March 31, 2005 – The Court at High Hopes

Now that we are on the cusp of the NCAA college basketball championship, it’s time to show the world one of the best home court advantages in the known universe. Sure, they talk about Hilton Colieum, Phog Allen Fieldhouse – but for my money, they all pale in difficulty when compared the Court at High Hopes! Not only is this an intimate setting, but the off-court distractions are unlike any other.

The court is a bit narrower than a regulation court, so there is literally no out of bounds. Bouncing the ball off the side walls is not only allowed, but encouraged. In essence, it combines racquetball and basketball in one game. It is a much quicker game as the ball never rolls too far away before coming back into play.

The Court at High Hopes is the center of an old-fashioned corn crib. We cleaned out the junk and the court has a nice cement floor, shelter from the wind and sun from the slatted sides meant to keep corn on the cob in, while allowing air in to dry the corn.

We put the hoop up a couple of months ago and look forward to many games.

basketball

March 30, 2005 – Rhubarb!

Looks like the rhubarb is ready to take off:

rhubarb

It’s a low energy day. I’m fighting a cold and don’t have the usual get up and go. So we vacuumed under all the couches, pruned some of the windbreak trees to a single leader. Here’s a before photo:
unpruned

Here’s an after photo showing a single leader. This will prevent a crotch low on the tree and a future weak spot and place for rot and wind to snap it off.
pruned

Also had a kind gift of a goat stanchion today – fetched it between thunderstorms and it was ready to go except for building a feeding tray on it. So when Paullina births, we’ll be ready to go!

This evening was a Wholesome Harvest board meeting. It’s always an exciting and challenging time to be part of a start-up company.

March 28, 2005 – Martin-Daddy Day

Today is another of the ever-popular Martin-Daddy Days. This morning we were errand boys – first emptying the truck of mulch. Martin and I were “mulch guys” and we delivered the load to his playground to be. Then we gathered up a pick-up load of garbage (something the previous owners found hard to do) and went to the landfill – always a Martin favorite. Then we went to town and got gas for all the farm gas tanks, a few more fence posts, some animal food.

This afternoon we worked on putting up more fence. 352 more feet of fence moved up today. Martin was extremely happy to play in the mudhole in the back pasture for a good two hours. It must be pure boyhood bliss to have your boat and shovel and so much dirt to work with. Wouldn’t it be great to focus on play for that long!

We got 6 more sections up after dinner with Claire’s help. The first frogs of the season were peeping.

martin in mud

martin in mud

You know when you do a repetitive task for too long in a day, you shut your eyes and see that at night? It usually happens picking berries or something like that – I think I’ll be seeing this when I close my eyes tonight.

fence glove

March 27, 2005 – A Good Day’s Work

It was a warm calm day and a laundry list of things were completed. We moved 62 of the cattle panel fencing and some of the poles to the pasture. We had them on a small hay wagon, but it was dicey hauling it as the panels were too long and tractor couldn’t hitch to the wagon, so we had to drag it with a chain. But we got to a place where the wheels got twisted hard to the left on a hill and we had to stop since the tie rod is weak from a previous bent out of shape experience hauling hay on the road, flat tire and a longer story than I care to repeat, but we found that we could slide 10 or so off and just drag them with the tractor and chain.

dragging cattle panels

After spreading those around the pasture, we loaded up the posts we had and as I drove the tractor slowly, Linda threw one off the wagon every eight feet or so.

unloading posts

I was able to pound in the posts and put the fence up on the northern border, about 300 feet of fencing altogether.

The girls helped as well today, picking up sticks from the trees that were cut down last year, cleaning the aspargus patch, and general hauling. Linda got one row each of spinach, lettuce, and radishes planted in the garden and the statice (flowers) planted in the house. I had to bring Claire to Ames, so while there, took the truck and loaded up a pick-up load of free mulch.

It’s officially spring according to my definition – spring comes the day I see the first earthworm in the soil. That means the ground is unfrozen and life once again appears in the earth.

March 24, 2005 – Goat Early?

When we were gone a few days ago and called home to see how things were, it was reported that “something was coming out of the goat.” Since she is pregnant, we assume it was the mucous plug and now she can birth anytime (about 2 weeks ahead of schedule).

This may complicate Easter plans as when we bought her, we thought that the april 5 due date would not interfere with travel plans. So, Linda may end up staying home.

Seventeen surveys were returned today. They are interesting and I will share them after I compile the results in a week or so. It was a very dark and rainy day, good day for a work day away from the farm.

March 23, 2005 – Retreat Conclusions

We’ve only been gone less than 36 hours – but it was two full days, a night away and drive-bys of 100’s of farms – most not doing too well. Rural southeastern Iowa is not a particularly prosperous part of the U.S. It was quite jarring driving up from the south to Iowa City after two days in small towns and rural lands and seeing the difference in wealth and opportunity. What makes us value town jobs more than rural jobs? What would it take to have a person who grows your food make as much money as a person who landscapes your yard?

