Where does the time go?

Holy cow, its been a while since I’ve posted anything on here.  I’ve just become so overwhelmed with farm projects that I don’t have much time to just sit here and type anymore.  I know that during wintertime things will slow down a bit for us and I’ll have more free time during the day, but the last couple of weeks have just flown by with projects coming out my ears.  Here’s what we’ve been up to:

* We added about 5 acres of pasture fencing to the farm

* We moved all the animals into one of the new pastures

* I built a new hen pen with 10 nesting boxes

* We’ve moved chickens four different times between pens

* I built a portable shade barn

* I repaired a chicken tractor we got from some friends of ours who prefer the traditional chicken coop layout

* We spent a Saturday stretching fencing and repairing/strengthening corners

* We harvested two raised beds chalk-full of sweet potatoes – I still have to do something with those

* We’ve started gathering eggs (only a few so far, but the girls are all coming into maturity so it won’t be long now before we’re getting lots of eggs every day)

* I’m currently building pastured rabbit pens for the farm so we can get our bunnies off the back porch and out with the rest of the gang

* We amended about 20 EarthBoxes and have finally got all of our fall garden planted

* I gathered about 5 pounds of fresh chestnuts, and the tree is just now starting to “shed”

* I’ve managed to squeeze in making a few wheels of cheese as well

And I know that’s not a huge list, but when you’re working alone for most of it it takes a bit longer to accomplish things.  I was delighted to have my parents here for a two-week visit the first part of September, which gave me a chance to slow down a bit and visit with them – the break was wonderful!  My baby brother is coming for a couple of weeks at the end of October as well, and our major project is going to be another fencing one –  I need to build some garden fencing in our back yard.  Iris and Guinness are still ravaging my tomato plants.  We haven’t gotten one single slicing tomato all year long – between the blight and the dogs its been a rough year for the garden!  But good, solid garden fencing will stop at least the dogs, and thankfully my brother has some fencing experience.  Good thing too, because we have between 30 and 50 holes to dig out with the post hole diggers, and anyone who knows this Georgia clay knows what kind of hellacious task that’ll be!


Nerves…about 8 months early!

You know that dream you have as a teenager – the one where you’re walking through school and everyone is pointing and laughing at you, and you suddenly realize you’ve managed to make it there with no clothes on?  And when you wake up you spend the next week bodily checking yourself every half hour to make sure you’ve actually remembered your pants.  Yeah, I feel like I’m living in that dream…sort of….

Yesterday Sam informed me that in mid-March 2011 we’re going to be a part of an environmental conference in metro ATL.  This conference is hosted by Kennesaw State University in hopes of bringing awareness to educators in regard to the sustainable, slow-food  movement that’s creeping across America.  We’re going to be hosting about a dozen educators from around the state of Georgia for a two-hour tour of our little farm in the ‘burbs.  We’re also supposed to provide a work project for them; as well as explain to them what we do, why we do it, and how it’s working out.  ***gulp***

Teachers?  College professors?  Environmentalists?  In my garden?  The one with all the weeds, and dying tomato plants, and crumbling raised beds, and bright orange Homer buckets everywhere??!!!!  Yikes!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, Sam and I are very excited to share with people (common, ordinary, every-day folks) our vision for a sustainable future right here in the ‘burbs – just come to our Sunday School class if you don’t believe me!  We’re like first-time grandparents who whip out a 400-page photo album for every stranger they encounter because they’re just so proud of their little Jimmy John, and they know the rest of the world will agree that he’s the most beautiful baby they’ve ever seen.  We love having friends come and tour our garden, and we adore showing off our rabbits, chickens, and sheep to all.  But educators?  What can I possibly share with them that will be relevant, valuable, and something they don’t already know?  What we’re doing isn’t rocket science here.  My heart is pounding just thinking about it!  I’m not an organic farmer.  I’m just a girl who names my food, and likes to make cheese and grind my own grain, and grow vegetables in my back yard without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.  I’m not about to stop shaving my legs, or start wearing Birkenstocks and bohemian style skirts.

I’m pretty sure Sam will be doing most of the talking that day.  I’ll smile and nod my head a lot…and serve the iced tea.

Calling it a ‘mistake’ is an understatement!

