Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 7-17

Good Morning!
Another week of summer has slipped by in a blur of picking, planting and processing…the sameness of the season.

green beans for Winter
We picked at least one hundred pounds of green beans this week! 

We haven’t had such an abundance of green beans in years.

 But, this planting is just about finished. (yay…those long rows are murderous on one’s back) It’s time to bush-hog those beans and plant the fall ‘taters.  

Not to worry about a shortage of green beans, though. There are itty, bitty beans that should be ready for next Saturday’s Market.

We plan on getting the potatoes in the ground by mid-week so they will be ready for harvest in October. Those will carry us (and our customers) through the Winter.

And, if you were wondering…nope, still haven’t gotten all the Spring-planted potatoes harvested. There just aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes. But, it won’t hurt them to stay in the ground a while longer.

But, the real news this week is that we finally got something that I have wanted for a long, long time. And, when I tell you what it is, you will realize just how “different” I really am.

The acquisition that made my week? 

A creep feeder.
I am all kinds of excited about this purchase!

I’ve been wanting another creep feeder for quite some time, but both the budget and availability were working against me. It can be difficult to find equipment that’s small enough for our operation and can be used for sheep. And, well, I guess the whole budget thing needs no explaining…

A creep feeder allows the smaller animals (in our case the lambs) constant access to grain. This produces a great growth rate during those first couple of months in the early Spring since they don’t have to battle with the ewes for food. Once they get some size to them and the grass is growing well, we stop using the creep feeder and just call them in for feed twice a day. The continued feeding assures that they are getting essential nutrients and allows us to monitor for flock health. But, by cutting down on constant access, we also cut down on the feed bill.

With an eye to growing more lambs for 2017, we needed more feeder space. So, I was thrilled when the feed store started stocking feeders. However, feeders don’t come cheap. And I had to convince the Boss of our need…

But, finally everything worked together and Valley Feed dropped off my new feeder on Monday morning. THANKS Y’ALL! Now, to get the barn rearranged and the feeder in place. Because it really isn't going to work sitting out there in front of the barn.  

With the new ewes and the new feeder, we are poised to have what promises to be our biggest lambing season ever. And, it's just two weeks until we will begin working on the lambchop crop of 2017. Or, I should say Angus will begin working… (if he only knew what was ahead!)

This week was also another “week of the chicken”. 
getting ready to process broilers

scalding the first bird

chicken FEET

catching broilers to move outside

broilers in pasture pen

thirsty broiler baby

Once a month, it seems like everything revolves around the broilers as we process broilers, move broilers and receive broilers. The whole process went pretty smoothly this month. The scalder didn’t catch fire (like last month) and it didn’t take five hours for the chicks to arrive from town (that happened in March). AND, we added chicken feet to our product line. I don’t think that’s something I want to try, personally…but, in the spirit of “give the customer what they want…” we’ll give it a go. (and we have already sold some)

Saturday’s Market was amazing. Again. 

I never expected to see a Scarlet Macaw at the Market!
This is "Nutty"
(I don't know if he/she was looking for tomatoes)
But, EVERYONE is looking for tomatoes. And, all I can say is…ME, TOO! From what I’ve heard, this year is not going to be an outstanding tomato year. 

Everyone who grows field tomatoes has some sort of tale of woe. But, as long as we get tomatoes…
there actually are tomatoes coming along...

One of the local ladies told me a story of Mbrk’s “tomato-less” summer back in the day. They planted over and over, but the weather just didn’t cooperate. (something about frost in JUNE) And, then pest or disease affected the rest of the crop. Now this occurred at least 50 years ago, but the memory still lingers. (here’s hoping history does not repeat itself!)

it didn't take much convincing to get the lambs to head to the barn
As choretime approached, so did a thunderstorm. the race was neck and neck, but we got inside just before the downpour began. We didn’t get a lot of rain, but there was flooding in the north end of the county. It always amazes me how different the weather can be nearby.

And, that was it. Another week for the history books.

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Fresh Grass!
That's how the ewes have a "happy Sunday"!

Thanks for stopping by! Come back and “visit” again real soon.

Visit the Market virtually HERE.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Makin' Diamonds out of Dust

Look around.

