Wednesday, March 20, 2013

This blog has moved...

We've done a little informal rebranding around the farm, and I'll now be blogging from our new address.

Please come join us!  I look forward to interacting with you all there.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Picked up seven 2-week old Buckeye chicks/pullets from a local breeder this evening, and got them set up in the somewhat luxurious (if I do say so myself) brooder setup in the basement.  As of the time of this writing, they are all eating, drinking, looking mighty healthy and curious and peeping up a storm.

Cute little buggers.  Some of them are a bit skittish still, but there's one that always comes over and makes a play for attention.

This is my first experience with chickens, so I'm a bit nervous.

The plan is to wait for Leah to come down and meet them before the naming process begins, but we'll see what happens.  Video below!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Greenhouse in the home stretch...

A week off work, a fortunate run of fair weather and the hard working hands of my dad and a good friend made this past week possible, as well as the hugely significant progress we made towards the completion of the greenhouse.

Since my father tore his shoulder earlier this spring, we've only had three good arms between the two of us.  Certain remaining tasks, like the process of installing twelve foot long polycarbonate panels along the steep angle of roofing rafters were likely to be extremely difficult or impossible without the help of another set of hands.

Enter Scott: my friend since college, former U.S. Marine, intelligence expert, bearded gentleman, and soon to be NYC resident and Columbia student can now add "greenhouse construction expert" to his resume.

The learning curve on polycarbonate panel installation proved somewhat steep... we got off to slow progress despite pulling long hours the first few days.  Not helpful in the least was the building itself and the rafter structure onto which we needed to affix the panels... the pressure treated lumber we used to construct the rafters before winter set in had shifted and warped somewhat despite our best efforts.  Every single panel we installed required the rafters to be hammered sideways, levered with clamps and pulled with come-alongs so that the poly panels could fit straight along them.

Installing plywood panels along the north side of the building as underlayment support for the roof also proved challenging.  Our previous treatments to the rafters on the south side to accomodate the poly panels meant many of the rafters were at a very slight angle, preventing us from being able to lay down a straight and manageable grid of 4'x8' sheets.  What we ended up with was a lot of very subtle trapezoids that fit together in fun and challenging ways.  Fortunately we were able to custom cut them so that the final effect is very much square, even if the panels themselves aren't, exactly.

While the rain kept off during work hours, the week was comprised mainly of a lot hot hours in the sun, lifting things up and down on ladders.  We overcame a seemingly endless parade of engineering setbacks and material failures, and by the end of the week we were all very sunburned, sore, underslept and worn down (Scott notably remarked on Thursday morning that he was primarily running on "black coffee and rage").

But we did get it done, and we are now just a few working weekends away from having the greenhouse fit for inspection (and hopefully, approval) by the county.

Tremendous thanks goes out to Scott and my father, who worked themselves raw, and put up with me besides.  I doubt Gatorade and pizza make up for the time put in... but if one of my new chicks grows an awesome beard, I'll name it in Scott's honor.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If the three varieties of squash I planted weekend-before-last were racing, "Pipian From Tuxpan" would already have a commanding lead with almost perfect germination, a super-brief germination period and an almost alarming rate of growth.  As a gentleman who values various flavors of oven roasted pepitas over almost any other snack (despite their tendency to cause digestional regret when consumed in quantity, as I cannot help but consume them), I already can't wait for fall.

These guys have just been sitting in my passively heated (i.e. whatever heat the house happens to absorb) dining room on the table by the window, and a little over a week later, they look like the photo above.

At the rate they're growing, I may already be regretting my decision to start them indoors this year (previous attempts to direct-seed squash in the field have proved entirely disappointing).  I also have a two varieties of summer squash seeded, but with no sprouts peeking out thus far from either one.

Normally I would have misgivings about growing a space and nutrient-demanding crop such as squash whose stated purpose is mostly the edible seeds it provides, but I'm hoping that hogs might be keen on the gourds' flesh even if I'm not.  As we don't yet have swine here (save myself), I may have to go find some folks that do for an entirely un-scientific experiment on how they do or don't favor this variety.

