Farm – All

Posts about life on the farm.

June 30, 2016 – That’s All Folks!

I’ve come to the end of the line for this blog – eleven years filled with 2,815 posts. It may be repurposed into something new, but this segment is over with this post.

Let’s look at the big picture – the tagline for the blog which never changed:


By any account, the farmstead is revived. Twenty years of updates and improvements to the house and outbuildings make it ready to face the beginning of its second century with a new growing family. Outbuildings on the line between restore or tear down, restored. Totally new infrastructure above and below ground. Electricity derived from nature itself. But most importantly, three children raised in an atmosphere of unsupervised wandering, creativity, and hard work, with the self-confidence to travel the wilderness, or live in Iceland or Australia without knowing a soul before traveling there.

So yes, the farm has been good to us, and us to it.

Can we just bask in the glow of one of the final sunsets on the farm?

Gaze one last time at the wide open spaces and spectacular skies?

I thought I’d look back to one of the first posts to see what I wrote. Following is the second blog post, Valentine’s day in 2005.

The kids couldn’t wait to go back in the pasture and check out the “pond.” All three came back with varying depths of soaked jeans, mudstreaked faces, and wet boots. The remaining snow and warmth (in the upper 40’s) has made a quagmire.

Completed an outdoor counter/drainer out of cast-off materials today. Part of a vintage 70’s harvest gold accent countertop from our kitchen remodel, a couple of metal old refrigerator shelves, and wood salvaged from the original farmhouse for the frame. The outdoor counter will be useful in washing and cleaning vegetables outdoors.

Also wrapped up some seed ordering. Lost my Peaceful Valley catalog, but was able to use their website www. to order some beneficial insect plant and pasture improvement mixes.

That seems a fitting end as well – it speaks to three of the biggest themes of our time here – raising kids, readying the house for the next century, and raising food.

I’ll leave you with a song. This one by Jimmy LaFave. It’s been a theme song of ours over the last four years as we readied to leave. But instead of the song being about a girl, it’s about leaving Iowa – at least in our heads. The chorus is below and a link to the recording follows.

There’s a car outside
And there’s a road
There’s a time to stay
And a time to rock and roll
You’ve been a real good friend
But I’m on my way
If I don’t see you real soon
I’ll see you down the road someday

See you down the road someday – maybe 1300 miles down the road in New Hampshire.

June 12, 2016 – Thanks for Your Support! Auction Day

Auction day! The worst case scenario did not happen. There was not a thunderstorm or rain and the weather was less hot than previous days. These photos are credited to neighbor Nancy.

Gathered around the auctioneer.

Cars in the yard and lined up on the road past the top of the hill.

More stuff we don’t have to move!

Auctioneer Fred Van Metre in the red hat. Fred did a good job for us.

Martin on auction day sampling from the food wagon.

More folks looking for treasures.

We all look on as our stuff changes hands.

The view from the pergola.

Can’t give this man enough credit – good neighbor Don. Brought his loader tractor over and helped folks load up heavy stuff.

Our first couple of life-long neighbors and friends.

The sad looking eyes on the JD 2510 say it all as we depart from the farm.

June 11, 2016 – Getting Ready for Sale Day and Reminisces

I didn’t do this post justice, so it is time for a “do-over.” This will be the 2nd to last post for this blog, Now that I’ve had some time and distance, the enormity of it all is more apparent. Nearly 20 years of “stuff” off to the highest bidder. The auctioneer came out on Friday and got most of it set up. Since there was a 0 percent chance of rain, we were good to go – until about midnight Friday night when frequent lightning approached. So, armed with tarps and car headlights, we covered as much as we could. It was a fretful and rather restless night as round after round of rain pelted most of our farm-related belongings set out in the yard.

This is the remains of the boxes that were rendered useless by the all night rain – about 2 inches worth that fell.

And of course, it was a nice Iowa summer day!

At any rate, here are some photos of the auction all ready to go. As kind of a farewell, I’m going to do a bit of “what strikes Mark about the photo” for each.

Aah, Silverball, the 2002 Prizm with over 250,000 miles. Trusty commuter car and freedom for Claire and Emma for school and at summer camp. All the bikes that have not been used much since the move to a gravel road. The motorized John Deere tractor that Martin loved and hauled garden produce and other things in his own loader bucket. And the mini-horse cart that was never pulled by a horse, but was pulled by people.

What strikes me about this photo is the familiarity of the shadows on the ground. I’ve come to know the patterns of the shadows throughout the days and the seasons on the farm. A way of becoming closer to a place through observation. The tiller and single plow were great labor-savers in planting garlic and preparing beds for planting.

The bees – livestock you really don’t “own.” I think of the challenges we had on our farm due to the pervasive ground and aerial spraying around our place. We finally gave up. Our best hives were at another farm that had acres of native prairie and a buffer from the spray.

On nearly any acreage, the time allotted to mowing can be substantial. Here is the collection of mowers form years gone by. A milestone for the kids was the first time they were allowed to mow using the riding mowers.

I see the barn here. The signature outbuilding on the property. In the time we lived there, seven barns within two miles of us were destroyed. This barn is something that will soon be rare on an Iowa farm.

I think of my father in this photo. I see an old woodstove he had in a previous house, a utility trailer of his that I rebuilt, and an old boat and motor that had set idle for 20 years after plying the waters of Minnesota for my entire youth.

Raising chickens comes to mind here. The portable grain bin and old cages used to transport the chickens to the locker before we butchered them ourselves. Gonna miss those meat birds in the freezer.

The old corn crib. I love the new white roof. All the outbuildings but the barn had bad to non-existent roofs. I remember being up on the roof and calling Linda on the cell phone to come out and lift up another section, then return to the house to mind the young children until I had that piece screwed in and call again for the next piece.

This is a collection of old things I didn’t use much, save the blade for plowing snow. I am grateful we planted the maple tree for shade for the animals in the cement area. Amazing how fast it grows (or how old I am)!

I see the struggling peach trees in the back of this photo. Peaches are iffy in this part of the country, but we usually got a couple of good years from each tree, which was worth it. I also remember watching tornadoes coming out of the clouds a few miles south of here.

The piles of old dimensional lumber to the right are from the original house on the property (the mortgage company almost didn’t let us buy the property with such a hazardous building). But we took it apart board by board and had lumber whenever we needed it.

I think of friend and neighbor Nancy in this photo – the dragonfly vase she found for us. This symbolizes all the “stuff” you can’t take with you, but the significance of the relationships can never be lost.

Unfinished business. That could be said for many of the photos. There is always something else to do on the farm. I see an industrial size light fixture that was never mounted in the machine shed here.

The “lumberyard” built into one side of the corn crib, with lumber from a disassembled garage.

The tractors. There is something about driving and using an old tractor. I was lucky enough to have a classic 1947 Farmall Cub and a 1960’s era John Deere 2510 with a loader bucket. I could attach tillers, blades, and plows. On a small farm, the loader is incredibly useful.

Here’s a collection of mostly hand tools. This hearkens to thinking about the market garden work we did. It was great for the girls to see crops from planting to selling at market. This will be the second to last post on the high hopes gardens section of the blog.

April 17, 2016 – We’re Going!

The search is over (well almost)! Linda has been called by the Starr King Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Plymouth, NH as their ministerial candidate. We will travel to Plymouth in about a month when Linda will get a chance to preach a couple of sermons, meet the congregation, and then a vote will be held whether to affirm her as the new minster.

The church building is about 30 years old and looks like a church you might expect in the White Mountain region of New Hampshire. The round turret with the high windows gives light in the center of the sanctuary.

Plymouth is about an hour and 45 minutes from Boston, about an hour and a half from coast of Maine, and a couple hours to the Adirondacks. The ski resorts in the White Mountains (and highest point in New England) start about 10 minutes away, as is the northern edge of the Lakes region of New Hampshire. Plymouth is also home to a state university.

Now all we have to do is sell a farm and find a place to live.

July 21, 2015 – Prairie Strips

Last year, we replaced a few tired rows of raspberries with strips of native prairie.

The general rule of thumb is that the new prairie plantings look pretty weedy and not very good looking the first few years.

But true to form, there are signs of prairie plants peeking through the weeds – like this purple coneflower.

And these coreopsis.

and some silky prairie clover.

and a bit of mountain mint. Later in the season, it will be interesting to see how the late-season grasses appear.

July 19, 2015 – Hey, Hay

Very few things beat the scent of a freshly-cut hayfield.

The neighbor took a cutting off the back pasture as we don’t have enough animals to keep it mowed down this summer. It is rather novel to be able to walk anywhere in the pasture again.

June 16, 2015 – Sheeeeeep!

My desire to stop weed whacking stinging nettle and to continue to have marinated lamb chops on the grill led to this!

Three lambs, named by Martin – Thor, Loki, and Odin. They transitioned wonderfully to their new home – no bleating at all after leaving their ewe-mom. Now get chomping those weeds!

June 2, 2015 – Wild Basin Hike

Today it was off to yet another area of the park – Wild Basin.

The trail followed a stream for a good portion of the time.

These bridges were either not washed out or rebuilt from the Sept 2013 floods.

The water really couldn’t decide the best path down the mountain, so it just kind of went every which-way.

This was probably the last day for this little Frosty.

Not many days I’ve hiked through snow and seen a hummingbird!

Unfortunately, even though they are given explicit exemption from domesticated animals on the trail, we did not see any llamas!

Lilly Lake.

The parting group shot! We left just in time. Three of the next four nights there were tornado watches and 8 inches of rain the following two days after we left, a tornado touchdown nearby, and knee-deep hail in parts of Denver. Just like I brought sunshine to Iceland, I’m evidently a vacation good weather charm at the moment.

March 22, 2015 – Close to Having to Turn in My Man Card

Had a couple of vehicle incidents that both almost required I turn in my man card, but eked out of both. First, I buried the CRV in the field.

This is a bad photo taken with my phone as I walked away defeated. I USUALLY take a walk to make sure it is not to soft when I drive here, but since we’v had no precip in March and the pond and wet area in the pasture have been bone dry for a week or more, I thought things would be firm. Wrong – once the wheels break through the sod into the black gumbo, you are done. I tried propping boards under the tires to run up on. No luck.

I then went to get the tractor, but all I left with was making these ruts with the tractor. I was able to get the tractor out, but my chain wasn’t long enough to pull from a firm area. Had I buried both the CRV and tractor, I would have had to forfeit my man card.

Here’s the rut from the front wheel of the CRV. Our good neighbors came over with an even bigger tractor and even longer chain and said about dragging it out “The tractor didn’t even know it had a fish on the line.”

The other incident was a problem with the car. Emma reported that she thought she might have left the lights on, but got a jump and got home fine. Next day I drove her to Ames and when I went to leave, again, nothing, not even a turn over. I figured the battery was dead and was eager to get on with my day and called AAA and asked to use the “bring you a new battery and install it” service so I wouldn’t have to mess around with all that. After I made the call, I then popped the hood to indicate to the tow truck where we were. It was then that I noticed the battery cable had come loose from the battery and was resting slightly above the battery terminal. I just put it back on and everything was fine and cancelled the AAA call. Would also have had to turn in my man card if the AAA service man had popped the hood to put in a new battery and found it just unattached!

March 7, 2015 – There’s something happening here, What it is ain’t exactly clear

The basement door is open, the loader bucket is attached to a chain. What’s up on the farm today?

When we moved in about 18 years ago, one of our first upgrades was to replace the aging fuel oil furnace. While the furnace is long gone, the three fuel oil storage tanks are not. We’ve been using the oil left in the tanks to persuade bonfires to start over the years and finally the tanks are empty.

We tried manually moving the tanks up the basement stairs. No go. Wasn’t thrilled about cutting them in half in the basement. Enter a long chain, a tractor, and a three member team to guide them out without taking out a doorframe, door, or wall.

Victory is ours as tank #2 is dragged to the tank graveyard.

It’s a dirty, ugly, smelly job, but now they are finally gone.

February 1, 2015 – Winter Arrives

Well, it first started out to be a 3-5 inch snowfall, then less than one inch, then back to 3-5, and when it finally arrived, 12-14 inches of snow.

The house nestled in the new fallen snow.

Along with the fresh snow, the moon was full, making for brilliant light-filled nights. Can you find the cat in this photo?

The cat abides, and follows me in the night, hoping for a treat.

Finally one more shot in the moonlight.

August 21, 2014 – Golden Circle

The most popular tourist track in Iceland is called the Golden Circle – a one-day trip to Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss waterfall. For my time, it was one of the least interesting days, but being close to Reykjavik, the attractions are easy to get to in a day.

Þingvellir is Iceland’s national shrine and most historic sites. The oldest existing parliament in the world first met here in 930 A.D. The Alþing met here every year to enact laws, including the law passed in 1000 A.D. to introduce Christianity into the island. It has always been the focal point for the country, and whenever a major event is to be celebrated, thousands of people come here. The independence of the Republic of Iceland was proclaimed here on June 17, 1944. At the celebration of the 1,100th anniversary of the first settlement in 1974, more than 60,000 people packed into Thingvellir. This photo is of the drowning pool where mothers of illegitimate children were drowned in the dark ages.

Adjacent is the largest lake in Iceland, Thingvallavatn. The lake is 328 feet deep and home to trout and Arctic Char.

Just down the road is the world’s original geyser, named Geysir in Icelandic and the source of the English word. Geysir itself is rather unreliable after an earthquake a few years ago, but nearby geysers are very regular blowing every eight minutes or so.

The last stop on the Golden Circle is the Gulfoss waterfall.

August 16, 2014 – Farm Aerial

Here’s a shot of most of the farm from the air. It looks so much smaller when you are not in the midst of a pasture, near a tree, or facing a row of vegetables and weeds.

Things that jump out at me are all the visible changes since the first farm aerial shot we have. All the white roofs on outbuildings are new. All of the trees less than 60 feet tall or so are new. The garden beds in strips are new. The wind turbine is new. The mowed labyrinth in the pasture is new. There are also a few things missing – old decrepit buildings, many trees that blew down in storms or were cut down. It is fun to look and see a different perspective on progress.

August 3, 2014 – Catching up

After returning home after an absence of longer than a week, you get an appreciation of all the things that you do, even though you feel like you are never caught up. Seeing what the farm looks like with a week of inattention brings home how much really does get done.

Garlic was ready to pull.

Onions were ready to pull.

Sunflowers went wild.

And we finally got around to introducing Martin to firearms training – one of the many rural skills that have eluded him to date.

July 6, 2014 – Mother Nature’s Fireworks and Funnels, Oh My!

Once again, dramatic skies in the neighborhood.

Looking to the tornado-spawning clouds to the south before sunset.

Same place as the sun set. This is the same tornado-spawning cloud as in the earlier picture.

Clouds and the barn.

Clouds and the hog barn. This cloud made tornadoes by Tama.

A view of the tornado near Rock Creek park in Jasper county. No wind here, and only a sprinkle of rain.

June 20, 2014 – Seems Like a Rerun

Every few days it seems a storm rolls through.

This is looking east in the late afternoon, with some funky rays streaming up (or down?).

The back pasture is lush (and mostly thistle-free).

More passing clouds over the barn.

This is the first year we’ve had deer problems – here’s one of them we scared out of the back pasture on on her way away somewhere else.

A look across the fields to the west after the storm.

Martin *was* building a tree fort in this grouping of basswoods when one of the three limbs of the just-started fort came down.

June 8, 2014 – A Walk Around the Back Pasture

Today was a good day to get things done on the farm. It was only about 70 degrees, Linda offered to take Martin to Decorah for his music camp, so I was left to catch up on all those things that never seem to get done. But first a break as we check out the back pasture.

This wonderful little pond was just a black dirt mudhole when we moved in. We fenced it off, planted some wet prairie/marsh seeds, and now it does its part to clean water as it runs off the neighboring fields before heading down to the gulf.

One of the beauties is this blue flag iris.

The pond gives us great evening sounds, among other things – we can fall asleep to the sounds of the frogs and toads in their little home. Today, however, I was in for a surprise when I scared up a snapping turtle about the size of a dinner plate.

The alleyway of trees we planted in the middle of the pasture are close to creating yet another micro-environment on the farm. The walnuts, bur oaks, and black cherry are really starting to take off.

May 8, 2015 – Prairie Sky

One of the advantages of living in wide open spaces, is, well, wide open spaces.

A bunch of pop-up thunderstorms rumbled around us this evening.

Looking west at sunset – felt like John Hiattt was here with us singing his song Lipstick Sunset.

May 1, 2014 – Doesn’t Look like Much…

The picture does not belie the effort needed to arrange the photo.

This wagon is the new home to about forty 16 foot-long cattle panels. They were protecting small trees from grazing animals and now the trees are larger and there aren’t as many grazing animals, so it was time to take down the fences so the trees wouldn’t grow into them. It is amazing how much grass and soil accumulated around the bottoms – in all cases the first row was buried and in some places, they were buried up to the second cross row. Who needs a gym membership when you can instead rip these out of the sod and drag them to the wagon (uphill of course!) The fenceposts that were pulled are in a different pile.

March 9, 2014 – Two, Count ‘Em Two, Signs Spring is Near


Tapped a few maple trees today.

The stream in the back pasture willed itself into being today.

Only a couple hours before this, you can see Linda stepped through the snow to get some pussy willows – a few hours later, a couple feet of water appeared, burying her tracks.

But there’s still a lot of snow to melt – in some places the drifts still barely reach over the top of the pasture fence.

And a garden bed is still a long ways from planting.

