Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snowing and Blowing Again

Another wintry day again. I'll have to empty the snow out of the sap buckets tomorrow. We are supposed to get 5" - 10" new inches of the white stuff. At least the daytime temps are creeping up. I already have 1 1/2 gallons of sap so I know Spring is not far off.

I finished working on the news article for the Local Food Atlas that I want to send to the seven different area newspapers yesterday. I'll leave it for a couple of days then go back and review it. I wonder if I'll get enough people who are interested in listing their operations in an atlas to make the project worthwhile.

I spent most of the day in the basement sewing old feed bags into grow bags. It felt good to finish them. I will use 11 bags for tomatoes and 11 bags for cucumbers. Now I need to get out in the woods by the field and cut a couple of poles to build the high tunnel trellis -- maybe I'll beat that beaver to it and cut a couple of popple or birch poles from the area by the lake marsh where he usually does his "shopping".

Stay warm!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Busy Days

It's been a busy last two days.

Yesterday I worked all day gathering data so I could set up an action plan for getting a local food atlas for the northern counties off the ground. I called Miriam Grunes from the REAP organization (thanks to my friend, Jane Hansen at UWEX for the contact info) for advice and help. Then I called the Iron County Development organization and Northern State Bank to see if they might be interested in sponsoring or underwriting an atlas. The bank said "yes" and to call them back when I get the project more formalized, but Iron County hemmed and hawed -- quite understandably. I realize I need to work the project the other way around; that is, first I need to at least get a rough idea of how many producers who might be interested in listing their operations in an atlas. What I did was compile a list of all the farmers markets I could find in the northern 12 counties -- Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, Iron, Vilas, Forest, Florence, Price, Oneida, Taylor, Lincoln, and Langlade. I will call them all next week and see if I can get a rough idea of the number of vendors for each market. I also looked up the Native American reservations in the target counties and got contact information for them. I will also call them next week to see if they might be interested in listing in an atlas. I was surprised at the number of Reservations; I had no idea the Native American population was so large in Wisconsin. (I suppose if I were a native Wisconsinsite I wouldn't be so surprised.) There is Red Cliff, Bad River, and Mole Lake representing the Ojibwe; Forest County Potawatomi, Mohican at Stockbridge-Munsee, and the Menominee. I e-mailed Langlade County and found out that they do, indeed, have a farmers market, and they kindly provided me with the farmers market contact info. Terrific! The guy at Iron County Development gave me the name of a man named Dave Dumke who is active in Douglas County with local food, and he suggested I link up with him. I will certainly do that and see if we might be able to join forces. I would love to get enough people together who would be interested in forming a structured regional food economy group -- a group that would work on local food policy issues with local governments; a group that micro-agripreneurs could ok to for business guidance and resource information; a group possibly organized as a non-profit organization that would be better able to obtain grant monies to help start agriculture related community projects like organic meat, poultry, and fish processing facilities or community kitchens. But that, of course, is just a dream at this point in time. I keep remembering that line from the movie "Contact" where Ellie's dad says, "Small steps, Ellie; small steps."

I spent most of the day today trying to figure out what size paper I would need to create a 3-crossfold (right angle) brochure where when folded the front cover is 11" long and about 6.25" wide. I would like to set up a "dummy" atlas to work on as I compile data, save the final version to a CD, and take the CD to a printer to get their advice on format. I will try to work up the dummy with my Publisher 2007 program. I may be able to work the location balloons on the different County maps with my Paint Shop Pro program. (WisDOT says we can use their maps with due credit as the maps are paid by taxpayer dollars and therefore public domain.)(ALWAYS go to the Government first when you are looking for information because the chances are that somewhere in the bureaucracy is exactly the information you are looking for and it will be free to use because taxpayers have paid for it!) I think when I finish with this Atlas project I'll write an e-book detailing how to do it so the next person who wants to get an atlas off the ground will save some time and trouble. Maybe I'll do it in Google docs and just publicly post it; I'll have to think about it.

I ordered three more poultry brooders, some latex work gloves, and a logging chain so I can drag logs out of the woods from Farmtek and should get the order by Tuesday at the latest. Also ordered some books from my Wish List at Amazon (even though I know I shouldn't have!).

Well, have to run. Talk to you soon!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day

I started out the day by giving My-Own-True-Love a peck on the cheek (he was eating oatmeal) and saying, "Happy Valentine's Day". His respondent grunt was duly noted and for a while we sat comfortably together, he with his oatmeal and me with my Constant Comfort cup of tea. Memorial Day Weekend (May 24th) we will be married 34 years and we are simply at that point in our relationship where just being together is fine and dandy.

