Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just the Daily

   It's been exciting here lately. We've been pretty busy with a couple of furniture orders that Marty needs to get done, trying to finish them up by the end of the month. The wood shop is at Marty's mom's (Willa) house five miles away so we rush over there and work when we can. We were able to get the body frame of this cupboard put together yesterday and are hoping to get the back in it today. Marty has built reproduction Shaker furniture for over 30 years. And he is great at it! (I know I'm biased...but this is true.) He is now almost a full time farmer but still does special pieces in the winter sometimes.
   The other day the chicken catalogue came in the mail from Murray McMurray hatchery in Iowa. They have a wonderful selection of heritage breeds and their service has always been terrific. We haven't gotten chicks in a couple of years due to my not having the time to care for them and not having the extra cash to buy them. But, this year I've been saving up money and time (HA!).
   Will and I sat down and picked out the breeds we like the best. After years of having many different kinds, we've come to recognize the temperament of our chickens depends on the style of body. With that in mind we picked out some larger breeds and some of the "smarter" ones we have Delaware, Araucana (green egg layers), Wyandottes, and Speckled Sussex. Those are the smarter ones we've had. I also picked out some of the banties (little ones) like our Quail Antwerp Belgian named Belgie. She's just too cool! Talk about an attitude. She bosses all the bigger kids around.

Marty holding Belgie...of course she
was giving him hell about it.
Photo (c) Lisa Predko 2008, used with permission.
Great picture...Thanks, Lisa!

   The weather is still pretty cold. Only supposed to be 18 degrees high today. I'm watching some Starlings out the window sitting in the big burr oaks. They are really puffed up trying to keep warm. There is to be some snow tomorrow and warm up a little. I heard the birds really chirping it up today and the deer have been pawing in the yard looking for treats under the inch of snow we have already. Maybe we will get more snow than expected. I'm looking forward to it warming up. This armchair dreaming of chicks, plants, building repairs, tilling fields, is getting to be a bummer.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Coming up green

   Spring is happening right here at our our basement! About a week ago we planted some herbs in trays, the first of our planting for the year. I have wooden shelves set up in the basement with shop lights hanging over each shelf. We planted 12 trays of 36 cells each with herbs. Nine of the trays were placed in home made heat trays. These are wooden boxes lined with foam insulation and then a heat cord run back and forth across the bottom. We can fit three trays of plants in each heat tray.
   Every other day we water the trays and see if any little green guys are sprouting. A couple of days ago I noticed the dill coming up. Yippee! They are now about an inch or so tall. I moved that tray off of the heat and put the sage on. The heat trays help the germination a LOT. Today I also noticed the parsley starting to come up...and a few little sprouts of weeds which I plucked out. We re-use our soil if we can and also incorporate some of our composted leaf mulch. It saves a lot of money, especially when we are planting close to 75 trays in the spring.
   Since the basement is still a little chilly, I set up a small heater to help bring the temp up to 65 degrees. That way the trays that aren't on the heat will still germinate. We try to keep track of which seeds need higher temps. Some of the seed catalogues and some of the packets list the heat requirements on them, but not all. In another week we will begin to plant our peppers and rotate the herbs off the heat and the peppers onto it. It is really fun to go downstairs and see all those little green leaves coming up!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Locusts...not the insect

   It is sunny and very cold today. We woke up to 0 degrees. At least the sun is shining and there is almost no breeze. Tonight is supposed to get to -1 degrees and then we are looking at the internet forecast of more snow. to the woods for more firewood!
   The last few days we've been working on locusts...honey locusts. They are not the insect kind, but a tree that grows in our woods and along the fields. The honey locust is great firewood, burning hot and easy to split. But, the trees are a menace. They have large thorns in them and are somewhat invasive. We have seen trees that are only five feet tall with thorns as huge as four inches long. And, yesterday when Marty split one piece for firewood, there was a thorn growing in the middle of the tree, two inches long...right in the middle! Crazy.
   The honey locusts in our woods were spread in 1970's by the cattle and earlier by hogs that were let to walk freely in the woods. They ate the pods of the honey locusts and of course left a trail of seeds wherever they walked. The pods are large, sometimes eight inches or longer and have fairly good size seeds. There haven't been any animals in the woods for over 30 years. But the locusts, once established, will spread themselves very easily. So, in order to keep them from coming up all over and crowding out other trees, we have to do some maintenance.
   We ring the larger ones, the "mother" trees by cutting two rings around them. The rings are cut with the chainsaw about two inches apart and a couple of feet up from the base. The cuts are about an inch deep, going thru the cambium layer. This stops the flow of sap to the top of the tree and the tree dies. For harvesting locusts for firewood, this is really helpful as the bark drops off and the upper branches fall out over the period of a year or two. No thorns when cutting firewood! (At least on the outside.)
   Then we also went around the fenceline of the south field and cut all the little trees out. They will sometimes come back up from the stumps, so maintenance needs to be done every couple of years to keep them down. We don't like to spray chemicals on the stumps since we are trying to farm organic. It only took us two hours to cut all the little trees around the south field and the weather was sunny and mild. It was a wonderful day for being out and working on a project like that.