February 16, 2014 – Snowboy and Dog

Look what fell from the sky – on a rare above freezing day in the winter of 2013-2014, a boy and his dog, dropped from the heavens.

And a few days later, this nice layer of hail fell down before some snow, just to freeze later and put an impenetrably thick layer of ice everywhere until the next warmup, not currently scheduled.

January 16, 2014 – 2013 Wind Turbine Production

It’s time for the annual Skystream wind turbine update. The good news is that 2013 was the highest year of wind turbine production and just as importantly was the lowest year of energy use.

In 2013, the Skystream produced 4,684 kWh, an average of 390 kWh per month. The farm and household used 9,346 kWh, an average of 778 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 50.1% of our energy, a net improvement of about 1.5% over the previous year.

Annual turbine production – the boost in 2011 was due to a software upgrade.

Average monthly kWh produced.

This chart shows our average annual kWh use over the last 11 years. Some of this is due to better appliances, some due to children leaving the house, and increased awareness of energy use.

January 8, 2014 – View from Above

I thought it was time to see what our place looked like in Google Maps, and thought I’d show it on the blog. It simultaneously doesn’t look as open or tree-filled as it does from the ground.

Now, for a view with some annotations of some features visible from the air.

1) Fruit Trees (3 groups)
2) Annual Gardens (2 groups)
3) Burn Piles (5 groups)
4) House Windbreak
5) Field Windbreak/Christmas Trees
6) Native Hardwoods
7) White Pine Windbreak
8) Native Marsh planting, with willows to the south of the box
9) Tractor ruts from a bad experience!
10) Raspberries and Blackberries
11) Giant Rainwater tanks (2)
12) Animal Composter
13) Chicken Tractor (can see the daily “tracks”)
14) Old Granary
15) Barn
16) Hog Barn
17) Corn Crib
18) Machine Shed
19) Chicken Coop
20) Old Machine Shed
21) House
22) Garage
23) Wind Turbine
24) Cranberry Hedge

January 2, 2014 – A Peek back at 2013

It’s time for some of my favorite or most important shots of 2013.


Still January.


March, hope.

April in Iceland.


Well-earned state track meet berth.

June on a big lake.

June on a little lake.


The summer.

Fruitful August.

Work vultures.


Fall pie.




Ready for the next year.

December 24, 2013 – Together on Christmas Eve

It’s getting to be rare when all five of us are at the same place at the same time.

Here we are after the Christmas Eve Service – a rare family photo.

The traditional shot of the kids in front of the Christmas tree.

With Linda in minister training and at two Christmas eve services, it is time for some new traditions mixerd with old. First out of the gate was the girls preparing the clam chowder and potato soup, along with goblets of beverage and yummy apple dumplings for a late Christmas eve dinner.

November 30, 2013 – Last Day for Christmas Tree Sales

We made one final trip to Wheatsfield Grocery in Ames to sell Christmas trees. As in final-final. When we planted our field windbreak years ago, we planted the trees 5 feet apart instead of the usual 20 feet apart to account for trees that might not mature or get thinned for Christmas trees. The windbreak is now pretty much thinned and/or the remaining trees are too large.

It’s a great experience to have in December. I sold trees as a college student, I sold them now as middle-aged, and with any luck I’ll be able to sell them again as an old man.

October 5, 2013 – Pasture Labyrinth

Linda was excited after walking a labyrinth this summer and I said – “You want a labyrinth, I can make you a labyrinth!”

A few minutes mowing in the back pasture and there you go! Although you can’t see it well in this photo, the center focal point is an old glass ball and lightning rod.

September 22, 2013 – Fillin’ the Freezer

Emma played the good daughter when she said she’d come home from school Sunday afternoon to help us move 40-some chickens from outside to the freezer. It certainly kept the line moving much faster than it otherwise would have. Linda and Emma cut up all but about 10 of them for parts for quicker meals than a whole roasting chicken, but we left a few to roast or BBQ whole.

The plucker does an amazing job of taking the feathers off. A just-plucked chicken must be the model for a rubber chicken!
It’s nice to know where the chicken we eat comes from and have a year’s worth of chicken in the freezer. Especially now that the U.S. made it ok to sell chicken processed in China in the U.S. without having to reveal county-of-origin labeling laws.

September 17, 2013 – When will it ever End?

The food preservation extravaganza continues! This weekend was no exception.

The tomatoes are just beginning. These four baskets are enough to make 14 quarts of canned tomatoes.

Here’s our Sunday afternoon haul. After church, Martin and I started in earnest – 14 quarts of tomatoes, 10 pints of pears, and two batches of blackberry applesauce. We had the tomatoes skinned the day before and the apples were peeled and frozen in the freezer, so we didn’t have all the prep work.

September 10, 2013 – Dramatic Skies

After the last two days of 101 and 99 degrees (the latest in the year it has been over 100 here), we were treated to some dramatic skies.

The first few little thunderstorms skirted just to our south.

The soybeans provide an interesting striped pattern in the field.

Although it may look like a mushroom cloud over Ames, this was the first of a few small cells that passed over us, leaving us with a bit over a half-inch of rain.

Maybe a sky shot without contrails? A nice sunset.

August 26, 2013 – Deck Demolition Time

We are going to replace the small front entry deck with something that affords ample room to actually sit on the front deck.  But first, out with the old. After prying off all the decking boards and railing, it was time to enlist the help of the tractor to pull out the posts.

Any day you get to fire up the tractor to destroy things is a good day, and the ease in which this lifted up was a delight!

August 23, 2013 – Nail Challenge

Martin is at it again offering up this challenge.  Can you balance 16 nails on the head of one nail?  You can affix the nail that the other nails balance on to a board or some other device, but other support is allowed.  Think about it, or try it and scroll below to see the solution…

















Elevation from above.

Elevation from below.

August 21, 2013 – Gardening Overload

Posts have been a bit absent lately.  I’ve been imprisoned by the abundance of the garden and fruit trees.

This is the last of three pendulous peach trees.  Although officially sick of peaches for the moment, we’ve got  canned peaches, peach pie filling, peach jam, dehydrated peaches, frozen peaches, grilled peaches, peach smoothies, and even some rotten peaches rotting in the sun.

In addition to the peaches, the plums are right behind, the green beans are being transformed into dilly beans and frozen beans, and blackberries and raspberries continue the march to ripeness and the next variety of apples is coming into season.

August 3, 2013 – Eclectic Food Day

Today was a serious putting food away day.

I have to lead with the most perishable item, this Dutch apple pie that Martin made with a jar of apple pie filling that didn’t seal.

But 11 others did seal for winter-time fruit pies.

A dehydrator batch of dried apples.

A couple of canner loads of various sizes of blackberry applesauce.  For blackberry fans, this combination, with a few splashes of lemon makes a great applesauce. Plus three more gallons of peeled, sliced apples went into the freezer.

Almost as an afterthought, some beans and broccoli were blanched and frozen.

In case none of this tastes good, a liter of brandy soaks up some sugar and blackberry to fend off winter colds!

July 26, 2013 – Ridin’ the Storm Out

This poor little guy survived the storm last week.

You would not think that blackberry bushes would provide the sturdiest of homes.

Martin was worried during the storm for the bird and relieved to find it still in the nest after the wind had passed. Amazingly enough, nests had fallen out of some big trees, but this one survived.

July 23, 2013 – Apple Season Begins

Let the apple season begin!  Our apple tree that produces ripe fruit ridiculously early in the season is in full swing.

So far, we’ve got over 10 gallons of peeled and cut apple slices in the freezer, waiting for another variety to get ripe, as a mix of varieties is best for applesauce.  Another benefit of freezing is they break down to sauce so much quicker than just off the tree.

July 22, 2013 – Stiff Breeze

Last night we finally had relief from our latest mini-drought.  We had been unable to pull garlic as the ground was too hard  required watering  everyday (or rather morning or evening, and rather Grandma Jo was doing it).

A storm packing winds and rain came our way – 0ver an inch of rain, a temperature drop of 25 degrees in a few minutes and a breeze that verged on the dangerous.

The first corn field on the blacktop (1/3 mile away) didn’t fare thee well.

If the past is any indication, although this cornfield looks bad now, it will more than likely recover and stand back up.

July 17, 2013 – First Apricots at High Hopes

After years of pretending it was not a fruit tree, our only remaining apricot tree decided to fruit this year.  It isn’t a pretty tree, it is crooked in the main trunk – a badge of courage after surviving a windstorm that toppled many other trees.

The fruit is smaller than a southern apricot – but I’m still a bit amazed that they can grow this far north at all.

July 9, 2013 – Fruit on the Way!

It’s shaping up to be a great fruit year.

Cherries are almost done.

Pears are looking fine.

Apples are looking pretty bug-free.

More apples, these are Williams Pride.

Blackberries fruiting and blossoming.

Plums on the way.

First year for apricots!

Love how these apricots grew into a bird nest!

July 8, 2013 – Fallen Peaches

While peach trees aren’t known to be particularly strong, this one decided to fall just into fruit set.

It’s loaded with peaches, and has the will to live by the tiny bit of bark still connected.

A sampling of some of the fruit at ground level.  If they come to fruition, we’ll have the easiest peaches ever to pick!

To help insure its sister does not do the same thing, a little extra support is on the way.

July 7, 2013 – Sheep Update

I have neglected to show off our sheep for this year. After not having any last year, I wanted to get a few to at least keep down the vegetation around the outbuildings.

The two boys are ours and the ewe is on loan. They are all growing nicely. Baaaah!

July 3, 2013 – Happy Path

Soon the hay will be cut in the back pasture, but until then, I’m maintaining wispy walking trails back to the small pond, the trees we planted, and the burn piles.

It’s pleasant to walk back at the end of the day.  The low spots bring a characteristic deep damp smell in the late evening while we track to progress of the fledgling birds and plants.

June 5, 2013 – M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I

So we are all led to believe that the Mississippi River begins at Lake Itasca.

Real Source of Mississippi RIVer

How about this stream flowing INTO Lake Itasca? Shouldn’t somewhere up stream from here be the beginning? Or perhaps one of the other four streams that flow into the lake, perhaps the longest one? No, someone has determined that this one is not large enough to be considered a source.  It has a bridge! Doesn’t that give it some geomorphological cred?

mississippi source

Here is the real start.  The water was too high to step across in shoes.  I wonder how many people have stepped over these stones the last 100 years?

You’ll notice an absence of others throughout most of these pictures.  The week was mostly devoid of traffic and people.  Some of the campsites were nearly empty, so throughout the week, we were able to marvel at the sites relatively undisturbed.

Those in the First Nations who lived here were very puzzled why the white man was so obsessed about finding the exact source of the river.  They viewed every part of the river as special, not just the beginning.

Itasca Bike Trail

One of the non-hiking/driving adventures was a 17-mile bike loop through the park.  It went through deciduous forest, pine forests, swamps, and along lakes.  There was a place to rent bikes in the park, which was a great convenience.

biggest white pine

Just off the trail was this tree that I just quite couldn’t get to fit – it’s Minnesota’s largest White Pine.  The largest Red Pine was also near, but had recently lost part of its top, so lost its crown.  Martin noticed that this one is starting to get hollow and leaning, so it probably won’t be there when he brings his kids hear.

Finishing off the bike trail near the end of the loop.

May 29, 2013 – Record Flood on Iowa River

I’m late posting this, but better now than never. The Iowa River (the closest river to us) reached record levels this week – even higher than the floods of 2008 and 1993.

This photo from the Marshalltown Times-Republican shows the river looking south into Marshalltown along Highway 14.

This photo is of the other main highway north of town, Highway 330 near Albion. We put a sump pump in after 2008 when we redid our septic and while not perfect, it was much better than 2008 when water accumulated in the basement – this time there was just some water running through to the drains over the cement floor.

Needless to say gardening has been non-existent and we’re behind the 8-ball trying to catch up. Most of the things we did get in between raindrops is doing well, although portion of the garden have had water running/seeping through for over a week.

May 10, 2013 – Spring has Sprung!

Now with the snow gone and all, it’s time for a walk around the farm to see what’s up.

The plums are usually one of the first out of the gate.

This pear is just starting to bloom, while another variety has already finished.

This one’s just peachy!

Apples are a bit behind the rest of the gang.

This cherry tree was blown horizontal in a storm two years ago and I didn’t have the heart to take it out, and it looks like it’s making a case to stay, even though the trunk is horizontal – easy picking from the top of the tree!

A close-up of the cherry blossoms.

Mushroom logs are beginning to set fruit as well.

Garlic is looking on target as well.

May 3, 2013 – Winter 2012-2013 – YOU WIN!

Now that you’ve proved your strength, you won, now go away!

It’s still snowing and already both the highest May snowfall ever and most snow ever for the month of May (and there’s still 28 days left!).

These lilac leaves didn’t have a chance.

A country road in May.

April 26, 2013 – Trash to Cash!

I’ve been busy in this time of year when the ground is snow-free and vegetation-free to gather up years of accumulated scrap metal from around the farm, most of which predates our arrival here.

With scrap prices fairly high, instead of taking it to the landfill, I’ve been getting around $60 bucks a trailer load and have scrounged up four loads so far.  It’s a triple win – the farm gets cleaned up, the metal gets recycled and I get paid to do it!

April 3, 2013 – Willow Revenge!

Many of you may remember that last year when I was cutting down the willows, the chain saw took a slice out of my leg (allowing me to recover and watch the first weekend of the NCAA BB games without guilt).

No such luck this year.  After donning the chaps and steel-toes, I was able to cut down all the willows.  This is a shot after the fact as we are collecting them all for the burn pile. I’m keeping them coppiced for ornamental and forage purposes.

March 14, 2013 – Spring Trying to Arrive?

Even though we have had seriously below normal temperatures, running 10-20 degrees below normal all month, the maple s are beginning to show signs of life.

This was the first year a tree I planted was big enough to tap!

We’ve had precipitation 10 out of 14 days so far this month.  I’m ready for some sunshine!

March 10, 2013 – Spring Run-off

The ditches are filling up with water as the snow melts and the rain has mainly been “on” for a couple of days.

This along the road where Linda Maizy commonly walk.

Maizy got a bonus walk today as we walked down to check out the meltwaters.

Even the temporary stream in the back pasture is flowing.

A panorama of the back pasture.

February 28, 2013 – I’m Voting for “Lion”

Last year at this time, we were tapping maple trees for sap.  This year seems a bit more normal.

We’re on about 36 straight hors of snow after the prediction was for “occasional flurries” with some places getting up to an inch.  The closest town to our west measured 14 inches and to the east 10 inches, so we probably got a bout a foot.  Last week they warned us three days before about a major storm that turned out to fizzle.  Now this one, they did not make any warnings until hours after the storm started.  More of the same predicted for the first week of March, so I’m going with in like a lion, out like a lamb this year!

February 15, 2013 – Sometimes a Candle isn’t Enough!

Today was a milestone day in Linda’s seminary studies.  Our denomination has a “weed-out” point where a committee can say 1) you cannot be a minister, 2) go ahead in your studies, or 3) go ahead, but work on these things and check back with us at a later date. The interview was in San Francisco, and the committee looked at the results of her 2.5 day psychiatric evaluation, references, and course work.  It was similar in feel to a prelim for a Ph.D. candidate.

Many of her friends and colleagues told her they’d be thinking of her and lighting a candle for her during her interview. Of course, I have a much bigger stake in her success than her friends and colleagues, so I decided, a candle would not do for me.  My best option was to have a really big fire instead of a candle.  So, it was time to light the back pasture on fire!

This area hadn’t been grazed for about 4 years, so it was full of dead grasses, waiting to have their nutrients returned to the soil. There was still some snow along the fencelines, I had perimeter firebreaks burnt, and always burned against the wind, so the fire didn’t move too fast.  Kids, don’t try this at home – I am a professional and used to get paid to do this in a former life.

The resulting perfect rectangular burn.

This certificate that Martin made for Linda shows that the result for Linda was positive.

January 30, 2013 – Ice, Thunderstorm, Snow must be Next!

No school today, with the howling wind and the snow.

Of course, the next thing is the dep freeze, and although it’s still blowing pretty good, I thought it better to get out and clear the driveway tonight rather than in the sub-zero morning.  I tried to put all the pile to the south and est of the driveway so i wouldn’t create a source for the snow to drift behind.  There are very few things more enjoyable than driving the tractor for purposeful work!

January 29, 2013 – Winter Comfort Food

Emma had a hankering for lots of fresh vegetables and hot soup so she made up this Vietnamese Vegetarian Pho.

Here’s the completed bowl.

The process to prepare the ingredients was not trivial.  What’s invisible in this picture is what it took to make the pot of vegetable broth – all the vegetable that were boiled away and discarded (to the chickens) to make the broth.  It was a great mid-winter meal.

January 28, 2013 – Fire and Ice

Here’s something we haven’t seen for a while – red on the radar.

Thunderstorms and 39 degrees.

Yesterday’s ice storm did not want to give way.

Martin thought school should have been a two hour delay – and he was right – he heard that 5 buses needed a tow – and his bus picked up kids from one of the stuck buses.

Even a common Queen Anne’s Lace looks more elegant encased in ice.

January 27, 2013 – Want a Little Icing on that Earth?

Even though I’ve got photo editing software that puts this effect on any photo, the following are real, undoctored photos.

The view out the kitchen window looking towards the doghouse and barn.

A maple tree in the front yard.

The detached garage.  Everything is shut down this morning because of the ice.

I was hoping for a power blip or two as I finally broke down and bought a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) this week so the computer would work through power blinks and shut down properly during an extended outage with battery back-up.

January 21, 2013 – Definition of Irony?