20 years ago this was nothing but a barren, windswept hill.

house site March '97

At some point sheep had grazed here. I know this because we found a bleached skeleton when we laid out the house site. That didn’t seem like a very good omen, I must say…

middle and upper gardens 1999

Other than the perimeter fence, there was no evidence of any human activity. None.

And, I don’t rightly know what made us decide that this was the place we could put down roots.
Wait. Yes, I do. It was desperation. Desperation tempered with more than a little determination.

Desperation to re-claim our lives and re-create stability for our young daughters that had been lost in a single moment in an onslaught we still didn’t understand. And, determination to make the best of the awful situation. We would start over. We would go on. We would make this new reality work.

“Learned from the will of the working man
Breaking hard ground for a piece of land
Up before the sun and down before the rising moon
Oh, fought for the things that were never yours
Settle for less and hope for more
God and pouring rain never come too soon”

Our arrival in the Valley didn’t work out like anyone had envisioned.

When we found this spot, we were hurt and confused and more than a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices that were in front of us. The great unknown was looming large again and I don’t know what may have happened if we hadn’t seen the potential of this empty, rocky hill on the outskirts of the village. In many ways it would have been so much easier to have found a way to go “back home” and our old life. But, that wasn't an option…

We didn’t ever intend to be pioneers. To set out into the great unknown with no plan, to a place we knew nothing about, to make our way alone. We have never been trend-setters or “cutting edge” in any way.  But, that is exactly what we became. We’ve carved a living out here on our little hill, teaching ourselves how to manage and market as we went along. We’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve learned a lot as well.

“Nothing comes easy when nothing is handed to you
Taught yourself how to turn the tides
Walk ashore before the waters rise
Even when you're down, you're still coming through”

We made something from nothing, building a business doing something many said couldn’t be done…without outside help…absolutely no financing, funding or support from family and friends "back home".  There were no cellphones for texting nor smartphones for internet searches. Google, Youtube and GoFundMe had yet to be invented…

Everything we have is a direct result of our own hard labor.

I’m incredibly proud of that fact.

my favorite photo of our homestead 1998

Now, before one of my daughters takes me to task for overlooking their contributions---they worked right along with us, learning incredible life lessons and more than a few useful skills. And, we’re both proud and impressed at their achievements as well.

“Live and die by the chance we're taking,
Money don't buy the life that we're making!”

Today marks the anniversary of our habitation of the hill. And, when we mark anniversaries…this is a big one.
July 1997-construction completed
(same view as opening shot)

This is when this place became HOME.

Nineteen years ago today, construction was completed and the occupancy permit filed.


For the 121 days prior, construction had been an all-consuming venture, fraught with “learning experiences” that tried my battered faith, stretched the budget and tested the Boss’ construction skills.
working on the house - June 97

I’m here to tell you, new home construction is a test of a marriage if there ever was one. Believe me, with all the other stressors in our lives at the time, the fact that our relationship survived intact is nothing short of a miracle.

But, on July 14, 1997, the house was done!

The inspector signed off. The contractor pocketed his last check. We gathered our essential belongings from our temporary housing, raced a thunderstorm across the county and got back in the house before the first raindrop fell.

Somehow, I thought that life would return to “normal” at this point. I don’t know why. We had been through a life-changing event. (honestly, more than one) Commonsense would tell you that by the mere use of the term that I had accepted that things would never be the same. Ever.
laying out first garden
mid-season garden '97
lower garden and hoophouses 2015

In retrospect, I wasn’t looking for normal as much as predictable, calm, safe…stable. That was not to be, either. I don’t know if anyone gets the privilege of a safe and predictable life. But, you certainly don’t when you start over again from scratch.

That’s the hardest thing about being a trailblazer, a pioneer. No one can tell you if you’re doing it right. Nobody can assure you that if you get past this hurdle (whatever this might be) that you will make it.

But, we did. Little by little. One thing at a time…

When you look around today, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when this was nothing. Nothing but a windswept hillside.

view from "front yard" 1997
front yard sunrise 2016

We could have quit. I know we thought about it. We could have just given up and attempted to return to some semblance of our old life. However, the old adage, “You can’t go home again” is true. Even if it seems like the old way was better and more comfortable, it just doesn’t work. It can’t. It might sound redundant, but EVERYTHING changes in a life-changing event. Everything.

