Sunday, February 20, 2011

As Big As Your Head

We've really been enjoying our pork from the pigs we raised. The other night we had breakfast for dinner with eggs from our hens and ham from our pig. The ham steaks were packaged two to a package and when I went to defrost them to fry up for the first time, the steaks were bigger than my plate!


Birds, Bees, Bunnies and Blooms

We got outside yesterday and took advantage of the nice February weather to turn the garden beds and try to prep them for spring planting. Bryon had planted some rye grass last fall and we let it grow all winter to make a green manure

He tried using our little tiller attachment on the weed eater which usually works great in our raised beds, but the roots were too dense so he had to go old school and do it with a shovel. I only did one little bed myself and it was a bitch! I went in and took some Tylenol because I knew my back was going to hurt. Gardening is hard work!

Today, it all looks great and my back feels fine. Guess I could have worked a little harder after all :)

I worked in our little greenhouse organizing and cleaning and tried planting some of the saved lettuce seed I collected from last year's crop. Unless I just didn't do it correctly, it was a mess. I don't know how they collect lettuce seed commercially because it's such tiny seed but my way was to let the flowered heads dry out and then try to break them apart into a box or bag. It's nearly impossible and I had so much chaff mixed in I don't know if anything will grow from what I sowed or not.

I guess I need a teeny tiny thresher or something.

I also had some heirloom tomato seeds from 2009 that I had saved so I started them. I have no idea what kind of tomatoes though. I guess if they come up they'll just be surprise tomatoes.

Every year I start out so nice an organized and somehow by the middle of the season it all falls to hell and I have no idea what is where. Last year I used plastic forks for markers (ingenious I thought) and wrote on the handles with a sharpie what each plant was, stuck the fork beside it and figured I was good. Then the writing wore off... completely. More mystery crops.

Sure you can tell a tomato from a pepper from a potato, but I wanted to know what kind of tomato, pepper and potato it was.

Organization foiled.

Another year I used wooden craft sticks. Same problem.

I guess I'm just destined to organizational failure as far as identification goes. I would have made a poor botanist.

I had to make a note on the bar, along with my chicken note, bunny note, etc so I wouldn't forget to check on my plants out there every day along with the other things we try to keep alive. If it's not on a note somewhere, it's not going to happen.

We finally killed one of the mean roosters. My poor little hens are just beat up from the constant humping. At least they'll have to endure half as much now. Maybe some of their feathers will grow back in.

Bryon skinned him (no easy task, he was a tough bird!) and I cooked him up in the crock pot last night. We'll probably eat him this evening. His dark meet was incredibly dark which turns me off. I like the white meat. I won't be raising any of these Buckeye's for meat birds now.

The longer I have these heirloom Buckeyes, the more I appreciate my first barnyard mix of hens. Those girls were good layers, used the nesting boxes and were friendly and good natured. Of course I didn't have a rooster with them but these Buckeyes won't lay an egg in the nesting boxes for anything and as a result they get the eggs really dirty with poop. Some veteran farmers say clean them off and eat them, others say throw them out. I've done some of both but really I would just like clean eggs so I didn't have to worry about it.

I am about ready to just forget about having a rooster and buy a few new chicks from Orchelin's and go back to what was working for me. Sometimes new (or in this case heirloom) may not be better. At least not for me.

My bees have been buzzing around like crazy. I was worried about them because last fall when I went out to check on them to see if there was any honey, it didn't appear as if they had been doing much of anything. I didn't really think they had enough honey to get through the winter. I have been seeing a bunch of bees around and on the front of the hive but I was afraid that maybe they were just robbing my hive. Now I am pretty sure they are still in residence so I've been feeding them again. I don't want to use any chemicals on them anymore so last year before I got this batch of bees I stripped out all the comb and redid everything and basically put them in there and let them fend for themselves.

