Sunday, July 14, 2019

Moving into summer - the garden's bounty

The busy of the growing season continues here on the farm.

The headline event for this week was our wonderful neighbor, Kyle Rohr, bringing his tractor and brushhog out to mow the farm.  Normally we would bale the hay, but his baler wasn't working and we didn't want to mess with finding someone else, so he agreed to just mow it instead.  The farm looks so much nicer with all the growth knocked back AND we can confirm to the county that we are continuing to follow our plan to prevent the lespedeza from multiplying. 

The garden has started to really produce now.  We dug all our potatoes this week - yukon gold, red pontiac and white nordland (I think) - and came away with about 100# of spuds.  It isn't our best harvest, but it also isn't our worst.  We only planted 3 beds this year (we've been planting 6) so not a bad showing all in all.  We're also harvesting blackberries, currants, goji berries and our first ripe peaches!  The peach tree we planted way back in 2012 is completely loaded with fruit this year.  It is also infested with moth larvae.  Its so disappointing to see such beautiful peaches and know that almost all of them have worms in them.  Then, tonight, I also saw June Bugs munching away in big clusters on the ripe fruit.  Sigh.  I did some research on the moths and I think next year I'll put up some sticky pheromone traps to see if I can limit their damage.  I'm also picking up all the dropped and caterpillar infested fruit to feed to the chickens.  If I can't enjoy the peaches, at least I can enjoy the eggs!  I've read about a molasses trap for june bugs but haven't tried it yet.  Maybe I'll give that a whirl this week.  Learning how to manage not just an organic orchard, but a no spray orchard is a priority for the next couple of years.

First squash, blackberries and a peach!

bed #1 potato harvest air curing

The same neighbor who mowed for us has a couple of piles of cow manure that we're steadily moving into the lower garden.  We picked up 2 trucks full yesterday and got one of those unloaded.  There were SOOOOOO MANY GRUBS!  I swear that every shovel had 2 or 3 grubs in it.  We collected all the ones we found as we unloaded and dumped them in with the chickens.  They were in heaven!  And, yes, between fruit, scraps and grubs our chickens are totally spoiled. 

scoop of manure being dumped into the truck

Chickens going to town on a pile of grubs

A host of other farm stuff got done this week too.  Beds were weeded and mulched, we got 2 loads of cardboard to continue doing sheet mulch in the garden aisles and we harvested SO MUCH SQUASH!  I picked a 5 gallon bucket full on Friday evening and we still had squash left from the last time I picked.  Everything we eat must have squash in it so that we can keep up.  Normally, we would be coming into ripe tomato season too and most of this squash bounty would find its way into vegetable soup that we enjoy all year long.  Our tomatoes are way behind though, so we just have the squash. 

 It was also time for our regular battery maintenance on Saturday morning.  We have to monitor the water levels in all the battery cells to keep them running at their best.  In the summer time we're finding that we need to monitor them every 2 or 3 weeks.  In the winter, it is less often.  We pull each of the white caps off and top off the 3 battery cells underneath with distilled water, then replace the cap and go on to the next cell.  The whole thing takes about 10 minutes.  This time, while we were working, a tiny toad hopped into the ratchet set!  He was too cute not to take a picture.

 Jacob topping off batteries

 A froggy friend visiting our work 

The most amazing thing for this week was that I got to spend all day Saturday on the farm.  There were no errands or functions or anything else to take me away.  It was a solid day of working in the garden, spending time with Jeremy and focusing on doing the work I love to do.  I need more of these days.  It is good for my soul and body to do real work that I can see, to connect with this piece of the earth and to connect with my family. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Solstice Reflection

The summer solstice has just passed and the earth has begun its slow tilt back toward the winter solstice.  The days that have been lengthening since Christmas are now shortening again.  The change isn’t pronounced yet – the hottest weather of the year has yet to come and the sun still shines well into the evening – but for those that live in relationship with natural systems it means a subtle but real shift in the year.  The spring rush of growth is done and the trees and other plants have started storing their winter starches and ripening their fruit.  The greens turn from vibrant and light to darker and more deep.  The change isn’t just in the plants though.  

The humans in this system also know that a shift is happening.  The summer has only just begun but for the grower, winter is coming already.  The rush of spring planting and planning is over; the garden is growing; summer crops are getting their legs and setting first fruits while spring staples are fading.  For us, we will celebrate the start of summer with food – creamed peas and new potatoes are the meal that says summer for us and we have eaten it every year that we have had a garden big enough to grow them.  The meal is bittersweet and delicious – a celebration of the start of the harvest season and also a reminder that time is already running out to get food put up.  We are thankful that we don’t have to count only on what we grow for our annual nourishment.  The safety net of modern society and the grocery store make the rush to put up the harvest a little less pressing and stressful.  

