Saturday, July 13, 2013

First World Plastic User

Thanks to my library graphics friend, I have some thoughts about the use of plastic on our farm. His comment to my last blog really got me thinking.

I, for one, hate using the plastic stuff due to the environmental aspects of how it is made and that it can leach chemicals and such. However, I must say that feeling that way doesn't stop me from using it. It is convenient and sturdy. I usually use the buckets to sit on while I harvest. I haven't tried it with rush, wicker, or other natural products. I suspect it wouldn't hold up as good to my weighty behind.

On the other side of the delivery of the food, our customers prefer to get the product packaged. It helps cut down on the damage to the produce as well as the contamination, which a lot of people get concerned about in this day and age. (I remember eating dirt as a kid but I understand that kids don't do that today.)

It is also much cheaper for us to buy the ziplock bags and much easier for the customer in their storage of the products. And, I am not sure what we would use for the flour and cornmeal. I've bought corn meal in little fabric bags but they were still lined with plastic...costly.

I do reuse a lot of the plastic tho...the plastic crates are returned to us after delivery. (Altho the crates are just used to carry the plastic bagged products in.) And the harvest buckets last for years and years of reuse and rewashings.

On the natural side...I really love the aesthetics of the wicker and wood baskets. I have lots of them in my yarn storage room, as well as wooden bookcases and a ratan papasan. But the natural products aren't always as light weight for carrying the produce. I used to use the big bushel baskets but the metal handles would come out and the basket broke after a season. They were also harder to wash. I've tried to compromise on the looks a little by getting colorful buckets...the blue one reminds me of the Georgia sky when I look thru it.

So, there are lots of good things about the plastic. But, all of that made me think about life here in America too.

Thinking this thru...I just finished a book about India ("Sideways on a Scooter" by Miranda Kennedy) and that book really made me think about how Americans are so wasteful and also so materialized in our world. So many people in other countries (I read a lot about other countries) have so little goods compared to us, yet we Americans don't seem to feel fortunate or grateful usually. I find many Americans act as if it is a right to have these things, that having LOTS is just...well...American. We don't act like it's a priviledge to have so much. (Maybe more of us need to experience that "real" Survivor show to know how grateful we should be.)

So, when I thought of this plastic thing, I thought of that book. I thought of the people that collect the garbage in her book and how they scavenged for things the American author threw away in order that the items could be sold or traded for the basic necessities of food. How lucky I am to have all this plastic around to use every day and then to carry all that food around also!! So many have no food to even put in a plastic bucket if they had one!

And "Third World" I usually think of numbers that are greater, when speaking of people, as being associated with wisdom. You know, their countries are much older than America...maybe there is a thought there...who is the smarter one? And who uses less plastic I wonder? Hm...lots to think on.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

View from the food

I'm back in Illinois after having a wonderful trip. Back to work now!
Was thinking the other day about how our produce sees the farm after it is harvested.

Radish pod's view from inside a blue harvest bucket

A turnip's view thru a harvest crate on the way into the cooler.

Squash blossom's view from inside a plastic bag in a flat

Borage flower's view thru the plastic bag
(Notice Will driving by in the farm truck?)

And, the view an egg sees as it is being put into the carton...
I'm sorry I couldn't get the other view that the egg sees as it enters the world but that would've been just a little too gross!

Have a great 4th of July!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Old history in mid city

Here I am, still in south Georgia. Altho now I am further south...Thomasville. It is a lovely old fashioned little southern town with an interesting history. Apparently this was one town that a lot of very (and very very) wealthy northerners came to visit in the "hey day". It is still surrounded by plantations, many of them keeping the traditions now as hunting retreats that the northern socialites enjoyed back then...and still do.

I'm not here for hunting, or socializing on plantations, or the history. I'm here to help my mom move from half an hour north to here. It's been a dream of hers for many years and I'm proud of her for finally achieving this goal in her life. Everyone should be able to achieve their dreams in life!

She found a cute little "cottage" in the middle of town, surrounded by old victorian houses built in the 1880's or thereabouts. It is a small place but nice. And, her landlord is an interesting southern fellow. His family owned this whole block at one point which included two victorian houses, a mother-in-law house and this little cottage. Also on the property is an old barn that is really neat looking. This is looking out the back window of the cottage, the fence is a small back yard attached to the cottage and the barn you see only shows a tiny part of the whole structure.

The landlord said this area was once a huge pecan grove, normal for southern Georgia. And he still has a couple of huge ones in his yard.

I think about the history of all of this as I sit eating my lunch and gaze out the window, taking a moment before unpacking more boxes. So much history in this little back yard.

