Friday, February 26, 2010

A Mish Mash of Thoughts

In order of importance:

Here are a few things I wanted input from readers/friends on. First, we've thrown out the idea of having gatherings every 4 months to try to do some of the bigger projects around the farm. These would most likely be long weekend type gatherings, but if two or more people wanted to come for longer, as long as a week, we could bang out some big stuff and have fun at the same time. The rough model would be April/May, August/September, and then December/January (not much work was done this Dec/Jan, but the bit we did was super helpful.) These don't have to be big ragers with 20 people, even 2-4 extra folks makes a big difference so while it'd be awesome if you came to all three anything would be a big help and greatly appreciated. We'd feed you if you worked hard enough, all you'd have to do is get here. That being said, are there any dates around those periods that are blatantly silly or blatantly good? Like I figure a lot of people have plans on Christmas or Easter, and maybe a lot of people have schedules similar to school systems or colleges where they appreciate a spring break or something. Just throwing it out there, leave your thoughts in the comments. In case you're wondering, here's a short list of projects that could be completed with groups, just to name a few:

Clean out hay loft
Weatherproof lower barn
Build fences (over a mile of them)
Clean up landscape around the house
Clean out hand house
Clean out basement
Gardening stuff
New roof for house and barn
paint house and barn
Demo and redrywall first floor of house
Swimming and fishing in the lake

Next in importance, a reader (it's fun to refer to friends as "readers") suggested off the cuff that I should host a podcast. This is something that intrigues me and I wanted to know if there's any interest among the masses. I imagine a once weekly program, perhaps 30-60 minutes long, that would include the following subjects, at a minimum:

General musings on current life
Farm updates
Classic storytelling of past happenings

I don't know exactly how it would work out, but I could do it on my commute and I think the spoken word is a good way to convey ideas and preserve memories, not better than the written word as we have here on the 'blog, but different and appropriate for different things. again, comment if you have an opinion either way.

Onto other news. This article on food dealers taking bribes and as a result feeding you tainted food is good fodder for those conspiracy theorists who believe our nations infrastructure will fall soon and life will be pandemonium. I'm not saying I'm one of them, but if it happens you better have something good to offer when you come knocking on our door.

My job has been mildly stressful lately, the work itself is very concrete, designers provide me with schematics and drawings of parts and I make them to the schematic. The politics and stress surrounding that is frustrating and draining. I find myself daydreaming on ideas of fiscal independence, maybe I could buy a mill and a lathe and machine parts independently. Maybe I could buy a backhoe and make money with it. Maybe I could make some sort of widget and sell it to someone. Then I remember that I'm doing that, I'm starting a farm. The dreary frozen winter makes me forget that often. Luckily it will be March 1st soon and then the whole world will turn to green grass and daisies. (this is an inside joke, since Dec, Jan and Feb are the coldest months I allotted heating fuel for those months only. It worked great on the front end, I was wearing T-shirts until early December, but this side is not looking so fortunate.)

It snowed a crap ton overnight. On our walk Ursula was having trouble keeping her head above the snow and took a couple hilarious face plants when she wandered into unexpected drifts. I dove into a drift myself, it was just so tempting, and she followed me in only to get stuck on top of me in the divot I had made. It's nice to be a point with her that our faces can be close and I'm not afraid she'll bite mine, although others should still be careful. Even though I had made a dent a good 18" into the snow I stuck my arm as deep into it as I could to find earth to push off of and there was none. I just shoveled the drive and my shirt is literally soaked through with sweat, neck hairs to navel. Usually I can just push the snow where I want it to go, this time I had to heave it. but soon it will be March 1st....

Finally, a few pictures for your viewing pleasure. The first is evidence of the dysfunction at my workplace, this sticker is on a vacuum that sits, in the middle of a well traveled hallway, right next to our current vacuum. The sticker is accurate.

Next we have a bird's nest that is in a tiny bush on our property. I walk by it every time I walk the dog but didn't notice it until today.

And finally, the sky turns Benz colored (china blue they call it) as the storm moves on to new lands.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Some Photos, and a Note on Photos

Flickr kicked us off. Well, not really, but it wants us to PAY if we add any more pictures, and as you all know, we don't particularly like to pay for things. So I think flickr is going to be where our first 2oo pictures live, and the others will be residing elsewhere. I am looking into Picasa. Any suggestions?

Anyway, here are some pictures from this morning's dog walk. It's called Hoar Frost, I think, and it made an early Monday rather better. (You can click on them to make them bigger. Dad.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Aquaponics is dumb.

A reader has recently brought this article to my attention, which discusses a relatively new food production technique called Aquaponics.

I am familiar with this type of thing, and it comes with a frustrating corrolary:

I can't find any information, yet, on good pond management. Our pond is small, approximately 30' in diameter, overgrown with cattails and generally unproductive in my eyes. Don't get me wrong, it is indeed producing life, bugs, cattails (a foragers buffet) and a lot of scum, but I'd like it to produce more food for my table. The previous owners created the pond, which is spring fed from below and has no discernable water movement, in order to swim in. since we have a much larger lake nearby in a state park I'd rather swim there, and I envision an ecosystem of fish, aquatic plants and shoreline plants, some of which can be eaten and all of which will keep each other in check with little maintenance from us.