The worship service was about to begin at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sunday Morning, September 15, 1963.  The clock was ticking.  I knew I had only a few minutes left to collect the rest of the reports and write the Sunday school summary.  I was looking forward to Reverend Cross’s sermon that morning. He had posted the title on the board outside the church: A Love that Forgives.” The sermon was to be based on Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

A few seconds later a bomb exploded in the church, killing four girls dressed in their Sunday best.

From While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age During the Civil Rights Movement

This free book came on my Kindle this morning, and I thought it good to read since I have the day off in memory of MLK.




January 16, 2013 – 2012 Skystream Wind Turbine Production Stats

Well,the 2012 Skystream wind turbine results are in. In 2012, the Skystream produced 4,660 kWh, an average of 388 kWh per month. The farm and household used 9,603 kWh, an average of 800 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 48.5% of our energy.

This graph shows the average monthly kWh produced by the wind turbine over the past four years.

This graph shows how much electricity our household has used over the past 11 years.


This graph shows how the average monthly turbine production varies by month.


Month kWh Produced
by Turbine
kWh Used by
Jan ’12 458 764
Feb ’12 430 762
Mar ’12 688 763
April ’12 486 766
May ’12 553 831
June ’12 339 589
July ’12 104 1252
Aug ’12 107 827
Sept ’12 200 771
Oct ’12 423 698
Nov ’12 456 651
Dec ’12  416  929
2013 Totals 4660 9603




January 11, 2013 – January Thaw

We’ve had a week-long January thaw.

Kind of a bummer to have to spend the time figuring out end of year finances for taxes, finances, FAFSA, and other college aid profiles.  But hey, yesterday was one minute and 30 seconds longer than yesterday!

Today it was up to 54, this week was enough to melt away most of the 13 inches of snow and drag out the grill to cook outside for Claire’s last “happy meat” meal at home before heading off to Copenhagen.

December 22, 2012 – Solstice Bonfire, Barely

After the howling winds, the Winter Solstice arrived, along with the snowplow about 2:30 in the afternoon.

My favorite wife in the glow of the candle in the darkness.

It took a great deal of effort to get the bonfire to light, but light it did to help light/warm up the longest night of the year.

A couple of the brave sojourners who made it out.  The usual crows od 100-120 was cut way back to about 40 this year.  But that meant more room to move around in the house and enjoy chatting.

December 21, 2012 – First Winter Storm in Years Blows In

The biggest snowstorm in a number of years rolled in Wednesday night and Thursday.

The timing was good and bad, since it arrived the day before about 100 folks or so usually descend for our annual Solstice bonfire.  Bad because it may be hard for people to get here, good, because it covers up the dried grasses in the pasture.

The back end of the Subaru didn’t quite make it in the shed (unnamed daughter did not pull the vehicle in front of this one far enough into the shed to allow Mom all the way in the shed after fetching niece Jill from the airport, just an hour or so before it shut down for the evening because of weather).

We were in the bullseye just east of Ames, with about 13 inches of snow, including the always heavy thundersnow.  Any time there’s lightning and thunder in snow, you’re in for a doozy of a storm. As a bonus, most of it came in sideways, with 30-50 mph winds steady for about 36 hours.

Daisy watches the kids trying to dig a fort into a drift on the driveway.

Martin peering out of his fort.

Late in the day, with the winds calming down and skies beginning to clear, the sundogs came out – because, of course after such a snow, standard practice is clear skies and arctic temperatures.

December 14, 2012 – Christmas Tree Time of Year

Our Christmas tree selling is wrapped up for the year.  There were many types of Christmas tree conveyance from our log at Wheatsfield Grocery. Some people stuck them in the trunk, some on the roof, some on the roof only after laying down plastic or cardboard, and this fellow, who simply walked home with his tree.

Just like Pa dragging a tree home on Walton Mountain!

December 12, 2012 – Brother Mudder

I missed out on the endurance running gene, but my Bro certainly got it. Former college All-American XC runner, still going strong on the downside of 40.

This from a recent Tough Mudder race south of Tampa.

Running through mud, electric shockers, and walls, are all part of a 12 mile jaunt designed by the British Special Forces.

December 7, 2012 – Siding All On!

The last big project (let’s hope) on resurrecting a 90-year old farmhouse is now complete the addition of new siding.

It will be nice to have it all wrapped up for winter in a bright cheery yellow.  Next up a new front porch/deck.

December 4, 2012 – December Lettuce!

Although it is not the most beautiful lettuce, it is December after all and we’ve limped this patch of lettuce through this far.

December garden lettuce is a big bonus!  We’re now marking the longest number of days without a snowfall of any kind, 277 and counting.  If winter ever does come again, I won’t recognize it.

December 3, 2012 – Mulberry Mess

One of the least-beloved jobs on the farm is cutting mulberries out of fences. This year was worse than usual since I wasn’t cutting them all summer as supplemental browse to the goats.  Even worse that cutting mulberry out of fences, is paying for your own “I’ll get to that tomorrow” mess when you leave a roll of wire with a mulberry tree growing up through it for a number of years.

In this picture I’ve already hacked off the branches that protrude outside the wire (it’s about the 3rd time I’ve managed to do that).  Now it is time to release the wire from the multiple stumps.

But wait, there’s more.  In addition to being armed with wire cutters, saw, and pruners, this job requires poor memory so you repeatedly bang your head against a branch from an adjacent tree that is about 2 inches closer to the ground than your head.  This as you unwind the wire and circle around repeatedly.

But wait, there’s EVEN more!  When you finally get down to the end, you discover another piece that is flat on the ground, of a finer wire mesh that is three layers thick.  Now, all the wire is cut, heaved, and wrestled out of the ground and now just needs to be collapsed and sent out for recycling.  But all-in-all a bonus activity on an early December day in the 60’s.

November 30, 2012 – Annual “Rural Route Reader?”

I thought I was way ahead of the game this year.  I had the annual Rural Route Reader conceived, created, and sent out to the printer the last week of November.  There’s always with a bit of trepidation when the package comes back from the printer. I open the package, hoping the printer put the pages together correctly and that the layout made the digital journey to the printer the same way it looks on my computer.

This year my trepidation paid off.  The package was the right size, 11×17, and the right number of copies, but the Reader underwent a radical transformation.

It’s almost as if a poster for a Christmas program in Vermont was switched at birth with the Reader!

There will be a slight delay in getting the Reader out this year.

November 10, 2012 – Late Extraction

We only had one good hive this summer, and for one reason or another, didn’t get around to extracting it until today.

We put the  supers in the back of a car and parked it in the sun to help the honey warm up even more.  It wasn’t enough and still had to hear up the frames to extract.

The yield from one five gallon bucket.

The top of one of the buckets.  We ended up with three 5 gallon buckets about 3/4 full each.  Now we’re set for soap and honey for a while!

November 5, 2012 – Good, Clean, Fun!

This weekend we went over to Morning Sun Farm and had a group soap-making session.  All told, we made four batches of soap, so our share was two batches.

This is the real lye and fat soap, with a little goat milk.  The soap sets up over night and needs to be cut the next day.

Here’s the view after one block was cut and the other awaits the soap cutter.  It needs to sit for about six weeks before use, to make sure the chemical reaction from fat and lye to soap is complete.  This is great soap and it’s hard to live without it once you use it.

November 4, 2012 – Animals Keep on Giving

Even though the four-leggeds have been gone for about a year, they keep giving.

Here’s a nice loader full of compost from where the winter feeder was on the cement barnyard.  This was no-fuss compost, requiring no human intervention.  Scooped up four loader buckets and distributed it to the gardens to help keep the soil top-notch.

October 15, 2012 – Fall Berry Maintenance

Since our blackberries were so good to us this year, I thought I should take good care of them this fall.  So, even though it is one of the most unpleasant jobs on the farm, pruning blackberries it was.

Here’s the rows of blackberries and raspberries before pruning,  The blackberries are very vigorous, and have a tendency to grow side shoots that are at a 90 degree angle from the main stem.  Pulling them out is irritating as your head often times get scraped as you are hunched on your knees, huddled under the canes, trying to cut the old canes out at near ground level while trying to pull out the old cane.  After it’s done the row looks much better.

Although this “after” shot doesn’t show it well, the blackberries are pruned of this year’s fruiting canes and all the raspberries are pruned as well.  That “pruning” is much easier, since all it consists of is mowing down the entire row!

October 14, 2012 – Lettuce Cage

For the first time, we’ve had a problem with rabbits eating OUR vittles this fall.  So, this small patch of lettuce and spinach gives a chance to repurpose a farm item for a new use.

This was originally a turkey tractor, but I thought it might do a good job of keeping the rabbits out as well, and it has without the hassle of building a separate rabbit fence.


October 12, 2012 – Drenching the Trench

It’s time to get the garlic in the ground.  It’s so much easier to dig a trench with the tractor than by hand!

Here, the trench is dug and the garlic is going in the ground.  It did take a bit longer to plant this year because it is so dry.  I didn’t want to put the garlic in a dry soil, so after I pushed the cloves in, I dumped buckets of water from the rainwater collection tank, covered the trench with the soil from one side of the trench, then soaked that again before covering it up.  Hopefully the moistened soil will help it sprout and be better insulated when the ground freezes.

October 8, 2012 – Fall Cleanup

OK, the growing season, except for chard, beets, lettuce, and kale is over.

It’s time to pull all the dead plants from the garden and dispose of them.  It’s both a relief and disappointment when the last garden vegetable dies for the season – a relief because the work of eating, harvesting, and preserving is over for the year and a disappointment that there are no more fresh goodies from the garden.

October 7th, 2012 – Chickens to the Freezer

Today we were grateful most of our chickens made it safely to maturity (unlike the 10 turkeys this year who all perished by deformed leg problems, storm, or dog).

Martin hauls the chickens to the killing cones, where I deftly make a cut on the side of the neck where they bleed out.

Next, it’s a few dips in about 150 degree water. The chickens are ready to scald when wing feathers pull out easily.

The chickens before the plucker spins.

About 30 seconds later, most of the feathers are gone.

Then the chickens go to a different pair of hands for cleaning and later cutting up into meal-sized portions.  I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly fun day, but it is rewarding have control of the chickens from chick to freezer  – knowing how they’ve lived and been processed.

September 16, 2012 – Wagons for Sale

Time to make some room in the shed and move out some things that I’m no longer using.  Following each of these items is the starting price – they will drop $50/week until sold.

corn caddy for sale

“Corn Caddy” by Heavybilt.  Mobile grain bin holds 1500 lbs of grain. Has lights and brakes.  Tires like new.  Original prices $1725, asking $850.

new idea barge wagon for sale

New Idea barge wagon, approximately 6×10 and box is about 27 inches high.  Pretty good rubber and wood in good shape.  Asking $400.


small gravity wagon for sale

Gravity wagon – not too sure how much it holds – top is about 6′ x10′.  Three tires are decent, one is bald.  Dent in front right and some small holes in box.  Asking $400.

Respond with a comment if you’d like more photos or more info.

September 10, 2012 – Another House Project Commences

The 90 year-old cedar siding has met its lifespan.  The east side was resided when we tore off the garage, the new soffits were put on when we redid the roof, so the siding is all that’s left for the outside. I hate it when new siding is just put over the old, sinking the windows into the house.  This also gives me a chance to insulate in the gap where the old ropes and weights from the previous generation double-hung windows reside, tightening up the house even more.

The cedar siding is all tucked in the trailer, ready for a trip to the landfill (I chose not to burn it, fearing the release of lead into the soil and air).  My legs feel the results of up and down the ladders over a couple of days this weekend.  Early in the week, the contractor will put up the Ty-Vek.  Only two more sides to rip off.


September 3, 2012 – Hot Peppers

The peppers are doing just fine this year.  We thought we’d try roasting some hot peppers just for fun.

Niece Jillian is here for a short visit, trying to keep busy on the farm (not usually much of a problem!)  Here she’s cutting the jalapenos.

A tray ready for roasting.

Linda hard at work, peeling the skins off the peppers.  They are good!

August 31, 2012 – Trying out “Ranger” Chickens

We’re trying out a new (for us) breed of broiler chickens. Called “red rangers” or “freedom rangers” they grow a bit slower than the super hybrid chickens used in confinement (8 weeks to a 4 lb chicken) and faster than the standard breeds (14 weeks for white rocks or barred rocks).

These guys looks good so far and are supposed to be good foragers as well, wo they maybe a better match for the chicken tractors if they do a great job of foraging.

August 24, 2012 – Martin’s Adirondack Chair

I was sucked into Menards for the $25 wooden Adirondack chairs. When I got there I found they were unassembled and unfinished. I thought it might be a good project for Martin and I to build.

But turns out that he was more than able to throw on the outdoor poly, sand between coats, and assemble the chairs.

This will be his birthday present to his oldest sister as she moves off campus into a house this fall – perfect indoor/outdoor furniture for a college student.

August 15, 2012 – Hazelnut Harvest

Like many things, hazel harvest seems a bit early this year.

basket of hazelnuts

Here’s the yield from about a 15 foot row of hazelnuts.


Some of them are completely dried down, others have a bit more time to go, but with the recent spotting of a new squirrel in the yard, it was time to pick (the squirrel can have all the acorns and walnuts).

boy picking hazelnuts

Martin picking the low-hangers.

Linda looking at the higher nuts.

August 14, 2012 – Prez Stops by the Neighborhood

Barack was in the neighborhood today.  I was at work, so missed all the excitement.  He stopped at the wind farm just a few miles south of our farm.

Actually, I was a bit disappointed he didn’t stop in and check out our turbine!

One of the most short-sighted and non-sensical comments on the campaign is Romney’s assertion that he would “allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.”  Of course, the 100 years of tax credits and subsidies for gas and oil are not on the table as Romney’s desire for a “level playing field” on energy policy does not extend to oil and gas, where he has pledged to retain up to 40 billion of subsidies and tax breaks.

40 billion for gas and oil.

0 for wind.

I wonder what he means by “level playing field?”

The only logical explanation that makes that position true is that nobody on his campaign has told him that wind turbines are a source of energy.

August 12, 2012 – Pre-dawn Visitor/Preacher Linda on the Road Again

The day started early.

Before sunrise, sometime around o’dark thirty, we awoke to the sound of a car in need of exhaust work revving its engine, dying and starting up again. Then we heard the loud stream-of-consciousness yelling.
“Oh No!”
More silence
“That’s not good.”
More engine revving.
“Now I’m in trouble.”
Silence again.
“Oh, now what do I do?”
I looked out he window and saw the guy who delivers the Sunday paper with his car teetered between the steep ditch and road. I looked at Linda and knew it was a job for me. “You stay in bed, I’ll handle this one.” Better to have someone able to call 911 when the crazy guy who almost rolled his car in the ditch go ballistic on me.

I went out to survey the situation and knew what would need to happen. It was nothing a chain and tractor couldn’t handle. I went out and greeted him.

“Glad I didn’t wake you up.” He said.
“I was just getting up to empty the bladder, you didn’t wake me up.” “Looks like we’ll need the tractor and chain,” I said, and started walking back to the shed.

All the way back to the shed and until the roar of the tractor starting in the dark shed, I heard him stand on the road and tell the details of his predicament and how it came to be. I’m sure Linda and the neighbors down the road heard every word.

It’s always a bit dicey getting a car out of the ditch with a chain and avoiding a roll, but he was more than willing to take the chance. The front a back lights on the tractor were a nice bonus as morning’s first light found us. I got him pulled out and told him to stop and help someone else further down the road sometime.

Then it was off to Ames, where Linda was the guest minister at the Unitarian Fellowship of Ames. Last week she did the same thing in Des Moines.

As usual, her message was well-received, even gathering a rather rare immediate applause upon conclusion.

August 11, 2012 – ‘Maters Ready to Can

Today was the first flush of tomatoes in bulk.

I’ve kept them watered and they have rewarded us.  This is only the beginning. Let the tomato processing begin!

boil tomatoes

First step is to drop them in boiling water.  I use this propane turkey burner.  They are cheap after Thanksgiving and make it possible to keep the mess and heat out of the kitchen.  Leave them in there until the skins begin to crack.

tomatoes in ice water

Then put them in cold water until you can cut out the core and slip off the peels.  Usually we’ll put them in cans and process them, but we didn’t have enough time today, so we just threw them in bags and froze them until we have time to can them.

Here’s the yield from the baskets in the first photo – 10 gallon bags.

August 10, 2012 – Emma’s Running Pals

Emma hosted her Cross-Country team to a sleepover.

Here’s part of the team, some couldn’t make it and others arrived after dark.

One of the beauties of living in the country is the outrageous bonfires that happen fairly regularly.

It was a good week for Emma – last Saturday was particularly eventful – she finished 2nd at a 5k run and later in the afternoon made her first rescue at the pool – an 8-yr old boy went off the slide into the deep end of the pool and couldn’t swim.  Emma fished him out to earn her keep for the summer!

August 5, 2012 – The Rain was Nice, the Wind, not to Much…

Yesterday’s rain was welcome, but for this beehive, it was a bit much.

This is our most productive and hive with the most supers on it. It’s at another farm and it was, shall we say, a bit delicate to put a hive back in place section by section. We took four supers that were full away, left the bottom few on and put an empty super on top.  Needless to say it was a bit frightening to put this all back together with the hiving buzzing around, looking for a home.  I brought a trailer along, and with the four supers we brought home, most of the bees blew off the 70 mph trip home.  then we needed to secure the honey in a location that was airtight, so the remaining bees and any other neighborhood hives didn’t steal the frames – so, we pried the frames loose and put them all in giant coolers until we are ready to extract.

