Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Plant It and They Will Come

Hard to believe it's not summer yet when our garden is exploding and I've already got the pressure canner going. Going to be a very busy season!

We have three vegetable gardens this year.

The kitchen garden just outside the looney bin door is filled with herbs, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, peas, kale, zucchini (and other salad stuff) plus flowers for cutting and pest deterrence . The photo below is our view out the bathroom window. Annual flowers are just beginning to bloom. It's fenced in with old wire pig panels and chicken wire. Not pretty but keeps the fowl out. 

Beyond that, on the other side of our main electric pole (center of the top photo above) is a bigger main garden.

It is filled with 16 more tomato plants, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, rhubarb, asparagus, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and brussel sprouts. I also recently added a scarecrow. I don't believe they do much to frighten birds away, since I've seen robins perched on her arms, but still; she adds a little character and color to all the greenery. 

Some have suggested she needs more in the bosom area. Critics. Everywhere. Obviously, she's a work in progress.

This space is enclosed with electric chicken wire fencing which is not electrified. Our chickens still avoid it.

Our beets grew very fast this spring and I managed to can a few pints, both plain and pickled. Seriously feels like summer when you're manning a hot pressure canner on a 95 degree day. We've had lots of 90 plus days in Illinois so far this year. But, as I write this it is raining cool and fresh. Alleluia! (the version by Leonard Cohen is my favorite by the way)

Our third veggie garden is the corn garden located just behind the area where our broiler chickens are kept. When the corn is higher the broilers will be allowed to forage in there for bugs and grubs. We have planted both sweet corn and popcorn in this area which has a sturdy wire paneled fence surrounding. This will keep broiler chickens in and our other free range layer chickens out.

e don't run the two groups together since it's too difficult to catch the broilers when its time for butchering. Plus they receive a higher protein feed than the layer chickens do.

Scattered about in the veggie gardens, and a few planters close to the grain bin house, I do have a solid array of flowers.. I hated leaving so many of our perennials at the old farm and it's taken me four summers to build up the flower gardens here. But finally, they are all taking off.

The bird bath above is located in our kitchen garden and the Thumbelina zinnias surrounding it were only supposed to get 6 inches tall. A tribute to our excellent homemade compost used this year.

I should be soaking my feet in it. I have my own height issues. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

If you love me, you'll trench me...


 ..or something like that.

Here it is, Father's Day weekend, and when others are bright enough to spend it boating, camping, cooking out, or just chilling out, what does my husband do?

He trenches the electrical line to my writing studio.
In 90 degree heat.

It wasn't all about me though. He also trenched the electrical line for our new (recycled) barn. We picked up our rental trencher ($150/day) early this am. Keith started at the barn and worked his way backwards, that's how the trencher runs, to the main electrical box for the farm.

Along the way he had to cross an old sidewalk. Trenching on either side, he'll dig out under the sidewalk by hand, run some conduit underneath the sidewalk and then thread the electrical wire through it.

Once he arrived at the main electrical box he switched direction in order to dig the trench to my studio. This time he had our driveway to contend with. You can see the farms power pole and box at the top of the trench. 

Then he worked his way down to my studio.

Later tonight, when it cools off and tomorrow am before it heat up again, we'll unroll the big spool of electrical wire (an anniversary gift from friend Jay) and thread it into the trenched ditches.

For the last year and a half, since we moved my studio, our old retail farm store building, from the old farm to our new farm, I've used long drop cords to run a couple of lights in there. Once the real wiring is installed, I'll have several outlets for lights and a tiny frig to keep cold drinks. We also have s small window AC unit we can put in for the really hot days I might be in there. Generally though, I write in the evenings and since the building is in a low shaded spot, I get decent breezes down there that keep the studio comfy cool.

Back in the barn, Keith will also be able to ditch all the drop cords he has been using to run his power tools as we continue work on the building. He'll also be able to install some overhead lights and we'll be able to move our freezers out of the icky 1856 house into the new barn.