So I'm not going to be surprised if they die out, but you know, bees have been surviving a long time before we started "keeping" them. I think they just need to learn to be bees again and devolve a little. I think it would help if everyone wasn't spraying so much poison on everything and they weren't pollinating a bunch of genetically modified crops but that's a whole other post.

The bunnies are still busy making garden manure. No surprises since they got separated. I know Cocoa (the girl) is happier.

So now, we just have to wait for warmer days until things get into full swing.

This could be the best farm year so far... ever hopeful ;)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

Last Saturday, we took advantage of a 60 plus degree day to cut some wood.

Our neighbor let us borrow his most awesome gas powered wood splitter and we all worked out there all day. I put one status update on Facebook and we got it all sold in no time at all and they all said they'd take more if we could get it cut. 

Ever since the big ice storm of 2007 (remember that?) not only have we tried to plan ahead and prepare ala survivalist mode to be able to endure the next 12 days we have to spend trapped at home without electricity but we have also been wanting to clean up some of the downed and hinged trees around our woods. Bryon had also invited a forester out to target and mark trees that should come down to enhance the health of our little woods.

Unfortunately we don't burn wood, which I have argued with Bryon makes no sense considering we are surrounded by twenty acres of trees, but he doesn't want to be a slave to cutting wood when he's seventy. I guess that makes some sense. We do have a pellet stove that heats our entire downstairs very comfortably. Of course it eats wood but in the pellet form, which has to be purchased. We've already gone through two tons of pellets this year and at $4 bucks a bag that adds up pretty fast.

We burn about a bag a day when it's really cold out. The good news is we know exactly how much it's costing to stay warm each day, the bad news is, when we run out we can practically hear the dollar signs cha-chinging as our electric heat pumps take over.

All electric seemed like such a good idea prior to that ice storm.

The first seven years of our marriage, wood was our only form of heat. That and a king sized water bed which was quite toasty thank you very much. Right up until the day it started leaking and had to be replaced at 6 am one morning. Bryon says I don't remember what a hassle it was to have to feed the beast every day, the smell, the mess. He's probably right but the self preservationist in me still thinks it couldn't hurt to have a plan C.

While I work on wearing him down on the wood stove front, I suppose if we could sell enough of our own wood each year to pay for our pellet addiction, that would sort of be a wash. Of course that's assuming the power stays on. God I love the grid.

I used to have delusions of living off the grid ala Amish without all the pesky "rules" right up until day three of that storm in 2007. Now I just want to be ready to compensate when it happens again.

This past week, I really thought we might get to implement some of our preparation strategies with the "storm of the century" and the supposed two feet of snow we were going to get. I spent the week in Rolla where we got 1-2 inches of sleet and 1-2 inches of snow. No big thing.

I did fill my hotel bathtub with water so I could flush my toilet, bought the last hand cranked Coleman Max lantern/radio/cell phone charger from Walmart and had some snacks and water ready just in case. Survival ala the Hampton Inn ;)

Bryon was ready on the home front too. Thankfully he and Grace only had about six inches of snow from the "storm of the century" at our house. My Mom and Dad in Bolivar got to enjoy the whole enchilada with 18 inches plus. Still, the power did stay on all around so that's a good thing.

Soon after the 2007 storm we had a transfer switch installed so we could hook up our little generator to it without having to run extension cords all over creation and listening to the dang thing run all night. Bryon even poured a concrete pad for it and built a little hut over it to protect it from the elements when it is out there. Now at least we can turn on our water pump every so often or run our pellet stove fan, a few lights, alternately our fridge and freezer and finally our tv. You can only take so much together time without news and entertainment let me tell you.

Seems like no matter how much we plan ahead though, we don't remember everything. Bryon thought too late this time to check our kerosene supply for our little heater that can go to the barn to keep the pipes out there from freezing and when he stopped by to fill it in Niangua they were already out. He heard the lines at the one station in Marshfield were crazy long so he just didn't fill it up. Turned out we didn't need it but I guess it goes to show you just aren't ever as prepared as you thought you were.

