Friday, March 23, 2012

Update of Farm News

It has been a long time since I have posted on the blog. There have been some changes. I have new horses that I will write about soon. I cut my hair and remodeled the house. Spring this year launched itself with a vengeance after a relatively mild winter. Almost everything is at least two weeks early. This will have some repercussions for the summer.
I decided to move away from the fjord horses for several reasons. Their smaller size meant that I had to use three horses for some jobs. Ever since my beloved Tora has grown too old to work a regular longer session, I have not found a team that I like. I have been spoiled. The new fjord Molly is stubborn. The problem with having tractors is that it is easy to use them when horses are a bit of a pain. If I had to work the horses to get anything done, I would work through the difficulties. Instead, I fully admit that I am on the look for the "perfect" team. For me, this is a kind and easy going pair that even beginners could drive. I purchased Brandy and Babe last year. They each had colts and that was fun but Brandy has proved to be less easy going than I had hoped and I have replaced her with Bonnie, a percheron mare. With the early spring, I will be able to begin work with them on Sunday.
When the weather turns warm, do you hope that you can plant early and step up your planting schedule? For some things, it is too late because they take a certain amount of time to grow. Stretching out the season would also take more ground to plant extra plantings of say broccoli. I am shooting for adding one extra week on the front end and having some things ready for an earlier delivery, sugar snap peas for example. The internal rhythm that runs my farm clock will be off and so I will have to plan and scheme more than usual. There are many questions... Will the insects arrive earlier? Will potato bugs be past their peak when the potatoes are up? What should I plant to fill in the gaps that will be left from planting earlier.
The greenhouse is heated (as much as you need in a mild year like this) and is beginning to fill up. It is nice to be back to working outside and being active. With this job, you have to roll with what ever the weather brings. I try and enjoy the warm, mild days and the early greening up and push away the feeling of dread that this is another sign of global climate change.
I borrowed a boar to breed my two sows and he is happily established on the farm. Sows heat cycle is 17-24 days. Gumdrop came back into heat and has been bred again. I hope she settles so I can return the boar to his home. With corn at $6.50 a bushel, it is expensive to keep him. Piglets will be born in July. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Who needs Facebook, Wimp, Dump or Hulu when you can watch pigs newly on pasture. Big Mama, Porkpie and Gumdrop cautiously headed out between electric fence strands that led to the new pasture. One of them hit the fence and they all made a bee-line back to the covered pig pen. The sound of ears of corn hitting the ground brought Porkpie, the boar back out. His crunching brought the others out slowly. They scanned carefully for the hot tape, ready to head back at the slightest sound of a snap. Gumdrop, the gilt (a female pig who hasn't had a litter) decided she had enough and went back to safety but Big Mama and Porkpie made it all the way out.

The new pasture is ground that had plastic for melons and tomatoes last year. The plastic is gone but the hay mulch is still there. Pigs eat a fair amount of grass and weeds and they will enjoy eating the regrowth of winter rye and dandelions. Its good to see them out roaming around plowing sample furrows with their snouts as if to sample the local flavors. Do they eat night crawlers? The pigs can stay in this field for a while but soon I will need to seed it down to cover crops for the next years vegetables. I will move them then to another field where I am going to experiment to see if they will eat the noxious weed nutbrown sedge.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ode to Molly

