Finally. It happened. The long long winter is showing signs of weakness. Just a few degrees, mind you, but what a difference those few degrees can make. Just a week ago, this river was a solid block of ice.
On the homefront, we have also begun to thaw. There is a steady drip, drip, drip of snow melt from the roof. The snow drifts are sinking and ponding is unavoidable. Coop Town could now be considered lake front property. Normally, we call this area, Lawn.
But winter isn't leaving without a fight. Even though I was ready to get my seeds started in the cold frame, I had to dig through 18" of snow to find it.
The good news: tomato seeds are ready to go!
The bad news: the rest of the garden has to wait.
Such is life in the snowbelt. We'll get there, we just have to be patient.
In related news, all of our birds survived the winter. The boys suffered some frostbite of the comb, but are otherwise healthy. Big Man spent the winter growing these impressive spurs.
In two weeks we are expecting our first hatch of the season. Farmer Tom has informed me that the generator stands at the ready, in case of power failure, as he learned in previous winters that the incubators MUST NOT LOSE POWER, and that I will not hesitate to sound the alarm even if he is sleeping soundly. Thankfully, he gets it. He is a wonderful man. :)
In a month or so, this place will be transformed. With Spring, a new season and new life. It's time to put the dark days behind us and start the cycle all over again. I'm ready. Are you?
Feel free to join us on our FB page at fb.com/thepocketfarmer. I hope to see you there!
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
This week brought the news that apparently General Mills has "succumbed" to consumer demand for GMO free food, and has taken on the task of reworking their Cheerio recipe to include all GMO free ingredients. Hooray! It's happening! We won! Or did we?
Should we take a closer look? The fact is, General Mills does not think there is anything wrong with genetically modified (GMO) ingredients and is simply putting a product on the market that they believe will sell. "We did it because we think consumers may embrace it." http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-cheerios-general-mills-no-gmo-20140103,0,470209.story#ixzz2pcFdPY8t
If you look further into the big Cheerios announcement, you will realize that they aren't committing to changing the other Cheerios products, because, frankly, they don't have to. If they can change one product and steal market share from another cereal maker, their mission is accomplished. Their other option is to tack a little "fee" onto the new, improved Cheerios in order to compensate them for the higher cost of resourcing the non-GMO ingredients, replacing the older "bad" GMO stuff they were putting in there. Either way, make no mistake folks, for General Mills, this is about profit and not about health. They are a business, making a strategic move to capture market share, nothing more. If the company gets an image bump from the 'buzz' created by their big announcement, even better.
If you noticed, this week, I posted a question on my FB page (fb.com/thepocketfarmer), asking everyone, if they are prepared to pay more for non-GMO foods. The responses were overwhelmingly "Yes, but why should we have to?", "Your data is flawed" and even "Whose side are you on?". These comments tell me that we are unprepared for the second shoe to drop in our battle against the GMO machine.
First, let me say that I am unequivocally against GMO contamination of our food supply. Let's get that on the record, in case there was any doubt. But, as the messenger of apparent bad and unwelcome news, I was incorrectly labeled a traitor to the cause. I understand why, but to focus on that is to lose sight of the real issue: GMO companies are not just going to pack up their marbles and go home. Oh, no. They already have Plan B, Plan C and so on, in the pipeline, once the GMO battle gains legislative advantage.
Second, what is the "news" that I speak of? As I mentioned earlier, this is about money. Money got us into this mess and it will take money to get us out. A LOT OF MONEY. It will come from my pocket and yours, either to encourage companies to voluntarily comply with GMO labeling (by paying more for the product) or to force them to label through legal remedies (which cost money for attorneys).
It will also cost money to find new sources of GMO free food. Corn is a major ingredient in our food supply and nearly all corn grown in the US today is GMO (88%). But it's not just corn we have to worry about. 93% of soybeans are contaminated, 94% of cotton (cottonseed is used as a frying oil), Papaya 75%, Canola 90% and Sugar beet also 90%. That is quite a bit of product to find a replacement for.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margie-kelly/genetically-modified-food_b_2039455.html
In order to grow non-GMO corn you have to pay a premium for seed, since most corn crops have been or will be, contaminated by GMO drift, and then you have to protect your corn crop from the same contamination. Not an easy task, I assure you. And not cheap either.