On another note, I'm reading a really terrific book that I must suggest to anyone who loves to read about nature. It's "The Forest Unseen" by David George Haskell. Truly a gem! He makes learning the science of nature interesting as he talks about a tiny meter measured circle he created on a mountainside in Tennessee. He calls it his mandala and goes every week throughout a year to see what is happening in and around it, starting in January.

I find his writing very fascinating and have learned about hexagon snowflakes and Kepler, Bergmann's rule describing the relationship of size to rate of heat loss, and how plants retain heat in the freezing winter by soaking their cells in sugar (very farm related fact). It makes me want to study the world around me more and more. I think I will create a mandala of my own on the farm in the woods when I get home!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I woke at ten minutes til 5. Dark outside, the whole world asleep.
Then one bird, then two...

Is it like this all over the world? I remember when I lived in Germany and would wake before dawn, listen to the birds wake also. Slow at first.
Then when I was in Thailand, the birds did the same there. The roosters crowing before the light began to come up.

And in Illinois there are many mornings that I wake when the world is still shrouded in dark. I wait. And then it begins. A rooster crow, a cardinal, then more and then more. Then the light comes up and I begin to see the shadows of the trees.

Now in south Georgia, I watch the blue of the sky began to slowly glow. No cars on the road. Just a tinge of blue. And then one bird. A cardinal. Then another. Then a few more.

Like Ravel's "Bolero". It begins, then builds with the light. One note, one bird.

And orchestra.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Urban Thai Garden

It's still hot down here in Georgia and Florida. This week I was able to experience an urban Thai veggie garden in Gainesville, Florida. My sister-in-law Puki (or Pooki) has a beautiful little garden on the patio outside their apartment.

This is half of it. The little tree on the left is a lime tree. She uses the leaves to cook with and they smell wonderful. She says the fruit isn't very tasty, not like the limes we know, but is better used to make her hair shiny. Then she has some basils and mints in pots (in the center), lemon grass seen in the back corner, and the larger bushy thing is a "snake loofa". She would use the snake loofa fruits in her cooking but didn't have any large enough, so she cut the tendrils and cooked them instead.

She also has (in the other half not seen to the right) tomatoes, three or four kinds of peppers, aloe, and a couple of experimental plants. She is extremely inventive with her containers...across the back are old drawers she found, filled with soil, and planted cilantro and "thai morning glory".

This are the limes.

This is the drawer full of "thai morning glory". She cuts them off when they are about a foot tall (as seen here) and then they send new leaves up for the next cutting. Sort of like we do with our spinach.

She took the snake loofa tendrils and the thai morning glory shoots and put them in a wok with a little water and steamed them lightly so they still had a little crunch. Then she made a delicious concoction (not sure what all was in it) as a sauce. It was super tasty.

This is Puki at work in her kitchen. She will probly kill me for posting this photo, but I think she is beautiful even while cooking!

I have to say that she has a good green thumb as well as being a great chef too. Her little garden is beautiful and inspiring. I think I'll ask for some seed for these to do some of my own thai cooking! Thanks Puki!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Just a few pics

I've been out roaming the countryside with my Tablet trying to get some good pictures of veggie fields down here in Georgia. And, I have to say it has been extremely hard to get good pictures...because it is so darn sunny!

The picture above is of a road that I thought was beautiful. I mentioned last time about the red soil down here. The color in paints is actually called "Georgia Clay". So, this was the first picture on my way down the road.

This is the second field I saw...notice the color of the soil in the fields is a dead looking gray sandy color. True. It is sandy. And, they do spray it with all kinds of chemicals to keep the weeds out, so the part about dead might be true also. This field contains tomatoes. Six rows then a space for the truck, then six...for acres and acres and acres. The tomatoes have stakes every two or three feet. The rows are hilled up, then have a black plastic cover, the stakes and tomatoes are put into the plastic. This field might be ready to harvest in another couple of weeks as the green tomatoes are getting big. 
When they harvest ('they' meaning the field hands, mostly migrants who move from field to field during the season...some stay with one company for about 5 months) will walk down the rows picking the fruit. A wagon will ride down the large rows with containers for the goods, sometimes with a tarp over the top to keep everything shaded. Altho I've seen stuff out in the sun also.

I tried to get some pics of other crops. There are squash, cabbage, and peppers. The peppers are staked like the tomatoes, altho closer. There are acres of tobacco that are about thigh high right now. I saw one farmer out in his field spraying the tobacco, using a large John Deere tractor. (Not sure what he was spraying with.) The peanuts and cotton are coming up, most small still.

