Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ain't got no blues, got chickens in my back yard

OK, so it's a crappy picture. The chickens got huffy and left before I could take another one. 8 or 9 chickens and Jeff's Guineas have been scratching around the front yard a lot lately. These four decided to hop up on the woodpile and peer in the window at me so I retaliated by taking their picture and am now humiliating them by posting it for the world to see.

So far they are taking the cold weather in stride, still laying although not as many eggs as earlier. I've been pampering them a bit, giving them meat scraps from on old buck deer that my nephew gave me last fall (he's butchered and frozen, lest someone fear that they are eating him alive). Also soaking some grain and feeding it to them warm first thing in the mornings. As the old folks say, take care of your barred rocks and they will take care of you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shuckin' the Corn (apologies to Earl Scruggs)

Here is my corn shucking rig, not as cool as a team of mules and a spring wagon, but it works. I planted about a half acre of Reid's yellow dent corn last spring and just finished shucking it today. The planter didn't work very well, so got a poor stand, the deer ate about a third of it, but still I got about 30 bushels. If any of you hippies want some open pollenated organic ear corn for your organic, open pollenated squirrels, get in touch.

As I have sometimes mentioned, my dad tended to primitive agriculture, so we raised and shucked 10 or 15 acres of corn every fall. Generally miserable work, hot sweaty and itchy early in the fall, cold, wet, and muddy late. I was always ashamed to admit to the other dudes in FFA that we didn't own a corn picker. Childhood trauma down on the farm. In retrospect, I am glad for the experience now that I don't actualy have to do it any more.

The early mechanical corn pickers pulled arms off a lot of farmers anyway, so perhaps I should be thankful also for my reasonably intact body. The pickers had a set of serrated rollers, called snapping rolls. The were designed to pull corn stalks througn and were set close enough together to pop the ears off. They tended to plug up, people would try to pull the stalks back out, the plug would break loose, and the stalks would feed in so fast that there was no time to turn loose. The un-plugger then lost an arm, or maybe got completely mashed and was killed. Every fall in Vo Ag, we would have to sit through a safety film that recreated corn picker accidents. Wish I could find one for the tickfest film fest.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All plowed up and no plants to grow

Not actually true, I do have plants to grow but would like to think of some different ones.

Those of you who have been to the farm have seen my garden the past few years, maybe a half acre total, in which I’ve actually raised a significant amount of food last year. I’ve got about 4 acres more ground plowed and in process of being prepared for planting this year. I will have a separate area for vine crops such as squash and pumpkins as well as plots for corn, soybeans, sorghum for bird and deer food, and probably some wheat and rye for next season. The corn will be open pollinated yellow dent, organic and pesticide free. I am thinking of offering it on the net at an outrageous price for a half bushel or so, hoping that aging hippies will buy it as food for their organic, pesticide free yard squirrels. Also have several pounds of edamame seed which I might try to sell to squirrels as food for aging pesticide free hippies. I will of course try to raise a significant amount of the usual staples such as potatoes, turnips, sweet corn, tomatoes, cabbage, etc.

What I am really trying to figure out is “What can I raise and/or how can I market the stuff in order to make a buck?” If anybody has an idea about a product or a marketing angle, I would really like to hear it. My new motto is something along the lines of “People got to eat, so they might as well pay through the nose for food.” What sort of product would you consider paying through the nose for just because you would really like to have it and there isn’t a consistent supply available? Not looking for a commitment to buy anything, just ideas. Plants or animals considered. If it grows in dirt or walks around and eats stuff that grows in dirt I can probably raise it.

Current project is a bullet proof chicken pen built along the lines of the redneck greenhouse, but covered in chicken wire instead of plastic. I bought 31 chickens two weeks ago and still have all 31, probably because they haven’t been outside the bullet proof chicken house. The chickens will of course be free ranging under normal circumstances, but I think I need a small pen where I can leave them unattended for a day or so and assume they will still be intact when I get back.