I noticed some comments on the FB page that suggested that farmers need to take up the fight by planting and growing non-GMO food. I agree. In fact, we do that here on our farm. We pay more for organic heirloom seed, and all natural feed for our livestock, in order to raise the healthiest food possible (in our situation) for our family and customers. We pass part of that additional cost along to our egg, chicken and pork buyers. We have to. Otherwise we couldn't afford to do it. Large scale farmers have the same dilemma. They'd like to provide the food that their ancestors were able to grow, but with Monsanto breathing down their back, the high cost of GMO free seed and protecting their crops from GMO contamination, they simply cannot shoulder the additional cost. In order to get GMO out of our food, we'll need to either grow it ourselves, or pay someone else a higher price to make it happen.
It comes down to money. Even if we get GMO product labeling, what are we going to do? Boycott the 70% of our food products that have GMO contamination? Maybe. Demand non-GMO products? Well, we've been doing that, and so far progress is very slow. At this rate, we might have GMO free products in time for our grandkids to enjoy. Which is ok too, but if we want real change, in our lifetime, we'll have to pay for it. It's that simple.
When you see the new Cheerios come out, by all means, buy some! GMO free is good! Send the message back to General Mills, that we like what they are doing. Maybe they'll make more changes. Maybe other companies will follow suit when they see how successful these products are. We can hope. In the meantime, follow the money, and you'll see where change really comes from.
Feel free to share this message and help get the word out. Knowledge is power! You can also join me on FB at fb.com/thepocketfarmer or you can find me on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Thank you! :)
...does it make a sound?
Blogging is a funny thing. You type into a box, add some pictures, hit a button and suddenly the whole world can see inside your head. It's a very unnatural act. At least for me. It took some getting used to. I tried to think of it as an opportunity to practice writing, because in the back of my head, I think being a writer is cool. So, with that inspiration, I have been able to participate and practice the craft. And for the most part, I have enjoyed it.
But it is a slippery slope. Deciding what to write and what to leave unwritten is the million dollar question. After all, I am writing onto a blank screen, which does not care what words are formed or how they make a reader feel. That information comes later. Through trial and error, I have found that I am very comfortable speaking about tangibles. Building stuff, growing stuff and raising stuff. Easy peasy.
Intangibles are another animal altogether. I'd rather pull out my eyelashes than discuss feelings and failings on a forum with complete strangers. I mean, who does that? Why would you? It's like looking at a car wreck. It's uncomfortable and yet, compelling. It's why Reality TV continues to reign. We all like to secretly look at someone else's hardship and think, better him than me, from the safety of our sofa or kitchen table.
Of course, the intangible, uncomfortable posts are the most relatable and therefore, the most popular. I get way more hits, shares and comments when I am lurking at the bottom of the world, rather than the top. Yep. You guys like to make it hard for me.
Even so, I write. And, for the most part, you read. At least, that used to be the case. Over the summer I took a break from the blog, due to a computer meltdown. I was still on FB, just not as frequent with posts and interactions. From what I can figure, that absence cost me my place in line, so to speak. My page views fell off dramatically. It didn't matter if I continued where I left off, a couple months later. The damage was done. There was no one listening.
Surprisingly, it is a blessing. Servicing the FB page takes a couple hours a day. That is necessary to keep page views up, so that when I post the blog, it will show up on everyone's page. The blog itself takes 3-4 hours to write. All those hours add up to A LOT. So what, right? It is, and has always been, a labor of love. 2+ years for the blog, almost 3 for the FB page. No one forced me to do this, I was a volunteer. I just enjoyed the give and take of ideas, and feedback from the blog posts. Now, with very little readership, it's like the oxygen has gone out of the room. I'm still typing into a box, but I am alone.
It's an Aha! moment. This was meant to be! If I let it go, gracefully, I am freed up to do other things I am interested in. Like writing about other stuff. Sewing. Cooking. Exercising! Even though I will still be here on the farm doing the stuff we do, getting off the blog wheel allows other opportunities to fall into place. It is a breath of fresh air! A brand new day.