It is really hard to get a picture of the acres and acres of produce. When I see a field of 50 acres of squash, I wish it would show up on the camera like I see it. But, the scope of it just doesn't show. It is amazing to me to think of our little farm with a couple thousand plants, and then see these fields with...I can't even come up with the number of plants they might have. And, much of this is done with larger equipment now. So, I went to the graveyard...small farm equipment graveyard, for a look.

But, even tho there are small farm graveyards full of small veggie equipment...there is also hope!! I picked up a Georgia Farm Bureau brochure for all the farmers markets. It was soooo great to see that their Farm Bureau supports their small farmers. HINT! And, there are lots of little farms selling eggs and produce alongside the roads. 
We can also go up to the produce buyer place in town, which has a "farmers market" all the time. Some of the large veggie farms around here bring their produce to be packaged at places like this and then some gets sold locally (altho much goes to big stores like Walmart).

It is a whole different way of farming than what we are trying to do. We grow so much less, on so much less land, with such small equipment, with only a couple of people, and with the struggle of keeping our markets. (Thanks a ton to all of you who are keeping us afloat this year!) I can't say we compete well with all this...there isn't much of a competition to be had when they sell for pennies. We will never feed the world, they won't either. But, hopefully we will be able to have our land healthy enough for the next few hundred years. Will they? 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Georgia grown

Well, it is the time of year for me to go to my family in Georgia. And, while here this year I thought I would try to get some pictures of some of the vegetable production down here. Kind of a compare and contrast of central Illinois vegetable production.

To start off with is beautiful here! The sky is blue, the clouds puffy white, and the tall pines wish wish. The privets are blooming and the smell is so heady and intoxicating...well it is enough to make a person lightheaded even. The fish crows don't caw caw like up north, they conk conk. And, to this southern kid...the white peaches are always sweeter down here. (Yes, Marty, I will try to bring some home!)

Then there is the clay color or tan sand. It isn't black and loamy like the farmland in central Illinois. All the country road cars have a coating of red on them. You can always tell someone who lives down a country road.

Sometimes I wonder how they can grow anything down here in soil that looks so dry and dusty. But, they do...beautiful veggies and lots of them. Rows and rows and acres and acres of cabbage, tomatoes, and squash. The farmers markets are already full of good food and the people are putting up their blankets, tents, and fold up tables along the roadsides...watermelon, peaches...yum.

I also like to look at the farm implements. There are a couple of good junk yards or sale places for them. Little stuff that we can't find in Illinois. Tiny two row planters and transplanters, cultivators, tiny tractors, etc. Everything a small produce farmer in Illinois dreams of, mumbling about in their sleep...drool dripping onto the pillow..."mmm, planters...mmm, tiny twactors".

As I travel I hope to have time to get some good pictures to show you. So, check back!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Different year...every year

It's cold and rainy out today...again. I find it interesting how each year is so different. Last year at this time we had harvested our green garlic a month and a half ago. This year it is still struggling to grow and get green. Last year we had been selling tons of mustard and other greens from the hoophouse, and this year it has been too wet to get the hoophouses tilled (the water is seeping under them and percolating up). Last year we had our potatoes (all 1500 or so pounds) planted the first of April. This year...still waiting for the ground to dry so we can plant them. And last year our spring wheat was hardly germinating due to the dry weather...this year it is filling in nicely. Makes for a different and more difficult year financially too when there is less to harvest early in the spring.

So, with it so wet and cold, we have been working on getting other projects done. I was able to get all our blackberry plants tied up and they look terrific (last year not so great). We have mowed every week now for a month and our wild harvests look much better than last year. We took apart the picket garden fence and now it is too wet to repair and paint it so it sits against the buildings until it dries out some.

Marty grew some terrific looking bok choi and brussel sprouts in the basement. So, the other day we were able to get them all in the field area...three rows of each. They looked beautiful and there was moisture in the ground still to help them along. He went out yesterday and the deer had ate all of them except for eleven. Last year the deer didn't touch them...a different year, every year.

We also have lots of tractor and equipment problems this year. Our large tractor is broke so we are going to scrap it and get some money for it. Thought we would use the money for another tractor. But then our 5' tiller broke and can't be repaired. So, today the guys are loading up scrap metal, old equipment, the big tractor, and taking it all to the junk yard to see if they can get some money to buy a new tiller. The tiller we need all the time, the big tractor only a couple times a year. So...a different year for equipment too.

