application I use about a quart and a half (in 40 gallons of water) of 2-4-D Amine and it kills the broad leaf and woody weeds without harming the grass. You don't need a license in this state to apply it but you do have to follow federal law (not that anyone would know out here if you weren't) and most of the regulations are just common sense anyway. I know some are against any pasture spraying and I respect that, we carefully examine each alternative and for us we found spraying makes economic sense and we don't fell bad about it at all.
The next post we will have more of a focus on how the gardens are going...the corn, peas, tomatoes, beets etc. are all coming up!