Why feed pumpkins to hogs, you ask?  Why, cause they're so damn cute when they eat them, of course.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend update,

This weekend found me graced with the bounty of a house full of loved ones.  My sister and father were both up to visit/work from Cincinnati, and Leah came down from Kent.  The proliferation of people whose company I enjoy most took the edge of what would have otherwise been a somewhat dreary and unpleasant working weekend.

Despite temperatures consistently in the 40's, moist cold winds and occasional rains, my father and I prevailed as we could and managed some decent progress on the greenhouse front.

We installed almost all the interior skirting (pressure treated two-by-whatevers) which will serve to seal up the bottom edge of the building, which we built to be perfectly level but on un-level ground and thus has an increasingly large gap from along it's length from East to West.  The skirting will hold in the four inches or so of limestone gravel that we will be using as a flooring surface inside the greenhouse, and hold out the dirt that will be filling the raised perennial bed I plan to install around the perimeter of the greenhouse later this spring.

We cut the first of two twelve-inch ventilation openings in the uppermost corners of the building.  Depending on how well the building collects and retains temperature during the summer months, we may well need to install some sort of exhaust fan system at some point in the future, to keep the building as a whole from becoming a giant solar oven and killing the plants inside.

We also got the vinyl siding complete on the south-facing side of the building, and got a fair bit more siding up on the west side.  Custom-cutting lengths of vinyl siding that require a different angle on each end and a very specifically spaced gap in the middle proved somewhat difficult.  We called it a night after two unsuccessful attempts, but I know we'll get the hang of it.  After we're done with this, I will be able to rightly call myself a vinyl siding professional...

And, in case anyone ever asks, the best way to finish off a rough weekend is with homemade cream of sorrel soup, oven roasted jacket potatoes, "Knock You Naked" brownies, and a highly competitive game of Bananagrams.  Bliss!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

First sprouts in the garden...

During nightly watering rounds, I noticed a joyous thing(shown in blurry detail above)...  the peas I planted a while back in the garden are sprouting.  Significant action is visible from both the Tall Telephone peas as well as the Green Beauty snow peas.  Also seeing some sprouting love from my carrots and lettuce seedings in the shaded beds, but it's too early to tell who's who yet.  These are the first direct-seeded sprouts to emerge from the new garden beds.


Also, notably, the Aronia is in full bloom (for the first time since I planted it two years ago), which will hopefully result in me getting to taste aronia berries for the first time (if the birds don't get them first... which they probably will).

The yacon plants in the windowsill are getting big, by the way.  As in, every day I come home, they are noticeably larger.  If they keep this up I may have to upsize them to bigger pots before I can get them out in the garden.  Starting to understand how these things end up being six feet tall...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fuck the grass.

Given some water and strategic windowsill placement, the yacon starts have regained their proper appearance!  While I do enjoy getting healthy plants in the mail, I'm a little worried at how big they are already.  Hopefully I can get them through to this year's "safe from frost" date and into a garden bed before they take over the kitchen and start making demands.

Tonight I indoor-seeded some basil (Purple Petra, Genovese, and Tulsi) and squash (Lemon, Pen. Crookneck and Pipian from Tuxpan).  I've never had much luck direct-seeding squash, so I thought I'd try to remove some potential-for-error by starting it indoors.  My best sources say that this can work fine so long as you don't let the starts get rootbound or disturb the roots when you transplant them into the garden.

Pipian From Tuxpan squash seeds are huge!
Today was a picture-perfect day to work outdoors, and sadly I had to spend it on routine lawn maintenance.  By the time I was done mowing the entire property (around 3 acres or 1.5 tanks of gas in the Ariens) and string-trimming around trees and garden beds, I was both plum tuckered and plastered with shredded plant matter (to which I am ironically allergic).  The itchy loss of an yet another otherwise productive day is but one of many reasons I loathe the American fetish of lawn cultivation.  Why, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you!