Last week I did not post a blog. I never even mentioned it. Instead, I was working on Bob the Chicken's calendar, and it was fun! No one noticed the blog was missing. And that's ok. Really! I am relieved. I have posted what I wanted to post for as long as it was relevant. Now it is time to move on. And here is where you come in.
I'm looking to get my writing published. It is a new goal and a lofty one. It requires me to learn some new skills, networking, research, etc. I need to get a new computer and take some classes. I have the time now, and ability, but lack the revenue.
In all the time I have been writing this blog, I have not posted one advertisement, nor asked you for one dollar, for my benefit. It was a point of pride for me. I wanted you to come willingly, without concern for solicitation. Now perhaps, is not a good time to ask, but if you have enjoyed my posts over the years, you might be inclined to help.
I'm not asking for free money. If you look at the top of this page, right next to The Pocket Farmer tab you'll see a tab called TPF Store. It is brand new. On there I am offering a Bob the Chicken calendar for sale. It is $30 including shipping. Not cheap, I know. The idea is that the extra funds raised, will go towards the costs I just mentioned. In return, you get to have Bob the Chicken for a whole year! How wonderful is that?! Don't need a calendar? Perhaps you know someone who would enjoy it as a gift? Something for that hard to buy for person in your life? The Holidays are coming up. If you decide you really don't have a reason to purchase a calendar, you could still help me out in one very easy, BIG way. No cost. Just share this post with your friends. Maybe they would enjoy a calendar and perhaps while they are here, they can read through the archives, no charge. Some pretty cool stuff there, if I do say so myself.
Don't worry, I'm not really going anywhere. My FB page, The Pocket Farmer will still be alive and kicking, even if it doesn't show up in your news feed. That is where I collect all the cool ideas I find around the web, for future reference. Feel free to stop by and visit. Anytime. I might even blog occasionally, to keep you posted on how the writing 'career' is going. I'm just not going to be here every week, reminding you to get your garden planted. There are tons of other pages that will help you with that. Besides, you already know what to do, you just need a kick in the pants from time to time. :)
Thank you. I mean it! Your support has helped me get to this point where I can raise the bar even higher. It has been a gift and a blessing. I cherish the time and conversations we have shared. I look forward to the new adventure and hope some of you will come along for the ride. Who knows, you might just see my book on a best seller list someday. Now, wouldn't THAT would be cool! :)
If you feel the need, you can always reach me at email@example.com
. Or you can find me at fb.com/thepocketfarmer. I'm also on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you around! :)
Toward the end of our patio project, we were SICK of the infrastructure work and needed a little "gratification". Luckily, we were headed into the home stretch and the project transformed from construction site, to oasis, in the final few days.
But first we had to get Pond A...
...to meet, Pond B.
And that required more digging and fussing with pumps and water and stuff. Plus a whole lot of stone. The stone guy loved us!
In case you think we know what we are doing here, this is actually our first pond. We learned a LOT from the internet and a pond book we bought. The lady at Menards gave us the tip about melting the plastic tubs to create the spillways. Cool, huh?
Finally, it was time to head to the mothership. This nursery has EVERYTHING.
This is where Farmer Tom took charge. His vision for the patio was Serenity, and in his mind that meant flowy grasses and subtle color changes, not a bunch of prissy flowers. I was on-board with that concept, so, a big debit to the checking account later, we headed home with a truckload of plants.
We did a quick test layout, before heading out to the back field to our secret rock stash. Farmer Tom is a collector of big rocks. You never know when they will come in handy, right?
Welcome to the People Coop!
Start to finish, it took us about 6 weeks and we have continued to tweak here and there as we go. Our plan is to add more landscape and fence lighting to define the space at night. Eventually, we will build a permanent pergola, to replace the gazebo, to make it a year-round structure. Because, believe it or not, we are out here in the winter, trekking through the snow, to enjoy the hot tub. For now though, we are pretty happy with how it turned out.