I’m finding this year more than many others that the solstice is also bringing an introspection.  At 40, I relate to this time of year more deeply.  I am now at or just past the solstice of my life – I am not getting stronger or taller, I have spent my youthful energy and now am settled into my life’s pattern.  I feel much like the trees with my arms stretched to familiar sunshine enjoying the built up years of work already done while still trying to reach a little farther into the warmth.  It has been a good first 40 years by any measure, but the celebration is bittersweet.  My children will move on from me soon and the house will feel empty.  While I can still do a hard day’s work now, I know the time is coming where I will have to slow down.  My knees and shoulders already tell me that I am not the 25 year old that started this journey so many years ago.  I know my winter is coming even as I celebrate my life’s summer.

I think in some ways this is the greatest gift of living in relationship with the land.  The annual cycles of birth, growth, maturity, decline and death are comforting in their familiarity and humbling in their inevitability.  As I walk with my plants and animals through this cycle, I know that I too am going through the same cycle.  I know my own mortality deeply.  I know that there is no way out of my own physical decline and eventual death just as there is no way to avoid the coming winter.  I will celebrate the summer harvest as I celebrate my own growth to this point and all that it has created.  I will watch as each crop declines just as I will one day not be able to keep the pace I do now.  I will watch the leaves turn in the fall just as my hair and skin will change and are changing already.  I will see the first frost kill the last of the summer crops just as one day I will have to stop doing things I love.  The world will go to sleep under a blanket of snow and I too will sleep one day with only memories to remind those who know me of what I was once like.  

These changes are inevitable and ultimately welcome.  When we focus only on one time of year or of life, then we miss the beauty of the others.  I would not want to have a year without the autumn leaves or the crisp mornings of fall and I don’t think I would consider my life fully lived if I did not get to enjoy the young adulthood of my children and celebrate their life’s spring with them, perhaps offering some wisdom gained from my own spring and summer.  I look forward to the coming of age of the trees I plant this year.  I will walk more slowly under their shade than I do now and I will need help to care for them, but what a wonderful autumn to my life to see their flowers in the spring time and their leaves in the fall.  While I don’t look forward to the cold of winter, I do enjoy the wood stove and the time to rest with family.  I hope that the winter of my life will be filled with the warmth of love and the deep rest of a life well lived.  

As I stand on the farm on this year’s solstice and recognize my own life’s solstice, it is profoundly grounding and real.  I feel immersed in nature’s rhythm and I am enjoying my small part in this great dance.  

Happy solstice day to you all!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

First fruits

Last weekend was the final weekend of KPI's first PDC at Heartland Farm in Pawnee Rock, KS.  The drive out early Friday morning was beautiful and peaceful.  I enjoyed several podcasts on the way.

Every group of students that comes through the PDC touches my heart in a new way.  This group was special in so many ways, each and every one.  Their design presentations and work on their designs was a great way to wrap up the course and I hope they are all as proud of what they have learned as I am.

We have been trying to wrap up some projects that have been lingering since last year.  The biggest of them is finishing the revamp of the garden area.  We put sides and mulched paths in about half of the garden last year and the result was well worth the effort.  We found that by burying wood in a trench alongside each bed and then putting deep wood mulch in the aisles, we watered significantly less last season than we would have normally.  To try and capture those benefits in the rest of the garden, Jeremy and Jacob spent a couple of days building bed sides for the remaining garden beds.  Now we need to finish shaping the beds into their new forms and then get the aisles mulched.  To that end, we had another load of wood chips dropped close to the garden.

Speaking of the garden!  The green peas are ready and oh so delicious!  We rarely grow very many of these because of the time required to shell them, but they are a real treat when they're in season.  Hopefully, we will have our summer meal of creamed peas and new potatoes this week sometime.  That seasonal meal signals the end of spring and the beginning of the summer garden bounty for us.

For only the second time in our gardening lives, we have a great crop of onions coming on!  Normally, we have very small bulbs but this year they look amazing.  We think the difference is using manure to amend the bed prior to planting.  Typically we use compost but going forward we will try to put manure in the root crop beds and see if that makes a difference.  These aren't quite ready to pull and put up, but they're getting really close. 