Also thinking long and hard about a cellar design. I have almost decided to build it using treated posts and plywood, then coating with tar and wrapping in plastic before covering with dirt. Cost and time would be less than half that of a poured concrete structure. At my advanced age, I would plan to die before it caves in. Anybody got any experience with that sort of thing? (Timber framed foundations, not dying.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring '09

It’s spring and it’s cold. Here is a picture of the redneck greenhouse which has failed miserably to blow away over a period of about 4 weeks. Encouraged by that, I planted stuff in it about 2 weeks ago. The spinach and onions are up and a bunch of cabbage plants are reluctantly coming fourth in peat pots.

I plan to plant more stuff this year on the assumption that somebody will want it. I am currently forecasting TEOTWAWKI* for late ‘09-early’10. Those with potatoes to sell will name their own price by then. Trade goods still accepted, but I don’t need any more granite counter tops, Hummer hood ornaments, or running shoes. Could still use some banjo strings and a couple pints of moonshine.

Farm population remains stable for now with 2 humans, 1 black dog, and one black cat. Actually 2 black dogs, as Susie found a friend, another dumped black Lab. I felt that we had an opening for another dog, so he got to stay. We named him after that Hope and Change dude. I don’t count Jeff’s livestock in the general population, as they tend to live about as long as fruit flies, usually not long enough to acquire names.

Much will happen around here in the coming months barring catastrophic injury, bankruptcy, volcanic eruption, or massively accelerated continental drift. It shall be reported with some regularity.

*The End Of The World As We Know It, for you non-survivalists.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The garden is dormant, now where do you suppose this handbasket is headed?

The garden is done for the year, and a pretty good year it was. Not only did I raise a lot of stuff, I let hardly any weeds or grass go to seed at any time. Plus clearing out an old fence row to open up a lot of new ground for next year, plus working the whole area in October and sewing rye over the whole thing. I bought a pretty good sized used upright freezer last spring for $75, and we flat filled the thing in addition to giving a lot of stuff away. Only thing still in the ground is turnips, and plenty of them. Not sure why I planted so many other than that I had the seed and didn’t think they would grow anyway.

I built a small deluxe chicken house with all the features that the up to date farmer would have wanted in 1942, which was when my chicken book was published. I’m going to buy 8 or 10 year old hens yet this fall and pen them in an area of the garden to see what they can do to wreck havoc with bug eggs and weed seeds. Will also try a trick my dad used by putting a large bale of hay in their pen to let them scratch it down this winter, eat the seed out of it, and work the rest into the ground.

I went out and plowed up about 3 acres in a couple of spots in the outlying fields. Will plant field corn, soybeans, oats and milo there next spring to provide feed for the chickens and maybe a few goats by next summer as well as having some grain to grind for bread, grits, rough cereal and that sort of thing.

The seed order for next year is nearly done and will be sent within the week. If anybody wants anything raised and you are within driving distance to come get it, speak now or forever piece your hold or whatever the phrase is. I’m going to raise a lot of stuff next year and will give some of it to anybody who will give anything of value in return, such as work, beer, dope, a reasonably funny joke, chicken feed, fence wire, a pretty good song, Kuggerands, whatever. Just kidding about the dope of course, as we have a new democrat sheriff in Daviess county and I’m sure he will be harder to bribe than the outgoing republican. Yeah, right.

Astonishingly, the lame microsoft spell checker does not include Kuggerand. Further proof that Gates is a wuss. (Ha. The checker doesn’t recognize wuss. Suggestions are woos, buss, fuss, muss, cuss, and puss. That’s about as funny as anything I’ve read today.)

A lot more will be done before spring including a better temporary greenhouse, a concrete pad for a shop, maybe a cellar, and probably start on a harvest kitchen/bunkhouse. I am increasing the pace as much as possible in anticipation of the biblical 7 lean years that are fast approaching. Yes children, I am predicting that in the next 7 years we will see gasoline at $15 per gallon, government default on Social Security payments, failure of private and public pension funds, massive unemployment, and a grinding depression that will make the 1930’s look like a bad weekend. A fair chance for hyper-inflation that will make paper money worthless, destroy all savings, and maybe lead to massive riots, martial law, and a total breakdown of the government as it exists today. Best case we wind down to something like life in the 1930’s and start to rebuild, worst case a demagogue is hailed as a savoir and becomes a dictator. We might already have that guy in place.