In January, I had to put my beloved dog Molly to sleep. I hadn't noticed how difficult things had become until I can back from a week away. She was very stiff and was having trouble staying warm. She wouldn't use her dog house and seemed confused. The slight droop to her eye suggested a little stroke and it was time to say goodbye. I called Dr. Al right away. I wanted her put down in the truck, her favorite place. Al Horvath has had a long history with Molly and he was so loving as we gave her a sedative. As she relaxed under the influence of the drugs, I realized how tightly she had been holding herself.
I got Molly in 1996 or so from a breeder. Australian Shepards, as with other working dogs, like to have a job. This is fine if its a job that works for both of you. I earlier had a dog
who thought that chasing cars with their job. Molly was a young dog but had already chosen the job of carrying things around. I could live with that. It only meant in the spring, when the snow melted, the yard was littered with fire wood she carried around as I was getting wood for the house stove.
The best thing about Molly was her patien
ce with kids. When families visit the farm, some of the children are scared of dogs but Molly would move really slow and the kids could pet her without a lot of jumping around. Molly loved it when people came to the farm and potluck meals were a chance to mooch off of everyone. I remember watching her take a hamburger from the hand of a disbelieving but immobile 3 year old. She just slowly and gently stole it. It was so funny to watch, I just couldn't intervene.
One of her favorite rituals was putting the horses out to pasture. Alf, my easy going gelding always is the last to leave the barn. He didn't seem
to mind as Molly grabbed his tail and hung on for dear life, trying to hold him back from leaving the barn. Finally she would give up and drop the tail, smacking her lips in an effort to remove the hairs jammed between her teeth. She tried that once on a visiting horse and was tossed across the barn but its feet. This didn't slow her down from latching onto Alf's tail.
Molly had only three legs at the end of her life. She did not like having other dogs visit the farm and would not give up her alpha dog status easily. She and another dog had it out over top billing and she came out the worse for wear. The missing leg was something she adapted to but she was not able to walk up and down the rows with the horses as I cultivated anymore.
I am looking for a new dog now but they are big shoes to fill. I do miss having a companion. Molly was my shadow and company for many years and I will miss her very much. Thank you Molly.

Slow Starting Spring

I'm running out of things to do in the house, at least things I want to do. Its not that there aren't things to do outside but I just can't seem to face the weather for very long. On Monday in full sunny warm-ish weather, though, I had a great crew over and we did some MAJOR cleaning. 20 years of extra things I saved were sorted through. The horse trailer was full and went to the incinerator, (I was sure I would use those old storm windows) and the truck and car carrier took a load up to the scrap yard. It was worth $235. Now the grainery can be painted to match the barn. There is more cleaning and sorting to do but this was a great start. I couldn't have tackled it without the willing hands of so many. As the cool wet spring continues, all the work of tillage and planting that requires dry, warm soil gets compressed into a smaller and smaller window. I can wish it were warm but that doesn't make it so. Putting seeds and potatoes in the cold wet ground can be counter productive. Luckily I have the hoop houses covered and the soil will dry out in there and be ready soon for some early plantings. The greenhouse is a nice refuge and is bursting with young plants and the possibilities of a great bounty later in the summer. We started tomato plants earlier this year and they are looking amazing. Its full though and the onion plants are temporarily on the floor waiting for the snow showers to pass.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cold Winter Mornings

I woke up to a very cold morning. I don't know the exact temperature but I look at two things, the needles on the big white pine by the kitchen and the frost on the old basement door. When condensation is frozen to the highest part of the panes, then it is at least 10 below zero. The needles on the pine squeeze closer together the colder it is and they are held together this morning like the ... well, (insert your favorite metaphor here). I wonder why someone would want to move here. Yet everything is glittery with ice crystals and life is somehow distilled in the winter to the essentials, dealing with water, staying warm, cutting wood, relaxing by the fire visiting with friends. Each day dawns with a list of things to do, some more critical, some less. The chair by the fire is alluring and writing an email instead of figuring out my new year's bank balance and starting a new quicken account wins out.

When I go out to the barn on these mornings, each animal emerges from its warm place. The cats come stretching, from a nook in the hay bales where they have made a warm nest; the pigs heave themselves out from the piles of hay and the horses just stand, oblivious of the cold in their warm coats and compact bodies. Fjord horses have extra short, thick ears that mak
e me feel warm just looking at them. The chickens sit with all their feathers fluffed out like miniature feather beds, their toes tucked under, protected. They rise and shake out the warm air and get about the business of eating. Fresh water is welcomed and they each come up, ducking their heads and then rising the let the cold water run down their throats. The rooster makes a throaty clucking to alert the hens to the left over beans I have scattered on the floor.