Another first, the orphaned grape plant in the garden has grapes set on!  Its hard to see in the picture, but there are several bunches of grapes growing on this vine.  While we aren't completely sure of the variety, we're pretty sure its a wine grape.  That will mean seeds, but that's not the end of the world.  I hope to have time to do some work in the main vineyard this year to see if we can revive some more of the survivors there. 

In an effort both to help the fruit trees develop and to smother out the lespedeza that is endemic to the top field, we are prepping for sheet mulch in both fruit tree areas.  This week Jacob mowed the pasture around our top field fruit trees.  Soon, we'll get cardboard and have another load of mulch dropped off to start sheet mulching under these trees.  That should rapidly convert the soil's structure to be more fungal which will support the health of these trees.  It will also let us inter-plant some more food plants with them like blackberries, raspberries and currants.   This space can't be cut for hay anyway due to not enough room between the trees and the property line, so a food forest planting is a much more productive use of the space than its current form.

Speaking of fruit trees in the top field, the 2 plum trees finally made plums!  These first ones are ripening early due to worms in them, but its still nice to see ripe fruit from the trees we planted back in 2015.  There are more on the tree that aren't showing signs of worms, so we're looking forward to some plum snacks soon.  The black ice plum in the lower orchard is absolutely loaded with fruit too!  It is an older and larger tree than the 2 that produced these.  We also have many plums set on both the Arkansas plum we grew from pits and the sandhill plums along our front swale.  I'm hopeful that we'll have enough to make plum jelly and syrup this year.  Plum jelly is a family favorite - sweet and tart and rich - and we haven't had the fruit to make it for several years.  Hopefully 2019 will be the year!

Plant sales are a weakness.  An advertised sale on chestnut tree seedlings led to 24 little trees getting planted into a garden bed for this year.  Aren't they cute?!  There are 3 each of 5 named varieties and then 9 chinese chestnut trees.  After these little guys get a year to put on some more size, they'll be moved into their final place on the farm.  Hopefully by then I'll know what that final place is...

The water garden continues to evolve as well.  We've added a floating lilly, some more fish and a floating fern to the ecosystem there.  It is wonderfully serene to sit and listen to the water, watch the fish swim and see the flowers around it bloom.  This lily is particularly beautiful right now.

The early summer is always a magical time on the farm.  The vegetables are growing - the spring crops are bearing and coming out, the summer crops are really getting their legs under them, the fruit is swelling on the trees and it isn't unbearably hot yet.  As we continue building the farm this season, there is so much to enjoy and be grateful for. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Spring on the Farm

After rain that seemed like it would never end, things are getting into full swing here.  The house is basically done (very minor trim left) and we are fully focused on growing more food on the farm.

The first new thing for this year was trying to graft our own fruit trees.  Amber grafted 15 plum trees and 11 of them took!  Of the 5 pears, none made it though.  We did get to keep 2 grafted pears from the Permaculture Grafting workshop this spring, so we have 2 new pear varieties growing in the nursery.  Along the way, Amber managed to slice her finger pretty seriously also.  Pay attention to knife safety!  It matters!

Ouch! This is after super-gluing it closed.  :(

 Grafts right after they were completed above and scion wood leafing out of a successful graft to the right.

On April 27th, we hosted the last field session of the KU Permaculture class Amber teaches.  To prepare, Amber cleared out the southwest corner of the property in preparation for sheet mulch and planting as a food forest.  There was a lot of scrub sumac and wild grape to remove as well as weeding to do along the existing swale planting.  The area is marked by 3 volunteer mulberries along the fence line, the swale to the west, a black walnut and sandhill plum on the northwest and an Arkansas plum we grew from a plum pit on the northeast.  Once the area was mowed, it was ready for the field session!

Over about 3 hours, the group laid down cardboard, manure and wood chips over the entire area.  Then we planted oregano, rhubarb, irises, daylillies, fernleaf tansy, peony, echinacea and tulip bulbs.  An elderberry bush got added later to the center of the area (it didn't make it in time for the field session).  It was a wonderful end to a fun semester!

At the end of May, we hosted a graduation party for Jacob.  It is incredibly hard to believe that he is that old, but here we are!  Part of the preparation for the party was cleaning up some of the remnants from the house construction.  The space by the driveway that has been the wood yard since 2014 was at the top of the list because we needed parking space.  This is what it looked like when we started over the weekend of May 11th.

This is what it looked like when we finished.

It was an exhausting weekend moving all the remaining wood into consolidated piles elsewhere, stacking the pallets up on the pallet pile, cutting out all the sumac and dogwood saplings and then mowing the entire area.  It is wonderful to have it done though!  We didn't have enough time to take down the concrete form shed, but getting this area done makes a huge difference to how the house looks as you drive up.