Sadly, I’m doing pretty well with predictions these days. In August I moved my measly 401K out of the stock market with the Dow at 11,400 and into fixed returns at 4%. In July, I predicted oil at $75 and gas at $2.75 by year end. I missed on the upside, but that’s closer than anything that I read back then. I am now going to take of the 401K funds and put them in the equivalent of fish hooks, .22 shells, beans, and bandaids.

So how did we come to this? I blame it on Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture 40 or 50 years ago. At least he was the front man for the idiots who decided to remake the US society in a thoroughly stupid way. Details in another post. More recently we can thank a bunch of corrupt politicians of both major parties, a bunch of brilliant bankers who figured out how to manufacture imaginary money from straw, and a bunch of overeducated idiots from prestigious universities who decided that an “information economy” was the wave of the future. Well guess what Corky, regardless of how smart you are and how much information you have, somebody has got to raise some cabbage, mine some coal, and make some stuff if we are going to live as other than animals.

In spite of all the potential misery, I detect little real concern in the folks that I interact with on a daily basis. I keep thinking of a scene from the movie “Titanic”. After the ship has hit the iceberg and everybody is milling around trying to figure out what’s the deal, the captain calls the engineer who designed the ship to the bridge. They lay out a blueprint of the ship and various people point out where the damage is and where water is coming in. The engineer does some mental calculations and starts talking about sinking speed. Captain breaks in and says “Are you saying the ship could sink?” Engineer replies, “No, I’m saying that it WILL sink in approximately 6 hours.”

I feel like that engineer about now. Only good news is that I’ve been wrong about a lot more stuff than I’ve been right about in my checkered life. Never-the-less, I will clean the old .22 and make mental inventory of the rabbit population this winter. And remind myself once again that whatever happens in the confused world of human activity the grass will still grow, chickens still cackle, water run downhill, and beans still sprout. This too shall pass.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mud and stuff

Here for your amusement is a picture of the large mud hole that formed just north of my mail box this spring. Please note that the dog is using all four feet to avoid being trapped in it.

The soil here in this part of northwest Missouri is pretty sticky when it forms mud, which it does at the slightest excuse. The road in front of my house first had gravel applied about 1955, when I was 9 years old. Previous to that time the road was raw dirt and the Frazier family simply stayed home for a while after rains fell and when the ground thawed in the winter. Even 4 wheel drive vehicles were soon brought to a stop as the mud stuck to and rolled up on the tires. Our rural mail carrier drove a military surplus Jeep of the type made famous during WWII and he tried to make the rounds as often as possible. Somewhere I have a picture of it sitting in the mud in front of our house. My mother took the picture after the Jeep suffered a broken axle due to mud rolling on the wheels and jamming inside the wheel wells.

In the early 1950’s a politician by the name of King sponsored a piece of legislation that allocated money to improve and spread gravel on a bunch of rural roads. These roads of course were called “King bill roads”, and it was big deal if one was going to be built past your farm. The original road came through the middle of the farmstead directly in front of the old house where Tickfest is held. It then proceeded down the hill, over the branch where the footbridge is currently located, then back east and south to the present road. The King bill road was built in the present location, a great blessing to our chickens as they didn’t wander that far from the house and thus suffered much lower mortality due to passing cars. It also eliminated one source of idle amusement for my brother and me. The road ditch south of our house was washed out deep enough that we could hide in it and throw dirt clods at passing cars without being seen. Overall, it was a great improvement.

A gravel road here in NW Missouri is a triumph of faith over nature, at least when it remains passable. Crushed rock is spread over the dirt, but a combination of rain and the passage of tires soon embed it in the underlying clay. More rock is then added and over time the road surface assumes a sort of uneasy equilibrium with a high enough rock content near the surface to resist the penetration of a tire under the normal weight of a car. Summer rains run off quickly and don’t do much damage. Winter moisture is another story, particularly when the surface thaws and absorbs water while the underlying dirt remains frozen to block any subsoil water from soaking down. Once the surface layer gets soft enough to allow the rock to be moved around by passing tires, all hell breaks loose and your car will sink nearly to that well known warm and unpopular location. When this happens, it is said by the locals that the “bottom went out” of the road. In truth the top is what goes out, the bottom is still there somewhere, but maybe quite a distance down.