August 4, 2012 – Now, for Something Completely Different

Finally, a real storm front rolls through.

While it did not rain too long or too fiercely, we did get a bit under an inch of rain.

It should keep what was still alive in the garden good for another week – although I dug a small hole in the garden, and the soil was only wet down about three inches before it was hard and dry.

July 28, 2012 – More Storm Casualties

While out weeding in the garden, Linda found this egg.

Most likely it had blown out of a tree during the storm that struck last Wednesday when the RAGBRAI riders were here.  We’re guessing it must be a hummingbird.

July 21, 2012 – Out with the Old, in with the New

Although it is taking a bit of time, the collision adjuster from Allstate did make a fair valuation of the totalled 1996 Outback.  The amount we were promised ended up being $54 more than we originally purchased the car for four years ago.  I was looking for a replacement that was small and with 4WD to give me a bit more peace of mind when Emma drives to school in winter.

This Honda CR-V we found with a private party in Cedar Rapids fit the bill.

The previous owners looked us up on the blog (you’d hate to sell your beloved Honda to just anyone, you know!)!   They were also a bit surprised that our teen-age girl was proficient with a 5-speed.  You go farm Girl Emma!

July 16, 2012 – Another Room Remodel Almost Complete

The remodel of the back room is looking a bit more complete.

Here’s the remodeled view of the south wall.

Here’s what it looked like before we started.

All of the wood was reclaimed from old farm buildings – on this farm and the neighboring farm that was recently torn down and burned. It takes a bit of work to plane the boards to get rid of the old grey weathered rind, but the wood itself is gorgeous and I left it imperfect on purpose for a bit of a rustic look.

Here’s the new coat closet.

The old closet had the irritating sliding doors that detached from the runners about every other time they were opened. I like the open design better as you can see everything at a glance and grab or hang up a coat quicker. I even built a box in the back to store out of season footwear to keep it out of sight and baskets for hats, mittens, and the like.

The room was pretty much a do-over – when we tore off the paneling there were old covered up windows, old doorframes, some plaster walls, the ceilings were partially beadboard, partially nothing. New wiring, new insulation, new windows, new ceiling and walls. I’ve yet to decide what to do with the wall adjoining the kitchen. Most likely I’ll put in shelving for kitchen overflow and canning jars and storage, made of the same reclaimed wood.

July 15, 2012 – Iowa Peaches

Who says peaches don’t grow in Iowa?

Unfortunately, these peaches represent about 25% of the peach harvest, or any fruit tree harvest for that case.  All the plums, cherries, and most the peaches were lost in the May frost.  If we’re lucky we’ll get a half-dozen apples as well.  So, this won’t be a big jam or canned fruit year.

July 14, 2012 – So the Summer Goes

We’ve even been missing out on the scattered thunderstorms, like this one that poured down heavy rain just to our east.  This one was moving due south and Marshalltown got some 1 inch hail near the center of the storm.

There’s not a day in the 10 day forecast below 90.  I still remember a pleasant summer a few years back, where it only reached above 90 three days for the year.

July 13, 2012 – First Berry Harvest

Blackberries are one of the few success stories so far this season.  The bushes erupted full of berries, so I’ve been trying to keep them watered, in order not to squander the harvest.

This bowl is destined for the freezer and is about 1/6 of what we’ll need for a fine batch of blackberry wine.  Last year we gave 18 pounds of raspberries and were returned months later with 24 bottles of a nice, dry raspberry wine.  I’m not a fan of the sweet fruit wines, but our vinter did a good job making a dry wine.


July 11, 2012 – What’s a Little Mess Worth?

Rumor has it that Martin and GJ are both known for making a mess in the kitchen when cooking. That’s why we’ll show the end products.

Today was no exception – on the summer menu: potato salad, deviled eggs, fresh cabbage and beans from the garden, along with some grilled pork chops from an heirloom variety.

Oh yeah, and home-made eclairs to top off the meal.  Unfortunately, the instructions say that the eclairs are best eaten within two hours of making them!

July 10, 2012 – Documents from the Past

There was a bright light on the horizon this evening. I knew in a second what it was…

the continued obliteration of the farmstead across the section.

I was able to get a few mementos from inside the house.  They are fascinating documents of a different time.  I’ll post them below with the names erased for some sense of privacy, I guess.  It just doesn’t seem ok to post them with a name on them.

Perhaps the biggest sign of the times is this check for polio insurance, written in 1955 – the year Jonas Salk released the polio vaccine.

Gas was 24 cents a gallon.

When’s the last phone bill you had that came in under four dollars?

An electric bill from 1955 coming is at under a 10 spot.

Before we found this, Martin asked me what that funny yellow thing that looked like a small part of combine was (photo is in previous day’s album).  The check for a new corn picker.  Again, 1955 was the end of an era and might have been the last, or one of the last years this style corn picker was available, since modern combines were out about this time.

Scores of old Christmas greetings lay littered on the floor.

A handwritten account of farm budget items from 1966.

And perhaps the most ironic is this bulldozer bill from 1952 – 60 years later the bulldozers returned one final time.

July 9, 2012 – A Sad End to Someone’s Pride and Joy

We were saddened to see not only another barn destroyed and burned, but an entire farmstead and woodlot.   This farm is a bout a mile away as the crow flies. This one is a haunting reminder of our impermanence.  The last person to live here just left everything like he was going to church when he went into a home.  No family came back to put the items in order.  In the photos below, you can see a comb still on the bathroom sink, suit coats still in the closet, overhalls and coats hanging in the mud room, shoes and Christmas tins scattered by the coons and salvagers.  There are extensive financial records, old letters, old Christmas cards and the like scattered around.  All the equipment from a career of farming, from single-row steel wheel plows, to combines and tractors – all left like they were 25 years ago.  Neighbors tried to buy the place a number of times, but never got anywhere, before the house deteriorated and equipment rusted.  It just sat. On its commanding view of the countryside on the crest of a hill.

Here’s and aerial view of the farm (left side of the road) before the bulldozers and backhoes flattened the trees and dug holes and pushed in and burned the buildings – presumably to get ready to plant corn and beans.

The following album shows some pictures of the “progress” in making the land ready to plant.  Click through to see all the photos.

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June 26, 2012 – Making Hay

As we no longer have 4-leggeds running around, our pasture is ready for other uses.  A neighbor is gong to use it for hay and to graze horses.

The grass after getting cut with the sickle-bar mower.

There’s a few obstacles to get around, but it will at least yield a few bales.

June 25, 2012 – Gallons of Water

With the continued onset of hot, dry weather, and much more ahead, it was time to augment soil moisture.

We filled a stock tank and dragged it around to give some plants a drink. We drained about 750 gallons from our wqter collecting tank.

The blackberries are vigourous this year, so they received some, in addition to the tomatoes and peppers.

June 17, 2012 – Early Garlic Crop

Like many things this year, the garlic has matured weeks early. There has been a bit of buzz on some of the local farm listserves about a very poor garlic crop this year, with some reporting “wrinkly, soft garlic” or more culls than in 22 years of growing. That made us a bit concerned and motivated us to go check ours,

For the most part the crop at high hopes looks fine. About the only difference seemed to be the stalks seem a bit more thick than usual.

50 foot row garlic

Here’s the yield from a 50 foot row, briefly drying before getting ushered off. Looks like about 130 plants per double row.

garlic harvest

Here’s about half of this year’s crop, ready for transport in the cart.

May 9, 2012 – Big Gardening Day on the Farm

It was a great “getting things done on the farm day.” It was the first day that Linda and Claire were home all day, so the garden and other things were transformed.

First, Claire volunteered to clean out winter from the hen house. About five overflowing loader buckets (liberally soaked with water to aid the composting process) and the hen house was ready for fresh bedding, and next year’s compost is on the way.

Many plants and seeds and mulch found their way into the garden as well. We got the recycled lumber tarps out of the barn, Linda planted a bunch of peppers and tomatoes. I went to the neighbors via the bumpy dirt trail between the crop fields and retrieved two loads of loose straw from the loft of their barn and put the tomato cages on, pounded the stakes in, spread the mulch and wet it all down.

This photo shows some hearty garlic on the right, a cattle panel trellis that we put up this weekend.  It has pole beans on the outside and lettuce and spinach underneath, hopefully to last a bit longer into the summer with the shade of the beans.  To the left of the trellis is some space reserved for viney plants before a row of tomatoes.  It’s nice to have that mulched portion of the garden already weeded for the whole season!

At the end of the day, I took some time to pull thistles from the pasture.  It appears that last year’s pulling them out by had greatly reduced the population in the paddock we tested last year.  We’ll continue that on the other paddocks this year.


March 25, 2012 – Prairie Fire

We helped out at a prairie burn this afternoon at Two Friends farm. I’ll mix it up and take you through the burn backwards.

prairie after burn

At the end of the day, about five acres of prairie is torched.

boy in burnt prairie

Sending Martin out batting cleanup while we go try to find some cold ones (not really).

prairie fire

After setting the backfires, the main fire gets rolling.

ring of fire

A burning ring of fire!

fire flapper

Martin with a flapper to help smother flames along the edge of a fire.

man in prairie fire

Nice flapper work on the right side of the photo!

Starting the fire nice and slow – a back burn against the wind before starting the main fire.

March 22, 2012 – Early Spring Blossoms

The first fruit tree blossoms decided to unfurl the last few days.

This plum is first out of the gate.

Just for a reminder – here’s a shot from exactly today four years ago today!

And this is a shot of our road from earlier in March 2008. All the 80 degree days this March have made snowy Marches a memory.

March 17, 2012 – Man v. Chainsaw

With the advent of the warm weather, I’m behind on the pruning.  Today, I thought I might catch up by speed-cutting down the willows by using the chain saw instead of the hand pruners.  Perhaps the execution was faulty.  While I failed to separate my leg from my body, I did manage to turn it into an ER room visit for 6 big stitches right near the inside of a knee.  Claire was home, and while I felt I could drive, I wasn’t sure I could drive home, so off she came with me.  The two hours there went quite quickly as the basketball tourney was on the waiting room TV and the suturing room TV, which was decorated in a Nemo theme.

The doc said it was easy as chainsaw stitch-ups go as the chain didn’t “bounce” two or three times making a road rash like some chain saw incidents.




March 10, 2012 – ‘Tis the Fighting Season

Every spring Mr. Cardinal finds an enemy he needs to fight somewhere on the farm.  In year’s past, a male cardinal spent hours of the day banging into his reflection in the front picture window.

This year, he has found his rival to be a bit more clever and found him hiding inside the mirror on the car.  I sure hope humans don’t spend the same amount of time and energy fighting phantom enemies!

March 6, 2012 – Linda Counted Among the Powerful Except by Hy-Vee

This morning I dropped Linda off at the airport for an event in D.C. she was invited to participate in by Oxfam – here’s a press clipping about the event:

More than 70 powerful women from around the US and the world, including actor Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), former Haitian Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis, Top Chef Masters competitor Mary Sue Milliken and many more, will join international relief and development organization Oxfam America for a Sisters on the Planet Summit on March 7 to mark International Women’s Day.

The women will also meet with Members of Congress to advocate for policies that support women farmers around the world.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, will offer keynote remarks to the morning gathering. An award ceremony and reception in the evening will honor Kristin Davis for her work to raise awareness on global hunger and poverty.

The following day, International Women’s Day, women leaders including former high ranking government officials, civil society leaders and veterans and farmers from across the country, will take to Capitol Hill to advocate for reforms to the US food aid program in the Farm Bill that will save money and lives.

Here’s where Hy-Vee comes in – the not-so-good part. On February 28, she dropped off her D.C. clothes at Hy-Vee to be dry cleaned. She asked me if I could pick them yesterday up when I brought Martin to piano lessons. The clothes were not there on March 5. I asked what dry cleaners they were at, so I could go there to pick them up – they said all their dry cleaning drop-offs for the week are sent to Cedar Falls on Fridays and returned the following Tuesday – so it could be a week or more. So I had the privilege to call her as she was enroute to Ames to stop at Younkers before she came home to make a new wardrobe purchase!

February 26, 2012 – The Sweetness of February Begins

It was a good Sunday.  I had been pretty much cooped up working indoors the last few weeks, so I was looking forward to a nice day outdoors.  Today was double-duty farm work.  It was time to boil down 15 gallons of maple sap and begin pruning the fruit trees.

mobile sugar shack

Here’s the world famous mobile sugar shack.  An old barrel stove on a metal wagon that can be moved around to account for the wind – and it was windy today – near wind advisory criteria.  This photo pretty much shows it all.  Cart with wood, buckets with sap, coffee cup, willing boy, stove and evaporator pan a bubbling, and maple tree with container in the background.

Today’s enterprise is uber-sustainable.  The wood is from the storm last summer, the plastic cartons that use the sap will be converted to tomato shelters in a few months, and the leftover logs that hadn’t burned all the way were snuffed out for some biochar.  To top it off, we produced more electricity than we used.

boy pruning tree

While we wait, it’s a good time to begin pruning the fruit trees.  Martin starts on this one that needs some attention.

boy sleeping in tree

But eventually, the kids tuckers out and finds a makeshift resting place in the branches of an apple tree.

February 22, 2012 – Sap’s Running!

I thought it might be time to tap the maple trees for the spring sap run.  A quick email to our friends at Morning Sun farm found they had just tapped their trees and already had 50 gallons in the hand.

drill tap hole

Drill a hole.

pound tap

Pound in a tap.

dripping maple tap

Sap flow!

tap buckets on tree

About four hours after getting the taps in, this tree has already filled the buckets about 3/4 full.

February 4, 2012 – Claire’s got Stones!

At least curling stones.

You’re looking at about 640 pounds of pure unadulterated fun on ice.

Macalester offered up an free afternoon of curling to a busload of students – Claire was all over it as a daughter whose father neglected her by never once taking her to a hockey game, even though her little brother witnessed the Frozen Four championship game.  Here a nice man instructs the kids how the game is played.

Not yet skilled at using the broom as an extension of the arm to maintain balance during the throw, she’s down. I hope she was able to say that the stone made it into the house.

OK, at least Claire made it into the house!

As with most sports, although you might not think of it, every possible warning is issued to protect from legal action in the unlikely event a stone becomes airborne.  I just went and added the Canadian cult film Men with Brooms to my Netflix queue!

January 14, 2012 – First Lego League Iowa Championships

This week was he culmination of the First Lego League season.

It’s a crazy scene in the atrium of Hoover Hall at the ISU College of Engineering as the 72 teams that qualified for state gather.

Team Mu? watching the robot on it’s mission to complete as many tasks as possible.  The other two parts of the competition, the presentation about an innovative solution and team problem-solving exercises  are just as important as the robot programming, but less camera-freindly.

The team poses with long-time FLL supporter and Emcee Brandon.

The team poses with this year’s award, third place in the State in the “Gracious Professionalism” category.  This is one of the core values to First Lego Leaugue and is described as following from FLL:

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended. In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

Photos without high hopes gardens watermark are courtesy of Frank Roessler.

January 9, 2012 – 2011 Skystream Wind Turbine Results

Ok, the numbers are in from last year’s Skystream production. In summary, the Skystream produced an average of 387 kWh per month. This compares quite favorably to the average of the previous two years (336 kWh), and our household electric use dropped from an monthly average of 863 kWh in 2010 to 819 kWh in 2011. So, the Skystream produced 47% of our electric use in 2011.

Production stats for the Skystream Turbine for 2011.

Month kWh Produced
by Turbine
kWh Used by
Jan ’11 401 1010
Feb ’11 356 823
Mar ’11 498 839
April ’11 622 814
May ’11 561 690
June ’11 399 808
July ’11 120 1028
Aug ’11 105 880
Sept ’11 191 809
Oct ’11 380 640
Nov ’11 555 792
Dec ’11 455 1012
2011 Totals 4643 10145

2009 Summary
In 2009, the Skystream produced 4,068 kWh, an average of 339 kWh per month. The farm and household used 11,549 kWh, an average of 962 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.6% of our energy.

2010 Summary
In 2010, the Skystream produced 3,998 kWh, an average of 333 kWh per month. The farm and household used 10,284 kWh, an average of 863 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.9% of our energy.

2011 Summary
In 2011, the Skystream produced 4643 kWh, an average of 387 kWh per month. The farm and household used 10,145 kWh, an average of 819 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 47.2% of our energy.






January 8, 2012 – The Storm that Keeps on Giving

The extraordinarily warm winter to date allows for some jobs that might have waited until spring.  We’re still cleaning up debris from the storm.  It was nice enough to get the chain saw out today and cut up some more trees and haul more branches to one of the burn piles.

We’re probably about 80% done with the cleanup, if you don’t count whether the trees that were snapped off 1/2 way up come down or not.

January 3, 2012 – Year In Review

It’s time for a year=end review of some of my favorite moments and photos of 2011.

Kids and baby animals are hard to beat.

Extremes in any domain are interesting.

Martin’s new found love and interest in cooking gave us many great meals.

The promise of a neat spring garden always brings hope.

Linda’s wild look in the White House captures a moment.

“Walking the Talk”

Claire as a professional at her work post in DC.

Dad and Martin up on the North Shore of Minnesota.

Martin’s initiative to carry a big pack, rather cheerfully over 3.5 miles of portages.

Emma exploring new foods in Boston.

Taking care of some of our own responsibly-grown meat.

Visiting with women farmers from around the world at our farm.

The majesty and scale of the new wind turbine farm just south of our farm.

Finally, after 20 some odd years (who’s counting, exactly) the love of my life shining a little light of hers.