Pictures...well, there isn't much that I have right now. I didn't want to take my tablet out in the rain and then have been lax on the nicer days at remembering. But, this is my little garden of ginger. It's an experiment. I put the ginseng (bought at the grocery store and somewhat greenish) in a bag with moist soil for about a month. When it began to sprout I planted the pieces in this dish and they are coming along nicely. Then after a week or so I put them in bigger pots and out in the greenhouse to get more light (since there isn't more heat). We'll have to do a good job at keeping them moist.

I'm off to Georgia to visit my family and best friend next weekend. Looking forward to seeing what is growing down there. Now that I have this nice tablet, I will try to get some pictures and show you the difference between growing veggies in Illinois and growing them in Georgia. Look forward to some pictures later!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Walk in the woods and the pig mover

Well, it is really here now...temps in the 60's, rain and more rain, and flowers and trees coming out. This is what most people consider too.

A walk in the woods this morning showed some great stuff...lots of wildflowers like trillium, bluebells, dutchman's breeches, and Virginia water leaf. The edibles to collect are wild onions, ramps, and mountain mint. A search for mushrooms proved that the weather, even tho very wet, is still too cold. Maybe in another week I'll see some.

And...on the past edible/not currently edible side of things...I found my first owl pellet!! That was way cool. I've never found one in the wild. I brought it home to disect it and pull out the little bones to see who it was that unfortunately (for him) was et. I started collecting bones this year, figuring that someday I will become a bone woman. Some of you may know the story of the bone woman. If not...well, a good research project for you!

In the barnyard - chicks are doing good and giving me about 2 1/2 dozen eggs a week. I have to get to them before the egg eaters do (Coookie chicken and goofy duck...and her name isn't Cookie like you eat, it is Coookie like crazy or whatever). We got the pigs lined up in their cages on pasture, and the babies out of the barn into a "baby cage" until we can get a bigger one built. Will and I plan to castrate two of the three little boys today. We'll keep the third as a breeder boy for later.

Our latest greatest (besides the outhouse in the woods, which really came in handy today) is the pig moving contraption on the truck. Didn't cost a dime (most important). And works pretty well. It was due to my complaining that I can't be moving 30 cement blocks, and 12 cages, and still walk upright when I get old.
Here it is...

It is a 4x4 piece of wood tied to the truck, with bolts on each end, and on each bolt is a hook on a chain. We put the hooks on the cage and then back up with the truck. Now it might seem this takes more gas...a little bit. But, we have to carry the water out to the pigs anyway, so we take the truck to do that anyway.

And, you might ask...why don't you use a dolly/wheel contraption like Joel Salatin. Well, the cement blocks were too heavy and we have to have them so the cages don't blow away in the wind. (I believe Joel lives in a part of the U.S. where there are less wind turbines.) And the dolly thingy still takes quite a bit of strength when you are moving a 10x4 foot cage with two cement blocks on it. I'm finding our system works really great and stand by it for single, weaker women like me.

Next big project is to put some kind of skid on the front of the cage so they go over the clumps of grass better without bending the cages. Another it is raining again!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Beeves on green

This is the happy trio on pasture.
Right...big mama...Surprise.
Middle...stubby legged blocky guy with a flat face...Budley. buddy...Bernie.

They are really happy that the grass if finally getting green and they have been eating it to the nubbies. Budley is a really funny little guy. He can't hardly get two inches off the ground, kicking his heals up with delight. He only really likes Will and won't let me get within six feet of him. Unfortunately for him (and for me too I guess), he is going in to the meat locker later this month to become food for us.

Lots of people question us about stuff like that. How can you raise them from babies and then kill them? Well, it is hard after you spent two years feeding and caring for them (and chasing them around when they get out). I like Budley. But, he was born a boy beef and we told him (and us) from the very day he was born that he would have to be food. If he had been a girl beef then we could've kept her for breeding. But...

It is hard tho. Especially when it comes time for my buddy to go in early this fall. This is my buddy...


He loves me. Gives me kisses, as you can see. He is great, comes right up and wants lovin. He plays chase, kickball, and scrub faces with me. I won't be able to take him in...even tho that is what he is for. That is his purpose in But, he is my pal. So, Will (who doesn't play with him) will take him in. Will is also going to take Budley in. And, I feel sorry for Will cuz he is the one that bottle feeds them when they are little.

In some ways I think of becoming vegetarian when going thru this time of year. Butchering time I mean. Or buying meat from someone else. Sometimes I envy those people who don't know where that chicken mcnugget (gives me creeps even saying those words!) comes from. No name chickens, no name butchers, no name boxes, no name whatever else they add to it that kills us slowly...don't get me started. But, as I've heard..."ignorance is bliss". Is it?