That happened a lot this last winter, as it was a good deal colder and wetter than has been the norm lately. The south route remained barely passable, but a major mudhole formed just north of our drive. It perhaps was not the mother of all mudholes, but was at least the aunt of a couple. At least two 4 wheelers came to a dead stop in it before the local drivers learned not to trifle with it and found another way home. After a month or so the road dried enough for the township board to send out a couple of loads of large rock and return the road to passability. Tickfest attendees will note the location as they pass over about 40 yards of road that is rough enough to jar teeth and wreak havoc with front-end alignment. (Your car, not you.)

Last winter was another nail in the coffin of my faith in the whole global warming paradigm. I don’t have a researched opinion on the matter. I have on a couple of occasions in my life set about to reach an informed opinion on some topic or another, and it is quite an exercise in any slightly complex situation. I expect that I would have to work full time for 6 months to study a reasonably portion of the relevant information to form such an opinion on man-made climate change. I don’t care enough to invest that much effort in this case. I will state that my common sense opinion is that the theory is being advanced and promoted by a bunch of fools, liars, and scam artists. If anybody wants to discuss it further, feel free. I could very well be wrong.

Meantime, we got birds in the yard. The hummingbird feeder is quite busy these days. A pair of wrens has successfully raised and evicted a nest full of wrenlets, cleaned out the house and are starting over. The feeder and wren house are within 8 feet of where I sit to drink coffee in the morning.

I am seeing a lot more kinds of birds than I did a few years ago. I suppose I should get a book and keep track like the bird freaks do. Seems like a lot of trouble to find the book and look up every strange bird that stops for a minute or two. Besides I almost prefer to just think to myself, “Now that’s one weird-ass bird”, rather than knowing what to call all of them.

A pair of barn swallows started one of the mud and wattle nests on top of a 100 watt spotlight bulb at the other end of the porch a few days ago. I didn’t know what to do, as I sort of wanted to see them do their thing, but I was afraid that the bulb would cook eggs and maybe bird if it came on. It’s on a motion detector and the dogs set it off a lot. I tried to unscrew the bulb enough to prevent that, but couldn’t do that and keep the nest on top. Finally just decided to turn the light off until the birds got done, so we now have a swallow nest about 1 foot from the downstairs door. We need smarter birds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

48 acres and not a mule in sight

To quote a scrap of doggerel remembered from my youth:

Spring has sprung
Fall has fell
Winter has come
It’s cold as hell.

I’ve often heard that term, cold as hell, which makes me question the general understanding of the concept of hell. But that is a different topic. It’s not been unusually cold here this winter in a historical context, just a normal December with a fair amount of ice and snow. Low temperature was about 5 below. The first winter after I returned to the farm, 1984-85, was the coldest I remember with at least one low of –22 Deg. F. If hell were indeed cold, that would be how cold it would be.

Winter is progressing nicely, I am keeping up with the woodstove, burning almost all hedge wood. I’ve got a few more years worth of wood still on the ground from the ‘04 storm and the hedge will last until I get to it. The power was off here during the ice storms, but never more than a half day. We didn’t suffer at all, but every time that happens I resolve to make better preparations for the next one. We seldom lose power out here in the sticks, mostly because the power companies have sense enough to trim the trees near the lines. Rather I should say that the rural residents have sense enough to let them do the cutting. There are a lot of power lines running smack through the middle of trees in most towns. I assume that is because city dwellers are reluctant to allow any trimming of the only tree on their lot. To briefly channel the Byrds;

For every outage.
(Trim, trim, trim)
There is a reason
(Trim, trim, trim)

I kind of like winter long as it doesn’t get so cold I can’t go out without my face hurting. The sky is spectacular when the air gets cold and still and the moon is higher in the sky than in summer. A full moon over snow is better than a milkshake (such a stupid comparison that I am going to leave it in.) One of my favorite sunsets is a clear evening with snow when the western sky has an orange rim fading to deep blue overhead and the black skeletons of trees are outlined against the last light. That sight on a cold evening when I am walking to the house from cutting wood ranks right up there with pumpkins in the corn.