But, we didn’t give up.  

We chose to go on. One step at a time, giving it our all and celebrating the little victories and the milestones along the way…day by day, season by season...doing the best we could with what little we had.

building the barn

building the first greenhouse

new sink in the processing shed

Nineteen years later…we’ve weathered the storms, faced the challenges, adjusted, adapted and I feel it safe to say that we are indeed successful. We continue to do it all on our own…no debts or loans…and I still have no idea how to go about even getting a subsidy or writing a grant…(nor do I care to)

I once read that diamonds are simply charcoal under pressure. While I realize that this probably isn’t even true, I like the mental picture.  The pressures and stresses that we’ve endured have given us a greater appreciation of the value of our life here on the hill...and I guess we can claim that we were indeed “Making diamonds out of dust” We’ve managed to take what little we had and turn it into a life that is both pleasant and productive.

I have no idea what the future holds. (and, honestly, that’s just a little scary) Because while this place grants us the ability to eat amazing food, feel productive in the work we do and live in beautiful surroundings…there is NO retirement plan. None. And, as our creaky knees and achy backs will attest…we “ain’t gettin’ any younger”.

So, we’ll just keep doin’ what we do for as long as we can do it, I reckon.

 “Never by the book, always underestimated

It’s hard to believe the life that you’ve created


The impossible endeavor, never would you trade

It’s a legacy that you’ll take to the grave…”

“self made” – little big town

Happy Anniversary little homestead on the hill. Here's to another 19 least!

Home Sweet Home

Title and Lyrics from Little Big Town’s SELF-MADE  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 7-10

This week was all about the unexpected.

this soggy daylily was the only bright spot on Monday
Monday was an unexpected wash-out. And, I do mean wash-out. Some localities saw inches and inches of rain and flooding was an issue again. Here on the hill it was just grey and soggy…and the ‘tater diggin’ job got postponed indefinitely.
the grass is amazing for this time of year
because of all the moisture

The excess moisture and the heat are beginning to cause real issues. We have yet to harvest the first tomato and we are already seeing blight in the tomato plants. The Boss treated all the plants with copper sulfate and that should keep the disease somewhat under control so we can actually have a harvest. The blight doesn’t affect the fruit per se, but it does cause the plants to drop lots of leaves and that weakens the plants and makes the fruit susceptible to scald. (that's like sunburn...and it causes the fruit to rot easily) We will have to continue to monitor (and treat the plants if necessary) to keep the plants as healthy as possible for the rest of the season. Some research may be in order.

 Every year we try something new to improve our growing practices and productivity.

tiny cuke on the trellis
This year is no exception and we are training the cucumbers up on trellises in order to avoid the issues that hard, heavy rains and excess moisture cause when the plants are allowed to spread out over the ground. While setting up the trellis and training the plants add a fair amount of work to the crop, we can cut down on the number of lost cucumbers…those affected by disease and those overlooked when the plants spread beyond their boundaries. This was the first week of cucumber harvest and they are looking beautiful!
beautiful cucumber

While lots of things are doing great, the peaches are not.
this is SO sad!

The entire Valley is going to have a peach shortage due to the unseasonably cold weather early this year. That will mean a big loss to the local economy. Personally, I had great hopes that we would have something to harvest (I was going to be happy with just one pie). However, it doesn’t look like that will happen, either. The hard rains followed by hot, hot weather damaged the nearly ripe fruit, making the fruit the perfect feast for the Japanese beetles. Bummer!

And, then there are the shallots and onions...

When you see “flowers” on the allium family, it is not a good thing. This seedstalk forms a hard center of the onions and renders them virtually unusable. I’m not real sure why this happened. I would say weather…but, all the onions didn’t do it. And a couple varieties were worse than others. So, I’m stymied.

