Sunday, June 28, 2009

Welcome Home 783rd MP BN!

Welcome home from Afghanistan 783rd MP BN! We got a call this morning from our soldier girl, Sarah. She made it safe and sound to Hattiesburg, MS where she'll rest up a few days before heading North to Chicago to stay with her godmother while she looks for a "civilian" job. Sarah doesn't like the idea of "living in the middle of the forest". No shopping here in the Northwoods. Well, she's young LOL. She can always come be a farmer if she wants. We are very proud of her and all our troops -- and the Army thinks she's pretty awesome, too.

We're celebrating Sarah's homecoming with ham and cheese potatoes for lunch, and afterwards, Tom is going to cut the grass and I'm going to start butchering a couple of the chickens (before the foxes get all of them!). I'm still trying to find a Featherman plucker to rent for a day so I can ask Lorie and her boys to come help me butcher the rest of them.

What a happy day!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe and Happy Canning

I spent all day Monday and again this afternoon hoeing out the weeds in the hops/veggie/herbs section. You would not believe the weeds! It is like wading through a giant thistle patch. But, I have to say that I'm making pretty good headway. I have two more rows of beans to really work through, then it's a matter of weeding each interior bed and thinning the veggies. When that's done I'll head over to the corn/potatoes/squash/melons/pole beans section and get down to business there. The potatoes need to be hilled already and I'll use the BCS with hiller/furrower attachment for that. The wheel hoe should take care of the walk ways between the corn rows, and my trusty stirrup hoe will slash the rest. It would be nice to get a good rain. Tom started cutting the grass around the chicken skid so I'll use that for mulching once everything is weeded. Hard work on hot days makes for skinny people!

Yesterday's class, Wisconsin Acidified Canned Foods Training for Small Food Processors, at the Spooner Ag Research Station was great! I learned so much about value adding foods into acidified products, canning, and Wisconsin regulations regarding preparing and selling acidified foods directly to consumers. There was a good number of people there, and it was kind of funny that the women filled the first half of the room near the speaker while the men sat together in the back. I passed both the exams and received my successful completion certificate, so now I can make and sell acidified foods -- if I make them in a certified kitchen. I'm going to draw a picture of the kitchen I want to build and tape it up by my desk so I can visualize it into existence. That may sound dumb, but creative visualization really works. A couple of things I'd like to pass on to you: 1) Because of changes in food science, you should not use canning recipes or procedures from before 1994 --if you try to get a license to produce a product using a standard recipe from a source that is prior to 1994 in Wisconsin, the license will not be granted; and 2) There is a great book published by the Cooperative Extension at the University of Georgia called So Easy to Preserve. This terrific 5th edition book contains the latest USDA recommendations for canning, freezing, and drying foods, and is loaded with recipes. It even has recipes for pickled eggs and pickled pigs feet! The cost is $18, and here is a link to the order form:

The heat up here in the Northwoods is unreal, and the chickens are happy to stay under the trees and near the coop. I gave them fresh water twice today, and gladly none of them looked heat stressed. The air feels like Florida; it's almost surreal. Hot and humid, but no rain. There has been fog early in the mornings this week that burns off quickly. This day last year we had a hard frost and I lost most of my season's veggies. What a difference in weather!

I'm really feeling empowered from completing that food safety training course. I feel more competent in my ability to provide for my family and the people in my community. What are you doing to empower yourself?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers' Day

Happy Fathers Day to all Dads out there! Here at Swamp Creek Farm we had a great bar-b-que by our Dad in residence and Chief Bar-B-Quer, Tom. As usual, the meal was delicious. We had grilled hot dogs, chicken, and mushrooms, potato and cucumber salad, and baked beans. A gallon of iced tea quenched everybody's thirst on this sunny 84F day. My Dad came over as did my sister, Mary, and her husband, John. No nieces or nephews (alas, all are grown and flown), but it was nice and slow, easy conversation around a fine meal. Course, we'll have to watch out for that bear tonight -- they love bar-b-que, too!