For those of you who follow Our Edible Suburb blog, this will be somewhat old news, but for the rest of you, please be informed that we will not be growing heirloom seeds again…ever!

This year we made the move from hybrids to heirlooms in hopes of saving seeds for future gardening endeavors.  It was all a part of a greater plan to become as self-sufficient as possible right here in the ‘burb.  For weeks Sam and I debated as to how to go about this new phase of gardening.  We read articles and blogs written by heirloom growers.  We researched all the varieties we were interested in to see which ones were the most prolific and reliable.  And we discussed the issue to death.  Do we just start with a few heirlooms this year to see how they do, or do we commit and make the move fully?  Logic would dictate only trying a few heirlooms to see what the results are.  But we’re not always logical here at East of Eden Farms.  And this year we’re gonna pay for that error in judgment, for sure.

We planted our seeds back in early January (inside, of course), hoping the weather would cooperate with us and we’d be able to get everything out by early April.  Unfortunately, even if the weather had followed our plan we wouldn’t have been ready – the seeds took off like molasses in the dead of winter, despite the use of heat mats.  By the first of March the seedlings were barely 6 inches tall and only had a few spindly branches and some tiny leaves.  The center stems were weak and fragile.  By mid-March we suffered our first bout of wind damage for the year.  Now, that’s not the heirloom’s fault I know, but the fact that the plants were so fragile compounded the devastation.

The tiny seedlings went out into the garden the third week of April – ready or not, they had to be planted if we had any hopes of a crop.  For a couple of weeks the plants seemed to thrive in their EarthBoxes and buckets.  Several of the plants took an amazing growth spurt and we began to hope that things were going to turn around.  And then, out of nowhere, the plants started to yellow, and the leaves started to curl and crisp up.  We weren’t over or under watering.  They had plenty of good organic matter in the soil.  They were getting healthy doses of Epsom salts and organic fertilizer on a regular basis.  The soil was pest and disease free when we planted.  What was happening????  Sam attempted a rescue mission – he trimmed and pruned and snipped diseased branches.  We applied a folliar calcium spray.  We adjusted our watering and fertilizer routine.  And still nothing.  The plants continued to decay.

Then the storms started.  After three years of serious drought in Georgia, the heavens have opened up and we’ve been getting average rainfall, which feels like monsoon season, comparatively speaking.  The wind has been the most damaging though.  These fragile plants have broken and twisted and sagged.    The few plants that were producing tomatoes couldn’t take the gales and their branches snapped, despite all our careful staking and tying.

It looks like we may have enough tomatoes for ourselves, but our hopes for a farm stand seem to be disappearing as quickly as our crop.   And to be fair,  it’s not just the tomatoes that are doing poorly.  Nearly everything else we’ve planted has struggled.  Our peppers are small, and not very spicy.  Our tomatillos are sparse.  The cantaloupes are not setting fruit (this may have as much to do with the decline in the bee population as it has to do with the fact that we used heirloom seeds).  Our squash have not produced nearly as prolifically as we’d expected.  And the cucumbers have all but died.

So never again!  As disturbing as it is to us to have to rely on hybrid seeds we can’t risk the harvest because of it.  If we have any real hopes of making this farming thing work – and of providing healthy, beyond organic produce to the community we have to have a hearty, reliable, abundant crop of veggies.  So for those of you who were hoping for a CSA or a farm stand this summer, I hate to disappoint you, but I fear that any produce we have to sell will be late in the season, if at all.  But next year, I promise things will be different!  Don’t give up on us – stay tuned.

Summertime chores

I’m probably the worst blogger in the history of blogging.  Like everything else in my life, I start out great guns – good intentions – tons of ideas – lots of potential….and then mediocrity strikes.  The guns run out of ammo, the good intentions get tossed to the back burner, all my profound ideas dry up, and the potential is diverted to my next big adventure.  I think it’s A.D.D.  Really, I mean it.  What was I saying?………

As you’ve guessed from my lack of blogging, nothing new, exciting, or interesting has happened in the past ten days.  The dogs are the same as they always are.  Iris is still a poop eater, Guinness is as nosey as ever, and Dream sleeps all the time.