 Our new graduate in his robes

Right now, we are enjoying the last of the spring lettuce and radishes, the first of the edible pod peas and watching the summer crops come into their own.  The strawberries have been delicious this year.  There are just enough for a small batch of jelly, but the rest has gone into fresh eating and desserts.

The cabbage is growing well under its row cover.  Hopefully we'll have some nice heads to make sour kraut from and eat over the next few months.  Here's a peak under the cloth at the end of May.

We finally found a tree service that will deliver wood chips to us at the farm.  We have so many projects planned that will need wood chips!  This really is a huge time saver for us.  The first load of wood chips got dumped by the house and is being used to mulch the "yard" and the new garden area.  The second load went to the area along the bottom of the drive way. The plan is to plant this narrow strip with fruit trees in the fall (the ones that were grafted this year hopefully).  

With the extra time now that we aren't milking, we finally got to do some landscaping around the house.  Amber and the kids built this flower bed with a small goldfish pond over the last couple of weeks.  The flowers are all perennials, so hopefully we can enjoy them for many years to come.  The pond pump is solar and seems to be doing very well so far.  We added a dozen feeder goldfish this past weekend and after a couple of losses, the rest are making themselves at home.

Last weekend, we stumbled onto a mother turtle laying eggs on the path down to the garden!  It was beyond cool to find.  I've also never seen a turtle that big that wasn't a snapping turtle!  It was a red-eared slider water turtle.  After consulting with a turtle expert I work with, we put a protective cage over the nest so that predators can't dig it up.  We kinda hope to catch the babies when they hatch and maybe get a pet turtle out of the deal too. 

This past weekend, along with finishing the flower bed, we also did some garden maintenance.  The unmulched paths in the garden were way overdue for mowing and the blackberries were getting smothered with weeds.  Jeremy spent Saturday morning mowing and Jacob and I attacked the blackberry row.  Here it is just as we got started.

And this is the finished product.  You can actually see the blackberries!  The piles of weeds in the aisle give some indication just how much stuff we pulled out of the row.

After we finished weeding, the 3 of us harvested mulberries from the new sheet mulched area.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that one of the three volunteer mulberries is a white mulberry!  Our neighbors have a white mulberry that must be the parent of this one.  The berries are so sweet and the trees were just covered in them.  It was a reminder of the natural bounty around us and how with just a little care, nature will provide in abundance.

Last night, I picked up 4 volunteer peach trees from a co-worker.  They were grown from pits of a naturalized peach tree on their property, so we don't exactly know what we'll get from them.  The parent trees are very hardy and produce tasty peaches, so we have hopes that these will do the same.  For the moment, they are heeled into an empty garden bed along with some irises that need a different home.  Eventually, they will help start a second row of fruit trees in the top field or they will go into the new area along the driveway.  In exchange, I will give her a pair of the plums I grafted this spring.  Yay fruit trees and barter!

As I walked back to the house from heeling in the peach trees, I was met with a gorgeous field of wild flowers.  Life on the farm is beautiful in so many ways and sometimes it just catches you when you don't expect it.  We hope you are enjoying the beautiful spring as much as we are!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Selling the goats

Unfortunately, we have had to make the decision to sell our meat goats.  We would like them all to find good homes, so now is your chance to get well taken care of and quality animals for a very fair price.  None of them have had any health issues.  We de-wormed in mid-February but other than that none have had medication of any sort.  All doe's are being sold with the kids on them as listed and that is reflected in the price.  If you want us to hold the kids, then the price can be adjusted accordingly.  All kids are out of a boer buck.

Rosie w/ 2 doe kids ($700)- Purebred and registered Kiko doe born 2014.  Has kidded 4 times (1 single, 2 sets of big twins and triplets this year) and has always raised them with no issues.  We did lose 1 of her triplets to an accident this year so she just has 2 doe kids on her now.  She is easily the best doe in the herd and most of the rest of our does have come from her line.  Her kids are big and healthy and she takes care of them.  She has never had any health issues at all.  She is everything you could ever want from a Kiko doe.  All of her daughters have been good for us, so you are getting 3 great does with this group.  Naturally, she wanted pets and wouldn't stand still for me to take a good picture, so I have one picture of most of her and a different one of her head.  She is a sweet girl.

Winona w/ 2 buck kids ($500) - Purebred and registered Kiko doe born 2014. Has kidded 3 times (2 singles and twin bucklings this year) with no issues.  Good mother.  Not as friendly as some of our others.  Both bucklings are healthy and she takes good care of them. 