December 23, 2011 – Christmas Chaos

More than anything, family Christmas gatherings seem to be more chaos management than Silent Night. I won’t pull out the smiling children in front of a Christmas Tree now (that may be coming later).

This photo captures much in its ordinariness.  People gather around the appetizers in the kitchen while Martin receives instruction from his uncles regarding sound effect production.

Middle child often gets left out of family publications, so to make it up to her, I found her doing dishes while her siblings were off playing and having fun.  Great Christmas memories for Emma, for sure!

December 21, 2011 – The Days Once Again Lengthen!

Once again, the earth turns and the days will once again lengthen!  Tonight we had our annual bonfire/potluck to try to bring the light back.  After the fire, the house was crammed full of people yet again, probably somewhere between 80-100.

Linda Barnes

Linda with a candle not in the wind.  It was the warmest winter solstice in memory.

solstice bonfire

The bonfire fueled by the wreckage from this year’s windstorm, was one of the hottest and brightest ever.   There were some trunks 4 ft across that didn’t burn much, so will be a bast for next year’s fire.  Oh yeah, and we still have three more piles from the storm sitting in wait – we might have to increase the party occasions to get rid of them all.

December 10, 2011 – December Mushrooms!

Even though we’ve had some days in the single digits, the mushrooms are still producing!

With this December harvest, that means for 2011, we have harvested something from the farm every month but January! We had an early sap run the last day of February and have harvested something every month since then.  The bounty is amazing!

November 30, 2011 – December Lettuce!

How’s this for wonderful – we’ll be eating fresh lettuce out of the garden into December!

We’ve picked a bunch for the fridge, to guarantee December lettuce.  Any day we could get that first day it’s in the low teens at night and not above freezing during the day to finally kill it off.

November 15, 2011 – At a Wind Turbine Work Site

After seeing the turbine blades lifted in a dramatic night-time maneuver, we thought we’d go check out one not quite built to get a scale of these turbines.

Inside wind turbine towere

The towers are made of three sections. This is the bottom of a yet unattached top tower section.

Here’s the top of the same (third) section – not much room for a person to squeeze through.

wind turbine blades

Emma with 2/3 of the tower built, along with the blade assembly still on the ground.

November 7, 2011 – Wind Turbine-Raising at Night

Now that is is dark before dinnertime, today we noticed that one of the new wind towers to the south was illuminated.  It looked rather cool from a distance, a massive gleaming white tower, looking like an Atlas rocket, growing out of where there was nothing a few days ago.

So we ate dinner, and after dinner tasks and thought we’d drive down to see how close we’d get and to measure just how far they were from our house.

When we arrived, we were in for a surprise.  We could get fairly close and at first it looked like they were raising a blade with the crane, but then realized it was all three blades at once going up together.

The blade assembly slowly lifted into the night air.

The crane must have been about 300 feet tall.  Each of the more horizontal blades also had support guy wires on them

Finally, in the dark, calm of the evening, punctuated only by the sound of the crane winch, the blade assembly was in place.  This tower is 2.8 miles south and a mile east of our place.

October 19, 2011 – More Oxfam Pictures

A while back I posted some pictures from some international visitors brought to high hopes by Oxfam.  They had a professional photographer with the group and following are some of the pictures taken by Ilene Perlman. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves (except for one that needs some explanation).

This type of water pump handle was familiar – it was interesting to see this woman “pump” the handle up and down, like I remember the pump on my grandfather’s farm.

one year ago…”Signs of the Times”

October 18, 2011 – Fall Color

Here’s the little tree we planted in the front yard – growing up quite nicely.

We planted an ash, maple, and oak along the north side of the driveway many years ago to grow up to replace the old spruce, and two maples.  With age and all the wind of late, the spruce tree blew down this summer, and one maple is down to about 25% of its original branches from storm damage.  So, it looks like these trees might add some meaningful shade on the south side of the house by the time the other trees are gone.

one year ago…”Mini-van Driver No More”

October 17, 2011 – Tomatoes Won’t Stop

OK, this is it. The final tomato harvest of the year – frost is forecast in the next few days.

The plants loved the dry late summer and fall. It was an epic tomato canning year – our final tally ended up to be 97 quarts and 37 pints canned – even for us, a lot! So, we are ready in case there is a crop failure next year – we’re good for a couple of years for chili, minestrone soup, red hot dish and whatever else we can use our summer canned in a jar.

one year ago…”In the News”

October 16, 2011 – World Food Prize/Oxfam Visitors

Once more this year, we were fortunate to host some amazing folks who were in town for the World Food Prize Symposium.  This year’s event was much smaller than last year’s, but just as interesting.

Many of the folks who stopped by were international visitors who are used to living in rural areas, and were thrilled to get out to the country after spending a week in hotels downtown.  One of my favorite moments is when one of the visitor’s eyes light up when they see or smell something familiar to them – whether it be the aroma of a fresh herb in the air or seeing and old standard-breed chicken.

Mrs. Silas Samsom Buru

Here Linda speaks with Mrs. Silas Samsom Buru, a farmer from Ethiopia.  Although she had never traveled more than a few miles from her village in her life before this trip, she was on a panel at the symposium panel with VPs from Wal-Mart, Kraft Foods, and NGO Director Generals and was a natural at expressing her viewpoints.  She spoke about a new crop insurance program that pays out not based on an individual farmer’s crop loss, but instead if average yields fall below a certain level in the region.  Farmers can pay with cash, or improve their long-term farming sustainability by soil organic matter improvement to make the soils hold more water through droughts.  She said the program has the possibility of improving the lot of the next generation so they will not need so much outside food aid.

Nelly Velandia

The woman in front of Linda is Nelly Velandia from Columbia.  Nelly practiced civil disobedience by setting up a farmer’s market in towns where they were not prohibited, on the steps of the government building.  The markets were a huge success and the rules were changed.  In Bogotá, she even convinced the mayor’s office to help cover the cost of setting up markets in parks and public squares.  The markets offer poor rural farmers a much more profitable return and urban residents cheaper, more nutritious food.

It was uplifting to share stories among these women of their efforts to improve their corners of the world.

one year ago…”Oxfam Event at High Hopes Gardens”

October 14, 2011 – High Hopes Blog Slowing Down

Since Feb 13, 2005, I’ve committed to daily posts on the High Hopes Blog and have done that for the most part, except for periodic computer breakdowns – my WordPress dashboard tells me I have 2,439 entries. The blog now receives clicks from about 150 visitors a day, 55,000 visits last year, 170,000 visits in the last three years and the highest number of visitors on any one day is 1,066. However, as much of an advocate for sustainable and self-sufficient living that I am, a post that has nothing to do with this topic remains the most popular post – the picture of Claire’s home-made duct tape Homecoming dress is far and away the single most visited post!

One astute observer refers to it as my “electronic scrapbooking” as the blog chronicles the farm and family. We often look back on it when we can’t remember when something happened, or how old an animal is.
With some of the farm activities winding down, there will be less material – so I am no longer committing to daily posts – instead, when something happens I will still post – it might be once or twice a week, we’ll have to see.

A big thanks to all who have and continue to keep up with the goings on at High Hopes Gardens and its denizens.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #229″

October 10, 2011 – Seeds

One benefit of not getting around to pick beans before the pods get too big is that later in the season, you’ve got some seeds for next year’s gardens.  These are Rattlesnake Master pole beans, a non-hybrid, so the seeds grow true.

It’s still amazing all the information stored in each of these – instructions about when to sprout, what to do, what parts to make, how to respond to weather, and how to make more beans!

one year ago…”Lovin the 48 inch Tiller”

October 3, 2011 – Chicken Butchering Commences

Yesterday was the day to put the chickens in the freezer.  We skipped the first step in the photo sequence of butchering.

Here a nice bird is ready for the scalder.

A few dips and twists in the hot water and as soon as a wing feather can be plucked off easily by hand, it’s done.

Into the plucker.

about 15 seconds later, they look a lot like rubber chickens.

Emma and Linda cutting them up.

When we went to the chicken tractor, we found one critter had eaten part of a chicken through the wires.  It’s always disheartening to feed an animal to its last day and lose it, but it was only one, and it could have been, and has been worse.

one year ago…”Marching Band Contest”

October 2, 2011 – Getting Ready to Fill the Freezer with Chicken

Here’s the scene the before the chicken butchering commenced.  We’ve now done it enough times that we’ve got it down pretty well.

The line starts in the distance where the chickens are first hung upside down and bled out, then brought to the scalder, then the plucker, then the eviserating, and finally a couple of cold rinses before they are later either washed and bagged whole or cut up.

one year ago…”Chicken Butchering”

September 30, 2011 – Raspberry Applesauce

In the never-ending quest to preserve apples, the third product is now on the shelf. First was canned apple pie filling, then dried apples for snacking, now applesauce.

These jars sitting on the storage shelves in the basement have a red color due to the raspberries added to the apples. One canning episode was good for about 44 jelly-sized single serve jars for lunches at work. We’ve had no trouble using our raspberries without going to market this year – we traded raspberries for buffalo meat, and handed off 18 lbs of berries to a vinter who promises us bottles of dry wine 6 months from now.

one year ago…”Thingmajig Thursday #227″

September 24, 2011 – A Sweet Day

Today was  honey extraction day.  As GJ says, it’s all about separation today.  First, you separate the supers from the hive and therefore separate the bees from their honey.  Then you separate the individual frames from the supers.

Then you separate the beeswax from the frames.  Emma with the heated knife and gj with a wax scraper.

Then you separate the honey from the frames in the extractor.

Then you filter out all the bee parts and remaining wax from the honey.

A final look at Emma with a nice frame.  We ended up with about 15 gallons of honey from two hives.  Shortly after the aerial jockeys sprayed around our farm, the hive at our place ha greatly reduced activity.  After the bees died, the wax moths took over and there was no honey – but the two hives at another location adjacent to about 15 acres of prairie, did very well.

one year ago…”U of M Public Relations Disaster”

September 23, 2011 – Best Tool Purchase Under $200

When I bought this Delta planer many years ago, I didn’t quite know what a fantastic job it would do.

Sometimes you forget that you’re saving things.  That was the case with some of the floorboards from the old house we tore down the first few years we lived here.  I found them in the lower portion of the barn where we seldom travel and thought they’d be a great floor for the back room we are remodeling.

The planer worked hard on this day – it took old, grey-weathered 100 year old+ tongue and groove boards and made them look brand new.  The good news is that they will actually fit in the room without having to adjust any doors or the like.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #226″

September 21, 2011 – Time for Chelsea to Move on…

We’re now looking for a home for Chelsea, our miniature horse.

It’s the only livestock purchase that we regret.  It’s the same story heard often – young teen girls beg for a horse, parents relent and horse gets ignored.  Chelsea has grown up to be a “Mack Truck” of miniature horses.

Here is Chelsea the day she arrived on the farm.  We’re hoping we can find her a good home with people who will know how to train and keep her, hopefully with others of her kind.

one year ago…”Troubled Waters at University of Minnesota”

September 18, 2011 – Zillow Needs some Work!

There’s a relatively new web site that provides real estate estimates. The cool thing is the aerial map of the property, the bad thing is the estimates of property values.

Here’s the map of the property which is fairly recent – this year because I can see the collapsed granary in the back pasture, but not since the windstorm in the middle of July because all the trees are still standing.

I love being able to pick out features in this map. The sheep grazing in the northeast corner, the garden beds, the rows of baby trees along the north and east, the path of the new septic system and drainfield in the north central, and it looks like a car and trailer in one of the gardens hauling straw mulch in the southwest.

However, the estimated property value is quite spastic.  According to Zillow, in the past 18 months or so, the property value has ranged from $70,00 to $200,000!

one year ago…”Emma Homecoming”

September 14, 2011 – Early Frost Coming?

Weatherman is calling for patchy frost tonight.  It’s very early for a frost, and we still probably only 1/3 of the tomatoes have ripened.

Here’s a few plants that are the most heavily laden under a tarp.  Throughout the rest of the garden is a montage of sheets, burlap bags and tarps.

A quick run through the garden nets a variety of crops, that could be the last of the season.

one year ago…”Dear Blank”

September 9, 2011 – Hawk Stuck in Corn Crib

A hawk is in the corn crib and its instincts are working against it. Usually, to escape danger, it flies up. Well, in this case, it needs to fly down to get out the door. Also, the natural lighting I added with translucent panels near the top of the walls give it another false exit point.

I’m not sure I could catch it without injuring myself or it, so I’m hoping it finds a way out at dusk or at night.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #224″

September 5, 2011 – Mulberry Treats

It’s that time of year, the time to start cutting down the weedy mulberry trees along the fences and along the edges of the property.

Fortunately, the animals eagerly strip the leaves off before I cart the branches down to the burn piles.  Mulberry is highly digestible, contains up to 28% protein, and contains high levels of many minerals.  It’s a good supplement to late season pastures as well.  The animals love it.  Each day, I can cut  a cartload and slowly free the fences and edges.

one year ago…”Emma’s Car”

August 29, 2011 – Parched August

The weather service has officially put our county in the “drought-stricken” category, up from “abnormally dry.”  We’ve received less than .3 inches of rain in August and are at about 60 percent of the normal rainfall to date.

Cracks in the soil, ready for rain.

Of course, I don’t need this fancy NOAA map showing the rainfall deficit/surplus over the past three months.  Looks like over the past three months we’re short 6-8 inches of rainfall from normal.

one year ago…”About those Eggs…”

August 28, 2011 – Iowavertible

There’s likely not too many 4×4 convertibles on the road, and likely fewer pickup convertibles.  Although, technically this doesn’t count as a true convertible as it can’t convert back to having a roof, it’s not doubt a fun beating around the farm truck.

The cab was crushed in the storms in July and the owner just sawed it off.  He thought he might put a roll bar on the back and add a snap canvas top to it as well.  But at least for  a dry August, it’s stylin’.

one year ago…”Linda Recognized as Outstanding Ag Educator”

August 27, 2011 – Putting Tomaotes Up

Today was a long-anticipated day. Last year, we only had enough tomatoes to can seven quarts (it was a good thing we had canned 89 the previous year and had enough left over to get us through). This looks like a great tomato year. It was wet to get them going, hotter than blazes in July, now bone dry in August (avoids bacterial wilt and fungus).

Martin with the first sweep through the garden of the year looking for ‘maters.

A bushel of Romas waiting to be skinned and peeled.

To enable safe boiling water canning of tomatoes, we add 2 tbsp of lemon juice and a tsp of salt for taste.

We throw the tomatoes in boiling water until their skins crack and then put them in cold water to cool.

Then cut out the stem and slip the skins off.

Take about 1/6 of the tomatoes and crush them and bring them to boil, then slowly add the rest (no need to crush).  After all the tomatoes are added, bring to a boil and boil for five minutes.

Put in cans and boil for 50 minutes.  Today’s haul was 28 quarts of tomatoes.  Seems like a lot, but it’s only about two jars a month.  These are a staple in our cuisine.  Love them as the base of a minestrone soup and an essential part of red hot dish!

one year ago…”Ag Incubator Ribbon Cutting!”

August 24, 2011 – Tomatoes

As promised, some tomatoes, grown as though taste mattered.

striped roman tomato

This is a relatively new addition to the garden, and probably a permanent addition – an heirloom variety called Striped Romans – Martin calls them “fire tomatoes” as the orange and red stripes are reminiscent of flames on the side of a hot rod.  They are also good enough for table use, although the skin is a bit thick.

Of course, we never put all our eggs in one basket and planted another more traditional Roma variety as well for canning.

one year ago…”East Side of House Done (well, almost)”

August 21, 2011 – Tomatoland

Ever wonder about those things called “tomatoes” you get in the grocery store in the winter and wonder how they could be so different than the one you get in the garden?

There’s a new book out that ties together many of the problems of  “industrial agriculture.”  The book is called Tomatoland and you can read an except and hear an interview with the author.

The issues are interwoven, and repeated with many common foods, namely pork and eggs in Iowa.  The problems exposed in the book relate to taste and nutrition, human rights, environmental degradation, and human health, among others.

Without further ado, some comments from the NPR story and book:

As one large Florida farmer said, ‘I don’t get paid a single cent for flavor.’ “He said, ‘I get paid for weight. And I don’t know of any supermarket shopper who tastes her tomatoes before she puts them in her shopping cart.’ … It’s not worth commercial plant breeders’ while to breed for taste because their customers — the large farmers — don’t get paid for it.

Florida applies more than eight times the amount of pesticide and herbicides as does California, the next leading tomato grower in the country. Part of this has to do with the fact that California processes tomatoes that are used for canning — and therefore don’t have to look as good as their Florida counterparts. But part of this also has to do with consumers.

“It’s the price we pay for insisting we have food out of season and not local,” he says. “We foodies and people in the sustainable food movement chant these mantras, ‘local, seasonable, organic, fair-trade, sustainable,’ and they almost become meaningless because they’re said so often and you see them in so many places. If you strip all those away, they do mean something, and what they mean is that you end up with something like a Florida tomato in the winter — which is tasteless.”

“My mother, in the ’60s could buy a tomato in the supermarket that had 30 to 40 percent more vitamin C and way more niacin and calcium. The only area that the modern industrial tomato beats its Kennedy-administration counterpart is in sodium.”

“Of the legal jobs available, picking tomatoes is at the very bottom of the economic ladder. I came into this book chronicling a case of slavery in southwestern Florida that came to light in 2007 and 2008. And it was shocking. I’m not talking about near-slavery or slavery-like conditions. I’m talking about abject slavery. These were people who were bought and sold. These were people who were shackled in chains at night or locked in the back of produce trucks with no sanitary facilities all night.