The garden is growing as a garden should.  I’ll have my first wax bean harvest today…if it doesn’t rain that is.  I broke out my pressure canner a few weeks ago, and unpacked a couple of boxes of jars.  Won’t be long before my mornings are spent canning up beans, tomatoes, and sauces, and my afternoons will find me squatting over gardening beds and snapping beans ’till my fingers are green!

We had some people over on Sunday for our first garden tour.  It was fun.  I don’t know if it was helpful or just overwhelming to them – we do have quite a large garden – I think it was a bit more than what they’re thinking about doing; but we’ll see.  Every good idea starts with a single seed.

In farming news, the chicks are growing like crazy.  I posted a short video clip on Our Edible Suburb blog (<===click on the title to view the video).  They’re nearly fully feathered now, and I can’t wait to get them moved out to the farm this week.  Our plan was to do that this weekend, but the weather decided not to cooperate with us, so it’ll have to be on Wednesday or Thursday.  We finished assembling the chicken tractor this weekend – in the rain no less.  And let me just add that PVC chicken tractors are not as easy to assemble as the advertising leads you to believe.  Nor are they as light weight.  Nor are they as sturdy.  Nor are they as practical.  Basically, what I’m trying to say is they’re garbage.  But cheap.  And that’s what matters in this world.

Howard and Vestal (the sheep) are doing splendidly.  We seem to be slowing down on the ear tick problems, which is good.  I felt so bad for them – some nights we’d go out to feed them and they’d have 5, 6, even 8 ticks on their little head and ears.  We found this amazing tick spray (it’s blue) at Tractor Supply (my new favorite store!) and that’s taken care of them pretty well.  The sheep look kinda funny with blue racing stripes down their back, up their legs, and on their ears, but the ticks have vanished.  Now were just being vigilant in picking them off of us every night.  Ick – I really, really, really dislike ticks.  I do not see what their purpose in the food chain is…except as bird food.

In other sheep news, we’ll be adding a third ewe to the mix in about three weeks.   Sam has found a farm up the road a piece from us that have Katahdin sheep.  That’s a ‘hair’ variety of sheep, which means they don’t have to be sheared every year as they shed their wool (like a dog sheds his fur).  We’re going to be purchasing a 3 month old female to use as breeding stock – we’ll cross her with Howard (our East Friesian – that’s a dairy variety of sheep), and hopefully come out with a dual purpose variety that isn’t as heavily woolen.  In case you don’t already know, I just love sheep.  They’re adorable, sweet, funny, and have amazing personalities.  Every day they make me smile.  If you’ve never spent much time with a sheep, you should – they’ll win your heart over every time.  I promise!

Two weekends ago was our first rabbit processing day as well.  You can read all about it on Our Edible Suburb.   It was Sam’s job to do the killing, and then I helped with the skinning and other processing.  It was a sad day, but also a purposeful day.  Sam and I both have a broad understanding of the cycle of life – we respect it very much, and strive to show that respect in the way we harvest.  I love our bunnies, but they’re not pets – they’re food.  We make sure they enjoy a good life while they’re here – they have plenty of pellets, hay, pasture clippings, water, and love while they’re with us.  We respectfully harvest them as we need to, and we thank them for their sacrifice.  I know, it sounds weird – and it is a little bit – I’ll never deny it.  We had bbq bunny on Sunday for lunch.  It was amazing, and I was so grateful to and for Floppy.  Yes, my food has names – it’s that fresh.

Well chaps and chapettes, that’s all the news that I have right now.  As I said in the opening paragraphs – there’s not much happening around here.  Just the usual summertime chores and busy-ness.  I hope your holiday weekend was as wonderful as mine was.  And I hope you took some time to remember and give honor to those for whom you owe your freedom to.  If you didn’t, it’s not to late to take a minute and do that now.  Have a blessed week!

Weekends are toast around here…

So the weekend flew by, as they always do.  I feel like I’m gonna have to go out and get a full time job just to get a break from all the work that has to be done around here!  We spent most of this weekend in the garden – you can check out some photos of our progress HERE.  We’re starting to get some produce on the vines, and I think it won’t be much longer before I’ll be spending my days alternating between the harvesting and the processing.  Lots of canning, freezing, pickling, and preserving to be done between now and winter.  I think I’ll change my name to Ant.