Bryon just bought a new chainsaw, his first new saw ever and only the second one he's owned in 25 years. I hope this one lasts 25 years. One more cord of wood and it will be paid for and then it's pellet profits all the way.

I'm a little less enthusiastic about the whole wood thing now only seven days later because I am covered in poison ivy (yes you can get it in the winter if you are allergic to it and I am). I had a long sleeved shirt on but apparently that wasn't enough.

Again, just when you think you are prepared there always seems to be something waiting to prove you wrong.

Just wait until next time, then I will ....

Preservation Mode

We've been in preservation mode for the past few months out here on the Medley Farm.  We had been waiting for the other shoe to drop since last January with Bryon's job and after a year of turmoil  and uncertainty, it finally came to a resolution on Dec. 6, 2010. Luckily, we had savings, no debt other than our mortgage and good friends, church and family ready to come to our aid if necessary. 

Even though we don't have much debt, just your regular bills sure add up more than you may think. We started looking at our spending last year and I was disgusted at how much we were spending on eating out and groceries/household stuff. The first month I tracked it, was last February and that month we spent $1,500 on groceries/personal/household stuff ... basically Walmart and the grocery stores and $466 on eating out. This December we spent $210 on groceries/personal/household stuff and $150 on eating out. Of course I put Christmas stuff in another category and some food was included in it ($559 total). Still, we are down to half or a third of what we were spending. We cut back where we could and made do for a while. Still can't continue to do all of that indefinitely on just my income. It's true I guess that you spend what you have.

The great news is that after only a two month search, Bryon starts at St. John's in Lebanon on Monday morning for orientation and what looks like to be about 30 hours a week and eventually full time. He is also planning to work for CMH in Bolivar part time as well. How it has come about has been a real blessing. He (and many others have been praying for the right work to come his way) and he had sent his resume out to St. John's as in early December, knowing there were no posted positions open but hoping to pave the way if/when something did become available. Lebanon is 30 minutes round trip closer than Springfield for him and only 15 minutes away from Bennett Springs (yep, trout fishing is an unexpected after work perk!).

One day just after the first of the year when he had applied for every conceivable and a few unconceivable positions he just hopped in the car and decided to do a pop-in at Lebanon. He walked around the hospital and then the department for a bit to get the feel of the place and thought then that this was a place he would like to work. It just felt more comfortable and friendly than the place from which he had spent the last 18 years. 

He asked if the Director was available to chat. She was. And as soon as he walked in the door and introduced himself, she asked if his ears had been burning because they had been talking about him all week. Bryon had been praying for a clear and obvious sign (which of course most of us mere mortals rarely get right?). The next thing she said to him was that, "Jesus must have sent you through my door today because you seem to have everything we need."

Well you don't have to be Bill Engvall to know that "Here's your sign". 

Things just got better and better from there and it looks as though they'll be able to give him about 30 hours a week to start and full-time soon. They already appreciate his personality, his attitude and his abilities and they haven't even spent a full day with him yet. The Director called when she said she would call and has just been a real blessing already. She knows he's trying to piece together full time and made him promise that if he got another full time offer to let her know because she doesn't want to lose him.
Okay then. That's different. 

To celebrate we turned our Directv back on and ate breakfast at Freda's this morning. We plan to stay on the frugal bandwagon and work on paying down our mortgage but it looks as though the biggest stress is lifting. 

After spending a five days and four nights in Rolla this week for the university blood drive and eating out every dang meal (I do get to expense that) I realized that taking my lunch nearly everyday for the past couple of months was actually pretty nice. At first it was a big pain, but now I am really appreciating it more not only for the $40 a week I save but for the leftovers I've been eating. 

I think it's been good for us overall to have this experience. Bryon is out of a toxic situation and we've had an opportunity to reprioritize a few things that otherwise we might never have changed. 

I just hope we can continue to remember and live by these lessons as things get back to "normal". Whatever that is.

Life is good.