On the consolation side of it. I am thankful that Bernie and I get to play, that he is outside in sunshine and with fresh grass to eat, that he is happy. I am thankful that he has a purpose in life...sometimes I wonder if I can say the same about me. If my purpose was to live happily in order to someday die and feed lots of people...well...I wonder if that would be okay for me too. In the meantime, enjoy your furry friends and the love they give you!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013


I looked out the window this morning and saw a couple inches of white stuff blanketing everything. Ah...spring in Illinois! It's days like these that makes my southern heart depressed. So, with that feeling overwhelming me, I got up and got dressed and trudged out into the white oblivion.

Collecting sap in the snow is okay, especially when it is a little warm. Today wasn't very warm but it was pretty anyway. The worst part is having to chip ice out of the bucket in order to pour the sap out...then getting my gloves wet. My nose was running with the cold and I refrained from wiping it on my sleeve. Not because my Mama told me not to do that as it is nasty, but because I was afraid of my nose freezing to my sleeve.

We collected about 150 gallons of sap today. Another couple of days of boiling to go. If the weather warms up a little it might run again and give us another day of collecting. We have some helpers coming on Tuesday so we hope to have something fun for them to do. But, we just have to see what Mother Nature provides.

Now we are back inside in the warmth, tea brewing and wool socks on my feet. Marty, who is still blowing his nose and coughing from his cold, is downstairs planting tomatoes in flats. I look at my little cacti in the window sill and try to be patient for warmth outside. It is hard sometimes.

view from the window this morn

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sick day

Good morning everyone! It looks like a beautiful spring day outside. But it is about 20 degrees. Oh well. Thankfully the cold weather has our syrup season going longer. We have bottled about 40 gallons now. And today we are on hold again as the sap isn't running again. This has been happening about every four days. We boil for four, wait for four. Tiring.

As usual, I had some pictures to show you but can't get them loaded. I know we are in an internet hole here. I can see the picture, click on it, and nothing happens. At least I got to being able to see it this time. So...maybe later I can try again from the library in town or somewhere that has a stronger signal. Or...I'll just try again...

Marty  at his desk
Okay, call me a liar. So, here is the pic for today. I'm only trying this one pic since it just took me another ten minutes to get it here with a caption. I just love living in this black hole.

The story of the pic is that it is a sick day. Everyone here is sick (not just of the internet connection). Will has had a runny nose and Marty has a fever today. So, as you can see in the delightful pic above, he is sipping orange juice and looking at seed catalogs. I'm okay so far and plan to hold out as long as I can. I'm just sick of the internet connection.

I was able to take an excellent class last Saturday called "Beyond the Farm Gate" Social Media for Farmers. It taught us how to create a new website and blog on Wordpress, do a facebook page, learn to tweet on Twitter, and how to connect it all using Hootsuite. The instructors were great and I learned a ton. Got all started and set up. I'm really looking forward to getting it all up and running.

Now if I could just get a darn signal that was strong...(they didn't teach us how to do that!)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring happenings at the farm

Spring is really in swing now. The daffodils are popping out of the ground and the chickens are scrounging for grubs and tiny greens in the mud. And, it is muddy...a sure sign of spring.

We got the outhouse in place and today bought a toilet seat for it. Yippee!
But we didn't get to boil any sap today as we ran out yesterday and there wasn't enough in the buckets to collect. It should run tonight and we should have full buckets tomorrow. So, we will be off and boiling again soon. So far we are at 36 gallons of more than last year. And, it is to be cold again/warm again for the next week so that should push our season another week. We hope it will anyway.

We are still patiently waiting the arrival of piglets from Tea. The babies of Maggie were separated a week or more ago and I have been working with them. I call to them in a high piggy voice "piggy, piggy" or "here, babies" and they are coming up to me now. Usually I give them a treat when they come. But sometimes I just rub their ears and noses.

Today we came home from getting our toilet seat and found Bernie out of his pasture again. He got out a couple of times the other day and was put in time out in the barn, which he hated. We saw him out today eating by the other beeves so put him in with them. At first they wouldn't let him eat. I put some food further away from them and he came up to me and I "protected" him so he could eat. He puts his head on the side of my leg to say thanks. Then we just stood outside their fenced area and watched. Surprise and Budley pushed Bernie around some and they all sniffed each other for a while. But no one was really aggressive. So, we will see how they do over night and might leave him in with them. I'm sure he will begin to miss his blue barrel and bucket and ball after a while tho.

