Philosopher and painter of the chicken coop

This morning I woke up to some sad news. A friend I had worked with for years was gone. It shocked me and I felt sadness. I decided while the rain held out to make myself busy. Being busy gives one time to process things and not just dwell on whatever is wrong.

Jamie and the girls left  for a trip into town, and I scraped the old chicken coop I had rebuilt. When I got down to NC it was a run down lopsided building covered in old rusty wire and a missing door on one side. I rebuilt it the best I could and made it sturdy. As usual I bit off more than I expected, and I wound up ripping off the entire backside of the building. The thought was not lost on me that if I had money I would have ripped it down and just started fresh with brand new lumber. Or just called one of those places where the Amish build you a shed and deliver it freshly stained and ready to go.

So as I looked at my sad rebuilt ugly coop with the recycled, repurposed metal roofing that sat in a rusty pile when we moved in. I started mindlessly scraping off the old aluminum sealer of my siding, Suddenly I was crying, tears rolled down my cheeks, and I realized I’m here doing what I wanted to do all along, and my friend was gone, even younger than me.

That’s life, it can pass you by even when you are paying attention. I feel sometimes like it is passing by too fast and I try to grasp at things to try to slow it down. I start to slap some green oil paint around and I take some peace that not only does the chicken coop look less like a place where meth is made and more like a proper chicken domicile. With any luck it will stay green for years, the kids will have fond memories of chickens, fresh eggs, and a green chicken coop, that probably should have gotten torn down.

That’s really how I think it all works. Someday, I will be gone and with any luck people will have interesting good memories and stories to tell, they will remember me fondly, perhaps on my own level I influenced enough people, in my own little way to leave a lasting mark.

One could hope anyway.

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Busy busy busy.

So as you all can see from the title, I’ve been a busy boy. I had the kids for a few weeks and we had a few farm projects. I had a bunch of new subscribers so I figured I better get some of these drafts finished and published

Hannah wanted a flower garden, So we had a hillside and came up with a plan. Stair risers without a top board becomes a terraced garden. I think it came out good, and the goats immediately loved the new colorful forage

They love lumber.

Jacob wanted blueberries bushes and a grape vine. He wants to make jelly and maybe a little wine. He might have to wait a few years I tell him, grapevine takes a few years.

Jamie and I built a run for the new chickens and let them run around it for a little bit today. The weather has finally broke and it hit eighty today, as I write this is still a beautiful 68 at 10pm. It’s making everything grow lush and green. The onions look great, the radishes look like they could be ready in a week or two.

It’s a beautiful time in North Carolina and I think the nice weather is finally here to stay.

Lack of funds, lack of light, and a Mega Millions ticket.

I never thought it would be easy. Nothing in life is easy, love, parenting, work, a commute, everything takes a certain amount of time and effort.

The farm is no different, I spend more time thinking about the farm than actually working on it. I think about it alot during my commute, an hour through three counties of beautiful farmland. I get some farm envy sometimes. There is a huge parcel of hilly acreage that I pass everyday. It is surrounded on two sides by a flowing wide river. In the summer it is always planted with corn or soybeans, and this time of year has a knee high cover crop of green cereal rye that waves to you in the wind.

I always think that if I had a winning mega millions ticket I would buy that property. I was thinking about it one day, dreaming of little guest cottages by the bank above the river, and metal roofed porches in both sides, so you could watch the sun rise over the farm or set over the river. Perfect orientation I think to myself one day as I am day dreaming and almost run into a log truck on the bridge.

I don’t have a winning mega millions ticket. I have a insane day job in the automotive collision field. I don’t have enough money to find siding for the barn we have that probably would be better off torn down than attempting to save. I do have hope. I do have dreams, I’ve always seen potential where most see none.

It’s frustratingly futile to think of all the things I want to do, where there are no funds to do it. It keeps me humble and creative at times. I trade and barter, stop and pick up materials someone else discarded as junk, I try to Invision ways of accomplishing my goals with what I have. I drag home cardboard and cover it in leaves and manure to make sheet compost, I trade items I saved from the dumpster for a rototiller, I get a junk pressure washer for parts because the motor on my rototiller blew up.

Maybe it’s good that I don’t have money. I can be awful impulsive. Last year I wanted chickens. I researched chickens, breeders, rebuilt a run down coop to a slightly less run down coop with a fancy free screen door and a large screen gangplank on the back to give them lots of ventilation. The chickens we got are two french black copper marans, a little Rhode island red, and a blonde buff orphinton. Blondie went missing one day out of nowhere, we looked everywhere and couldnt find any evidence of anything, not even a feather.so then we had three great chickens.