After Dad and John and Mary left, the dratted big fox appeared -- must be figuring on getting his Fathers' Day dinner. The dog ran it off a couple of times, but because it was still hanging around, Tom got out the shot gun and is waiting for it. I will be so glad to get rid of these foxes! Tom set out a trap for the raccoons but his deer cam caught the bear getting the bait and beating up the trap.

Yesterday, Lara and I finally made it to the farmers market in Phillips for our first Saturday market. Alan and Diane Barkstrom were there from B's Flambeau Acres, Tom and Jim were there -- vendors I hadn't met before who sold llama manure and lettuce, and Diana Nutt and some friends were there raising money for a rodeo group. That woman is another marvel!

I was thankful for the good weather; it was hot, but at least there was a nice breeze. I was able to keep Lara in the shade. Pricewise, we broke even (we have to sell at least $18 to make the price of gas to the market) and that is a good first day for us so I have positive expectations for the rest of the market. Lara was good talking with the customers. We had French Breakfast radishes, Nichols Mild Mesclun Mix, Noble Spinach, and Paris Island Cos romaine lettuce. Not much, but it was a start. Despite being heavily iced, the mesclun mix wilted horribly; the cos held up great, and so did the spinach and the radishes. Surprisingly, we sold all of the radishes -- you never know what the customers will be looking for! I thought the mesclun mix would sell, but every customer wanted to know what it was and they didn't want to try it. I thought for sure it would sell, but it didn't do well at all. Looks like I'll have to do some research and education to get people familiar with mesclun. The cos and spinach sold all right, and when we got home with the left-overs, there was just enough to mix together for a nice salad for us. The wilted mesclun went to the chickens. If the day had been cooler I would have brought up the pressure canner and canned the mesclun like spinach -- canned lettuce tastes like a mild spinach and I can it the same way I do spinach.

Overall, it was a pretty slow day for the market because of all the other events going on: it was Fathers' Day weekend, the weekend for the longest garage sale in the state, and the Phillips Czech Festival was in full swing. In fact, after the market, Lara and I took a quick run over to the Festival. It was absolutely packed with people! We checked out the vendor and crafts area where I bought Lara a "Czech Princess" t-shirt, and I bought a Czech Museum tote bag for myself before hitting the bakery where we picked up a loaf of dark rye bread and two packages of Bohemian kolackes, one for Tom and one for my Dad. On the way out, we stopped at a stand where someone had an ice cream machine set up -- the kind you can purchase from Lehman's -- and we sampled a cup each of wild raspberry and maple nut ice cream. That was about the best ice cream I ever ate. By that time, we really needed to get home as Lara was starting to look sickly -- her medication doesn't let her tolerate sun and heat -- and she needed her afternoon meds. All that fresh air must have really made her sleepy because when I went in to put her to bed at 8:00 p.m. she had actually transferred herself onto her bed from her wheelchair and was waiting for me! She was extremely pleased with herself. (And I was proud of her, too!)

Tuesday is the Wisconsin Acidified Canned Foods Training for Small Businesses course at the Spooner Ag Research Station, and I'll fill you in on how that goes Tuesday night -- if I can stay awake; it's a 3 1/2 hour drive each way, and I'll have to leave about 4:00 a.m. to get there by 8:00 a.m. I'm still imaging my dedicated farm stand with certified kitchen micro-business incubator . . . . Anybody out there with cash to blow want to gift me about $300,000? LOL.

Have a great Fathers' Day!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Just Call Me Battle Axe

It's been a busy week. I lost another chicken to the foxes and have been patrolling the yard with the axe in hand in the evenings. People driving by probably think I'm crazy. I guess Tom figures the two nights he sat outside with his new shot gun was enough. This Fall I'll take the hunting class that is offered every year for new hunters in town and learn how to handle a gun, but for right now, I'll just patrol with my axe and butcher the chickens as fast as I can. Looks like the chicken skid will be used for the next batch of chicks. At least it's built.