Off the grid wise, we do supply all our own heat and we have a well for our water needs but Com Ed electricity is something we'll be dependent upon  At our age, late 50's, we know it's unlikely we'd live long enough to see a solar power investment pay off. We'll have to let the next generation who lives here, deal with that.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Stop and Smell the Cabbage

I deeply enjoy many other blogs. I read when I can, comment when I am awake enough. One I envy for it's calming nature, is A Brit in Tennesee. Not only does she routinely share serene and thought provoking quotes, that the writer in me revels in, she also shares her garden photography which often stops me in my tracks.

It is rare for me to stop in my tracks.

I have been know to stumble in my tracks, weave and bob within them, but rarely do I come full stop. I have a difficult time relaxing. It's a flaw that interferes with my ability to enjoy my life. Rather than forever organizing, cataloging, and checking off the tasks accomplished, I need to stop and breathe.

This Brit, reminds me to do that, and I thank her for that.

Early mornings Keith and I do walk our gardens. He observes birds, checks clouds for weather, sips his coffee slowly, toes the dirt checking for moisture while I am thinking about the next task of the day.

I often miss the beauty in front of me. But, when he noticed a collection of water on a cabbage leaf, I did stop and look.

I am so glad I did. The curve of the leaf, the shape of the rain drop bubble, the brilliance of the morning light. It was a full stop moment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Ring Around The Grain Bin, Our Extra Insulation Works!

 Last September I blogged about the condensation problem we had on the floor inside the grain bin house and our plans to fix it , but first let me backtrack a bit.

Originally, when we built our "Looney Bin" (summer of 2015)  we had poured the foundation of the bin and then placed pink solid foam boards between the foundation and the earth bermed up next to it. In the picture below the pink foam board had been picked at by our chickens but what you cannot see in the additional 2 feet of foam UNDER the ground.

We had never built or insulated a grain bin home before and neither had the man who did the foundation for us, so it was a collaborative effort between us. We hoped that by placing the foam board between the concrete foundation and the soil, it would help keep the concrete floor warm in our new abode.

The floor did stay warm, mostly because of the pipe within the floor where the hot gases from the rocket mass stove travel until they go out our chimney, but the portion of our concrete floor nearest the circular wall, stayed cool. Condensation built up on our inside floor about 6 to 12 inches away from the inside wall. We also had a little mold growing in that area. 

In the winter of 2017 we bought a dehumidifier which helped some but did not completely eliminate the problem.

Thus, in the Fall of 2017 Keith called the company that did our interior wall insulation and asked their opinion on the floor condensation. They suggested a layer of spray on foam applied to the outside of the grain bin itself. It looked like this:

Over the last eight months the lovely mint green color of the spray on foam changed to a not so lovely Harvest Gold of the seventies.
I think Carol Brady would approve.

But, it accomplished it's goal of eliminating the condensation buildup on the inside floor. This past winter we had no moisture or mold on our concrete floor. Happy days!  It also stayed intact through rain, ice and snow storms which our insulation guy said it would.

Our next task is to build seating to cover the insulation around the diameter of the entire looney Bin.The seat sides will be made with additional grain bin steal we had purchased from our builder last fall, and will have a wooden top. Which of course must be cut to fit the curved sides of the bench. We might even attach some hinges to some areas in order to store items within the bench such as garden tools, laundry baskets, flower pots, blankets for outdoor seating...once again, the possibilities are endless. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fifty Chickens Dinners Just Delivered

I've posted before about the chickens we've raised for our own meat. We buy them online (usually twenty-five) and they are delivered at one day of age by the US Post Office. When they arrive in our small Post office we're called and we pick them up right away.

After about 12 weeks we butcher and process all of them, giving us a great homegrown chicken dinner every two weeks or so. 

It's never been enough. We love our own farm raised chicken!

So after our regular fall butchering, we made two big decisions. The first was to double the number of chicks raised for meat from twenty-five to fifty, and the second even more exciting one; TO PAY SOMEONE ELSE TO DO THE BUTCHERING FOR US!

For just $3.00 each  they will butcher, clean, and vacuum wrap our birds. Since the plant is about 2 hours from our home we'll drop the birds off early and spend the day in the lovely Amish town of Arthur, until they are ready. It's a great reason for a date day! Sure, it's cheaper to do it yourself but 

Two weeks ago, our Freedom Ranger broilers arrived. With fifty little cheeps, we needed a larger brooder for their first home. In true recycling fashion Keith build this jewel all from materials on hand.