This year we wanted more eggs, more interesting colorful free range chickens. We had a list of potential chickens we really desired, but because they were only a few bucks, we suddenly wound up with two of everything. Two Australorps, two Easter eggers, two Amber sex links, two silver laced wyandottes and because we bought the silvers, two golden laced wyandottes. Could you imagine if I had a winning lottery ticket?

A dozen chicks in a brooder in our dining room. I’ve taken to making sure Jamie lee goes nowhere near a tractor supply and I stay off of the local backyard chickens page on Facebook.

I don’t have the time I wish either. I move the horses temporary pasture fencing in the waning minutes of sunset, I drag out seed trays in the morning and put them in after dark. I wander the garden in the moonlight.

No one said it would be easy. It’s not a bad life. It could be worse. See always seeing the potential.

You always have been rich, and someday you will have money.

It’s true, I have so much, it’s almost selfish to complain about a lack of time or money. It also makes it super easy to make me excited. A book on homesteading that Jamie Lee surprised me with after a lousy day at work, where I was ready to choke out insurance adjusters, I was super excited, a few packages of seeds, got in a package from my mother, I’m ready to jump for joy. Today, a package of Easter stuff from my Aunt with the cool magazines, I always want but never will buy because I feel bad about spending 8 dollars on myself.

I guess that’s almost as good as a winning lottery ticket..

Random musings of Spring

I mowed the lawn today. Yesterday it was sleeting during the day. I have beets, carrots, radishes and onions in the ground. Trying to figure out the weather here is nearly impossible.I sit and lose myself in my mind, occasionally looking up to see my progress and thinking about the most random of things.

I have seed trays in an old outbuilding, I carry them out and then I carry them back depending on the weather. I know my season here in North Carolina is long enough that I get three separate growing seasons, but to be honest I feel like I’m screwing this early season up.

I just feel impatient and consumed at times. I feel so stressed and anxious at times. I worry about money, I worry about work, I worry about the performance of my shop. I worry about the world. I get angry too. White hot, blood pressure pounding my red ears mad.

Somehow, the thought of the garden, or picking a basket of vegetables we are growing, walking through a watermelon and pumpkin patch that doesn’t exist yet, or the thought of canning soups, gathering eggs, calms me. I saw a shirt once that said gardening is therapy, but it’s cheaper and you get tomatoes. I don’t completely understand it, but there is some truth to it.

Any time I’ve had the chance to be self sufficient it makes me happy. I used to stop an admire my wood pile, noticing the way that ends were checkering and losing moisture, the way I knew I had cut split and stacked every last piece, brought me peace. The thought that when it got cold and blustery outside that everyone would be warm. It made me feel manly, a provider of essential heat and comfort that I never felt spinning the thermostat.

The farm is like that here in the present. I don’t know what I’m doing, I read as much as I can, will probably screw it up and it’s still what keeps me going.

Spring has sprung

The excitement of possibly in the garden makes me long for warmth and sunshine. I started planting back in February when the daytime temps were in the seventies. My little notebook tells me that as soon as I did the bottom fell out. We had Frost, we had ice, mornings that the heat stayed on all the way to work and temps hovered in the 40s.

Trying to save peach trees from a hard freeze

I started to second guess myself, not a beet had sprouted, the onions looked pretty sad too. With the exception of the radishes which I think would grow in a crack of concrete if you let them, the garden looked pretty sad..

Yesterday was the first day of Spring, I got home from a meeting and Jamie lee and I moved Juliet the horse to fresh grass and then wandered down to the garden.

BEETS!

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. I walked over to the onions rows. Wow what a difference once day of warmth made.

Just like that. Spring has sprung, the garden came alive and my spirit was lifted. It rained most of the night and most of today, but I know, warm weather and crops are coming.

A VIP follower.

I decided to write when I could for many reasons, a way to document the projects and seasons on the farm. To maybe succeed or fail really big and make it into a book.

I have been so busy lately that I have a few posts written but not published. But today is special, I have a follower that makes me want to write better articles, who makes me want to succeed, who I wish to pass along all my knowledge and tales too..

It’s my number one baby bear Hannah.

Shes adorable and always loves to come hang out at the farm. Always willing to help with a project. Like building a new door for the goat pen. My sister says this is all exploitation, there must be some sort of child labor laws and I just love free farm labor.