The whole wood heating thing, in addition to the favorable economics, is a set of rituals have been part of my life from childhood except for a few years in the central heated ghetto of Hutchinson, KS. There is a deep satisfaction in getting the wood and stacking it in a safe place, knowing that it will keep me warm and comfortable, a payment in kind that transcends the cash economy. The fire itself becomes like a migratory house pet, something that must be fed, watched, and cleaned up after daily. The temperature in the house moves to some degree in unison with the outside and puts the dwellers in direct touch with the hard edge of reality. All this stuff is worth more to me than all the cash money that can be printed and piled up, but I know I will forever be a freak in that respect.

Still, time moves in a hurry and spring will soon be re-sprung. I got my 20 x 20 hand garden spaded, ashed, and mulched with leaves before the cold hit. I am going to cover half of it with a hoop house made of PVC pipe and 6 mil. Plastic, so should be planting something not much after Feb. 15.

As I think I have previously noted, our family did a division of the ancestral farm such that I now actually own 48 acres as opposed to owning 2 acres and holding arguing rights to 140 more. For a number of reasons, I have been contemplating what level of productivity I would like to reach with that 48 acres. I have no doubt that that much land in a temperate climate such as north Missouri could provide several people with food, shelter, clothing, and enough spare change for at least minimal self actualization. (Maybe self-actualization comes later on the list, if so, apologies to Maslow or whatever the hell his name was.) It would require a good amount of work, a minimization of needs, and maybe a little patch of weed out in the brush. (Just kidding about the weed, you ATF folks can go back to scanning email from the Muslims. (I wish I didn’t make so many parenthetical comments.))

Deciding what to do with the 48 acres sort of ties in with preparing for power outages. I sometimes think about the possibility of our society going completely in the crapper to a degree that would put us all back in some sort of survival mode. It has happened to almost every such society throughout history, including several in the last 100 years. There have been a vast array of predicted catastrophes over the last 40 years or so, a couple of which were instrumental in my move to the farm. In the late 70’s there were very sincere promises of the following:

1. Total depletion of petroleum and natural gas. I remember one article written by a respected academic of the time who stated that gasoline would be nearly gone before the cars currently on the road were wore out.
2. A major worldwide depression brought on by massive inflation of the currency as the government desperately tried to keep up with deficit spending.
3. A rapidly approaching ice age, as industrial pollution entered the atmosphere and reduced the incidence of solar energy at the surface of the earth.
4. Worldwide famine and massive starvation extending to all the major industrial nations.

I was younger and more gullible in those days, and I believed a certain amount of all this. Thus I decided to move my family to the farm, build an earth-sheltered house, start gardening and farming, and in general hunker down for the coming catastrophe. Of course none of it happened, at least not yet, and we are two or three decades downstream from the predicted dates. The folks who made all those dire predictions are still at it and astonishingly, are still being listened to by several people.

There are those on the other side of the discussion who think that we have reached a level of sophistication and knowledge that will prevent our civilization from ever suffering any sort of disintegration. There are also folks who are waiting for little green men to descend to earth and take them up to the mother ship. I say to all the predictors and waiters in a loud clear voice “Bull Hockey.” Nobody knows what is going to happen, and I strongly suspect that the worst problems that we will face are those that we do not remotely anticipate at present. Anything that anybody is talking about can probably be planned for and dealt with.

So what could cause a real deal societal catastrophe which would put us all in survival mode and leave the streets strewn with corpses?

Anything that took out a significant portion of the electrical power grid could likely do it. Wiping out a major portion of the gasoline supply certainly would. Our society is completely dependent on the machines for food, water, heat, medical care, and everything else that keeps us alive on a daily basis. If the lights went off, water quit coming out of the faucet, and food couldn’t be delivered to the grocery store, people would be fighting to the death for those items in a couple of days, maybe less. I suppose that is would be possible for a relatively small, dedicated group of suicidal attackers to knock out enough power generation and gasoline refining capacity to bring about such an outcome. Potatoes in the cellar would be a very good thing to have in that case.

Thus I sometimes fret that I am in a position to be able to prepare for various catastrophi, but I’ve done no such thing. I’d feel really bad if the worst came to pass and some of my starving friends came crawling to the door and I had to tell them that I just live here on a farm, I got no food either, so let’s ‘rassel and see which of us gets to cannibalize the other. Add that to the fact that I would consider it good clean fun to actually have a working farm in place here. I really ought to do a little more about it.

So that’s the thought train that is running through my mind these days as the sunsets get a bit later. I will continue in a future posting.