I can confirm that I killed two snakes and one frog today during my mowing excursion.  I spied their gruesomely mangled corpses strewn atop an even plateau of green as I rode my roaring mount around the required concentric paths... and I can only assume that I killed more whose remains happened to display less dramatically.

Now, here on the farm we have nothing if not plenty of frogs and snakes, and I'm not one to cry over every individual drop of milk (or, in this case, snake blood) that's spilled... but that's at least three distinct beneficial organisms that are now wholly removed (save for their decomposition) from my ecosystem... for no real purpose whatsoever.  They died, along with my usable work day, because somewhere down the line our society decided that everyone is supposed to have a lawn.

As best I can determine, our American fascination with lawns represents an ironic and masochistic impulse to symbolically and retroactively compete with the landed elites whose idiotic policies our ancestors braved a dangerous trans-Atlantic voyage to escape in the first place.  It's a holdover from the days when ownership of land was a sure sign of personal status, furthered by the means and willingness to arbitrarily maintain expansive areas of a variety of plant (whose natural height is several feet) at a  height of just under three inches tall.

This stunningly logical ritual comes to us from the same society that at one time saw the wealthy gentry building largely windowless mansions complete with the facade of previously existent windows because the presence of bricked-up windows was seen as a status symbol at the time.

The culture of lawns also plays directly into our delusions of power over nature.  The violent act of "cutting the grass" is in fact nothing more than a scheduled assertion of our dominance over nature, a flashing neon sign regularly reinforcing the idea that we alone control the land we own... not only it's borders and obvious contents, but also the exact manner in which the organisms within shall develop and exist.

But in this instance, as in all others where we imagine our human goals and methods to be superior to those of nature, we are humorously mistaken.  The poor bastard who is forced to spend his weekends shirtlessly riding a smoking machine in circles around his property (and I must unhappily include myself in this group) has found a master in the grass, and never himself becomes the master by doing so.  If I live to be a hundred and twelve, and mow it down until religiously until my last day alive, it matters not.  Given enough time, the grass will win.

So why do we bother?

The grass on my lawn does not provide me with anything.  It does not nourish enhance the soil in any way, and the meager benefits it does provide (aesthetic appeal, erosion control) could easily be achieved with a variety of other plants that would also provide a greater benefit besides (lawn-space lovers please note here that my primary gripe here is with the grass itself, not the usage of space).

Even the benign varieties of grass constantly fight and compete to choke out and kill any tree, shrub, or vine I attempt to plant in it's midst (and has succeeded on more than one occasion).  The more obnoxious strains (quack grass, for one) prove themselves on a daily basis to be a pestilent weed without equal.  

Due to the size of the lawn, I have been forced to spend thousands of dollars on specialized equipment and fuel to maintain it in the accepted way, a process whose accomplishment itself consumes not insignificant amounts of my quite meager (and thus quite valuable) free time.

So, in short... fuck the grass.

The only consolations during my long mowing expeditions are the fantasies I allow myself, of turning over large areas of what is now neatly mown grass to productive pasture, where some manner of mammal (I want goats, Leah wants alpacas, and I'm pretty sure we both want pigs) can make better use of grass' perpetual nature than I can on my own.  My mind dances and twirls with childish delight as I imagine a large auger bit tearing through the sod, the fence posts going in, and the fencing being pulled taut.  I plot out the fence lines constantly... which animals might fare best where, how many I can reasonably hope to support on the space I have, etc.  I picture stepping out the back door and towards the treeline... not into an endless flat lawn, but a pastoral pasture complete with a small earth-topped shelter to house my as-of-yet imaginary critters.

It is usually at this point that I am forced to stop the mower to scrub a loose fistful of airborne clippings from my eyes and mouth.  Even in it's temporary defeat, the lawn laughs at me.

A man can dream, can't he?