I apologize for the lack of posts here lately; the WordPress editor on my laptop is having some issues since I installed the latest Windows updates and I can’t write posts. This is from my phone, so I can’t write much, but I’ll throw out a few pictures while I get the computer issue ironed out!
Got some butterfly plants from a new friend! Above is milkweed and flowering senna.
Last weekend I attended the TOFGA annual conference and I LOVED it. It was super intense and it’s taken me a week to process what I learned.
One of the biggest questions I wanted to answer going into the conference was the question of what animals to start with on the farm. Through the workshops and sessions and talking with farmers and farm tours, I ruled out broiler chickens right off. Goats slipped down in my estimation when I heard how hard they are to keep contained. Horses are a money sink. Cows are great, but kind of a big investment and a steep learning curve for someone who’s never kept livestock. Laying hens are good if you don’t mind some loss to predation and if you have a market for the eggs. Sheep can be a great animal for a beginning rancher, and there’s a good market for lambs both in the commodity market (selling animals at auction) and retail (selling them for food). I still need to do research on the economics of raising sheep, and, you know, learn about how to care for them, but I think the first profit-oriented enterprise at Fields of Green will be sheep.
I also got plenty of validation that our goal of creating a life our children will enjoy is a worthy goal. One session I attended was taught by a man who did traditional ranching for most of his life. When his kids were grown, they got out of the ranching life as fast as possible. And this man, in his middle age years, rethought all he knew about his entire lifestyle and changed entirely. He started taking good care of his land, fertilizing it naturally, letting native grasses grow, and using high stock density grazing to replenish the depleted soil. I listened closely to what he had to say; a man who can make such a drastic change after being set in his ways for so long has got to have an excellent reason to do so.
I learned I really need to be able to figure out what is growing in our fields in order to properly address how to increase our land’s fertility. Even though the fields have been unmanaged for years, they’re not in really terrible shape. The worst thing about our land is the condition of the soil. I have not dug up one earthworm on our property, and water doesn’t absorb into the soil the way it should. It was depressing to see photos of simply gorgeous soils after the farmers had worked to increase their soil’s fertility. But it was encouraging to realize they’d only been working on their soil for 3-5 years. Hopefully someday we will have good After photos too 🙂
There are dozens of articles on the interwebs about hugelkultur so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on what it is, or why to do it, or even how. It’s a very simple concept: pile wood on the ground. Put smaller sticks and twigs on top. Throw on some grass or compostable materials. Maybe add some manure. Cover the whole thing with dirt and commence planting. The idea really appealed to me because we have HUGE piles of brush that are just sitting there, slowly rotting, not very beautiful and certainly not very useful. I was excited to be introduced to a way to turn our trash into something beautiful and edible.
I want to start a series of posts on hugelkultur to document growing in it season after season. Again, there’s a ton of information out there on what it is, why to do it, and how. There’s not a lot of information on hugelkultur results.
Above are my raw materials. The brush pile is over 6′ high at its tallest, and there are plenty of smaller piles all around. There’s also a pile of dirt left over from the driveway work. Right now it’s so hard that I’d need a pickax to get into it. And I might have to use one; I’m hoping for a good rain soon to loosen it up enough to move.
I don’t have a lot of big logs, but what I did have, I laid at the bottom of the pile. Then I took smaller bunches of the grapevines and thorny junk we cut off the fence during the summer and piled it on top. Plus my mother-in-law was cutting down a thick swath of snow-on-the-prairie the day I was building the beds, so I laid down those bushes on the piles as well. I also had a bag of compost materials that I brought to distribute among the beds. It was enough for about 1/4 of one bed. My mental garden scale needs to go WAY up – I’ve been gardening in a 15×7 bed for years!
This is what it looked like when I was so tired I could hardly move anymore. I have one bed ready for dirt, one ready for more nitrogen material, and one just getting started. Here’s a closer shot of the dirt-ready bed. My father-in-law mowed part of the field and I raked as much of the grass up as I could and put it on the bed. And you better believe I picked up all the cow pies I could and put them on the bed too. Thanks for the compost, cows! The day after I built the beds I pulled out some paper and pencils to plan the garden. Ellie (5) said she wanted to plan a garden too. Hers has a Christmas tree (complete with roots), a pond, and a boat. I think it’s a keeper!