For us, this patio made sense because sometimes the farm chaos can wear you down. It's nice to have a place to retreat, where you can still keep an eye on everything, but where you can also rest, regroup and recharge. We were out here just about every evening this summer, doing just that.
Costwise, we spent about $3,000. Quality of life factor: priceless.
I hope you enjoyed the patio series. I put the pictures together as a scrapbook for us, but also to serve as inspiration (just as we were inspired by Krista and Jim) for anyone looking to attempt something similar, but didn't know where to start. As you can see, it was baby steps. A whole bunch of them. The hardest part of a project this size? Sticking with it. The easiest part? Enjoying it! :)
Be sure to stop by and say hello (like, comment and share) at fb.com/thepocketfarmer or you can find me on Twitter @thepocketfarmer.
Hope to see you there! :)
While we were working on the patio project I had a lot of folks comment on how they would NEVER fence out their chickens because they LOVED their chickens, implying that I'm a horrible chicken mom. Well, ok. Guilty. (More about the "why" of the fence, later). For now, let's talk about HOW the fence was built. In case you are still reading. Horrible chicken mom and all.
Last week we left off with Farmer Tom digging holes. 14 holes. It was his idea to use chunky 6" x 6" posts. Which meant even bigger holes. He used a gas auger for the rough work, and finished digging the old-fashioned way.
To test our design, we started with this little section.
We decided to use hog panels (vs cattle panels) because of the smaller grid on the bottom. Remember, we actually are trying to keep the chickens out of the patio area and the larger grid of cattle panels would not do the job. The top rail sits at about 48" which, technically,the chickens can fly over, but our chickens are basically lazy and if they can't reach it from the ground or with a small hop, they generally don't bother.
The bottom detail incorporates metal roofing, cut to fit inside "frames" that were custom made for each section of fence. We liked this idea because it gave the fence more visual balance and interest, and actually acts as a windblock for debris that might blow into the patio.
The gates and paint color are repeated from our perimeter fencing and helps "tie-in" the patio to the rest of the property. Of course, hog panels and roofing material, do the same. This is a farm, after all.
This is where the project took off. Once Farmer Tom got the design set, it was all I could do to get posts painted before he put the wire up. He is a firestorm once you get him going.
These are the chickens we speak of. The
patio-in-progress was a draw for everything
...and was the first place the pigs headed when they escaped. Good thing the ponds were covered!
The frames solidify the fence and provide support for the posts and wire panels. The roofing sheets are attached to the nailing strips in the frames. We attached the metal sheets to both the inside and outside of the fence to avoid having a "bad" side showing.
After he tested them for fit, the frames were removed for paint, then installed.
Once the metal panels were cut and fitted, and the gates hung, we achieved a milestone moment. The patio was chicken (and dog and duck) free! Time to break out the patio furniture! Wheeee!
Of course, the precious Boo Boo (Bailey) goes where she wants. And actually, the cats were a factor in the patio construction. It's the one place they can "hang out" where the dogs don't bother them.
Next week, I'll conclude the patio project, to show the final pond construction and landscaping. It's the BIG REVEAL, be sure to tune in! :)
Until then, you can find me on our FB page, fb.com/thepocketfarmer or on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there!
We love our chickens. LOVE them. And our dogs. They are all members of our extended family. But. We also love poop-free chairs with cushions that aren't muddy. We like having a place to set a drink down that doesn't get knocked over. A place to unwind and talk about the day. A bug free zone, that also offers shade in the heat of the day. A place of serenity and beauty, a place that, until recently, did not exist. At least, not here. Thus was born an idea for a project that would be near and dear to our hearts. We call it The People Coop.
But first, let's go back to the summer of 2011, when I headed out to the west coast to visit my childhood friend, Krista. She lives in the scenic rolling hills area of northern California, known for it's vineyards, with her husband Jim, daughter Annika and dog Kiki. Where they are located, it is sometimes breezy, and so they have designed and built some fencing to use as windbreak, that is also decorative. Additionally, they have created some fencing around a deck that incorporated some of the same design elements, but which allowed much of the scenic views to be fully visable. Their home is so beautiful!