When she was little, I once found a bunch of cucumbers with little tiny missing spots. I thought maybe a raccoon or a woodchuck.. nope, it was Hannah taking little bites. We told her she could have a entire cucumber if she wanted.

Time went on and we made pickles. She took Agriculture this year in School and wants to join the FFA, we talk about photosynthesis and seeds. We talk about animals.. silly chickens, crazy goats, and Juliet the horse.

So this post is for you baby girl. Thanks for following your old Daddy Bear and always being the best farm hand.

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Spanning the backyard to bring you the constant variety of gardening … the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of hobby farming… This is “42 days Wide Weekend of activities!”

So an interesting weekend, I’m going to chalk it up as a success even though I definitely had my tumbling off a ski hill moment. So my parts came via Amazon prime for the rototiller on Friday, this made me super excited, because also on Friday I went to a local seed shop that was going out of business and bought a box full of onion starters and assorted seed packets. Buy one get two free, I know, I couldn’t resist either, so I wound up with a box full of goodies for only, Twenty nine dollars. Saturday morning, I sipped my coffee as I stared at the rototiller, thank goodness I had an old set of weird angle ignition wrenches lying around, how you could remove a carburetor without a 7/16 would be a mystery I would still be trying to figure out

Thanks weird tool collection

New pull cord, carb mounted and one pull and the rototiller was humming along. It worked like a charm, I was so happy and proud of myself, I planted 40 feet of yellow, red and white onions in a fraction of the time it took me to double dig everything. I had a lot of onions left over. Today I got side tracked lovingly into a Jamie Lee pintrest project ,a tire planter. I swore alot. It is not easy to turn a tire inside out. In the end it turned out pretty good. We are going to mount it on a high tree stump. Jamie Lee is going to repaint the bottom a darker green. After being side tracked, I knew that I bought way too many onions so I needed a few more rows. I fired up the tiller and quickly started cutting a few more 40 foot rows. Just as I finished I went to idle the machine down and I heard this death rattle, a really horrendous shrieking and a loud bang. Just like that, the Tecumseh 6 horsepower motor from 1977 decided that it could no longer face another day. Dead, completely locked up. I was a bit disappointed, but I didn’t have a full rage session, I planted another 40 feet of red, white and yellow onions. A farmer with broken equipment and no money to fix it. I’m a walking stereotype or the beginning of a great old school country song. I guess on top of all the planting I wish to do, all the farm projects I want to accomplish, I have to add repower the rototiller to the list. No wonder John Cougar Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and Neil Young did all those farm aid concerts, being a farmer is tough. Guess I can’t quit my day job just yet. That being said, no one said it would be easy, I am pretty persistent, and to be honest, with the exception of being a hobby farmer on a tight tight budget, I am having a blast. It’s like therapy with an added benefit of fresh produce.I can’t wait for next weekend already.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

I have been dreaming of today for months. I had it all planned out in my head, the monotony of drive times into the sunrise and sunsets, the agony of work all day, with missing employees, impossible deadlines and customers who won’t quit being difficult about how long it should take to rebuild a car that they smashed into something.

Planting day was here. The rain had finally stopped and it was a beautiful 80 degrees. Sun high in the sky, soil just the right amount of moist. I have planned to stagger my planting so I was looking forward to getting my first rows of icicle, french breakfast and an heirloom cherry Belle radishes planted. Then I would till a row and plant the beets. Then the sweet snap peas would be the next rows completed.

I had planned on using the rototiller that I had horse traded for, to break the heavy clay this first year, then bring wheelbarrow loads of all the beautiful compost I had made last year and this winter. In my head I could see me smiling and shoveling that black rich soil onto the top of my freshly tilled earth, and making a sweet pass mixing it all together into soil that any seed would be honored to be planted into.

None of this happened. Not even close.

So I did aquire a sweet 1977 Troy Bilt Horse rototiller. It did run before I manhandled it into the Jeep for transport home. The guy had it running and I made the deal. It needed a throttle cable so he killed the engine by backing out the fuel mixture screw on the bottom of the carburetor as he choked it out. I didn’t like this idea so I sprayed the old cable up with some bust rust, so that it would work as intended.

I knew I had drained the fuel tank before I put it in the back of the Jeep so all week I kept reminding myself that I had to buy a can of that fancy no ethenol gas. In case you don’t know small engines hate ethenol.