The sun alternately shone and disappeared behind snow shower clouds today. The temperature has dropped and looks like it will remain below freezing during the day for at least the next week, so my tree taps may have to be re-opened once the sap starts to flow again. I did get some sap from a couple of trees in the back yard that are still dripping so I don't think it will be too cold for much longer. It would be nice to have a good sap run like we had last year. With 32 trees tapped and potentially one quart of finished syrup per tree, we may get about 5.5 gallons of finished syrup. That would be great!

I finally made it to town and went to see Bernie at Fiefield Feed Store to talk to him about custom mixing the chicken feed. I gave him a copy of the starter/grower recipe from Herman Beck-Chenoweth's book Free-Range Poultry Production and Marketing that I want to use so he could keep it on file for the future. He needed to have the recipe to talk to the guy he uses to mix feeds, and he called me back yesterday with the bad news (er, price). Well, it really wasn't that bad since the quote was within (albeit the high end) the range I estimated, but I did have to commit to two purchases of 1/2 ton each which means I'm going to need to raise more chickens than I anticipated this year in order to not let the feed go to waste. The good thing is that once the layers begin to lay all I need to add to the feed for them is wheat. So, I guess $277 per 1/2 ton isn't all that bad. That works out to 20, 50# bags at $13.85 per bag. I spent some time working out my costs and checking on the Internet for free-range chicken prices. A non-organic, free-range 5# whole chicken sells for just under $30.00. Organic birds are going for just under $37.00 each -- minimum. I need to find the cost for food grade freezer bags to put the processed birds in and then I can settle on a cost for my birds. The added cost of wheat will go into my figures for the egg budget. (See, I AM taking learning how to price my products seriously!)

I bought a bag of game bird starter from Bernie and he is ordering chick starter for me. I mix the two feeds 50/50 and that works well for chicks as the higher protein helps keep the birds from starting to cannibalize. I also bought two bales of wood chips for the brooder in the basement and at Northern Merchandise I picked up a tarp to lay on the brooder floor under the wood chips. I re-read the brooding section of the production manual and found out I need to get three more brooder lights. There is always something to do!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Ed's 22 Today!

I can't believe my E-man is 22 today! I keep remembering the one time we heard him speak. He was 4, and Tom and I were both in the kitchen when Ed came buzzing into the room. Those were the years of the bull-in-the-china-cabinet and speed-racer behaviors. We heard him say, "my mom and dad" as clear as a bell. He had the cutest voice. Tom and I stopped what we were doing and looked at each other as if to say, "did you hear what I thought I heard?". And the next moment, Ed buzzed out of the room and the enchanted moment was over. I will never forget that. Ed's "buzzing" behaviors are long gone and now replaced with increasingly repetitive actions. He makes noises, but he no longer speaks intelligible words. The difficulties faced by a parent of an autistic child change with the years, but the bittersweet experiences of such a life grant an indescribable wealth to the soul. I wouldn't trade my life for anything. Happy Birthday, Eddy! (He likes the Jonathan Goldman CDs!)

Tom and I managed to tap 10 maple trees yesterday. It was tough going through the snow drifts -- hip high in some places. The sap is starting to run. Today, we are having rain drizzle and I expect the sap to start for sure so tomorrow Tom and I will finish setting out the rest of the taps. I plan to go to town and get a couple of steel garbage cans to store the sap in until we can boil it down. I will bury the cans in snow and that will keep the sap cold enough.

Thanks to Homeopath for the comment. I'm glad you enjoy our farm blog. I look forward to reading the posts on your blog! I've been treating my family with homeopathy since 1991 and am a strong believer in it. I just with I could get remedies locally instead of only through the Internet!

Well, Tom and Ed should be back soon with the birthday cake and pizzas, so I'll leave off for now. Have a great day, Everybody, and take care!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Nice Day

Yesterday Lara and I went to an all day conference at the Ag Extension Office in Phillips to learn more about developing a regional food economy and how to price our products. Boy, all I can say is that I am really dumb at math! It was embarrassing. I had no idea how to figure out the practice problems. When it comes to math, it takes a LONG while for concepts to sink into my brain. I was glad that one of the methods the gent from Iowa State showed us did make sense to me and that will be what I use to figure my costs. I think I will go ahead and buy that Arithemtic for Farming book I saw for sale on the Back40Books Web site. I was truly surprised to discover all the facets of my operation that I need to include in my pricing and have not been. Looks like my prices will be considerably higher than they were last year -- especially if gas goes back up to $5-6 a gallon.

Lara had a great time. She really enjoyed all the local food. She even said she enjoyed listening to the guest speakers. It was nice to see old friends. Diane and Alan from B's Flambeau Acres were there and she will be calling a meeting for people interested in the Farmers Market soon so I'll have to watch for that. I hope we can bring in some more vendors as the demand for food cannot be met as yet. Kim and Rich Toebe from Jump River were there, as was Dave Ames and Mark Novotny. There were several people I hadn't seen before, but they were not producers. I think they were looking for producers to network with restaurants or grocery stores. Too bad I don't have a well in the field yet or a decent cold storage area. Well, I'm working on it! Conferences are nice to go to, especially on a nice winter day. It felt good to get out. I'm sure Lara liked getting out, too.