Of course, the fencing is gorgeous, and became the inspiration for our design, but how cute is Kiki?! :)
Me and Krista. Friends for 35 years! :)
Ok, so back to the project. Farmer Tom loved the design as much as I did, and we started making plans to build our patio. Two years later, we actually began construction.
The Challenge. Turn this:
First, we made a big mess.
Daisy knows that the when the skidsteer comes out, that means it's snacktime.
White dog + black dirt = normal.
Farmer Tom brought in a bunch of stone. Then proceeded to beat the crap out of it.
He pounded about 2,200 bricks into place. One by one.
Once the brick was done,
he dropped in a couple of ponds.
Then it was time to dig fence posts.
The fence is one of our favorite features, incorporating hog panels and metal roofing material, with traditional post and rail construction. Next week I will go into more detail and show you how we put the fence together. Be sure to check back to see more of our patio project!
Until then, here is another peek at Farmer Tom's brickwork.
Bella and Benny approve!
As always, thanks for stopping by! :) Don't forget I am on FB at fb.com/thepocketfarmer or you can find me on Twitter @thepocketfarmer.
Life isn't fair. And sometimes the deck is really stacked against you. For Bob the Chicken, that was more than true. Wry neck was his challenge, but it did not define him. He grabbed each day by the horns and gave it all he had. Not content to watch the world pass him by, if he wasn't feeling well, he'd walk a crooked walk to get where he was going.
Yesterday, was one of those days. The colder weather was not his friend. His neck was giving him fits, but he was enjoying being outside and even found a place to rest in the sunshine. Shortly after this photo was taken, our sweet boy Bob passed away.
There is not much more I can say, except that our hearts are broken. He was so fragile and yet such a warrior. He never knew his own limitations and I never told him. It was my privilege to be his caretaker, he made me smile every day. It's a difficult day for us, one that will find us taking Bob for one last ride on the golf cart to be buried under the old walnut tree next to Sammy.
A huge thank you goes out to all those who helped us celebrate his life. So many wrote to me (and him) to tell us how much they enjoyed his stories. His Facebook fans were awesome, 1100 people, mostly folks he'd never met. They rallied when he was sick and they sent prayers. When he felt well, they all cheered him on. Never an unkind word, just lots of love and support. He was very lucky in that way. I'm so sorry to have to share this news with you, I know he will be missed. If there is any comfort for this loss, surely it will be his memory living on.
RIP Bob the Chicken, 4/29/2012-10/19/2013
I think if we had to describe it in one word, I'd call this the Year of the Baby. Or babies. We had a LOT. Some of it intentional.
I hatched out 99 baby Barred Holland chicks. On purpose.
The pigeons produced 5 little bundles of joy.
Our piglets joined us mid-Spring.
Between broody mamas and my incubator we ended up with 29 little quackers.
A dozen or so pond fish.
It was busy. It was chaotic. It was a blast!
Many of these animals serve a purpose on our farm and as the summer wore on, we worked our way through the challenges of processing birds and pigs, selling excess stock and thinning the herd back down to our sustainable core group.
We met so many wonderful people, who came out to purchase birds and talk shop. Homesteading in this manner, is very rewarding. Sharing what we have learned with folks just starting out is our way of thanking those who gave us the gift of knowledge when we were new. I always enjoy the updated photos I receive from our customers, keeping us posted on the whereabouts of our flock as they have gone on to new homes. If you include the hatching eggs I have shipped, our birds are now all over the country! Such a wonderful feeling. :)
As the season draws to a close, our freezer is full, the brooder is empty and we are preparing for the inevitable cold days ahead. Our overwinter count: a dozen chickens and three ducks. And Bob. It makes for a very quiet barnyard and this time of year, we are ready for the slowdown.
Time to rest, recharge, let the grass grow back and see what the rest of the world is doing. Right after I process the rest of our apples. And those walnuts waiting to be hulled. Tomatoes are still coming in. Seeds need to be stored. And those pears....
Feel free to join us daily for farm and garden chat at fb.com/thepocketfarmer, or find me on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)
In our flock, the rooster, Big Man, reigns supreme. He is watchful, protective, even considerate. He is the first to sound the alarm to any threat, announce a new food source, and to proclaim that morning has arrived. The girls all love him.