Because baby chicks are very vulnerable to cold weather the first couple of weeks, we lined the earth bottom with heavy plastic and then covered that with wood shavings. A heat lamp was hung alongside a temperature gauge . Baby chicks like temps right about 100 degrees the first week or so.

Both sides lift up for ventilation on warm days and the front section will have a removable board placed over it to keep drafts off the babies at night.  It's easy to set aside the front board so the chicks can come and go freely as they mature. Below you can see the front board in place.

We've located the little broilers at one end of our soon to be sweet corn garden, with a small area enclosed with...wait for it...chicken wire. My sister visited the other day and commented she had seen chicken wire used for many projects, but never actually for chickens! When the chicks are older and our sweet corn is high enough they can't hurt it, we'll turn them into the rest of the sweet corn garden to do bug and grub control. We'll also remove the brooder and give them other shelter from rain for the rest of the summer. That "other shelter" is still on the drawing board.


I'm  happy that our ten year old grandson Wesley doesn't think he's too big to hold baby chicks any more. Also thrilled that he can appreciate how we raise them and still be able to enjoy fried chicken at our place. So many youngsters have no idea where their food comes from thinking it's origination point...is the grocery store.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Our Garbage Gardens

 When we moved here April 2015 we tilled a small area by our feed shed and planted a few things. It did not produce well as the ground here was total junk, I was still in school full time and Keith was building our grain bin house.

Summer of 2016 went a bit better. The first garden was planted with popcorn and it produced well. We also tilled a second garden spot by our home but the soil was filled with clay. Some herbs grew and a few tomatoes but not much else except beans. Beans did very well. We ate a lot of beans that summer.

Summer of 2017 we tilled a third garden. This one was farther away from the grain bin house and the soil was easier to work with. We had a variety of veggies but the weeds got away from us as we were focused on building the new barn. (Excuses? You bet. We have tons of them). Garden number one was planted with tomatoes that failed, but we turned our broiler chickens into that area and they thrived. So what we lacked in canned tomatoes we made up for with chicken dinners. 

Present day. 

Garden number one by the feed shed is in its fourth year and the soil is rich and loamy. We added lots of organic material to it last summer and plan to fill it with sweet corn and popcorn. It's fenced in so no problems with chickens tearing up things. The few in the picture below are allowed in until we plant. Lots of worms to eat!

Garden Number One
For Popcorn and Sweet Corn
Two Weeks Ago 
Garden number two or "The Kitchen Garden" is the one just off our homes entry way and in its third year. It is still heavy with clay but after adding organic material to it in the way of straw, rotted hay, compost from the cows manure pile, and cardboard (!) it is now teaming with earthworms. I've expanded my herbs in this area and planted spinach, lettuce mixes, radishes, peas, cherry tomatoes, spaghetti squash, zucchini, cukes and flowers such as cosmos, zinnias, gladiolas, poppies, coreopsis, nasturtiums, iris, marigolds and sunflowers.

The Kitchen Garden Two Weeks Ago

I want COLOR this year! I also want to walk only a few feet to gather up salad and flower bouquet material for our home.

Garden number three is the Main Garden or Garbage Garden as I often refer to it. It has been planted with large tomatoes, beans, asparagus, onions, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, garlic, rhubarb, beets, and peppers. 

It's the Garbage Garden (above) not because of its vegetable contents, but because of Keith's creative ways of protecting tender young transplants. This year he pulled out all the stops, as well as all the "inventory" he'd been saving in the decrepit house, including but not limited to: plastic boxes, plastic milk and juice cartons, antique bricks, wood boards, PVC pipe pieces, old foosball game rods, glass lamp shades and oil lamp globes. Average and arguably, saner folk, will cover their plants with lovely row covers of similar shape and size, but we are cheap here on The Poor Farm and so we use what is on hand. It is a functional, but untidy garden the first few weeks. 

Image result for Beautiful vegetable gardens with row covers
Not Our Garden
Our Garden
Our Garden 

As the plants grow and become more resistant to weather extremes, and hungry robins, the "inventory" will find it's way back to the decrepit house. How do I know this? Because Keith is the garbage collector and I am the garbage put away-er.

It's a team effort.

Definitely our garden