Working Chickens

We keep two flocks of chickens here.  One group is totally free-range.  They go where ever they want.  Mostly they want to go in the woods.  They seem to enjoy scratching around in the leaves and I’m happy to let them to do it, but they aren’t doing much good for the farm there. Of course once a year we thoroughly clean their coop, spread the litter over gardens, then till it in.  That does the farm a great deal of good.

We keep the other flock inside poultry net fencing, which we move around depending on where we want the chickens to forage. We put them in gardens that are done for the year and they till the soil, eat the bugs and deposit fertilizer for next years gardens. This group is definitely earning its keep.

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These chickens are good representatives of the symbiosis we try to create here.  We give them feed and shelter, they give us eggs and garden work.  They are an important part of the reason we don’t need to use any chemical inputs of this farm.

The Fullest Pleasure

While our fall gardens have largely been done in by freezing weather, the overwintering veggies remain defiantly green. We have lots of spinach, which hugs the ground in the winter.  It is poised, we hope, to erupt this spring.

And our garlic and onions look healthy and happy.  We’ll have to wait until summer to harvest them, of course, and they won’t grow any more over the winter.  But their fall head start should pay off once the days begin to lengthen and warm.

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I like seeing green things alive in the garden even when the rest of the world around us is turning brown.  They’re reminders of the goodness to come.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Unitedstatesians.  Here is some wisdom appropriate to this day from Wendell Berry:

Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.

May we all enjoy today’s feast with the fullest pleasure.

Dixie

Yesterday was a day of deep sadness on the farm.

We had to say goodbye to Dixie, our beloved pet of 16 years.

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Sorry for such a somber post, but it didn’t seem right to blog about anything else today.

R.I.P Dixie Belle

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Sharona

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According to my records, Sharona’s due date is January 15.  From the looks of her, I could be wrong about that.

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She delivered healthy triplets in January 2013 and again in December 2013. She’s a good mama, as was her mother.

I well remember the day Sharona was born, nearly five years ago.  That was a day I won’t soon forget (the story is told HERE).

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Baby Sharona, with her twin sister Ramona and her cousins Barbie and Blondie.

Slowing Down

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In the summer the days are long, but they’re never long enough.  At times keeping up with all the work that needs doing seems next to impossible.

But now the days are short, and so is the list of things that must be done.  Of course there is always work to be done on a farm, regardless of the season.  But this time of year there are few things that absolutely have to be done now.  So the pace slows down.  Nature rests, and so can we.

It’s also the time of year when we can enjoy a little time off the farm.

Saturday night we went to a concert.  Yesterday we went to a play.

I love the long busy days of summer.  But it’s nice to slow down sometimes too.

Endings and Beginnings

The last of the summer gardens has now been put to bed.  Some of the cherry tomatoes held on valiantly until the bitter end, but eventually Jack Frost reduced them to a tangled clump of dead and dying vines. So now we enter that portion of the year which, for all its joys and pleasures, is sadly tomatoless.

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The best of our cherry tomatoes this year were all volunteers that I plucked up out of the asparagus garden (having presumably emerged from seeds in the compost) and transplanted into our late tomato garden.  They fed us, and many other people, very well.

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After unwinding the twine we’d used in our Florida weave, and after jacking up all the t-posts, I bushhogged the vines, then tilled them in.

Along with the tomato remains, I tilled in a snake’s skin, shed voluntarily,…

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…and a terrapin’s shell, from which he appears to have been removed against his will.

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I broadcast winter rye over the newly-tilled garden, but I don’t know if it will germinate now.  If not, maybe I’ll have a chance to put in a quick spring cover crop next year.

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Either way, in a little over five months I’ll be planting squash and cucumbers there and looking forward to the return of summer vegetable goodness.

Farming

There is a sentence in my thesis that reads: “The modern food system seemed to be personified in scientists, chemists and biological engineers, rather than in a farmer and his mule.”  One of my advisors commented, “Farmers today have to be commodities traders.”  He was correct of course.

Consider this from this month’s issue of Progressive Farmer magazine: “An Iowa farmer with a 195-bushel APH and an 85% RP policy spent 10 cents per APH bushel to guarantee $4 corn on Sept. 5. That’s equivalent to a strike price of $3.60 on a put, he says.”

Much of the magazine reads like that.

My grandfather subscribed to Progressive Farmer from as far back as I can remember. He would have no idea what to make of sentences like those.

Today industrial scale farmers not only have to deftly trade futures contracts on the commodity exchange, they also have to navigate the complexities of federally subsidized crop insurance and the myriad of federal programs upon which a significant portion of their revenue is dependent.  Those kind of farmers probably spend more time filling out paperwork and meeting with accountants than they do on the tractor.

That’s what farming in America has become.