Tag Archives: Homestead

The world needs ditch diggers, too

If there were none, things like this would never get done.

Trench May 3 2010

The wild blackberries all over the property seem to be just fine with the clay, popping up wherever the birds happen to poop out the seeds from the berries they’ve eaten. This trench, and another one just like it, though, are for a batch of new canes we ordered: a thornless variety that we want to actively cultivate instead of passively collecting the wild berries wherever they happen to come up. After digging out the trench, I mixed up some soil and cow poop (composted, of course) and refilled the trench. The canes that had survived their long, drawn out visit in the garage, pending me getting around to them in the todo list. After discarding the ones not quite strong enough for the wait, I still wound up with a good number of canes.

Blackberries May 3 2010

With any luck, these will begin bearing next year.

And that knocks yet another item off my todo list.

How you bean?

Just fine, thanks.

Beans May 2 2010

Snap (green) beans, lima beans (ugh), and a test round of shelling peas. The latter are unlikely to make it, as today was yet another 90+ degree day., and the trend looks to be continuing through the week. I had originally intended these frames to hold the corn once more, and had carried each top frame up from the rear garden area. Luckily for me, I had not tied the frames together, because ultimately I decided to go ahead and put the beans in place. The day I had sown these seeds was one where we were supposed to have had rain that evening. The rain never materialized, and now the original drip lines look fairly tacky draped as they are across the top of a double frame where there is only a single frame in place. Eventually, I will double these. For now, though, I have to carry all of them back to the rear once more, where they can be used to build out more rows there for more planting – including another round of corn.

The herb garden is coming along. I had hoped to complete the work there today, but with only one of me, the brutal heat, and looking out over my little empire that actually pays the bills right now (and one day, hopefully, the ranch will start generating an income stream), I did not quite finish what I had planned. Still, I completed some things, and anything that gets us closer to the end of the job is better than nothing.

One of the things about working in such hideous heat conditions, at least for me, is that I really do not feel like eating at all when I’m hot – and sometimes, not even for quite awhile after I’ve cooled down. This afternoon, after finally calling it quits (temperature out front, according to my weather station: 94.8), I finally cooled down to the point where I realized I was very hungry. After casting about for ideas on having my sister bring something in for me, I further realized that in reality, while it may do in a pinch where I really don’t feel like cooking anything, the food out there is not only bad, nutritionally, but also crap. So I cooked.

Calzone May 2 2010
Calzone, anyone?

I finished almost the entire thing, a major accomplishment for me. Then, back to work, on the other business side of things, plugging away at trimming down the list of things to do there. It is not a bad routine, really, although there never seems to be enough time to make significant progress – there is no eureka moment, heralding a fantastic breakthrough that catapults things into a new realm. Instead, it is sticking with the things that need to be done, and doing the things I can to get them done, no matter what the conditions at which I might be looking.

And now, a picture of a pooped out puppy.

Einstein May 2 2010

That’s about how I feel at this point. And while I was typing this, that stupid SunnyD commercial came on – the one where Martina McBride is singing¬† those oh-so-difficult to remember lyrics: “Shine on.”

Tomorrow’s goals for outside: getting the trench dug out and refilled with dirt and compost and getting the thornless blackberry canes out there in the ground. Scoping out an area to dig holes for the buckets that will hold my horseradish roots. I did manage to cross off “cut the bottoms off the buckets” from my todo list one day last week, and I consider that progress. And then: moving dirt and poop around to fill frames. Among many other things.

Visualizing whirled peas

I pulled the peas today – both the sugar snaps and the snow peas.

Peas in the compost

It’s difficult to pull up plants that you’ve fed and watered and looked after and babied for months, but you do have to know when it is time (or past time) to take them out and send them on their way to completing the next cycle of what they provide beyond the food they give: compost. They had, as we say in the tech world, reached end of life.

We harvested and shelled quite a lot of peas from these plants, and those are all safely resting in the freezer, awaiting their turn in the pot on some future date.

Technically, by the calendar, it is still spring. Today, though, was what would be a typical summer day for us: hot, humid, and simply taking the step off the threshold and onto the porch was enough to draw the breath from your body involuntarily. Still, there is always work to do around the ranch. Today, that meant pulling the peas above and then beginning the second layer of framing on the frames where those peas had been. We have moved to double frames not only in the rear (now main) garden, but also in the very front garden, which at one time was in the rear of the property. After pulling the peas, and taking a break, I went back for round two, taking down the trellises and hauling lumber from the barn area, the sweat simply rolling down my entire body, from the top of my head to the sheen that covered my legs.