Carmel w/ 2 buck kids ($400) - 50% boer / 50% Kiko 2 year old out of Winona above.  Had a single last year and twins this year with no issues.  Friendly and easy to handle.  Her kids are growing very well and she is a great mother to them. 

Snickerdoodle w/ 1 doe kid and 1 buck kid ($400) - 50% boer / 50% Kiko 2 year old out of Rosie above.  Had a single last year and twins this year with no issues.  Friendly and easy to handle.  We milked her last year so she could easily be a dual purpose goat for a family.  She produced over half a gallon of milk a day for the season last year. 

Ginny w/ 1 doe kid ($300) - yearling.  No kidding issues with a large single doeling this year.  Her family pattern is singles the first year and twins from then on.  75% boer, 25% kiko.  Grand-dam is Rosie above. Not as friendly as some listed here.  Doe kid is growing very quickly and looks really nice. 

 Cho - ($150) Yearling and never bred.  75% boer, 25% kiko.  Very, very friendly and affectionate.  She's a sweetheart. She is out of Snickerdoodle above.

Hermione ($200) - Yearling.  Successfully birthed twins but we didn't get there in time during the cold snap and lost them.  Very easy to handle and friendly.  75% boer, 25% kiko.  Grand-dam is Rosie above and she is a twin to Ginny.

I am happy to answer any questions about these does or their kids.  Please reach me by email at or by phone/text at 785-393-1572.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Down to the trim and Christmas time!

Over the last 2 months, we have continued our focus on finishing up the house.  With the cabinets installed, we were able to order countertops.  They were installed a few weeks ago and, with them, a new kitchen sink!  After more than a year of having to go into the bathroom to get water, wash hands and get dish water, it was amazing to have a sink in the kitchen.  All of the sudden, we could really wash dishes like normal people again! 

We decided to order a butcher block top for the kitchen island.  We found one very reasonably priced through MSC Industrial supply.  Everything on the order looked perfect and it was set to arrive the same week as the counter tops were due to be installed.  I planned to take that day off work to finish the butcher block while the other counter tops were being placed - it was going to be perfect!  I should have known it wouldn't work out that way.  When I checked the tracking information online, I found a note that the butcherblock delivery address was illegible and it was being returned to the MSC distribution center in Georgia after it had made it all the way to Kansas City.  Then I had to wait several days and make SEVERAL phone calls to get them to re-ship one to us.  It finally arrived and after a light sanding with ultrafine grit sandpaper, I sealed it up and it is beautiful!  We love it!

With that finished, we started digging out all the rest of the boxes of kitchen stuff that have been in storage for well over a year.  Our pie plates, cookie sheets, bread pans, cookie cutters and a host of other kitchen tools are all carefully stored away in the new kitchen cabinets now. 

Then it was time to get the last lighting circuit done (finally).  The dining room light was first.  We found this fixture at the Habitat Restore several months ago.  It reminds us of Jeremy's grandparents cabin light fixtures so it was a natural fit for our house.  With it complete, I turned to the other 2 light fixtures in the kitchen.  It took a bit of work to get all the wires run, boxes built and lights mounted, but the result is just what we wanted.

Out of all the rooms in the house, we put the most thought into the kitchen and it shows.  We spend most of our time at home in the kitchen - our lives revolve around food in so many ways that it is only natural for us to spend most of our waking hours doing some form of food work.  Despite having a very small house (less than 1000 sq feet all told), 6 people can work comfortably in our kitchen.  We're looking forward to it finally being the center of our lives again (instead of our lives revolving around building a house).

The list of things left to do before the house is completely finished is getting very short.  We need to get the oven vent hood installed, build the linen closet upstairs, install the cedar trim around the window and door wells downstairs, install the cedar chair rail in the living/dining room and do all the trim work downstairs.  Those aren't simple tasks, but given where we've come from it is a very manageable list of things to check off.  Jeremy is well into working on the cedar for the window and door wells.  Some of those boards may make their way into place this week even.  I am working on the plans for both the vent hood and the linen closet.  Its getting very close.

With the reduction in things still undone, our lives have continued returning to normal.  We put up the Christmas tree on time this year (the weekend after Thanksgiving).  We are making and decorating sugar cookies again this year.  It has been several years since we really did that for the holidays and it feels so good to bring back that holiday tradition.

As another bonus, now that we have finished more of the weather stripping around the doors and capped off all the input pipes around the foundation, our little house is staying nice and warm with just our little wood stove!