Today I went outside and chopped the ice away from the ends of the garden boxes so the air can move through the boxes and doesn't get overheated inside them. I'm hoping the bunching onions and sorrel come on soon. Like everyone else, I'm hungry for fresh greens. As soon as I can free the plastic from the ground on the long side of one of the boxes, I'll plant it up with carrots and onion seed; that should give me at least carrots by June. I'll transplant the onions out to the field when they are big enough. The temperature was almost 40F today so I am wondering if this will be another year when we go from winter to droughty summer. I worry about the food supply this year. I hope I can save seed from what I grow.

Well, I have some phone calls to make, so I'll leave off for now.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

High Speed Internet At Last!

Today we finally got high speed Internet. Century Tel started offering it about a month ago in our area, which, we were told last summer was one of the last places in the country that did not have high speed Internet. I can't believe what a joy it is to have this. I can actually watch a short video within seconds instead of waiting an hour or more (for a movie trailer) to load. There is no stopping to wait for audio streams to buffer. Wow! I am happy!

While the phone guy was here, I decided to work on starting some herbs. I have pots of common sage, sweet marjoram, oregano, summer and winter savory, and true comfrey started. I discovered that one of the date seeds I planted last fall has sprouted. The tiny plant looked dry but still alive, so I repotted it and gave it a good drink. We'll see if it takes off. That was an interesting experiment. My sister told me I should put together tiny herb gardens and sell them at the farmers market. I think that's a great idea. I looked at the state regulations and discovered that I can sell up to $250 worth of plants without needing to have a nursery license, so if the herbs grow for me (I'm afraid I don't have a good track record with herbs) that is what I'll do. I love herbs. I think those tiny seeds intimidate me. My chunky fingers prefer handling corn, squash and melon seeds.

I also planted a big pot of Thai Hot Hot pepper seeds from our friends, Bill and Linda Betz in Albany, NY (thawing out there yet guys?). I forgot just how hot these peppers are and somehow inhaled the heat essence from the seed bag. I actually had to get my asthma rescue inhaler for that one I was coughing so much! I love these peppers though (and they even aren't the hottest ones!). Tom and I just finished eating the last jar of hot peppers I had canned with our latest batch of chili. There is nothing like hot peppers and chili to warm you up in the winter.

Speaking of Tom, he took our Ed to the foot doctor today to get his ingrown toenails fixed again. I hope everything goes well. It is almost a year since Tom found out he had cancer and our Sarah called to tell us she had orders for Afghanistan. I figure if I can get through the "anniversary" lunar eclipse on February 9th (also is our Ed's 22nd birthday) I will be doing all right.

On Thursday, Lara and I are going to go to a conference at the Ag extension about how to price your products and developing a local food economy. It's an all day affair. I'm hoping to get some help with getting the Local Food Guide off the ground. Should be a fun day. I know it's been a while since Lara was out of the house.

The weather had warmed up in the 20F range for the last two days, but it was -20F again last night and the day is windy and bitter again today. Supposedly the temps will warm closer to the weekend. I will have to watch temps now as sugaring time will be coming up quickly and I like to catch that first run of sap because it is the sweetest. I have ordered another 12 tree spouts from Lehmans. Tom is going to help me make syrup this year. That will be fun! We sent our soldier girl our last two pints of syrup for Christmas and we sure miss not having any.

I am not in to country music, but I have to admit that if you like really old country/blues (Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, etc.), you will like listening to KWBC.FM radio on the Internet. This station is from the people at Back40 Books, and it is a really good station. Try it, I think you'll like it. (I can't believe I said that, but it IS true LOL).

February started out with a bang. I could almost feel the vibrations change in the air. I orderd the tree taps, brooder light bulbs, a new cover film for the high tunnel and film repair tape, and a couple of Jonathan Goldman healing music CDs for Ed for his birthday. I have been praying for a healing help for Ed as his autism is taking a bad turn with his obsessive/compulsive behaviors and I came across some information about 528Hz being a healing frequency. I strongly believe that Providence comes to my aid when I finally ask for help, and I know that coming across this information was meant to be. The CDs are Holy Harmony and Chakra Chants. I'm going to sit that kid down and clamp my headphones on him just as soon as I can! When Ed went to the Easter Seals School in Tinley Park, Illinois, they used music a lot with the kids. It was amazing to see how music could calm those kids down. Ed just needs to be "re-aligned". I think his feet hurting have put him off his normal easy going self. Poor kid; I hope this trip to the doctor does the trick. Maybe I should the Queen (our Lara) listen to them, too -- I have to take her on the 18th to get two widsom teeth pulled!

Stay warm, Everybody! We're on the down slope of this horrible Winter!