After one such trip in the middle of the afternoon, I thought for a few panicked moments that I was going to pass out or puke – or both – while toting an armful of lumber. This would not have been good, naturally, since the tiny bit of shade from the tree under which I was walking was beginning to shift as the sun sank off to the southwest, and I envisioned frying there in the sun, with no one else at home to wonder where I was after awhile. Luckily, I made it back to the house, managed to get some water, and had a seat, allowing the heat to fade.

After getting the roast I’d pulled out seared and into the oven for a braise, I headed back out into the heat to do the framing. The beauty of braising, like any other slow cooking, is that you can set it off, go do all the myriad other things that need to be done, and in the end, have a fantastic, and, in this case, hearty meal waiting to restore you.

Dinner May 1 2010

The nine frames topped off, it was time to move into the herb garden.¬† My goal was to complete this area today, but I found a visitor in the black plastic I had left out in the rain yesterday: a snake a few feet long, curled up in one of the rolls, who slithered back and forth through the pools of water on the plastic, preventing me from getting a good grip on him. I took one of the shovels and boosted him outside the fence, but unfortunately, he refused to take the hint, turning back at me and slithering right back through the fence, shaking his tail as if he had rattles and trying to show me poisonous fangs, dripping with venom that did not exist. While I knew he wasn’t poisonous, I also knew that if he latched on to my legs, or on to one of the dogs, it was going to be painful. He squirmed too much for me to get him on the shovel and carry him all the way across the property to a safer place for him to reside, so there was only one thing to do.

Snake May 1 2010

With the snake dispatched and thrown into the wilder underbrush area for nature’s cleanup crew to deal with, I moved some mulch and laid some plastic around the perimeter of the herb garden before calling it a day. According to the scale, I lost just under two pounds today, and I’m certain all the sweat I dripped all over the property accounted for that.

And now, I return to my todo list, which never seems to shrink, and plan my assault on filling the frames I topped today so cucumbers can be started where the peas once were. This is in addition to filling the last three 8 x 4 frames in the rear garden to finish off the sixth row so the next row can be started.

“Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson

The good ache, part two

When planning out the raised beds for the garden – since the soil is crap and will be for years while I work on it – we decided on 49 to 51 4×4 raised beds. Alone, that would be somewhere north of 800 square feet in planted beds just for things we intend to eat and provide to others.

That, my friends, is a lot of frames.

The frames themselves, though, are not the hard part. The hard part is filling them. Think about this: each frame is made of four foot sections of 1 x 6 x 8 lumber. Those of you who recall your volume measurement formulas can do the math. In our scenario, that equals 4 cu ft of peat moss, 50 pounds of chicken manure, 80 pounds of cow manure, and coarse vermiculite sufficient enough to give us the consistency we’re after – per two frames. That is quite a lot of mixing and more animal poo than most people will handle in their lifetime.

The other day, we went out and filled almost six frames (I say almost, as one of the vermiculite bags was fine rather than coarse, so the levels were a bit off).


A little out of alignment on the left, which will be fixed. The frames get knocked about a bit because of the weight of the dumping process. Which, by the way, means mixing half, dumping, mixing another half, dumping, and on and on. Heavy, sweaty, dirty work that leaves you sore and tired, but in the best possible way because you’ve spent some time working outside in the fresh air.


That streak on my right leg? Chicken poop, from a bag that got wet.

It’s also a lot of each part of the mix, given the rather largescale plans we have. That’s ok, though, because this particular backbreaking part only has to be done once unless we decide to move the frames around. I don’t think that’s in the plans for any time in the foreseeable future.

Last fall, I threw down some seeds from a butterfly/bee mix in an area around one of the hoses, just to have something in the ground when spring came. Winter was so mild, with only a couple of severe freezes, that we’ve had flowers almost all winter.

Pretty flowers

They’ve been maintenance-free, too, chugging along on their own with nothing special from us.


The good ache, part one

It had rained – a lot – but we had a break in the weather and it was time to do some layouts and cleanup, as well as check the progress of some of the things growing out in the beds.

Carrot tops are popping up, and the carrots will probably be ready to pull next month.


The garlic continues to look robust, but I’m worried about it rotting in the ground because the rains decide to come in huge storms that dump a couple of inches at a time rather than something a bit more gentle.