   I must say that honey locusts are not the same as black locust trees. We have beautiful black locusts in our yard. They do not have thorns, have delicious smelling whitish blossoms that flower in mid-May, and they have very small pods. The two trees are different species altogether. The black locusts were brought here by the settlers as they provided great material for fencing. They were also planted around our buildings to get the lightening strikes as they became taller than the buildings (or so the story is told to us). We like them a lot and the honey bees do too!

Our Allis D-15 tractor and grandpa's wagon

On our way to the woods

This honey locust
is hairy with thorns
Check out how long these thorns are!
There is a pile of them on the ground
on the left

Marty cutting a large
honey locust

Monday, January 10, 2011

Easterly Winds

   This past week has been quite busy, mostly not at the farm. We took a jaunt down to Springfield for the Specialty Crop Conference this past Thursday and Friday. Sitting in on the social media seminar was helpful and solidified my feelings that the internet is a foreign language for me. Unfortunately I'm not seven years old anymore and am still struggling with learning a new internet language. But, we also found the organic soil and weed seminars helpful. And, it is always enjoyable spending time with our farmer friends that we get to see once only a year at conferences.
   The weekend proved uneventful at the farm except for minor pig mishaps. Sam decided he would take a chunk of Swee's ear off to get her away from his hay and turnips. He did that a couple of mornings in a row and her ear wasn't healing. Then Swee decided he had a good idea and took a bite at his. Okay! Time to separate them. Obviously they are getting tired of each other. We pulled our spare cage up next to Sam's, gave him an apple, opened the cages, and offered her an apple in the new cage...she walked right in. Wha-la...separate. Then we put her cage beside his so they could still talk and not bite. Other than that we collected more firewood, put more hay in the small barn for the cows, and enjoyed the pleasant weather.
   Then the easterly winds came. On the farm we pay attention to the wind and the birds to tell us the weather. Well, not entirely. Marty gets the weather report on the internet and that tells us what is coming seven days out...maybe. But, if we didn't have internet we would still be able to tell a day or two ahead. When the wind is from the south it will get warmer, maybe rain or thunderstorm in a day or two. When it is from the north, bitter cold and put more firewood in. When it is from the east...well that is bad weather coming. The stronger the east wind, the worse the storm.
   Today was strong east wind all day. And...the birds were really creating a ruckus this morning. The birds get really worked up if there is snow or ice coming, getting ready for it by flocking and eating as much as they can find. Marty looked at the internet and sure enough they were predicting 100% snow tonight and up to six inches of it. It will blow from the east until the storm gets here and then swing around to the west and blow through.
   We are looking forward to a little more snow. Sounds crazy, but it blankets our wheat and garlic and insulates them from the cold, keeping them from freezing out. As long as it is only a few inches we can still get firewood easy enough. And, it is much better than ice that breaks the orchard trees and is difficult to walk and drive on. (Remember those ditch divers?) Besides, it gives us a great excuse to keep working on fixing the inside of the house and begin our planting downstairs. So...come on snow!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Armchair travels