So this morning I got 5 gallons of high test with no added corn. Only the best for my new machine. First pull on choke, it started right up and I could hear that the mixture screw was way off. It wouldn’t run off of choke so I slowly screwed in the fuel mixture untill it seemed like the the idle was improving. Then it started starving for gas. It stalled and I waited a minute and fired it up again. It ran for about thirty seconds and died again.

I backed the screw all the way out and no fuel came out of the carburator bowl. I’ll spare you the details of the next hour but it involves me rebuilding a carburetor. The main jet was clogged and the rubber line was completely rotting into sludge from the inside out from the ethenol. The sludge had also stopped the bowl and needle valve from operating as well.

This looks nothing like farming

I decided that I would buy a rebuild kit or a new carb, but for the sake of today’s plans put it together and getting working on garden.

Then this happened

I will admit that I used a few curse words, I even combined a few to get my score up. I paced a little and recited the poem I know all too well, it’s appropriate as it was written as the poet was plowing a field. I’ll give you the modern English version.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

So I went to amazon, ordered a rebuilt carburetor for 12 dollars and a 14 dollar pull cord. But I wasn’t satisfied, I wanted to plant something.

So out came old trustworthy shovel. We would do this old school. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, you want radishes then get digging. I dug into the clay and took the dirt out of the ground. I threw it into the wheelbarrow and mixed it good with the compost. I threw it back in the trench I had made.Fifty fifty mix made the soil look and smell wonderful. I could actually see what the soil looked like, saw some worms, and saw where down the hill went from hardpack clay to a nice black topsoil on top of clay.

It took the rest of the daylight, but I have 40 feet of radishes planted.

The best laid plans of mice and men may go astray, but this might be more memorable anyway. 42 days farms first real crop planting, from a small garden to an ambitious farm. It still beats work, ignorant insurance adjusters and stupid customers any day.

Trees are greedy and self centered.

Minus a few short rain delays and on trip to tractor supply for some hay for Juliet the horse, I spent most of my day raking leaves and loading the wheelbarrow up for a trip across the yard to the garden.

My compost bin is completely full and I’m pretty happy with the results. I will have some really nice material to improve the soil and plant in for this year’s garden. I can see that I have to add another bin next to the one I built last year. Between goat, chicken and horse manure and their old bedding I have a really nice pile. I stopped adding to it a few weeks back and I think everything else should be good to go for the planting..

I’m still a little bit behind of where I had hoped to be. It’s rained alot and the seventy hour weeks kinda put a damper on my Monday thru Friday activities. But I spent the day not only cleaning off the lawn and driveway and everywhere else the huge oak trees drop leaves. They held on so late down here untill it was cold and I didn’t feel like raking them. Today I sat in shorts and a t shirt sweating as I raked the wet remains into piles.

Trees drop leaves that break down and give the tree nutrients, they pile up and smother anything that might give weeds or smaller plants any nutrients. Greedy greedy trees. I figured the trees look okay, I might just steal from the rich and give to the garden.

Most of them have decomposed to a nice dark brown to black color and some are just reaching that crumbly almost tell it’s not a leaf anymore kind of look. I plan when I run the rototiller through the ground for the first time in probably ever, that the years of horses have gotten me a head start. If not hopefully these leaves will liven up the clay soil and put me in better shape for next year. The worms will have lots of stuff to munch on. Plus if you don’t know me by now, I love doing things on the cheap, leaves and last years manure. It don’t get much frugal than that.

I still have 20 boxes of soil samples to take. I was going to use three in the garden and pay for it, get samples of the top, middle and bottom. After May the local cooperative tests for free, so I could hold off testing the pastures untill then. The garden soil looks and smells good and if it ever dries up I’d like to take samples it before I plant but depending on time I may take the samples use my compost and my leaves wisely and hope for the best.

A lot warmer, but it looks like rain.

All I really know is I can’t believe how many leaves there still are to rake and I can’t wait to actually get plants in the garden. The drawer full of seeds mocks me, the seed catalogs make me dream, and Jamie Lee’s started trays of little lettuces and some sunflowers all over the counter, make me wish for sunshine.

Adventures in seed buying

Seeds make me happy. They always have for many reasons. Back in New York, seed catalogs would get delivered in the dreary cold of a long winter filled with pictures of springtime sunshine, and models holding a bumper specimen of some vegetable. The description alone would let me imagine a garden full of food and goodness.

Blue Lake Bean 274 is a lush, high-yielding bush bean with 5″ to 5-1/2 ” long dark green pods. This particular variety matures slowly in 61 days and is fiber-free, making it a tender and flavorful addition to the garden.