Got some good news today when I took Ed for bowling with Special Olympics. We parents are going to be allowed to organize a Park Falls Chapter for Special Olympics. We will plan an organizational meeting around the end of July. The Lions Club in Park Falls is going to sponsor us. How wonderful! I already know that we can have a fund raising table at the farmers market once a month, but I'll confirm that with Diane Barkstrom, our market manager, when I see her (hopefully on Saturday). Thanks to Tony and Vicky (Nino's parents) for the gorgeous tomato plants and Red Brandywine seeds!

The weather has gone suddenly from very cool at night and during the day to hot and sultry. Of course, the wide temperature swings are causing the greens in the garden beds to bolt. I plan on bringing mesclun mix, baby cos, radishes, spinach, and scallions to the market. The peas are blooming so I'll probably have peas by next week. I'll be preparing all day tomorrow for market: wash the aprons, tablecloth, and table; harvest and clean the produce and put it in the refrigerator to keep cool; make a smaller stand for the hanging scale that is not as heavy and cumbersome to move; put batteries in the radio and have Lara select the CD's she wants to play; and so on. Once I get my plastic tub with all the necessities together, preparing for market each week actually goes quickly. I am looking forward to seeing everyone again. Lara is excited to go, too. Let's hope the seeds planted in the field now take off.

We did make it to the nursery last Saturday. I bought some gorgeous herbs, and Tom bought a lilac bush to replace one of the American Cranberry bushes that he didn't like. I took the one he didn't want and put it in my little herb garden by the propane tank. Looks like I'll need to build a fence around that garden since the string fence I put up around it did nothing to keep the chickens out of it and the garden -- including the new herbs I just added -- have been chewed down to the ground. Huge sigh . . . .

I've been working on my presentation for the Northwest Wisconsin Sustainable Living Fair on July 25-26 in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. I will be giving my seed saving presentation on Sunday, the 26th, at 2:00 p.m. I am excited about being asked to speak and am working very hard on my prsentation. I have a couple of handouts that I want to get printed, so I'll need to get those to the new printer in Park Falls. From what I understand, they are a young couple, and that is the type of business I like to support.

Speaking of the field, I'm going to have to get out there and hoe the weeds already. The wire is up on the new fence posts, and even though the fence line is only halfway straight on the road side, it's a sight better than it was. I hope that this Fall when things slow down a bit that I'll be able to work on the fence some more. I can at least tighten up the wire now for sure. The grass around the sections needs to be cut again already.

Wild life report: We had two raccoons in the yard last night that kept setting off the motion light. The foxes are still slinking around. It's going to be a great year for grouse hunters because the grouse have been drumming all over the place for a couple of weeks now. Ed and I saw a doe and her tiny baby fawn cross the road in front of us today as we drove to town. We also saw four sand hill cranes (two each in two different fields).

If the rain keeps coming the way it thankfully has been, this should be a good year for berries.

Time to lock up the chicken coop, so I'll talk to you later. Have a great evening.

One last note: I came across a quote the other day that I'd like to share. It is from Enoch's Book of Admonition for His Children in the Book of Enoch, Chapter XCII, v. 2: "Let not your spirit be troubled on account of the times; for the Holy and Great One has appointed days for all things." Sweet.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fence Mending

Long day today! I went out to the field after taking care of Lara this morning and continued working on taking down the woven and smooth wire from the roadside fence that was inside the utility easement, and digging out the fence posts. I thought the flies were going to eat me alive! Then, after lunch, Tom and Ed came out to the field with me and helped me put in the cedar fence posts that Dad gave me a few weeks ago along the new fence line that I marked with string yesterday. We moved the fence line well inside of where CenturyTel marked the utilities, and now I won't have to worry about digging inside the fence. Only about half that side of the fence was inside the easement, but at some point I will straighten out the rest of the line. It certainly looks much straighter now! Tomorrow we may go to a nursery so I don't know if we will get to stapling up the wire or not. In any event I will need to go to the field and water everything. I still need to plant the squash seeds where the seedlings died, too, and boy, are the thistles coming up where I planted the kidney beans. Yeah, I could use a clone right now.