Today was also a very nice day outside. Even tho it wasn't real sunny, at least it wasn't raining, snowing, sleeting, freezing, or windy...the usual for Illinois this time of year. We noticed the pussy willows are beginning to get their little paws. I am also enjoying hearing the robins, killdeer, and cardinals in the morning. Last night I even heard a Barred Owl. That was a treat.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My spring request

Mother Nature is still playing tricks with us and there is no sap running for the last five days. We hope to be able to collect tomorrow and begin to boil again. Thanks to all of the great friends who have come to help so far!

So, what do we do when our main crop is not happening? Well, we got our soil in the trays and are waiting for our peppers to sprout some more. Then we also started our tomatoes, same way as we did the peppers in baggies. I cleaned up one of the hoophouses today. We are trying to get them to dry out enough for us to plant. The snow and rain ran down and seep in from underneath so it has been too wet to do anything in them yet.

Today we all worked on a project that I am very much looking forward to outhouse for the syrup area. I hate having to walk all the way up to the house to go to the bathroom, tromping thru snow and mud. The guys got the base put together first, then we put up the front and back wall, connected the walls, put in a half floor, then installed a "seat" box, and then siding and a roof. Will and I decided to put pieces on the inside over the cracks between the boards to keep the draft out.

I found a coffee can for covering the toilet paper (keeps the mice from getting into it), and later on I plan to decorate the inside. I think Rich is looking for a Montgomery Ward magazine for it too. And thanks to Mike Herrara (hope I spelled that right!) for his help.
Mike and Will working on the roof panels

Almost finished!
We will have to wait until the ground gets hard again and then we will put the outhouse on a small trailer and take it down to the woods. I can't wait to decorate the inside! Maybe some fun chili pepper lights, streamers, paint on the walls, outhouse pictures, and more!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Spring Update

It's a calm winter day out today. The snow is gently falling and melting in some places to form puddles for the ducks to swim in. The guys are down in the woods trying to fix our broken tractor. And, I've been playing garden in the basement, setting up the grow lights and seeing how much soil we need for starting our seeds.

We have pepper seeds in moist paper towels in ziplocs on the radiators to start them. We are starting about seven different kinds, some rare and requested. All in all, if we get all the plants we are trying for, we will plant almost 1000 pepper plants in the field this year. Crazy sounding, but it still probably won't be enough. We are trying a couple of new ones from Mexico this year and hopefully they will do okay so I can save seed from them. Some day I hope to have a fancy dancy seed starting contraption. But, the ziplocs work okay for now.

Yesterday the guys rearranged the pigs. They brought Tea (real name is Swee Tea, daughter of Swee) into the barn as she is due to have piglets around the 13th. But, in order to move her in to the best stall for farrowing, we needed to move Maggie (our new sow) and her babies out. We weaned her babies from her a few days ago even tho they aren't eight weeks old. They were eating on their own, really plump, and it was straining the mom and making her too skinny. So, they were moved to their own stall inside the barn with Maggie in a stall next to them. I like to keep them in just in case of a cold snap again.

Syrup is on hold and that is why we are catching up with the seedlings and the tractor. The sap ran for a few days, then stopped for 10, then ran for a few, and now stopped again. We have bottled around 21 gallons of syrup so far, into jars and gallons. But, we ran out of sap on Sunday at noon so are awaiting the weather to warm up again so we can get some more collected. It has barely been above freezing today so far, but maybe it will flow some. We hope for another couple of weeks at least and one great big flush at the end. The guys were
hoping for over 100 gallons. I'm more critical so just want over 50.

Well, good news! The tractor is fixed. We really rely on that old girl. This time of year it is good to have her for hauling sap across the woods and pulling the trailor to get firewood. The truck will work, but the tractor turns in tighter spaces between trees. Then it is always nice to have something to pull our truck out of the mud! And, mud season is here!!

Hopefully I can have some more pics later. I have found that the picture loading and the writing is all depending on signal...and unlike most of you - we hardly have a signal here. Yes, we live in the boonies. So...all for now! Happy Spring to you!!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Syrup Pics

Keeping an eye on the boiling
Marty adding wood to the evaporator
Will drying gloves

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Thanks to Jenny Smith at Verizon Wireless, I can finally...after a month and numerous hours of pulling my hair out...get pics on the blog. Thanks a ton Jenny! You are awesome!
So, since I am at the coffeehouse trying to get this figured out, I will have to get some new pics of the syruping when I get home. For now I will just be content with a pic of the napkin!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Where's the pics?