“These were people who were forced to work whether they wanted to or not and if they didn’t, they were beaten severely. If they tried to escape, they were either beaten worse or in some cases, they were killed. And they received little or no pay. It sounds like 1850. … There have been seven [legal cases] in the last 10 or 15 years … successfully brought to justice in Florida involving slavery. And 1,200 people have been freed. The U.S. Attorney for the district in Southern Florida claims that that just represents a tiny, tiny tip of an iceberg because it’s extraordinarily difficult to prosecute a modern-day slavery case.”

In Vermont, where I live, as in much of the rest of the United States, a gardener can select pretty much any sunny patch of ground, dig a small hole, put in a tomato seedling, and come back two months later and harvest something. Not necessarily a bumper crop of plump, unblemished fruits, but something. When I met Monica Ozores-Hampton, a vegetable specialist with the University of Florida, I asked her what would happen if I applied the same laissez-faire horticultural practices to a tomato plant in Florida. She shot me a sorrowful, slightly condescending look and replied, “Nothing.”

“Nothing?” I asked.

“There would be nothing left of the seedling,” she said. “Not a trace. The soil here doesn’t have any nitrogen, so it wouldn’t have grown at all. The ground holds no moisture, so unless you watered regularly, the plant would certainly die. And, if it somehow survived, insect pests, bacteria, and fungal diseases would destroy it.” How can it be, then, that Florida is the source for one-third of the fresh tomatoes Americans eat? How did tomatoes become the Sunshine State’s most valuable vegetable crop, accounting for nearly one-third of the total revenue generated?

Enjoy those summer tomatoes! In the next few days, we’ll take to the garden to pick the first batch for canning.
one year ago…”Canning Raspberries”

August 20, 2011 – Expanding Claire’s Horizons

Today, Claire and I woke up bright and early to bring most of this year’s lambs to the sale barn. Although, sharp-eyed readers may debate that either “Colfax Lives” or that we should have brought Linda’s latest knit socks along instead of some lambs.

Isn’t it nice to see Claire on a gravel parking lot wearing knee-high rubber chore boots? Better yet, inside, was no one younger than me, nor of the opposite sex, save for the teen running the concession stand. Surely a different world than that of Washington DC or college. We aim to produce well-rounded children with a wide variety of experiences second to none – and surely, few, if any of her classmates at school or co-workers in DC, have had parents to avail their children to such an experience!

one year ago…”Bees Keeping Cool”

August 17, 2011 – Big Changes at High Hopes

Over the next few years, our lives are taking a bit of a turn. After years of people telling Linda “You should be a minister” after a talk at church or presentation, she’s finally taking the bait. She’s now enrolled 1/2 time at Meadville-Lombard Seminary in Chicago.  She feels as though it is important to be with people along their live’s paths – through births, deaths, and everything in between.

This means many changes for us.  Linda will continue her teaching job and hope to get many of the courses completed over the summer and during J-term.  There are also a community service portion of the curriculum which will require volunteer work at a local hospital, hospice,Veteran’s Home or other such place.  There’s an internship with an existing minister, and a special project as well, so while she won’t be spending much time in Chicago, her energies will be directed at ways outside the farm.

Of course, that means something substantial needs to give – and to that end, activities at High Hopes will be curtailed.  We’ll probably concentrate on providing solely for our own needs and not growing and marketing crops and animals for others.  It’s hard to predict what that transition will look like, but it will be different.  She’s still committed to being an advocate for sustainable farming, through education and whatever other kinds of speaking engagements arise.  We just won’t be “farmer.”

When we started down this path 15 years ago, there were very few people also doing it.  Now, there is a local food group, the importance of diverse and healthy foods is once again approaching a main stage in the American psyche, and there are many good people behind us.

To that end, here’s a link to a story about Linda in the UU World magazine.

one year ago…”Linda at Roundtable with Secretary Vilsack”

August 14, 2011 – Century+ Old Wood Refreshed!

Today, was a moment long in coming. The old granary began its transformation into something new.  I had saved as many boards as I could, and today, used the planer that has sat lonely for about 12 years!

The wood is a dark rich amber-reddish color, with a tight grain from the old-growth forests cut down before the turn of the previous century.  This wood is destined for the entry/pantry/nook room in the house.  It will make beautiful shelves, and counters or whatever else happens to come into that room.

The patina of weathered and raccoon-stained wood before a trip through the planer.

one year ago…”Why are the Soybeans Turning Brown so Early?”

August 12, 2011 – Putting Away the Apples

We’ve been working at preserving the early Williams Pride apples. It’s a wonderfully tart and sweet apple that ripens this time of year.

teen with apples, bushel of apples

So far, from just one tree, we’ve put up 18 quarts of apple pie filling, and numerous bags of dehydrated apples, and eight gallons of frozen sliced apples, awaiting another later variety to make applesauce next month. There’s still a good number of apples left on the tree for more applesauce fixins. Oh yeah, I also found some blueberries at the store for 99 cents a box, so since we missed out on the berries up north, froze about half and canned the other half.

But by far, the best concoction is the apple pie filling. It’s a bit of a hassle to make, but all Linda has to do is make a crust, pour in the filling and bake. Great for potlucks and last minute desserts with little fuss.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #220″

August 2, 2011 – Boys Week Out Begins!

Martin and I journeyed north with another dad and ten-year old for a father-son wilderness excursion! As it is over 500 miles to the final destination, we took it in a couple of days. The first day we drove to Tettegouche State Park in Northern Minnesota.

backroads, northern Minnesota backroads

There are some nice journeys on the narrow, if not beautiful backroads of the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Palisade Head

One of my favorite sightseeing points is Palisade Head, now part of Tettegouche State Park.  It’s a wonderful cliff overlooking Lake Superior.

Here, Martin dares to peer over the edge!

Finally, Dad and Martin on the top.  Shovel Point is in the distance and a destination for later in the trip.

one year ago…”Lemon Tree”

July 31, 2011 – Bees Gone Wild

We have a couple of beehives at a friend’s farm. The hives are at the edge of a woodlot adjacent to about a 20 acres of prairie. Lots of flowers and pollen out there.

beekeeper next to hive boxes

Today we went and checked, and had to add some more supers to the hives. They’re almost as tall as Linda. Should be a good year for honey, even if it isn’t a good year to get all dressed up in a bee suit.

one year ago…”In Theory”

July 26, 2011 – Harvest from the Heart of Iowa

Tonight we hosted the quarterly dinner from a new local foods group – Harvest from the Heart of Iowa.  I’m working on the group’s web site and I hope to have it live in few weeks.  I’ll post the URL when it debuts.

It was an all-local meal, with beef and  pork burgers, bison hot dogs, eggplant/summer squash feta cheese casserole, sweet corn, of course, and raspberries and whipped cream over pound cake.  About 60 people braved the hot and humid weather for the meal.

The speaker was Lois Reichert of  “Dairy Air” (don’t think about that name too long!)  She’s the owner of a goat cheese dairy with national honors for her cheeses.

one year ago…”An Open Letter to the Rainmaker”

July 25, 2011 – Welcome, Daisy the Goldendoodle!

As we lost our Golden Retriever mix April after 14 years on the farm this late winter, it was finally time to get another dog. I’ve been reticent about getting and indoor dog as one of my housemates is allergic to dogs.  But then they found these that shed much less, if at all.

Here’s Daisy –  named so by Martin on occasion of his 10th birthday.

She looks like a big teddy bear.

Daisy and Martin relaxing on the couch – Daisy is half poodle and half golden retriever – she’s supposed to be about 50 pounds full grown.

one year ago…”A Quiet Day in the Country?”

July 24, 2011 – Dilly Beans

It’s that time of year – time to start putting food up in earnest.  One of the first to go this year are the “poor man’s pickles” or dilly beans.

They’re a “snap” to make – just put some galic and dill in a jar, cut the beans to length, and stuff the jars and seal with a vinegar mix.

You can even add a hot pepper if you’d like to spice things up a bit.

Here’s the Recipe we use from the USDA canning guide:

4 lbs fresh tender green or yellow beans (5 to 6 inches long)
8 to 16 heads fresh dill
8 cloves garlic (optional)
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
4 cups white vinegar (5%)
4 cups water
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
Yield: About 8 pints
Procedure: Wash and trim ends from beans and cut to 4-inch lengths. In each hot sterile pint jar (see page 1-14), place 1 to 2 dill heads and, if desired, 1 clove of garlic. Place whole beans upright in jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Trim beans to ensure proper fit, if necessary. Combine salt, vinegar, water, and pepper flakes (if desired). Bring to a boil. Add hot solution to beans, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel. Adjust lids and process.

Process 10 minutes in boiling water (15 minutes above 6,000 ft elevation).

one year ago…”Rockford Fossil Quarry”

July 23, 2011 – We Offer Service Projects!

We were pleased that a group of students from the Marshalltown High School Honor Society saw fit to come out and give a burst of cleanup this weekend.

In this weather there’s only so much you can do a day, but multiply it by more hands and things happen quickly.

We’re hosting a local foods meal for up to 100 next Tuesday, so it was nice to have the help to get us over the clan-up hump and have full access to the yard.  Here they are being pulled on a hay wagon in the pasture after emptying a load

Thanks again to the kids for coming out to lend a hand.

one year ago…”Carrot Experiment Harvest”

July 22, 2011 – Slow Progress

Did I mention that it was hot out? Did I mention the town just south of us recorded it’s highest dewpoint ever this week? The work goes on short bits at a time.

Much of the yard north of the house is now such that you can pretty much walk wherever you’d like.

The area behind the chicken coop is uglier than I first imagined, now that the first few downed trees have been removed – there are many more down and limbs suspended in air, as if by a levitation curse.  That’s where a long chain and tractor some in handy

 one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #217″

July 19, 2011 – Cleanup Begins

OK, so this isn’t my greatest moment, but ‘ll share anyways.

These massive ruts are from getting the tractor unstuck.  I was hauling branches out to the burn pile and was turning around with an empty wagon, on a part of the field not usually soft.  You can see that I was in no manner near the bottom wet part of the pasture (and you can see my original unstuck path coming in on the upper right of the picture).  At any rate, The JD 2510 broke through the sod and that was about it.

Descending into a realm of quagmire and muck.  Once the initial rut started, the only way out was straight back, towards the low spot. It was the first time I’ve been on the farm that I buried the tractor.  It’s a bit of a helpless feeling.  Thankfully a neighbor stopped with his Bobcat by to see how we were doing as he was taking a break from cleaning up at his place.  By a combination of using the loader bucket to push the tractor back a few feet at a time, we eventually got it close enough to solid ground that we could hook a chain up to it and pull it out.

I hadn’t realized that some branches the thickness of a man’s thigh had found their way into the adjacent field.

Unloading branches on one of the many bonfire piles.

one year ago…”Tank is Gone”

July 18, 2011 – Damage in the Neighborhood

Now that we’ve had a chance to get our feet back under ourselves, we’ve toured the damage to our neighbors.

destroyed barn

This is the barn, or what’s left of it, of a farm pretty much due west of us.

barn storm damage

Another view.

marshall county storm damage

This is the barn at the farm directly north of us, about 1/4 mile.

haverhill grain elevator, haverhill coop

These are a couple of the brand new 300,000 bushel grain bins at the elevator in Haverhill, about 4 miles east of us.

Here are some of the old bins from the same place. I’m feeling very fortunate that due to the vagaries of the wind and landscape, all of our buildings survived. I’m also feeling good that all the new roofs I put on the outbuildings remain intact, at least for winds from the NW.

one year ago…”At the Waterfall”

July 17, 2011 – Birch Hill Farm

One of the part-time workers at the lodge has one of the few farms in the Ely area (after all, farming a few miles from Canada where it gets to -50 in the winters and the soil is rock, isn’t necessarily known as prime farming ground!).

This is Roger and Jordyn, in front of their chicken coop.  The day we visited, a couple of coyote pups raided the coop.

Here we look at the fence around the beehives.  I don’t think that this kind of fence does a very good job of keeping the bees in!  Of course, this fence is to keep Winnie-the-Pooh and all his bear friends away from an easy meal of honey.

A man after my own heart, this salvaged tank is what Rog uses to heat his house, workshop, and coop, if necessary.  It can hold a 7 foot stick of lumber.  He also makes his own bio-diesel for his tractors.

Here we look at part of the gardens.  Roger explained how the farm is able to produce.  You can see part of a hill behind the shed.  He said that many years ago, a previous owner clear cut a field, and then spent about two years dozing sand from the glacial remains over the lowland that he had cleared.  As a result, there is a great open hayfield to our right out of the photo. All told, they have more than 100 acres.

Birch Hill Farm has a great location, a great summer market and would be a wonderful place to have a small sustainable farm.  It looks like a great place to live and raise a family.  Thanks to Roger and Jordyn for taking time to show us around.

one year ago…”On the Big Water”

July 11, 2011 – Maizy’s Storm Report

Oh boy, will my owners be surprised when they return from vacation in about a week!

marshall county storm damage

First, they’ll have a hard time even getting in the driveway.

They’ll know from a mile or two away that the profile of their farm has changed – at least six of the white pines and spruces along the road had their tops snapped off and tossed into the gardens.

Another big spruce down by the propane tank.

Another top of a tree up by the propane tank.

The first few tops blown into the bottom garden and crushing a bean trellis.

More tops tossed in the middle garden.

Some more in the top garden.

Some more in the perennial flower garden.

I was afraid my doghouse would blow away, so I sought shelter under this car.  My chain got caught under the tire, but in a panic, I was able to slip out of my collar and run away!

The place for relaxing on the patio is not so much now.

This stock tank received another top of a tree – guess it might be a used as a raised bed container now!

Wasn’t I cool to get my own picture in this one!  I don’t think this tree understands that windbreak doesn’t mean to break in the wind!

The turbine was spared, just the top of this tree on some guy wires.

The area in the chicken yard is a mangled mess.

Two peach trees down here.

A big apple tree down here.  I can’t count very well, but counted three peach trees, an apple, a cherry, and a plum tree down.  They won’t be very happy about this.  Only five days until they come home!

one year ago…”End of the Road”

July 6, 2011 – Linda’s Visit to White House With Bonus Obama Visit!

Pretty good day, as those things go. Linda and the other rural America “Champions of Change” first toured the White House. As no cameras were allowed, use your imagination!

She was able to get this photo outside the White House.

From the photostream of the event:

Linda Barnes, Farmer and Educator, Marshalltown Community College (MCC), IA, at the White House Rural Champions of Change meeting at the White House, in Washington, DC, on July 6, 2011. She was asked to participate along with President Barack Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the President’s Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes and rural communities leaders from across the country for the White House Rural Champions of Change event to strengthen rural communities and promote economic growth. Linda Barnes is a professor of biology at the Marshalltown Community College and also an organic farmer. She founded the Sustainable and Entrepreneurial Agriculture Program at MCC which is the first associate degree program in sustainable agriculture in the Midwest. The program focuses on improving attitudes related to sustainable agriculture due to their practical, hand-on focus and local connections. I believe there is a significant component of this program that is geared towards immigrant communities in the area. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Linda briefly spoke to the President, no doubt the part of their conversation that delved into the preferred s’more marshmallow roasting habits of the Obama family, probably did more to make her visit more memorable than a barrage of policy questions!

one year ago…”Hauling Garlic”

July 5, 2011 – Linda Visits Claire in DC

Linda was able to drop in and see Claire (and actually have a sleepover at Claire’s place one night while she was there).

mother and daughter at USDA

Mother and Daughter in front of USDA building, Claire’s work station for the summer.

intern at work

After all the photos of her out and about town, there’s at least one of her at work!

founding farmers

Claire picked out this place for them to dine.  This acclaimed restaurant is owned by the North Dakota Farmer’s Union! Great food and atmosphere.

mother and daughter at capitol

At the Capitol at dusk.

one year ago…”Hauling Lumber”

June 28, 2011 – Busload of Teachers Visits High Hopes

Today a busload of teachers visited the farm. The local Farm Bureau sponsors the event.

It was part of a tour educating teachers about different types of farms.

Although we only had a short time, Linda ushered them around the farm to tell the story of local agriculture.

They were lucky to get in safely – the driver cut the corner a bit close and dropped down three feet into the ditch and bottomed out the bus.

one year ago…”Garage Progress”

June 26, 2011 – Des Moines Art Fair

We haven’t been to the Des Moines Art Fair for a few years.  It’s highly competitive for artists to gain entry – last I heard it was in the top three in the nation in terms of highest artist revenue of all art fairs in the U.S.

Lots of fanciful wind turbines at this booth.

We couldn’t pass this piece up.  Many of you may know of the story of Linda’s camp name – Raven.  It’s much too long to relate here, but that’s all I knew about her the first six months I knew her. This fanciful piece with a raven and scrabble letters will find it’s way on a wall somewhere in our house

one year ago…”Cherry Pie”

June 24, 2011 – Martin’s First Trout

As long as we had to drive to Decorah to pick up Emma from music camp, we thought we’d take in some trout fishing in the area (yes, I know to most of the world “Iowa Trout” is an oxymoron of the 1st degree).  My brother met us with his camper, so we didn’t even have to sleep on the ground.

boy with trout

Martin had a bot of a struggle at the beginning learning a new kind of fishing that requires pinpoint accurary in casting, but he eventually got the hang of it.

boy on trout stream

And again…

I couldn’t resist this short video of a classic scene of young boy and flopping fish. We look forward to smoking the 20 trout we brought home!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #214″

June 18, 2011 – Claire Leaves for DC

Who could imagine this girl from the middle of nowhere in Iowa, setting out for a summer in DC, following a summer in India! Claire has certainly taken advantage of opportunities and shows what a bit of dedication and persistence can do, no matter where you live.