Haven't lost any more chickens, but the dog has been good about chasing away the foxes. That's it for today.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Farming Life

I went with Tom out to his garden by Dad's and helped him plant his seedling melons and squashes. His potatoes are coming up already. Afterwards, we went to the field to see if the utility company had marked the line for me, and sure enough they had so tomorrow I plan to work on the fence. I had an idea about where the utility lines were, and I'm glad that where I imagined re-siting the fence line will be more than adequate to keep away from any buried cables.

The unhappy news is that for all of the seedlings we planted in the field the other day, I could only find one still alive today. I was really down about all the work that had gone into growing and planting those seedlings, but that's farming for you! I went back home and got out the seed bin, and fortunately, for most of the squashes I planted, I have more seeds, so I will plant seeds tomorrow where the plants were. I really think I should stop trying to get the garden planted with plants before June 10 and do like my brother-in-law, who plants all his seeds on June 1, and whatever grows, grows. His gardens always produce great, and he has to haul his irrigation water the same as me. I should just resign myself to getting to the farmers market later than the other vendors.

This morning I finally got a good count of the chickens. I am down to 103 chickens from an initial 175. Wow! For all the set backs this year with the chickens, I can't help wondering if raising them is worth it. Still, this is the first real year for production and marketing, and I already know I will do things differently next year -- like having the chicks delivered in mid-May so there is good pasture ready for them by the time they feather out and can go to the skid. I certainly hope we will have gotten rid of the foxes by next year, too! Tom has been sitting out near the coop with the shot gun for the past few days, and while he has seen foxes each night, he hasn't been able to get a shot. I figure I have lost 7 chickens so far to the foxes. What a waste of money! At least the new fence around the coop is keeping them out. I hate keeping the chickens in the coop run, but until I can let them run safely outside the fence, that is where they will stay.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

And Away We Go

Wow! I finally completed most of the planting. There is a space of two rows that I have purposely left empty that I can use should I need to plant something, but otherwise, the field is full. Ed and I worked most of yesterday watering the plants in the high tunnel and planting up the rest of the hops section. As soon as I translate my notes into a map, I'll post it for you to give you a visual reference for what is in the field. Last night we had a good rain so I hope everything will sprout and I can keep up with the watering till the plants get well rooted. The hops section should look especially good with all of the herbs I put in: Tansy, Sweet Annie, Lavender, Foxy Digitalis, Calendula, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Cumin, Borage, Soapwort, Sweet and bulb Fennel, and Lovage. If enough of those herbs take off, I will use clumps of them to put into a medicine wheel garden -- yes, I still want to make a medicine wheel garden, and I want it to look good right off the bat so it will need bigger initial plantings. I don't know what it is about medicine wheel gardens, but I just have to have one.

Yesterday morning I worked on weeding the garden boxes. The plants are really taking off. I will definitely have enough salad makings to take to the farmers market this coming week: French Breakfast Radishes, Nichols Mesclun Mix, Noble Spinach, and Navet des Vertus Marteau turnip greens. I will sell the turnip thinnings, but will let the turnips go to seed since I like them so much. I am impressed with the Paris Island Cos romaine lettuce; that should be ready to harvest by the time the mesclun mix is done. I am going to only cut the mesclun mix once because I want to let most of what I grow this year set seed. Many of my seeds are old and I need to grow everything out for fresh seed. I planted all of my squashes together -- a bad idea for seed saving -- but I plan to select, mark, isolate and hand pollinate the different varieties for seed production. I even planted four extra seeds with each plant I put in just in case I lose one to weather or varmints. If I am able to keep up with the watering, and if everything grows well, the field should look spectacular by August.