I rise the same way, sliding out from under the cozy feather comforter. The area of warmth around the wood stove is smaller as the outside cold encroaches. The clothes on the floor of my little bedroom are cold but I am still warm from the bed and the cotton long johns feel refreshing. There is an order to do things to get the house up and going. Open the air control knob on the stove and watch the coals leap to life. As they glow, I head to the bathroom, stopping to run water in the bucket to fill the big kettle on the wood stove. Back I come, gathering up the bucket and adding to my hot water supply. I turned off my hot water heater a few weeks ago, wondering what that would be like. So far, not too bad. I carry water to the kitchen sink to do dishes. Putting my hands in cold water just doesn't cut it and grease is easier to dissolve with some heat. I use much less water this way and it is not hard. I don't shower a lot in the winter anyway and pouring water over my head covers me in large bursts of hot water that a shower doesn't offer. Clothes are OK washed in cold water.

Last year I used my electric baseboard heaters as supplement heat to the wood stove but not this year. For my own feeling of security, I want to know what its like to just have the wood. Not bad with just me here, but would someone else sharing my house think I was crazy? Am I crazy or is the rest of the consuming-world mad? 100 species go extinct each day. Polar bears, the poster children of Global Climate Change, are drowning. The little part of me that is desperate about this feels good about the wood stove heated water but am I crazy? I have a life that lends itself to this eccentricity. I have time in the winter, I don't have a job outside the house. I don't have to have clothes, hair and makeup a certain way to pass in the "outside world." A basic, simple life is good in theory, I am testing how it is for real.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Letter to the Editor I wrote and sent to the local newspaper and the Eau Claire Leader Telegram:

Dear Readers,

An important election is coming up and we are barraged by too many ads with throwaway lines and attacks. Most of us are feeling the pinch of the declining economy, which has for many decades funneled wealth to the few in amounts not seen since just before the great depression. We are scared and we are uncertain and this makes us angry. We want to blame someone. There are walls of deception that those controlling the wealth and power have used through out history to shield themselves from attacks and accountability. These walls are composed of the latest minority who can be blamed for our ills. We are turned against each other while the controlling system and those who occupy the seats of power watch the puppet show from a safe distance. Don’t be confused and misled. Historically those in power have blamed ethnic minorities, a certain religious group such as Jews or Catholics, even the Amish. Now we blame our black President, Jews and Muslims, politicians, the poor, gay people, immigrants, or anyone at hand who is different. While it is true that angry, confused people want to harm us, much of the rhetoric is part of the shield for the rich.

The human spirit at its core is generous and kind. We ALL want our children, community and friends to do well and be happy. We want meaningful work and close connections with people. I don’t think the government can provide us those things, but I know they can take them away by confusing and dividing us, by pointing out our differences instead seeing what we have in common. Many of the political ads say that our taxes are too high and that if we could just lower our taxes, life would go better. I would be happy to pay 30% of my income in taxes if I knew that this money went to providing good, preventative health care, building an infrastructure based on renewable energy, supporting our troops to defend against people who are confused about us and making sure our children have a good education and a healthy, safe life and much more. I am able bodied and can work. I am willing to share what I make so that we can all have a shot at a satisfying life. I am not very willing to share when the money goes to fund politicians backed by large greedy corporations, wars that are unjustified or subsidies for wildly profitable oil companies. We have been given the message that if we just buy enough things we will be happy. How is that going for you?

When you are asked to support candidates that say they will protect you from “them”, or “those people” who are to blame for all of the mess, make sure you are not just hearing the echoes from the wall of protection around the rich and powerful. These are knives that cut and divide us. People who do the real work, grow the food and educate our children, care for our elderly and collect our garbage, milk our cows and catch our fish, make our clothes and fix our power lines, process our turkeys and fix our cars, drive our buses and cook our food, make our music, keep our libraries, keep track of our checking accounts, cut our hair, harvest our fields, publish our newspapers and sell us food, these are the people who produce the real wealth and make our community strong. Even the rich, who so desperately cling to their false security just want the same things for their children and the world. They are just so confused and scared that they can’t think. Don’t be confused too.


Kate Stout

Saturday, August 7, 2010

My cool new tool, a flail mower. We are taking down some sorgum-sudan grass.