Here she is, with her summer full of bags, ready to take off to the airport to begin her summer.

Following is a brief summary about this summer’s internship lifted from the Carver-Wallace intern page – you can read more about Claire and the other interns at the Carver-Wallace Intern page.

“Fulfilling the shared vision of Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and World Food Prize founder Dr. Norman Borlaug of inspiring the next generation of American scientific and humanitarian leaders, the United States Department of Agriculture and the World Food Prize Foundation have partnered to create the Wallace-Carver Internship Program.

The prestigious USDA Wallace-Carver Internships offer exceptional high school and college students the opportunity to collaborate with world-renowned scientists and policymakers through paid internships at leading USDA research centers and offices across the United States.

Fifteen former Borlaug-Ruan International Interns were selected to participate in the inaugural program in Summer 2011. These exceptional young leaders will be stationed at USDA research centers for eight weeks over the summer, where they will analyze agricultural and economic policy; assist in the management of food, nutrition and rural development programs; and take part in groundbreaking field and laboratory-based research.

The Wallace-Carver Internships kick off with a dynamic leadership and orientation training week in Washington D.C., hosted by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, where the students have the opportunity to:

  • meet privately with the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture;
  • discuss global and domestic food security challenges with key officials from USDA, the State Department and USAID;
  • attend the World Food Prize Laureate Announcement Ceremony at the State Department and interact with a range of global leaders in science, industry, and policy;
  • meet with the scientific leadership of the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and tour the world’s largest and most diversified agricultural research complex;
  • engage with World Food Prize Laureates, as well as young scientific, congressional and humanitarian leaders working to end hunger and poverty in America and abroad during intimate dinner discussions around the District.”

As I told Claire, I hope that only the discussions turn intimate in the District.  Many in the District seem to have troubles knowing when to share their intimates!

one year ago…”High Hopes Flowers Grace Cover of Midwest Living Magazine”

June 15, 2011 – Baby!

Two of the four quads have become very friendly as we are supplementing them by bottle feeding.

Their names are very creative – much like the thousands of Golden Retrievers named “Golden”by their child owners.  The lambs are named “baby” as when we go to give a bottle, if they are not in sight, we call out “baaaaaybeeee” and they come running.

one year ago…”In Case of Fire”

June 13, 2011 – Back Room

It’s time to remodel the final unremodeled room in the house – the back entry way.  When we moved in, it was a laundry room, we turned it into an office of sort and just did some painting to spiff it up.

Here, I’m debating more about pounding out the plaster ceiling.  Part of the room had a plaster ceiling, part had a beadboard ceiling, and nowhere was there insulation to be found in the original part of the house.

one year ago…”Dominoes”

June 10, 2011 – Visit to Squash Blossom Farm

Today, I was able to visit a long-time blog follower and fellow small farmer from just outside Rochester, Minnesota.  Squash Blossom Farm has a farm blog and was just featured in Rochester Today magazine, so I don’t have to try to get all the details right.

It was bread baking day, so we were able to see the wood-fired brick oven in action. We had a nice tour around the farm – some things were very familiar, and others not.

They are fortunate to live near to town and a bike trail, so they have converted an old granary into a farm store.  This fanciful table is just one of the items for sale.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #212″

June 6, 2011 – Kitchen Subsidy Garden

There must be something in the air – just a few weeks after Linda’s presentation in DC where she wondered “what if farm subsidies were granted in proportion to the recommendations of the food pyramid.” Roger Doiron of comes out with another take on the same concept. He used the first garden at the white house since the Roosevelt administration to show what the garden looks like and what it would look like if it were planted in crops to the relation of federal funding:

Corn receives 35 percent of funding; wheat, 20 percent; cotton, 20 percent; and soybeans, 15 percent. Money is also channeled to cash crops like tobacco, rice, and sorghum. But fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other specialty crops account to about 1%.

one year ago…”Devils Lake State Park”

June 5, 2011 – Weaning Lambs

It’s time to wean our lambs from their mommies – when the lambs are big enough to lift their mom’s back legs off the ground when they extend their head up to attach, it’s time to separate them and give the moms a break. After about 3-4 weeks the milk production drops as the lambs begin to graze.

It is however, a few loud days as the bleat and beller excessively, day and night. A book I read by Temple Grandin suggested to keep them in view of each other and to be able to sniff through a fence, so we are trying that this year instead of totally separating them. After one day, the ewe we call d$%m ewe has managed to somehow get two of her four babies through the fence, while all the other lambs (12 of them) remain separated.

one year ago…”Frank Lloyd Wright – Taliesin Tour”

June 4, 2011 – D$%N Thistles

I’ve been fighting thistles for years in the pasture, it seems.  Many years ago, when we rented the pasture for cattle grazing, a big round bale that was brought it left its mark the next year by sprouting a patch of thistles.  I’ve tried periodic mowing to knock them back, but since they tiller well and have big roots, it’s hard to get rid of them.

canadian thistle bud stage

Evidently, the best way to get rid of them (as in most effective, not most fun) is to pull them by hand when they are just about to bloom, as the roots have given most of their energy to the flowering and are at their weakest ebb of the season.  So, all five of us donned leather gloves and systematically walked though 1/3 of the pasture and yanked them all.  My hope is, we will have to do this only one more time when the grow back again to weaken them enough to say uncle and find some other place to live.  Like good fences, no blooming patches of thistles makes good neighbors!

one year ago…”First Celery”

June 3, 2011 – Window Dolly

We’re slowly taking on remodeling of the last untouched room in the house. All the windows in the house are new except for the side door entry room. When we moved it into the house it was the laundry room (always nice when first thing visitors see is your piles of laundry!). We moved that to a new location on the main floor and just painted over the dark green/brown paneling and made it an office – but it’s best use will be a pantry/mud room. The first step is new windows, so to make them match the rest of the house, I ordered them unfinished and am finishing them now.

I happened across this great time-saving attachment to paint window sashes – set them on a carpeted furniture dolly – you can finish both sides and easily turn them around to get all four sides.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #211″

June 1, 2011 – Hayrides Never Go Out of Style

One of our neighbors was good enough to offer us as much of the loose straw in his loft that we care to haul away – coons and the like have destroyed most the strings. It’s a pain to get out and haul, but offers us great mulch and the chance for Martin to ride on a load of straw under a big sky, with the wind in his air, bouncing up and down on a load of straw.

He was able to ride the mile or so across the field on top of the load – something every kid should have a chance to do. Now, when the wind stops, I’ll spread it on the garden.

one year ago…”Summer Painting”

May 23, 2011 – Concolor Firs

One of the three varieties of trees in the house windbreak is concolor fir.

concolor fir

These trees started out rather straggly growing, but after about five years they took on their nice cylindrical shape. The windbreak now does a good job of capturing snow and we can no longer see the farm to the north out the house windows.

concolor fir needles

This time of year, the new growth is minty green and very soft.

one year ago…”Minister Claire?”

May 17, 2011 – First Tomatoes in the Ground

It’s rather a long job, but one that only needs to be done once a season. The first couple of rows of tomatoes are in. It requires laying the weed barrier down, hauling the stakes and cages from storage, cutting out the milk cartons, spreading the straw, planting, and putting the stakes and cages up.

But it leads to practically no weeding this bed the rest of the summer and offering the tomatoes a more constant supply of moisture. These are the best-looking beds on the farm at the moment – the rest still need some work, but this photo shows tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, fall raspberries, and blackberries in the distance.

one year ago…”Garage as Test Case”

May 16, 2011 – Paw-paw Flowers

I noticed these bizarre Chinese-lantern looking things on the Paw-Paw tree this week. This is the first year flowering for this tree, but I don’t think we’ll get fruit because the partner tree did not make it and the replacement is too small to flower.

pawpaw flower

Unless, perhaps there’s another in the neighborhood we don’t know about that can cross-pollinate this one.

one year ago…”Peonies and Ants”

May 13, 2011 – Claire’s Back

Now that Claire’s back, we get to shake up the menu a bit by adding Indian dishes to the rotation.

Tonight she made naan, a bean-carrot fry, a spinach potato curd curry, and a type of rice pudding.  We’ll let her cook anytime! It gave me occasion to try out a whole new series of puns, some of which have very small audiences. First, it’s the early 90’s band “4 Naan Blondes,” or the pile of naan that have sight, smell, and touch, or “Naansense,” of the newspaper headline after the 747 takeoff was aborted after encountering a pile of naan on the runway “Naan Stop Flight.” The family has had enough groaning, so I’ll stop there!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #208″

May 9, 2011 – Demolition Man

Unless you are a builder, professional building imploder, or have a special on some cable network, most men don’t get too many chances to demolish a building. I’ve been working on the old granary out in the pasture off an on since last fall. A lesser man may have found a match, but I have spent the time salvaging as much of the wood from the building as possible. The granary was probably dragged out to the pasture in the early 70’s and has been deteriorating ever since.

Some of the floor joists from the 2nd story floor are seen leaning against the fence. I
I’ve removed all the wide boards from the interior, all but three of the 2nd level floor joists and some of the supporting wall 2x4s. The building finally reached the point where it wasn’t safe to keep working on it.

So now decision time comes. How to get the building down safely and try to prevent as many of the wall studs and roof rafters from crushing? After a few days of walking around and in the granary and ruminating, I came upon a plan that required the tractor and a long chain. At the end of the day, the building fell just as I had planned – down.

Actually, it fell about as perfectly as I could have wished. First, I ran the chain around the bottom of the short wall on the north side and pulled the bottom of the wall out with the tractor. Next, I repeated the same step on the opposite short side and almost as the last wall stud was ripped out, the building leaned to the east – the east and west walls fell due east and the roof stayed intact and rested on the east wall and exposed the west wall.

Now I have a few weeks of additional salvage. I’ve got a plan for some of the wood, but that’s for another day.

one year ago…”Cuban Bread”

May 4, 2011 – Polecat

Not a polecat in the traditional sense of the word (skunk), but instead a our black cat Ora, checking out her domain from above.

black cat on pole

Actually, the cat is also monitoring Linda as she gives a supplemental feeding to a couple of the bottle lambs from the set of quads.

bottle lambs

I wonder if the cat might not be licking up any spilled milk after the feeding is over?

one year ago…”Thought on Youth Coaches”

May 1, 2011 – Family Circus with Apoligies to Billy

It’s Sunday morning and there’s nothing quite like sitting down with the Sunday paper comics and looking upon the map of the circuitous route that Billy in the Family Circus takes from the house to the mailbox.  We had the high hopes version of that with a ewe and four of her lambs this afternoon.

It started innocently enough, Linda was moving the ewe with her quadruplets from her solitary stall in the barn out to some grass, now that all were getting along well.  Unfortunately, this ewe is the most distrustful of humans in the flock – she’s always been that way and we have no idea of the trauma she must have suffered at a younger age before we acquired her, but she is a pain to work with because she doesn’t think like the other sheep.  She doesn’t seem to need to be with the herd, she won’t go in the barn with the other 6 ewes for morning grain snack time until I leave the barn and much of the grain is gobbled up.

So as we were moving her the 30 feet from her stall to the pasture with the flock, she decided it was not time to be with the flock, but to be a wild sheep.  The map above shows our farm and about a half-mile across and up and down.  She bolted out away from the barn (red track) ran off of our land headed east down the fenceline, then headed south down another fenceline until she came to a creek  I thought I’d have her there, since she wouldn’t get across the creek. But she jumped the creek, and her four lambs followed her and she started heading to the blacktop road to the south.  Linda ran back and hopped in the car and positioned the car on the blacktop (290th) to prevent crossing that direction.  She was successful and Martin and I were running in the field, trying to get them back to the farm.

They went to the farm, but ran by and went to the north fenceline and beyond and ran a half mile down the field road.  At this point we took a break and each grabbed our cell phones and Linda drove around the section a mile down and was going to approach the sheep from the opposite direction on the field road.  She caught up with them where the red squiggles are in the NE corner.  By this time a neighbor came by in his tractor and joined the fray.  We got them turned around and heading back to the west.

Where the line turns purple, one lamb dropped off (probably from exhaustion) and while Linda patrolled the dirt road with the car to prevent them going further north, I was trying to get them to move back west.  Martin and the neighbor grabbed the tired lamb.

The ewe and remaining lambs ran back past the farm, but where the purple line turns yellow, Linda was able to grab two more of the tired lambs.  Now we had three lambs in possession, with the ewe and one lamb to go.  We had the momma bait we needed.  From there, it was rather uneventful getting them all back in the fence.  All in all, those week-old lambs probably ran about two miles, as did I through the unplanted cornfields, enough exercise for the day!

one year ago…”High Hopers Featured on Dock Jumping Blog”

April 29, 2011 – Bees at Work

Bees are fascinating little creatures.  They are no doubt among the happiest creatures that spring has finally sprung.

bee pollen sac on daffodil

Here’s a bee gathering pollen from a daffodil.  Notice the little yellow sacs on its legs where it collects the pollen.

bee pollen sac

Here’s more of a close-up which shows the sacs a little better. The pollen is the protein that makes the hive hum.

bee on plum flower

There’s also busy on the first flowering tree, this plum.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #206″

April 25, 2011 – Quad Lambs!

Our most skittish ewe surprised us with four lambs today!  Doing the morning chores, we saw her with recently-born twins, so we ushered her and her lambs into the mothering pen.  We checked on her a bit later and she was fine.

I left for errands and when Linda got home, there were four lambs in the pen!  We wish her well and will probably need to help her along with extra milk.

one year ago…”Locavoring at Church Conference”

April 22, 2010 – Spring in Suspended Animation

Despite a couple of 85 degree plus Sundays in April, the rest of the month is just short of miserable. We should be in the mid-60’s by now, but it seems many days it struggles to reach 50.

Most everything seems to be in suspended animation. This asparagus is purple because of the cold and hasn’t  shown appreciable growth in a week since it poked out.

Fruit tree buds, like these plums, are likewise, just holding steady and not advancing like they usually do. Last year the plum trees were in full bloom on April 14 – looks like this year could be two weeks or more behind last year’s blooming time.

Despite being the 8th warmest March on record on a global scale, we did not contribute to that warmth. There’s blue dots over us. April will likely be even much colder from average than March.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #205″

April 20, 2011 – Powerline Problems

The last few days the turbine has been shutting down during times it should not.  I checked the diagnostic software that transmits info from the turbine itself.  The software reported that the grid voltage was not ok.  Line 1 voltage was at 133 and line 1 at 120 (the voltage should be close to the same on both lines). I called the power company, and within 30 minutes there was a truck here to look at the problem.  They thought it sounded like a neutral problem and it looked like the neutral wire connection near the transformed was bad, so they reconnected it and it was fine for a while.

The next day it was reporting the same problem and the lights in the house were slightly dimming and brightening.  I called again, and this time they found a problem on the pole in our yard.  One of the hot wires had lost its plastic coating and had evidently run against something it wasn’t supposed to touch and it looked like it had arced and melted about 1/3 to 1/4 of the metal strands that supplies power.

The red circle shows the replaced section of wire.  This tells me that the Skystream is a good forecaster of future household electrical problems and it does a good job of protecting itself  in the case of a problem with the quality of electricity coming to the house and turbine.  Kudos to Consumers Energy for promptly responding and fixing the problem!

one year ago…”Emma on the Track”

April 17, 2011 – What Should Maizie Do?

Life isn’t always pretty and beautiful on the farm. This post from Maizy proves it.

First off, it wasn’t my fault. Last night my owners gave me too much leftover rib fat and rib bones from their dinner. I had to eat it all, and it went down so easy I had to steal from the cat’s portions as well. Then they locked me up in the mud room overnight. I tried whimpering so they’d let me out when I started having problems. Did they come? No.

dog doo

I missed MOST of their shoes and boots with the four separate piles I left. Now I’m getting the stink eye from them. What do I do? Pretend it never happened? Act all guilty like those dogs in the You Tube Guilty dog videos?

one year ago…”Spring Mushrooms”

April 16, 2011 – More Depressing News – Soil this Time

The information from the Iowa Daily Erosion Project paints a grimmer picture than a recent assessment by federal officials. The U.S.D.A’s 2007 National Resources Inventory, released last year, estimated that erosion in Iowa averaged 5.2 tons an acre each year. That was slightly higher than the five tons per acre that the department estimated was a tolerable annual rate of erosion for most Iowa soils.  (Soils “regenerate” 0.5 tons per year, so even our “acceptable” levels lead to a net loss of 4.5 tons per acre per year.)

While the federal report estimates average rates of erosion for states and regions over a full year, the Erosion Project uses detailed information on rainfall and field conditions to estimate soil loss in 1,581 Iowa townships — nearly all of them — after each storm. Last year, according to Erosion Project data analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, the average estimated rate of erosion exceeded the sustainable level in 133 townships. In 2009, an estimated 641 townships exceeded the sustainable rate, including nearly 400 that had double or more that rate.

The project also provides a picture of the erosion caused by severe storms, like the one that dumped more than seven inches of rain in parts of southwest Iowa in May 2007. In a single day, the figures show, 69 townships had average estimated soil losses of more than 10 tons an acre. Of those, 14 townships were estimated to have an average loss between 20 tons and nearly 40 tons per acre. The 2007 storm was exceptionally damaging, but severe storms are becoming more frequent, according to a state report on climate change submitted in January to the Iowa Legislature and governor. (Around here, it pains me to see after every 2-3 inch downpour in the growing season when the crop canopy isn’t full (Oct-June) to see the gullies deepen.  Finally, when it gets hard to get equipment across the gullies, the farmers get out blades and push surrounding soil into the gullies, so it can wash out again during the next big storm.  These farmers don’t ever plant grassy waterways – and they are getting your tax dollars!)