Thow in some, just like grandma used to make, or kids will eat them off the vine, and I am ready to spend a paycheck on seeds. They are full of imagery and I’m a sucker for all of it.

This year is different, we will have a very large garden as we hope to can, freeze and store enough for our needs for a year. We also had hoped to sell a few items and send some home to family and friends back home. We needed a bunch of seeds. Since I figured out that individual seed packets would not work as well I set off on an adventure to find a seed supplier.

One morning on the way to work, daydreaming about selling a few jars of corn relish and honey pickled radishes I was thinking about who my customers would be? One thing struck me instantly, they would be at my local farmers market, or stopping at a road side stand, or maybe they would be at the farm buying one of Jamie Lee’s watermelons or pumpkins right off the vine. I knew I had to buy my seed local.

Like most things the thought of something is usually easier than the actual act. I thought since I live in a Agriculture heavy area that it would be pretty simple, find a business that will sell me seeds. We would have a conversation, joke about how I’m not from round here, develop into a friendship where every year I show up and they remember me and what I bought.

Last year I was in an independently owned farm supply store and they had bins of seeds and you told the person what you wanted and they would weigh it out on an old fashioned scale and place it in an envelope. They were off the beaten path on my old commute in the other direction so I thought maybe I could find it closer to my new work location. I went to the same chain of independently owned store and looked around. It was a pretty large box store and while I could buy a hay baler and a tractor trailer load of any pasture grass seeds, there was only one small sad display with little seed packets. I asked about buying seeds in bulk and the girl behind the counter chewed her gum and looked at me blankly. Try the agronomy center about 10 miles down the road. They sell that there.

The next day at 3pm I decide I haven’t taken lunch and I need welding wire from a store on the way. I walk into the agronomy center of this same chain store. Like that scene where Joe Pesci walks into the basement in Goodfellas I know I’ve been had again.

No sir no sir you see we deal primarily with corn and soybeans only. We can sell you all the fertilizer, pesticides and corn and soybeans you need, provided that you sign into an agreement with Monsanto and get a growers lisence. Mostly we deal with 60 to thousands of acres. We can gps plant different seeds in different areas and monitor the crop throughout the season..

So not only do I get another dead end, but I find out that Monsanto really does come in and inspect your crop and pretty much makes your life miserable if you ever decide to grow something other than their products. One of my co workers tells me, later in the day about a store in the other direction that may have what I need.

***** Seed and Feed. It sounds promising. I wander over and find a huge storefront in town. Old building with large windows. I see old China closets and washtubs decorating the place. Really worn old planking on floors and an old time counter with an antique register and scale. “Please be real please be real” I think to myself and I grab an old brass doorknob, The woman inside is having a small meeting inside with a group of people gathered around and old card table. She sends me down an asile filled with beautiful handmade seed envelopes. I pick up a package. The packaging is so perfect, a hand drawn radish in a pale green circle, the rest of the package is fine lines connection the corners together, french breakfast heirloom radish beautifully Dawn out in script on the front. I flip the envelope over 1/4 of an ounce, $9.95.

I drive away frustrated again. A 100 foot row of radishes would have cost me 40 bucks. Since I was planning on planting a new row each week for six weeks, just one type was going to cost me $240.

I Google the original place I stopped last year and call the number, I introduce myself and tell them I want to buy the bulk seed I bought last year.

I’m sorry sir we don’t do that anymore, but talk to Carla. Please hold.

Carla answered the phone and told me the bad news, we don’t do custom selling of seed anymore, occasionally an accident would happen and someone would get the wrong seeds. Crook neck squash instead of straight necks. Now everything come pre- packaged. The same seeds though, in big packages, and we have master gardeners here, and a few AG students. Carla informed me that she was in charge of seeds, but wouldn’t be in Saturday, see Jill ,she’s in charge of plants.

It went wonderfully, Jamie and I got a nice ride through the country, everything we wanted at Carthage Farm Supply got talked into waiting a few weeks for a few seeds. Talked into using a few trays of starter plants for a few things. Excellence all around. We walked out with our February seeds to plant, literature, and stayed well under budget at $27.70 We were treated like family and even got our soil sample boxes and paperwork while we were there.

So what is the moral of this very long story?

Don’t get discouraged, most of the time what you want exists. Don’t settle for less than what you want.

Buy local, because you will make friends and get good local advice and help.

You can turn a ride into the country into a pretty good day date, complete with 1990s country playing on the radio.

Tell everyone when you receive good products and service so they stay in business and you don’t have to search again.