I would love to show you pictures of the new evaporator. But, the "migrate" button on my Picassa account has disappeared and the blog won't let me upload my pictures. Then Blogger also won't let me use a gmail account so I can just change accounts and get to my pictures. Any ideas from anyone would be much appreciated. I'm still working on it tho!
So far we have made 10 gallons of syrup in 4 days of boiling. Really good. The new evaporator is a dream to use in some ways...we don't have to shut it down when we go out to get firewood or sap, and it is virtually self run. But, it is also so efficient with the heat that we are freezing! It was 44 degrees in the syrup house yesterday. Last year we were in our shirt sleeves by afternoon. This year I'm bundled with hat, scarf, gloves, snow pants over jeans over long johns...etc. and my feet are frozen.
Well, that caused us to get creative. Today we installed a little wood burning stove for us to sit by. I tried sitting next to the door of the evaporator, but was almost inside it and still cold. The little stove should help a ton. Plus I can put my tea on it to stay warm.
I also asked if we could build a cute little (and very functional) outhouse this year. Not close to the syrup house, but not a couple acres walk away, which the house is. We might get that done later in the season. We'll see how that goes.
Two new products for us this year...distilled maple sap (water). We are collecting the condensation from the hoods over the boiling syrup and bottle it (at the source). We call it "Uncle Willard's Sweet Sweat"...sweat from the boiling sap that is. I also like the line "it takes a lot of sweat to make a gallon of syrup." My other idea hasn't taken off tho. I noticed the icicles off the roof from the steam that comes out the roof flaps. I thought we could call them "sap cicles". But they don't look too edible. Maybe we can just put the "sweat" into some kind of maple shaped ice trays and freeze it. Hm.
Stay tuned...I'm determined to get the picture thing figured out at some point!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Syrup season again

It's maple syrup season again. We began tapping trees on the 8th, or there about. Today we finished up with tapping the last of 269 trees. We decided not to put buckets on the trees up by the syrup house since they have been tapped for the last five years and need a break. So most of the sap buckets are on trees a little further into the woods.
Will has the new evaporator all set up and ready to go. It is bigger than our first one, longer by about four feet, and should be able to boil about four times as much in the same amount of time. We already have around 200 gallons of sap collected and ready to go. So, if all goes well, we will begin to boil this Thursday or Friday.
This season we have a lot of friends scheduled to come help and that makes for a fun time. Many of them come from Chicago for a day. We are excited to also have a group from Slow Food come to help. Usually we do a quick tour of the equipment and set up, then everyone gets together and helps to collect firewood or sap. If we can, we try to boil that day so everyone can see how it works. But, that usually just depends on the weather.
Will also spends time with the local high school agriculture classes. This is definitely a kind of agriculture that the Farm Bureau and the local universities don't teach about. In our area of Illinois there are two commercial producers of maple syrup, us and Funks Grove. Funks Grove is much larger than our operation and is a really great place to go visit if you get a chance.
I think I have figured out how to get pictures on this blog. However...I haven't taken any recent ones so have to get on that! I hope to get some taken this week and show you the new evaporator set up. So, check back!!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Living Arts on the farm

I hesitate to show you any pictures of what it is like outside, altho I will say that it is sunny. The only green in sight is my little table with my cacti on it. Oh, and the pine trees.They look pretty nice. I woke to zero degrees today and have to remind myself that the thermometer is in the shade. It wasn't much warmer doing chores tho as my nose and eyes ran with the cold.
We put Bernie, the Jersey calf, inside the barn over night since he doesn't have much of a shelter and no one to snuggle with. The other two beeves were knee deep in mud from all the recent rain, so the guys moved them to a dry spot yesterday and they (all) are much happier now. And, the pigs just hunker down and sleep in the sun during the day, piled with hay and straw around them. The tarps help keep them warmer.

I've been working inside...and I refuse to take a picture of the piles of paperwork I've been working on. This is my season for getting all our paperwork pulled together. I compile from our weekly sales lists all our product sales, to who, etc. into an Access database. Then I am able to print reports for us that show what we sold, what week, for how much, and to who. It gives us a pretty good idea of our seasons for our products and which products were most profitable for us. Then I can also print reports for the chefs to show them what they bought, when and how much they spent. I have to say...even tho I do the is impressive. And it shows us and our customers that we take our business serious.
After all the end of year tax info is compiled, and the reports for our farm, then I work on the reports for the Stewards of the Land farmer group for what they sold to Chicago restaurants. They sell many other places as well - Dave's Supermarket, as well as other ones, farmers' markets, CSA's, on farm sales, etc. - but those amounts aren't included in what I compile (thank goodness!).