We managed to get a small burn pile going even though things were still fairly wet.


Some prep on the ground and the layout of (some) of the frames.


In the foreground by the chair is a frame with snow peas, thyme, rosemary, and catnip, along with another round of carrots. The snow peas are erupting and since we know how quickly they can get out of hand, my goal in the next day or so is to get the trellis in place. Shortly after we wrapped up for the day, the weather turned stormy once more, with another three and a half inches of rain before it subsided. Nice for our water shortage around here, but not so good for the remaining areas on the property that need to be filled and leveled.

Tastes like chicken

Mickey thinks so, anyway.

Tastes like chicken

The thing about chickens is that really (from a pet standpoint), they simply aren’t all that bright. Which is fine, really, when you think about it. They’re not like dogs, who need and crave attention, and not like cats with their “One day we will take over this planet, as soon as we hit our quota of naps.” mentality. No, chickens – or chicks in this case – spend much of their time peeping and cheeping, pecking away at anything that looks like food, sleeping, and pooping. Eventually, they’ll earn their keep by paying for their room and board in eggs. When Heather and Michael brought over our three on Saturday, a small moth got into the house and was flittering around, to and fro. He made the mistake of getting into the box where we’re holding the chicks until they are old enough to go outside. I waved it over toward the watering dish, and when it alit, one of the chicks snatched it and gobbled it down. Nifty. I can’t wait for them to be outside putting a hurt on the grasshopper population. They also got one worm apiece from our composting batch, but that’s it for those worms. Their future treats will be from the bait shop.

And when I said they weren’t particularly bright, I meant it. This, after all, is not what is generally thought of as chicken feed. But I suppose someone has to be the nonconformist.

Chicken feed

Dining on the terrace

The first in a series of reposts, now that the technical issues have been handled. Nothing like trying to recreate whatever was in your head at the time you wrote something.

We’re in the kitchen, hanging out, talking, probably cooking, and mom says, “What’s that?”, pointing out toward the road. “Is that the big black dog taking a dump?”

I looked, and surely enough, a huge black shape is doing something out there. Then, suddenly, there were two. “Not a dog,” I said, and grabbed my camera for some long range shots to see what was going on.


Ah, buzzards. Part of nature’s cleanup crew. We couldn’t quite make out what it was they were eating, so I walked out to the road. They promptly showed their displeasure with me for interrupting their lunch.


Since they’d cleared out, it gave me a chance to see what they were eating.


Rabbit. Hopefully one that was munching through my garden beds not too long ago. Curiosity satisfied, I left them to finish.

Eat up

Life in the country.

Surivival of the seedlings

That might make a good title for a b-grade horror/sci-fi flick.

The seed flats that were blown over and crashed on the ground appear to be surviving, and even thriving. I did not get any photos today since I spent the bulk of the early part of the day in bed wishing away the nastiness that has infected me. Tomorrow, though, some pictures and hopes of sorting out what is where in one seed flat, given that my layout doesn’t match any longer. It wouldn’t be bad to be surprised by any or all of it, but it would help to know what’s what when we prep them to move to the frames. Also on th list: order more chicken and worm poop – our worms are about ready for their next tray, it seems, so eventually, we should be self-sufficient on that. I’m not sure how much poop three chickens will put out, but whatever they give will be cured and then added to the outside compost pile to add to the party. Heather tells us that our chicks will be ready probably the first week o March – only a couple of weeks away, so we need to get cracking (ha – get it?) on a coop for those critters.

Signs of life

Spring has sprung. Maybe not by the calendar, but there are signs. Tiny signs. Portents of things to come.

Broccoli, starting.


A cuke (Beth Alpha), trying to unfold.

Beth Alpha cuke

I have a quarter flat started with sungold tomatoes, and the rest with other tomatoes, peppers, other cukes, and so on and on and on. I’m hoping that this week we’ll be able to get the mixes going and get some other frames in place. People like to remind us that it’s only February, and to that I say: it’s spring. Must be. Has to be.

Shake it up, baby

What do you do with extra heavy cream that you happen to have on hand?

Shake it.

Butter, step one

Then pour off.


Shake and pour.

Butter, step three


Butter, step 4

Until you can’t shake no more.

Butter, step five

Pack it in, salt it down, chill it out. It’s butter, baby!

Butter, yay

For extra amusement, measure the length of your arm in Cheetos.