Now, you understand the thinking behind the expression…”there’s always next year!”

the flowers do make for good photos

But, in keeping with our theme of the unexpected…

There is no way I could have expected the Boss to tell me that there was a kitten under the henhouse. Seeing a rat would be expected. (they hang out and eat spilled feed and cracked eggs) but, how a kitten (a fairly small kitten) managed to get here at all is somewhat unbelievable. In addition to the distance, there is electric fence around the chicken run and the dogs generally eat any small creatures that wander into the yard.

But, there it was, mewing away underneath the henhouse, its little pink tongue showing with each complaint. The hens didn’t bother it, but it certainly couldn't stay in the chicken pen.

Eventually, hunger won out and it took its place at the feeder, eating layer pellets like that is what nature intended tiny kitties to eat.

It wasn’t difficult to catch it. I had a few false attempts with the “chicken catching net” before I baited the rat trap with cat food.

I’m pretty sure that the Boss never expected to end up with a kitten when he told me years ago that I could keep a cat if it showed up here on the hill. That’s how we got “miss kitty”. Did you read THIS? 
no longer a resident of the henhouse
Remy is my new office "helper"

But…like I said…the week was all about the un-expected!

Some of the unexpected wasn’t so good. As a matter of fact, it was really bad. During Friday morning chores, I noted that one of the lambs was acting oddly. She showed signs of parasitic overload and we were due to administer de-wormer soon. (we had planned on the first of the week) Since we were in the midst of harvest day, we decided to wait to work the lambs until afternoon. That, however, was too late. By the time we went to round up the lambs right after lunch…she was gone. In just a few short hours, she lost the fight and died.  We rounded up the rest of the lambs, administered the de-wormer and as of right now…everyone else is fine. So much for our spotless shepherding record for this year. I hate to have losses, but they go with the job.

green beans by the handful
On a happier note, the green bean crop is amazing! By the time we picked 80#, we decided to leave the rest for later (we need to do some canning for ourselves for winter). We never expected to sell anywhere near that many anyway…then, again…that’s been the theme this week.

one of these days I'll get a better shot...

Saturday’s market was crazy busy. We had another great sales day. It certainly took long enough to get things rolling this year, but, we’re going now. Here's the link to this week's photos.

It looks like we’re going to spend part of the day in the bean patch. And, then part of the day sitting on the front porch…snapping beans for canning. While it seems hard to believe right now, Winter will be here before you know it!

Thanks for stopping by!

I hope you’re having a Happy Sunday!

Come back and “visit” us again real soon.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sunday Walkabout 7-3

Yep...she's going to fit right in!
Here it is…Sunday again.

Another week has simply flown by!

(and I wasn’t even aware that we were having that much fun)

Last week I alluded to the fact that much of our life is the same thing over and over again. In reality a lot of living is repetitious and that’s perfectly understandable and acceptable. The sameness and routine are both comforting and necessary. It can be a challenge to keep it interesting, though. All that to say, there is a lot of routine stuff that must happen that never makes it to a blog post. (because do you really want to read “we did chores…again” FOURTEEN times in every post?) But, you must realize that lots of other work goes on around here on a routine basis.

This week we hit the perfect combination of dry weather and kids’ work schedules to get the last load of hay. Thanks to Toughchick, the Man, and Blondie the barn is packed to the rafters with hay. Thanks, y'all! I can honestly say we have never had this much hay in the barn this time of year before.  I hesitate to state that we’re ready for winter…but, we do have plenty of hay. (and there’s a wagonload sitting in storage in the hay guy’s barn)
the only hay helpers who didn't balk at having their photo taken

Wednesday was a very busy day.

As the calendar will attest, time is indeed marching on. It was time to get the last of the brassicas picked so the Boss could get that garden ready for the fall potato crop. Since we had already harvested close to 400 pounds of broccoli, nearly 70 pounds of cauliflower and countless cabbages, I figured I could get it done in short order. (Only to find I seriously need to work on my job estimation skills).

last cabbage
Because not only did I harvest about twenty pounds of “baby broccoli”, there were at least the same number of cabbages and one enormous cauliflower that I had somehow previously overlooked. Then, the harvest needed to be cleaned up and placed in cold storage for sale. And, I hauled all the waste and scraps to the hens, who enjoyed them immensely.

"baby broccoli"
the little florets that form after the main head is cut

Two hours later, I was finally finishing up.