I am really excited about some of the new varities I planted this year. Golden Amaranth is supposed to be easy to grow and very nutritious. You can eat the leaves and the seeds. From what I've read, you can get up to 1 lb. of seed per plant, and you can grind the seeds for flour. Another new variety is Senposai, a type of green similar to spinach, that Pat Meadows, a list serv friend, recommended. A couple of squashes are new this year -- Queensland Blue and Galeaux D'Eyesine, and this year I heavily planted pole beans -- Cherokee Trail of Tears, Rattlesnake, Kentucky Blue, and True Red Cranberry. Interestingly, the True Red Cranberry had the poorest germination of all the pole beans I planted, but the seedlings that did sprout were the strongest of all the varieties.

The wolves must be back because all the varmints are coming by us early this year! Besides the chickens being kamikazied by the foxes, last night I got a good look at, yes, the BIG bear is back! And the rattlesnake has showed up by my Dad's chicken coop! He, fortunately, has a shot gun.

I called the utility company and they will come to mark the utility line for me out in the field so I can start working on fixing the fence next Wednesday after 12:00 P.M. Hopefully that will not take long. Maybe I can start moving the roosters out to the field that evening. We'll see. Repairs always take longer than you expect! I have some woven wire left over from when I first put the field fence up that I will use to make a gate and separate the chicken area from the garden sections. I hope there is enough of it; I hate having to buy "just a little bit more".

Lori Wagner and her boys are going to come help me butcher the chickens. That will be a big help! I'm trying to find a Featherman or tub chicken plucker to rent for a weekend (can't wait to build my own Whizbang Chicken Plucker!). I will give her a call to set a day that's ok with both of us.

Well, that's all for now. Have a good weekend, everybody. And hey, go see the new Star Trek movie -- as a life long Star Trek fan I have to say I love the way the fresh perspective of this movie, and the casting was billiant! I can't wait to see the next one.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Freeze and Freeze Again

Well, when I went out to the field this morning I discovered that we had a frost last night that wiped out everything I planted in the field except for the leeks. It is supposed to freeze again tonight. I pulled out my seed bin and just planted seeds where the Copenhagen Market Cabbages and Champion Collards were. I will wait a while and where the Garden Huckleberries were I will plant Wonderberries. At least everything in the high tunnel looked all right thanks to my wrapping everything up in Agribon!

This morning I worked on patching the high tunnel end walls, and although the feed bag patches don't look very pretty, the patches should hold for this year (unless we get a hurricane!) until I can buy some new end wall panels. It was a gorgeous day to be outside, too.

This afternoon, Tom and I hooked up the mower to the BCS and he started mowing the rest of the field for me while Ed helped me plant. It's surprising how long planting takes. I hope I can get it all finished by the end of this week. We had to bring the little mower back to the house because the pull string has tightened up and you can't pull it. Looks like we'll have to take it apart again. I think the problem is the clutch; I wonder if I can pick up a replacement part at the hardware store. Well, it looks like I'm going to learn how to repair lawn mowers.

And I'm going to need to learn how to shoot! At the same time I went in to take care of Lara for the night I heard the chickens making a ruckus outside and saw the whole flock running across the front lawn. I went to the window just in time to see a fox carrying one of my biggest birds off into the swamp. By the time I got outside, I saw an Arucauna bite the dust on the other side of the chicken coop. I grabbed an axe and charged another fox that I saw coming up the slope by the septic field, but he got away. So, I know I have at least three foxes to deal with, and I know for sure that at least two chickens are lost. A number of other birds have missing feathers and are ruffled, but are otherwise uninjured. Just what I need -- foxes!

Remember when I told you I thought the woods were on fire? Well, when "The Iron County Miner" newspaper came there was a big story about how there were several forest fires in the area that had been flamed by the high winds that day. The biggest fire was near us. Thankfully no one lost their home or was injured, and all of the fires were put out.

I wonder what fox meat tastes like. . . .