In my off time I enjoy lost arts...well, I (and my mom) consider them living arts really, but some others think of them as becoming lost. Those are the arts that women traditionally did at home on the farms (and elsewhere). They typically include lots of textile work, which is what I love - knitting, stitching, quilting, weaving, spinning, and more. I have my new loom set up and have been working on some smaller bags, trying to come up with a nice pattern of my own creation for walkers (the kind that are usually metal and assist other walkers). These arts also include soap making (check out Donna's farmwife blog at my connection below), candle making, cooking and preserving, and more.
I've been lucky enough to spend some time with Emma and Kiyoshi of Lucky Duck Farm (just north of Fairbury, IL) learning how they process their fleece from their Icelandic sheep. It is really beautiful and they hope to send it off soon and have it cleaned, carded, and spun. I'll update you later when they have some ready for sale. I've learned a lot from them about the different sheep fibers. Kiyoshi makes gorgeous needle felted animals (check him out on his for Kiyoshi Mino).
Some great places to check into these arts locally include the Lost Arts shop in Fairbury. They sell yarns, fabrics, and all the notions. They also provide some classes. Look into Heartland Community College (or a community college in your area) for some classes this spring including cooking, weaving, and quilting. And, of course, keep an eye on Spence Farm Foundation's website for upcoming classes with Donna making soap and Emma and Kiyoshi teaching about wool.
Now I will attempt to add my first picture...

okay...I have a lot more to learn yet...sorry folks, maybe next time.
hey, I did it! only after 4 hours of trying. Cant guarantee it again, but I can hope.
This is my knitting buddy...making him some cute clothes.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Whew! I made it Back!

Today is a great day for writing a blog, isn't it?

I've been telling myself that for more than eight months now. Thanks to all of you who have kept asking me about the blog and pressing me to continue with it. It is because of you that I've finally made it back. Well...and because of my new technology!

So, what was the big problem? Well, technology can be a wonderful thing...or a terrible thing. In our case, I liken our internet system at home to being in the Bermuda Triangle. It works sometimes, when it wants to. The signal is in and out constantly. We don't get reception from all the local towers like people think we do, or should. And, no Virginia, it does not work like it does in the city.
Doing the blog or website was extremely painful for me.
Don't get me wrong, I love writing it, changing the pictures, telling about the animals, etc. But, some days it would take hours, literally, to get it done. And, mostly because of our signal. Well, the signal hasn't gotten better...I finally got smarter, or just more determined!
I had hesitated to drag my business computer around with me because I can't bear to think of it crashing with all my business info on it. That would probably crash me too. And, to get a good signal and be able to blog or update the website, that was what I was having to do. But, today I broke down and bought a Tablet. Now I can blog ANYWHERE! Or mostly. I get a better signal at home with it...definitely.
Soon I will be able to figure out how to take pictures and add them to the blog! Then I plan to figure out how to do a new website. The possiblities are endless!!

In the meantime, let me update you some.
We have Bernie, a Jersey calf. Got him last summer when Surprise had a stillborn calf. Bernie plays kickball with me and LOVES buckets. A raccoon took out about half the chickens last summer, but the rest are doing okay. Unfortunately she took out our lovely Gimpy turkey also. We really miss her (the turkey, not the raccoon).
Saturday we acquired a new Guinea Hog sow, named Margaret (Maggie). She came from a farm in Indiana. On Sunday, she had a litter of 7 babies, 6 survive still. She is super friendly, as we find Guinea Hogs are. And, like our other two sows (Swee and Tea) she is great mother.
The crops did okay for us last summer, even thru the drought. We had a really great winter root crop season due to some late rains. And, we are already in the planning stages for this year. I'm working on compiling all our sales info and we passed out seed catalogs to the chefs. Next we will check our seed stash and begin our lists of what to buy.    
We harvested fennel seed from one of the hoophouses this week, and soon we will till up the soils and start planting some more greens, herbs, and garlic. We re-covered one hoophouse and will do the second one this spring. The walk-in cooler, as of two weeks ago, was packed with produce still - potatoes, turnips, radishes, rutabaga, etc. all harvested this past fall. We also have a good supply of wheat and corn that we are still milling. All in all, the crops did good.
Projects for this year include getting our four walk-in coolers, purchased last summer, put together and then covered. I also want to make a portable washing station on some kind of trailer, with wash basins and windows. In the winter we can bring it up to the house to heat it and in the summer we can put it in the shade. I would also like to figure out a way to purchase a covered hoop structure to put the pig cages in during the winter. Now that we have 30 pigs (12 cages) it is hard to get them inside the barn before a blizzard. Ideally the ends would roll up on the new structure so they would still have fresh air.

That's the quickest update. I am working on getting some pictures taken and figuring out how to load them so stay tuned.
And thanks again to all of you who kept on me about continuing the blog. I am glad you pushed me cuz I am really looking forward to it again!

Happy New Year!