(the pond is looking a bit dreary today)

From this new movement of local food and sustainable food a lot of exciting ideas have emerged about how to move food production into urban environments. At the same time the free moving information of the internet has not reached the rural people who's land lies fallow and could produce more for them and for others. It's both interesting and depressing that these aquaponers (rhymes with boners) use no soil at all. They're so excited about a system that uses no soil when soil is abundant. Right now I can look out my window and see nothing but soil, much of it only growing lawn even though we're a 3 out of 10 on the rural to urban scale. Can any of us see any synthetic clay pellets out our windows?

This argument runs parallel to Eliot Coleman's ideas on fertilizer. When Eliot began gardening on a large scale he read a study produced by the USDA which concluded that the Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus (NPK) in commercial fertilizer provided the same soil enrichment that animal produced fertilizer (Shit) provides. Eliot was excited to learn this, and proceeded to secure a contract with a local chicken farm to take all of their manure, a service they paid him for. To Eliot this made sense economically, pay for commercial fertilizer or get paid to use animal fertilizer (later on he learned that the USDA study had been done to convince farmers to buy fertilizer, painfully ironic.) In the mean time his plants got the added benefits of all the micronutrients and bacteria, etc. in the manure. Local farmers who'd been at it for decades would stop in and ponder over how the new guy was doing so much better than them.

As I read articles, books and 'blogs about sustainable farm practices many are written from a similar perspective, reconciling the lower production rate of sustainable farming with the lower costs of operating due to less commercial inputs. I assume it's all written this way to try to convince commercial farmers to be more sustainable, but for me anything is better than what I've got now. The aquaponics article has a strong theme of bushels of tomatos and stringers of fish, without even recognizing that an infinitessimal percentage of people raise any of their own food. Why do I have to be wooed into creating my own food sources with promises of bountiful harvests for no labor?

We have 30 acres of weeds and a pond with weeds in it too, if it weren't for neighbors and cars we could let some livestock loose on it and do literally nothing for them and eat them 6 months later, the ones we could find. Add a bit of labor and management and I can put more animals on the same amount of land. Add more labor, some fossil fuel to run my machines and some grain from far away and I can raise as many as there is room to stand. The middle ground seems like the place for us.

Monday, February 15, 2010

9-5 in the Country

Phase One of "Become Successful Farmers" is now well under way, and I apologize that it isn't the most interesting phase for y'all to read about. Phase One, of course, is "Big Man and Johnson Get Jobs to Pay Down Debt."

Big Man is working as a machinist outside of Ithaca, building some metal parts that make up some big ass machines that test something about porosity. Yeah. I am working as a legal assistant to a small-town lawyer, who does everything in the world a small-town lawyer could do, except handle contested divorces and referee pistol duels. I like it -- I get to dress up again, and meet all kinds of bizarre characters with bizarre problems that they are oddly anxious to talk about. Apparently, with the ongoing dearth of small-town therapists, a lawyer (or a lawyer's assistant) is often the best one can do. People call who want to know if they can get better custody agreements if they can prove their ex is making meth. People call to explain that their mom was a bitch and how do they change her will. People have extremely elaborate narratives involving DWIs and missed court appearances. To go from not leaving the farm or talking to anyone but the Big Man to this was quite an about face. But an enjoyable one. I spend all day busy with a variety of interesting tasks, and have to take none of it home with me.

A 9-5 is not a part of the ultimate Plan, of course. It is but the first stepping stone, and it is also arguably the hardest. How to keep a passion for rural do-it-yourself living when you're out the door right away in the morning, and home just in time for the 45 minutes of light needed to shovel out the driveway so the stupid rear-wheel drive truck can make it up? How to keep motivated to make that from-scratch 3 hour dinner when I drive past a Subway, a McDonalds and an Arbys? I think part of what helps is how strikingly different a rural 9-5, for us, is than a city 9-5 was. Now, when I walk Stupid Ursula in the morning, there is no rushed around the block, please poop already mentality. There is the lake, pinkish-silver in the 7:30 light, and there's last night's snow clinging to a hundred pines, and there's a cardinal in a tree who humors me by whistling back when i try to imitate it, and Ursula tramps through the woods and fields at her own pace, no leash necessary. The drive to work is not a subway or a traffic snarl, but a series of rolling hills and emerging vistas. The homecoming is a pleasant rush of keeping on my coat as I turn on the heater, gradually coaxing the temperature downstairs from 34 degrees to a cozy 50. And it's fine if dinner takes three hours; it's not as if we're rushing out to a bar, or need to finish an essay. And there's endless tweaking of the Plan over dinner -- what if we put the pigs over here, and what if we made a hen house out of that truck cap, what if we managed to build a greenhouse off the dining room.

Gloriously, Phase One also involves the dramatic rolling out of The Garden. Final (I think!) architectural plan is laid out below. March 10 is the first day on the Garden Calendar: celery and celeriac seeds in soil! Stay tuned for details.