   I once wrote to myself "a true journey is only as far as walking out your front door". That was in an old travel journal. This winter I've come to learn that it is as far as the armchair. Maybe I'm getting older. But, we have been watching the National Park DVD by Ken Burns and really enjoying it. I'm seeing places that I will probably never be able to go. We don't tend to have the kind of money to travel to Yosemite or places as wonderful as that, nor is it easy to find the time with the kind of farming we do. Not yet! Perhaps someday.
   The show has inspired me to do some reading though. I have been looking up the famous people mentioned in the show, such as John Muir, and have realized I have been remiss on not reading their words sooner. Such eloquent words describing our natural wonders. I have also been inspired to read a book entitled "Eight months in Illinois" by William Oliver, written in 1841. If you are interested in what Illinois was like, wild and natural as well as agriculture and commerce, this is a book for you! Wonderful descriptions of landscape and natural beauty, farms and their products, the way of life on the prairie.
   With all of this inspiration to get out in nature more, I've been thinking about how so many people don't get to go to fantastic sites around the nation, and for the same reason as money and no time off of work. But, to be able to see it on t.v. or read about it helps. However, Marty and I tend to travel our own back yard (so to speak). Once in a while, and not often enough, we go for a drive. This time of year is best as the foliage is off the trees and we can really see the architecture of the farm buildings and the lay of the land. We drive for hours sometimes, seeing wildlife and nature from the car, stopping occasionally to walk or visit an historic site in some town.
   Statistics show that most museums and nature centers have the majority of their visitors from further away, not from towns nearby. But, with the rising cost of gas, Marty and I are travelling closer and closer to home this year. I look out the window and see the trees of the woods, the deer eating our alfalfa, the little birds in the really is just outside the front door.
   Farms like ours are teaming with life and nature, livestock and wild animals, mushrooms and leaves, and worms. Our friend Mark Edwards used to come and tell us about a view on our farm, a vista that he had seen. We would go look at our farm through his eyes and not see the work needing done or the caretaking, but the beauty. We really appreciate visitors showing us our farm in a different light, helping us look past the every day-ness of it and into the beauty.  Some think it might bother us to stop our work and visit with them...think again! It makes us take time from work to enjoy visiting with someone and take time to see the farm anew again. It is a gentle reminder of how blessed we are to be able to live on such beautiful land, giving land. And, how we must be doing an okay job taking care of it to still have the wildlife, native plants, worms, etc. Not every farm can say that today.
   So...I encourage you to look at the world right outside your door, be an armchair traveler if you must, but don't forget to see the world right in front of you also. Enjoy a drive in the countryside, see places that have been there since before man came, see the historic sites, enjoy the landscapes and farmscapes. Or take a walk down the city street and notice the flowers, trees, insects (yes, there are insects in the city), birds, and architechure. Don't struggle to go to another state or some popular amusement park if you can't afford it, enjoy the amusement park of nature all around you. And, if you are out this way...stop by and say hi. We'd love to stop and visit with you!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

   What a wonderful day! A blank page, draw what your want, paint if you like, write the new year into your life! This is my second favorite day of the year, after December 21st when the days get longer again. I don't get caught up in regrets of the past year, but plans of the coming year. What to plant, what to knit, what to read, who to meet, what friends to make, what passions to share...the possibilities are endless.
   The weather is strange today, 20 degrees and windy. The past two days were in the upper 50's with rainstorms and tornado warnings. All of the snow, a foot or more, was gone overnight and the grass greened up. It looked like April 1st yesterday - April Fool's! Now it feels like winter again, but it isn't as beautiful as the white Christmasy feel that December was. Our once a week trip to the woods for firewood continues tomorrow.
   The ducks refuse to come out, the chickens squawk with complaints, the cat shivers and runs for the barn. I spent a few moments enjoying the cooler weather and picked up the corn cobs left by the chicken house. I look around the yard and think of snapping off the dried weeds, picking up sticks, and then I get chilled and come inside again. It is still winter - I have to remind myself after the nice weather yesterday.
   Cold days during the winter are great for planning. And this day is one of those days. During the planting season we don't do much paperwork as our days are sun up to sun down (5 am to 9 pm sometimes). We keep track of what we sell, where we plant, etc. and then at the end of the year when we are stuck inside we put it all together into a plan for the next year. We take our maps from last year and decide on where our crops will go this year, rotating them to avoid bug and weed problems. The sales data kept during the growing season is compiled into a chart that we use to determine what we can expand on, do less of, and what seed to buy. It also shows us the seasons of the plants so we can let our customers know what to expect and when.
   Planning what to plant is really exciting. It is such a promise of a prosperous year to think of all those green plants coming up. Marty puts together a list of what to start downstairs under grow lights, and then I begin the process of putting the trays together. We work together on a seed order from three or four heirloom seed companies, ordering the necessary seed for sales and then ordering some fun stuff to try out. We try to grow new things every year to keep our customers excited and on the cutting edge. And, to make it exciting for us.
   We took a walk through the hoophouses yesterday (in the balmy weather) and got excited about what we were going to leave and what areas to replant. We are testing the mustard, swiss chard, arugula, kale, and cilantro to see if they will come back up again. Some look like they might so we will clean out the dead leaves around the outer edges, cover them with a row cover (fabric like material over small hoops), and see what happens. It is a test to see if we can get another early season harvest from them without tearing them out and replanting. It would save on time, labor and seed if it works. We are learning so much!
   We wish you a fantastic new year with lots of love and laughter, green growing things and delicious foods, and precious time filled to the brim with blessings! Happy New Year!