And, I hadn’t even planned on that job. Yep, pretty much the story of my life most days…

hoophouse ready for replanting

I eventually got to the hoophouse to get some major planting done and the Boss hooked up the bush-hog in order to clear out the old broccoli plants. By bush-hogging the plants, we add organic matter to the soil, building the nutritive value for the next crop. On the down-side, the entire farm smells like a gigantic pot of kimchi as the plants wilt in the hot summer sun.

bush hogging broccoli garden

mowed brassicas

two days later

With that project completed, he turned his attention to burning the pile of stuff that had accumulated between the gardens. While it was just tree trimmings and spent plants, it had become quite an eyesore. And, the Boss does love a good bonfire. Things are looking much tidier around here now.

burning brush
...and dang, we're all out of marshmallows!

In a nod to the unusual, we headed off to a nearby farm after supper to look at lambs. I say unusual, because it is rare that we head anywhere after supper. The kids laugh at us for being like chickens.  They say that when evening starts to come, we are inclined to “tuck our heads under our wings and call it a night”. And, I won’t argue with that one. I've never been a nightowl and neither has the Boss, so early nights are fine by me.

But, that’s what was going to work for the other fella, so off we went. As we drove, we talked about the beautiful light and how we live in such a beautiful place…

Mbrk Road on a June evening

when all of a sudden, the Boss let out this weird exclamation. I looked over to see what had happened, and there was a bird…sitting, rather dazed and confused on the seat of the truck.

our little "passenger"

Apparently, it had hit the Boss’ arm as he indicated something on the horizon. It didn’t seem injured, so I put it out the open window on the other side…hoping it took my advice to “fly and be free”. But, that was weird! I don’t know how many miles we’ve driven through the countryside with the windows opened over the years and we have never had that experience before.

"shopping" at Suffangus Farm
The rest of our much-anticipated “lamb shopping” trip went off without a hitch. We picked up two pretty little ewe lambs that will join the ewe flock in the fall and hopefully produce some great lambchops for next year. (just to be perfectly clear here—these girls are for breeding, NOT for eating)
new ewe lambs

moving to the barn

checking out the new girls
Meet "Clarice" and "Felicity"

This season we will have twenty ewes to breed. While I know this doesn’t sound impressive, I am excited that we have finally reached my goal. I can’t wait to see what kind of lambchop crop we get out of this group of ewes. Since demand for lamb is at an all-time high, we are hoping that our increased numbers will mean that we won’t run out of inventory in the future. And, lambing season should be interesting to say the least.

And, I guess someone should tell Angus that we’re less than a month away from breeding season. (pretty sure that will make his day)

Before we knew it, it was time to harvest again.

picking beans
We picked the first green beans of the season. While I feel safe in saying we both count green beans among our favorites, and there is no denying that they are immensely popular at the Market, picking them is NOT our favorite job. Make that, it’s not my back’s favorite job. This post will tell you a little more about picking beans.  One of our Market friends told about his unusual method for picking beans. I kind of hope we get a chance to try it because I’m pretty sure it will make a great (and amusing) blog post.

The potato crop is looking pretty amazing. (and we sold every single potato on Saturday)

fortunately the Colorado Potato Beetles don't eat the tubers

harvest begins
 The first peppers are ripening.

And, we finally started harvesting the big, sweet onions that I started from seed last summer. They are beautiful as well as tasty. I'm claiming success on that experiment!

But, we are still waiting on the squash and cucumbers…and the tomatoes…

Market was incredibly busy. We ran out of a lot of things early in the morning. That is always a good news/bad news sort of thing. All in all, we ended up with a fairly impressive total and most of the broccoli ended up in someone else’s refrigerator. (that is definitely a plus)
those beans didn't last too long...

As our customers headed off to enjoy a three-day weekend, we are scanning the weather forecast hoping that the 4th of July will be dry. Not because we have picnic plans or want to set off fireworks, but, because the early potato crop needs to come out of the ground, the next planting of squash and cukes need to go in and there are at least fifteen other odd jobs that need our attention…

But, for right now, I’m heading to the barn to formalize the lamb introductions and start another day on the hill.

I hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 


Thanks for stopping by…come back and “visit” real soon.