He was handpicked to rule this kingdom. Specially ordered as a hatching egg, he was shipped from a breeder in Georgia, hatched out on our farm and raised to infuse our Barred Holland flock with the genes he carries. Toward that end, he has done a fantastic job. This year we hatched out 99 babies, all healthy and vigorous chicks.
Including, his successor.
The Barred Holland is a rare heritage breed and we are part of a national breeding program that is working to rebuild the breed and bring it back to its former standard.
Over time and cross-breeding, this once popular breed has lost some of the qualities that made it so wonderful: namely, size and egg color. As a dual purpose bird, size is very important if you are raising a meat bird (as we are). Today's Barred Holland is 1-2 pounds smaller than its predecessors.
The eggs, which were traditionally medium/large white, in modern times have been diluted to buff and even light brown. Rebuilding the breed will bring back these original traits, and preserve the heritage of a fantastic bird that is a homesteader's dream.
With roughly 50 cockerels to choose from, we had to select one that would carry the gene pool forward, while still keeping our core flock happy and healthy. The rest of the the birds were either sold or processed into our freezer. That's quite a lottery in the chicken world!
So here's the new boy!
The trick now, of course, is to convince the rest of the flock that he is the new IT kid.
So far, so good. Big Man has even trusted him with "watch", while he eats. The girls are slowly coming around.
Be sure to join us each day at our regular hangout fb.com/thepocketfarmer for chat about all things farm and garden, or you can find me on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)
A few years ago, I had a gardening Aha! moment. I had thrown a tomato hornworm into a pen with a group of rambunctious roosters and watched as they cleared a path for the hornworm ALL DAY LONG. They never touched it. At the time I found that very interesting, since I hadn't noticed any finicky eating preferences from the chickens before.
I started to research and ask questions, and it turns out that yes, some chickens have discriminating tastes and from the folks I talked to, if I really wanted something to eat those hornworms, what I really should get was ducks. DUCKS? Umm, no, that was not in the plan.
Of course, after I slept on it all winter, first thing that next Spring, we got ducks. I was looking for Indian Runner ducks, but we ended up with a hodge-podge group of runners and runner crosses. After the plants were established, we plopped the ducks into the garden and stepped back to watch.
They absolutely loved it! They went crazy eating bugs and weeds, and yes, even a few of the garden plants. For the most part, the plants survived, I put wire covers over the most vulnerable plants, which kept them from being trampled.
On one side of the garden by the gate, we set up a little pool. If you have ducks, you know that they get their water dirty. I kept a watering can nearby and would scoop the water up and use it as fertilizer to water the plants. Very handy!
Since it was summer and cold weather was not an issue, Farmer Tom built a little enclosure for them to sleep in at night and put it right into the garden space.
They slept secure in there each night.
And each day they would run loose in the garden (literally), working their duck magic.
This year, we are doing it a little differently. In the Spring before planting, I put the ducks in the garden to dig and root around to find bug larvae. They did a fantastic job, because the garden went gangbusters this year, with nary a bug pest in sight!
Eventually, the bugs did return (much later than last year), and I'll be returning the ducks to the garden this Fall, for bug cleanup duty.
Overall, our garden ducks provide a very useful service: natural bug removal without pesticides. Plus, they offer the non-stop fertilize-as-you-go benefit!
If you are considering using ducks in the garden, I'd suggest a couple precautions:
1. Research your ducks carefully. Look for a breed that would be a good fit for your garden AND your homestead. Our ducks overwinter with our chickens, therefore compatibility was a key component in selecting our breed. The Indian Runner ducks we chose, are very adaptable and generally easy going. (We did rehome the runner crosses, as they were more aggressive with our hens).
2. Make sure your ducks will be safe in the garden. Our garden is completely fenced and the duck enclosure keeps out predators at night and provides shade in the heat of the day.
Finally, and not inconsequential, you'll find one more benefit to having ducks.
They are prolific egg layers. :)
Join us each day for farm and garden chat at fb.com/thepocketfarmer or find us on Twitter @thepocketfarmer. Hope to see you there! :)