Yesterday was good for hunkering down and working on the farm business plan. It was raining and snowing, so we weren’t tempted to go outside. We made some great strides and are grateful for that. Today, we had a nice chat with the owner of the Bed and Breakfast whose town of 35 residents has been declared a national historic district, in whole, due to the efforts of a “newcomer” (she moved there in 1955) who made enemies for life in trying to move the town from a collection of junk cars to a place worthy of preservation and opportunity. The buildings are all built of red brick, fired from local clay by the Mormons over 100 years ago. We wondered why it was when you lived in a shithole it was so hard to flush and make something new and better? Kudos to those in the Villages of Van Buren for making something new out of a treasure of history and architecture.

Today we visted Premiere Fencing near Washington, IA – one of the biggest purveyor of fencing supplies. We then went to Red Fern Farm to pick up some chestnut trees for our silvopasture. Tom is experimenting with alternative crops in Iowa like chestnuts, heartnuts, persimmons, medlars, and others. Red Fern had 6 inches of snow overnight.

An upshot from this time away and bit of perspective is that we are now thinking that we are going to stop offering poultry for sale. The lousy return (even charging $2.00 lb) and huge risk (predation, disease, dogs, weather) along with the liability insurance cost, just doesn’t make sense for us to sell on a small scale and we are not willing to grow the thousands it may take to make it worth our time. For our small farm, it just does not work right now. This might change if there was an inspected locker close by.

It is not easy to drop this enterprise as it is a product our customers cannot easily get in the store and we are not happy with the conditions commercial broilers are raised, but we can’t do it without a reasonable return. We are going to shift our focus a bit – but more about that later, as I am now rambling.

March 22, 2005 – Vacation Begins!

Ah, just what you hope for – it’s about 30 degrees and overcast, with wind gusts of 35 mph and a 90% chance of rain this afternoon. It’s not quite tropical, but as the old saying goes, “whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.” In all truth, it won’t make much of a difference as we have plenty of space and room inside the cottage do whatever.

March 21, 2005 – Vacation or Fence?

You know you are a real farmer when you’d rather spend your money on a new fence than a caribbean vacation! I started building the fence for this year’s tree planting. I ultimately decided on the cattle panels as they will be most flexible and “always on” even though they are a bit pricey. Today, I finished pulling the snow fence posts and got about 6 panels (96 feet) worth of fence hauled and up. That means I’m about 1/14 done with the fence. Here’s about half the pieces on the wagon.
fencing
Tomorrow morning I leave with Linda on a 2 day get-away to the Villages of Van Buren County. We’re renting a “cottage” and today I went shopping for food and drink. It looks like the weather is going to be crummy, so we’ll probably spend less time hiking at Lacy-Keosauqua and more time working on the farm business plan.

March 20, 2005 – Seed Starting

Today was the first day of spring and it was warm enough to do all the seed starting outside. It was much better than doing it in the house – all the mess stayed outside. Linda supervised the soil mixing, which was earnestly performed by Martin and Emma.

seed starting

The chickens are laying like nuts – we were down to 6 eggs a day in January, but yesterday we got 40, including a goose egg. I don’t think we have many more chickens than that.

This morning we folded and sealed the last of the surveys.

martymail

After church, the 4H dog agility team came over and built the jumps etc. for future training. Then good friends Steve and Sally brought over a traditional Irish meal of Irish Soda Bread, corned beef, cabbage, potates, carrots, and bread pudding.

meal

March 19, 2005 – Worn Out

If not for a phone call, I was about out for the night on the couch I’m finally tuckered out. Another class day. Today we had a volunteer with a 25-ft 5th wheel trailer offer to help us haul the 100 cattle panels (4 gauge gridded wire fence sections 16 feet long) that Linda had paid for and reserved earlier in the week. In the age of sparkling customer service, only 68 were there today. So that means another trip some other time. It’s time for bed.

March 18, 2005 – No Snow!

Just to the north of us, winter has re-appeared. Instead of the nearly 2 feet of snow, here in tropical central Iowa we enjoyed 50 degrees.

Since my laptop went on the fritz, I went into the office this morning (my laptop has needed 2 new motherboards and a new hard drive and my desktop has needed a new hard drive – it is becoming painfully obvious that I am working much too hard and the computers just plain cannot keep up with me!)

Spent a lot of time today finishing up the labels and getting the surveys printed. We’re now ready to stuff envelopes. By special request from Sugar Creek Farm, another poem by Claire:

The Night Song
The swirls of the milky way
the twinkling of the stars
glittering planets, shining alone.
The beautiful half moon
settling into the sky
surrounded by a
halo of stars
and as I gaze wondering
I softly join in the chorus
of the night song
of the sky.