We hired a Bobcat owner/operator to make us a driveway on one of the sloppiest days of the year. But man, it was so worth it! First he graded the driveway, and made the ditch for the culvert. Andrew went to buy the culvert, and he and the Bobcat guy laid it in place.
Then four loads of driveway gravel got dumped at the entrance, and got spread with the Bobcat.
Did I mention it was a rather sloppy day?
This is how it looked at the end of the day! And here is a video Andrew made of the process.
We finally finished clearing the fence! This is where the driveway is going to go. Some of us worked harder than others… 😉 This was the last big tree to come down off the fence. It took two people to pull it off. Whoa! It’s so clear now! That was totally overgrown – 40′ long and at least 8′ deep. The fence wasn’t visible through the brush, and even with a working chainsaw it took a long time to get it all cleared. Andrew and Ellie also marked out where the barn is going to go. Andrew also needed to show off his farmer’s tan. I think it’s coming along nicely. That feels SO GOOD.
Hi! We haven’t been at the farm much, so I haven’t had much to post. We did finish the brush clearing (post in the works!) and we are working on getting water! I also had a very exciting trip; my sister moved from California to Texas so I flew to California last Wednesday, then she and I drove the 1,750 miles between CA and TX in two looooong days. We had such a good time!
Ok, that’s all for now. Here’s a bonus pic of my girls being cute (and filthy)!
It probably doesn’t shock anyone, but summer in Texas is hot. And when we went to the farm this past Monday, it was still summer.
We had a lovely time, of course, but it was just miserable to be outdoors in the heat. We stuck to the shade as much as possible. Andrew’s parents and grandma came to the farm on Monday with us. They keep our Haylie dog for us and they have their own little Oliver, whom Ellie absolutely adores.
We grilled some hot dogs and corn, and they were delicious. We just threw our corn husks and cobs on the ground knowing the cattle would come compost them for us. We didn’t think they would come get the corn remnants while we sat there eating! But a couple brave girls did!
The fence is done and the next step is a driveway!
We are in wait mode right now, which doesn’t make for interesting blogging. Waiting on the electric company to get back to us with a quote. Waiting to get some time without small people needing things to look at our budget and see what excess we have and where it can go.
Plus, it’s really freaking hot, and the time we do spend at our farm is pretty miserable. We are glad for our RV’s air conditioning.
We have the first structures in place on our farm! The shipping containers were, with much drama, delivered on Friday. Andrew was out at the farm most of the day while the girls and I hung out with his parents.
Here’s the first one being loaded up, with the second in the picture. We have had this 20′ container for over a year; Andrew finished out the inside and added an air conditioner. It was his office for several months while we got our business started in 2014. He has been working out of, well, anywhere he can ever since we moved from our house to the apartment last summer. He will be very glad to have his office back!
There it is in its new home!
And here is the moment we weren’t sure would happen; the driver was later than he thought he would be and we didn’t think we would be able to get both containers off the storage lot and on the land. But the driver did a marvelous job, and here he is pulling in with the 40′ container.
Today we are going out and moving as much as we can out of the 20′ container into the 40′, and organizing it nicely on shelves and such. Andrew has to find a certain piece of equipment for a project on Tuesday, and he knows it’s buried deeply in the 20′ container. So that’s our main goal. The heat index is supposed to be near 100°. I don’t do heat well. I don’t just dislike being hot; I get nauseous and dizzy. If you read this, I’d love a prayer for our safety!
Getting our 911 address was remarkably easy. Again, I was super impressed at how helpful the county development office is. Looking forward to working with them again when we do our next driveway and septic system.
For the last week my focus has been on getting out of our old apartment. We loved it there; the staff was terrific. I feel like we did a good job moving gradually; we got our trailer nearly 4 weeks before the end of the lease. At first we took all the absolute essentials to the trailer. Then I started to focus on sorting the rest into what I wanted to store to go in our farm home that we plan to build, and things to donate or put in the trash. Honestly, in the last week I was less prone to purging things because I kind of lost focus in the light of the impending deadline. But we got all the stuff out and got it so thoroughly cleaned that the apartment staff said our unit looked better than most units do AFTER their cleaning crew gets finished. Plus we finished a day early!
In the meantime, I found there are a couple animal shelters near the farm that have Facebook pages. Oh man. I want all the puppies! And maybe a couple kittens! Barn first!