Hope y’all had a great and productive weekend too!

Busy weekend

All weekends seem to fly by, but this one did so especially quickly.  Sam took Friday off and we drove down to Sawinsboro (4 hours away from us) to pick up two East Friesian dairy sheep.  They are 3 months old – a male and a female.  I named them Howard and Vestal (after the Happy Goodman’s).  They’re adorable and sweet, and I never thought in a million years we’d have sheep.  But at this point, I’m glad we do.  Vestal won’t be ready to start milking until next April or May at the earliest, so I’ve got lots of time to get to know her and for her to get totally comfortable with me as well.

Saturday we spent running all over town picking up groceries and miscellaneous farm supplies.  We’ve been so busy the past couple of weeks we have totally gotten out of our routine and our cupboards were bare as a bone.  I hate it when that happens!

Sunday we spent the day with more mowing, and weeding, and tree trimming on the farm.  Sam finally broke down and bought a riding lawnmower and a trailer to haul it with.  So he finished up the pasture mowing while I whacked down weeds and trimmed up some of the trees.  I also picked out some red paint for the gates.  I got the primer coat done, and will need to head out there this afternoon and  finish up the top coats.  My index finger is still numb from yesterday’s spraying adventure!  Weird.

The chicks are scheduled to arrive on Wednesday morning sometime, so Sam has taken that morning off so we can go to the post office and pick them up.  100 chicks will take me forever to get unpacked and into their brooder boxes.  I have no clue what I’m doing with these guys and I’m really nervous I’m gonna end up killing them all.  They’ll be in our basement for the next 3 – 4 weeks, and I’m also not looking forward to that smell!

The cow is still on too.  We have a very helpful source for a dairy cow if we can ever find some time to get up to his farm and take a peek at his stock.  We still have to get the barn mucked out before we can even think about putting a cow out on the farm, but that’s on the agenda for this week – baring any loss of limb that is.  I’m not in as big a hurry to get her, as I’m feeling a bit out of my league with all these animals – I’m such a city girl, but I’m looking forward to finding out just how to squeeze milk out of her body.  Poor girl, she’s in for a real shock when she meets me!

Ah, this is the life.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I drag my sore, tired, scratched, and bruised up body out of bed every morning.  On the plus side though, this is way better exercise than crunches!

Sore, sore, and more sore…

Did I mention that I’m sore?  If not, I want to let you know that I’m really sore.  My back is killing me.  My legs are tired.  Even my stomach muscles hurt.  Why, you ask?  Simply put, I’m out of shape, over weight, and doing manual labor is a killer!

Last night was the first evening (of many to come) for us to spend out at the land working.  We had to mow.  The grass and weeds were waist deep in most parts of the pasture, and we’ve only got push mowers.  **Let me just mention here how very important it is for us to get a riding lawn mower ASAP!**  We didn’t mow much.  Just enough to get the sheep pen set up.  Friday morning, Sam and I head down to Savannah to pick up our first two dairy lambs.  Fortunately, they’re just lambs, so they won’t need a ton of space right now, so we’ll have time to continue to mow down the fenced pasture and move them around a bit each day so they can eat new forage.  I’m really excited about their arrival, but not so excited about all the work that will go into it.

One of the things that saddened me as I worked last night was the amount of trash strung out in this pasture.  Not just weeds, but odd bits of wood, broken branches from trees that were never cleared out, plastic bags, old cardboard boxes, broken watering buckets, even some old tires and scrap metal.  It’s like someone has been using this area as a personal dumping ground.  I know that there were horses and goats on this property before, and as I was picking up all the trash and debris it made me wonder what kind of life those animals had, trying to negotiate around all the crap in the field in order to eat.  That’s certainly one thing that I know our animals won’t have to contend with – I’m not a big fan of the ever-growing trash pile.  Especially not when it’s in the middle of a pasture.  I suspect we’ll be havin’ a bonfire before too much longer!

Even though I’m sore as a well digger, I’m excited about this new farming adventure we’ve embarked upon.  Being good stewards of the land is an important Biblical value to me.  Helping to teach people how to live a better life through their food is also paramount.  Enjoying the company of the animals is a bonus.  But finding a way to make a genuine difference in this world is priceless.  I hope you’ll join us!