But agronomists say that heavy erosion in unprotected areas can significantly diminish crop yields, and, over time, land that is not well cared for can become depleted. That means farmers must use more fertilizer to increase yields. (On our farm, there is a noticeable drop from our land to the adjacent crop field – most people estimate that half the original topsoil is already gone.)

More than anything else this year, farmers are making decisions based on how they can best take advantage of corn and soybean prices, which have soared in recent months. Dr. Cruse said that creates a paradox. When crop prices are low and farmers are scraping by, many say they cannot afford to take steps to protect their fields from erosion. Now, he said, they say they still cannot afford it because there is too much profit to be made from farming every bit of land. The same incentives have landowners clearing steep hillsides or converting pasture to cropland to cultivate or rent out. (Last year 17 acres of steep pasture adjacent to our farm was plowed up into cropland.)

Seeing the richest soil in the world washed away by careless practices is one of the hardest parts about driving home.  It might not affect the current generation much, but it can’t continue if we are to maintain the ability of the land to produce crops for those that follow us. It also pains me to know that many (in this county alone) of those farmers have received millions of dollars out of the public treasury.

Maybe tomorrow we can return to prancing lambs or budding branches.

(From an article in NY Times, italics mine)

one year ago…”Sometimes the Middle Child Lucks Out”

April 15, 2011 – Antibiotic Reistant Staph on Meat Samples

A new report, saying that risky forms of Staph bacteria are showing up in supermarkets at “unexpectedly high rates,” is raising concerns about whether the US meat and poultry industries are relying too heavily on antibiotic drugs.

Nearly half of meat and poultry samples in the nationwide study — 47 percent — were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that medical experts link to various human diseases. Of that amount, more than half the bacteria were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics, according to the study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix.

The group said its findings raise concerns that widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed makes industrial farms breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that can move from animals to humans.

“The fact that drug-resistant [Staph] was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today,” Lance Price, senior author of the study, said in a statement released with the report.

Microbiology experts including Dr. Price worry that the rise in drug-resistant bacteria makes it harder to treat Staph-related diseases. “Antibiotics are the most important drugs that we have to treat Staph infections; but when Staph are resistant to three, four, five or even nine different antibiotics — like we saw in this study — that leaves physicians few options,” Price said. The research institute notes that proper cooking kills the bacteria, although it can also pose a risk “through improper food handling and cross-contamination in the kitchen.”

Researchers collected and analyzed 136 samples–covering 80 brands–of beef, chicken, pork and turkey from 26 retail grocery stores in five U.S. cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff and Washington, D.C.. DNA testing suggested that the food animals themselves were the major source of contamination. The study was funded through a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts as part of The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.

The American Meat Institute issued a news release saying the nation’s meat and poultry supply is “among the safest in the world.” The association, representing red meat and turkey processors, took special issue with the size of the study: “It is notable that the study involved only 136 samples of meat and poultry from 80 brands in 26 retail grocery stores in five U.S. cities.  This small sample is insufficient to reach the sweeping conclusions conveyed in a news release about the study.” The statement also says that when raw meat is handled properly and cooked thoroughly, heat will destroy bacteria whether or not they are resistant to antibiotics.

However, Caroline DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., said the study results suggest that consumers might benefit by wearing gloves when they handle raw meat. “It’s making us rethink our advice to the public,” she said.

(The content above originally appeared in the LA Times.)

So, now is the penalty for an undercooked burger or having a paper cut when handling meat a staph infection that is resistant to up to nine different antibiotics? I’m not comfortable starting to don a hazmat suit when handling red meat. I’ll continue to get my beef from the neighbor down the road and local locker and my poultry from the back yard!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #204″

April 13, 2011 – The Streak Continues – 4 Days in a Row

Our ewe Gabby gave birth today.  We can officially blame Martin for the fact that she only dropped one lamb.  The night before she became a mom, Martin asked if ewes ever only had one baby.  We told him not very often and we’ve never had just one.

boy with lamb

So Gabby made liars out of us.  When she was labor, she REALLY wanted to be a mommy!  I moved one of the ewes out of the mommy-baby pen in anticipation of Gabby and her babies needing the space.  As soon as Gabby saw the other lambs from another ewe, she started licking and nursing them as her own while her own birthing process was beginning.  I separated her quickly as to not get everybody mixed up on who’s who.

one year ago…”New York Farm Workers Bill”

April 11, 2011 – U2 Gives Birth

Our 2nd ewe (also known forever after as U2) dropped her lambs today.  I went back to the back pasture to continue tearing down the old granary.  Smart mommy U2, dropped her lambs out int he pasture in a sunny spot, in the lee of the strong wind near the granary.

It took some convincing to get her into the pen in the barn to bond with her babes and for her owners to insure she’s nursing for a day or two before being allowed back outside again.

one year ago…”New Front Door”

April 10, 2011 – First Ewe Drops Triplets

As is usual with our goats and sheep, Sunday morning is a traditional time to drop babies.  Our first ewe to drop lambs this year followed in that tradition.

No sitting around watching and wondering if everything’s ok – just lambs walking around when we check on them.  We’re generally not fond of triplets, but our Kahtadin ewes have done fine with them so far.

one year ago…”Getting Garden Started”

April 5, 2011 – Old Fence!

I think in this photo you can see an old woven wire fence that a tree has grown around.

Not only has the tree grown around the fence, on the top of the photo, you can see that the tree has also grown around the fencepost that used to support the wires.  Replacing this small section of fence is the last remaining tree clean-up task as I had a hard time laying down this section of the fence before the tree came down.

one year ago…”Linda’s Speaking Gig”

March 30, 2011 – Tractor vs Tree

I’ve spent a good part of the last few weeks cutting up firewood and hauling branches from the old maple tree that came down a couple weeks ago.  The day finally arrived to try to move the main trunk sections down to the burn pile in the pasture.  It was a true case of tractor vs tree.  Tree won the first round.  I needed to cut one part of the trunk in two as the tractor could barely budge it.  That was the first time the tractor had been denied.

So, here’s the first section, almost ready to be released to the pile.

More sign that the tree put up a good fight.  I now have an “opportunity” to reseed the area around the tree and the dragging path in the pasture

The big trunks all in their place.  It’ll be a warm December fire when these guys light up!

one year ago…”Winter Damage”

March 28, 2011 – Hooking Up

When you hook up, it’s very important to get the connection correct.  Of course, there are a number of ways to hook up, some better than others.  It’s time for another irregular handyman hint.

This shows hooking up the chain one way – with the link  inserted perpendicular to the hook.

Another way to hook up is to insert the hook into a link. One method of hooking up is much better than the other.  Know which one?

The top one is superior as it is easier to unhook after tensioning the chain in the chain, the bottom one can get the hook stuck in the link.

one year ago…”Vote for Eliza”

March 26, 2011 – Burn, Baby Burn!

Because of the row of new trees down the center of the back pasture, the area from the trees to the back property line hasn’t been grazed for a bout 5 years.  I was time to reduce some of the biomass to let this year’s plants sprout.

Martin ready with some buckets of water, backpack sprayer, and shovels to snuff out fires.

Here, Linda spreads the backfire, moving the fire against the wind.

Once the backfires were lit, we could let the wind take the fire to the backfires.

Martin and Linda on patrol to make sure the fire doesn’t creep upwind to the pine trees.  The mowed path nest to the trees does the most to stop the flames.

The final result.  It’s great to have an excuse to play with fire.

one year ago…”Landscape Architecture Class Visit”

March 25, 2011 – Spring Put on Hold

After a nice week last week, we have plunged to days 15-20 degrees below normal.  Some days it’s struggled to get above freezing (when it is “supposed” to be in the 50’s).

It looks like the maple flowers might have taken a bit of a hit.

This flower is rather bizarre looking – with all the flowing red tentacles it wouldn’t look out of place in a deep sea documentary.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #201″

March 22, 2011 – First Thunderstorm Downpour of the Season

Last night the sirens went off for the first time of the season and some property was lost as a tornado packing 120 mph winds danced across a county south of Des Moines. For our part, all that landed on our farm was heavy rain and pea-sized hail.

This rain arranged a winter’s accumulation of dead pine needles and other debris into nice pine needle dunes as the water lapped off the driveway. It also took all the frost out of the ground and the earthworms did appear!

one year ago…”Paul Simon and Ali Farokhmanesh – Separated at Birth?”

March 21, 2011 – Happy Spring!

The first brave shoots are plunging up out of the ground, the days are now longer than the nights. But the first real sign of spring, at least to me, are earthworm trails or castings that mean the ground is unfrozen – I still haven’t seen those signs yet. Setting fence posts this weekend, we still found some frozen ground.

one year ago…”Moving Ewes”

March 19, 2011 – New Fence

One thing that is under-appreciated by most urban dwellers is the work and importance of fences.  They’re more work than they seem with branches falling on them in storms and mulberries growing up in them. Lately, we’ve been having too many chicken escapes – they are scratching up the garlic beds and going where they are not supposed to go.  We don’t allow them in the gardens during the growing season.

We put up 150 feet of woven wire around part of the chicken yard.  It used to be cattle panels, with old bits of lath jimmied between the wider squares near the ground the chickens could sneak through.  Now any chickens that get over are flying and get a “wing haircut” to keep them in their place!

We dragged the panels to the back pasture where we could extend our back pasture a bit more as well.  It pretty much shot the afternoon.

one year ago…”Last Lambs Hit the Ground”

March 18, 2011 – Ducks and Fish

I’ve been trying to be a bit more deliberate about getting out more.  Truth is, I could work 120 hours a week on the farm and still not get everything done.  The last few days we’ve been watching the migration at a local marsh, Hendrickson Marsh on the Story-Marshall county line.  This was the first day the ice was out.

For this part of the world, it’s a pretty big marsh.  It sets in about a mile square block and water probably takes up 1/4 of the square mile.  It’s a magnet for ducks and geese.

The were thousands of ducks here today.

We thought we’d try to catch some garden fertilizer in the stream below the marsh.  I’m going to try to make a fish emulsion.  We didn’t get any big ones, but plenty of little ones and it was a great way to spend a Friday afternoon.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #200″

March 16, 2011 – Mushroom Logs Inoculated with Spawn

Wednesday was a good day!  Claire’s been home fro spring break to escape the lingering Minnesota snow.  I ordered small amounts of six different types of mushrooms, 3 oyster varieties and 3 shiitake varieties.  We order the plugs, and I got 100 plugs of each kind – so we have about two logs of each variety.  Of course, we have plenty of wood as the giant maple was cut a few weeks ago – and now is the perfect time to inoculate the logs.

Claire drills the holes in the logs.

Martin pounds the dowels in the logs.  As you can see in the background, the maple syrup boil continues.

The ends and dowels are sealed up with beeswax and the logs moved to to a shady spot to wait to bloom with mushrooms.

one year ago…”Three Cats in the Sun”

March 6, 2011 – Martin the Accordionist!

Who’d of thunk that a few weeks after our visit to the accordion restaurant, we’d have an accordion in our very home!

A long-time friend has recently been unable to resist the temptation to buy accordions in the last year or so, and offered to let Martin try out one of her recent acquisitions.  As he already has the keys down, it’s just a matter of learning the buttons and getting the arm strength to move the bellows.  Martin loves music, so along with the piano and trombone, he’s going to see how he likes accordion.

one year ago…”Ewe Lambs Birth with No Problems”

March 4, 2011 – Coming Soon to a River Near You

Looks like yet another Iowa farm field is set to whisk the water quickly out of the field and into a waterway.

Here’s a bunch of field drainage tile, waiting to be buried under the field, to quickly drain excess water away. There’s been a number of reasons for increased flooding lately, and this is just one – an expressway for rainfall from farm fields (which cover 88% of Iowa) to the rivers. It wouldn’t be so bad if our tax dollars were just supporting the farmers to install the tile, but we also get to pay for flood relief for the increased frequency and severity of flooding along Midwestern rivers.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #198″

February 27, 2011 – This Old Shed

We’ve descended into a dreary, cold and borderline icy low stratus/fog weather period. We were going to go hear Michael Perry (Coop, Truck – a Love Story, and Population 485 ) speak tonight, but the roads seemed a bit dodgy to drive 45 minutes both ways. We did go to a panel discussion about literary agents and editors yesterday, part of a writing symposium at ISU – the panel consisted to agents, and editors from Milkweed Press, and Orion magazine.

So what we did do was head down to the pasture to keep hacking away at deconstructing the old granary.

Inside there are some nice boards that will be beautiful once they are planed down a bit.

Most of the nails are the old square-headed type. We’re saving as many as we can, especially the interior nails which are still in pretty good shape.

one year ago…”Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference”

February 22, 2011 – Tree Down

Wow, the giant tree was felled!  I wish I was home to see it crash to the ground (and not on any buildings).

Martin stands by the trunk for scale.

It was a whopper of a tree and provided lots of shade for grazing animals in its day.  Looks like there will not be a shortage of wood for winter bonfires.  I think I’ll also get a bit of firewood from it, and a bunch of mushroom logs as well – think of it as a kinder, gentler version of the Giving Tree.

The space around the tree – compare to yesterday’s post to see the last known photograph of the tree.!

one year ago…”Snowbanks Along Hwy 20″

February 21, 2011 – Uh-Oh

When we started tapping trees, I noticed a big uh-oh on one of the giant silver maples near the back pasture.

The tree on the left is the tree that is about done for the world.  It’s about 15 feet in circumference at my chest, which makes the diameter about 4.5 feet across!

On the back side, a new crack has developed along the portion where the two main trunks split. Much of this potion overhangs a shed. These maples are inherently weak, so I had a tree service out today and it’s scheduled to come down tomorrow. Better now than falling on the shed, or breaking the fence when the animals are out and we’re not home.

one year ago…”Old House Problems”

February 20, 2011 – Let the Boil Begin!

The week in the 50’s and 60’s that melted all the snow, also started the maple sap running.

Here Martin checks out the new old stove, one that we borrowed from the good folks at Morning Sun Farm, who upgraded to an even bigger stove. This one works much faster than last year’s model.

Just look at that cloud of evaporation as the sap boils away.  In addition to tapping the trees, Martin has been excited about chopping wood – he puts the wood up on the chopping block and stacks it.  It’s been a good team this spring!

one year ago…”New Blog Host”

February 18, 2011 – Early Tap

Can you believe it’s February 16th and the sap is flowing?   Last year at this time, the snowdrifts were still to the tops of the fenceposts!

We’re trying a new collection method this season.  I bought a few of these collecting bags to try.  You just put in the tap and then hang the bag holder and tap on the tree.

Martin putting the bag in place.  As the season goes on, we’ll keep you up to date.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #196″

February 16, 2011 – Farm Fixture April Has Chased Last Rabbit

Today was the day every pet owner dreads – having to willingly drive to the vet to put a long-time pet away. April had slowly given up the will to live, not eating as much, then not eating at all, not drinking water, and finally the last two days, not moving from her comfortable place in the hay in the barn. So it was time.

April had been on the farm before Martin was born.  The girls were three and five when we retrieved April from the shelter.

For 14 years, April has been part of the backdrop to the farm.

She took seriously her animal guarding duties.  Whenever we packed up livestock, she spent the night close by, instead of in her usual spot.

In her younger days, she accompanied us to cut a Christmas tree.  We’re guessing she was a mix of Golden Retriever and Collie.  We called her our Marilyn Monroe dog.  She was laid back and non-barking – things I prize in a a dog!

Like everyone, she had her faults and quirks – the biggest one was her terror of thunderstorms.  When she was young, she was caught in a hailstorm, and rather than seeking shelter, she ran around in the hailstones – some big enough to break windows in the house.  After that, she would stop at nothing to get into the house during thunderstorms.  She destroyed two doors, before we learned to call her into the house when storms were coming and put up steel doors, so she couldn’t hurt herself or the doors if a storm came when we weren’t home.

It was a good life on the farm – sunshine and children to play with.

April always insisted on being part of the first day of school photos.

Everyone in the family had a chance to say goodbye to April.  Last night,  Claire even did when we put the phone up to April’s ear so Claire could say good-bye and April could hear her voice one last time.

Each child in this world, if they are lucky, only gets one good dog to grow up with.  For our kids, we can thank April for being that special dog that they shared their childhood with.  Thanks April.

one year ago…”Sheep Bagging Up”

February 15, 2011 – Footprints in the Snow

Isn’t the world’s most popular poem about footprints in the sand? Well, there’s not much sand in Iowa in February, unless it’s clinging to dirty snowbanks on the side of the road. But there is snow – and footprints.

Martin and I went on a surveying mission in the back pasture yesterday.  The day before this photo, he walked through the back “pond” through many feet of snow.  When we came back the next day, we saw his footprints led to nowhere, for if you look in the center of the photo you can see the dark remains of footprints that were implanted in deep snow the day before are now under water.

It’s a good time of year to get out and move around a bit.  Water needs to be channeled and drained, trees need to be  checked on for winter rabbit damage, and boots need to get wet.

The foreground of this photo shows some of the willow cuttings I just stuck in the ground in this low area and didn’t mow or graze the last year. They were able to compete with the dense sod just fine.  So, I will continue this spring with their advance down this drainage.  Goats will be very happy to have browse!

one year ago…”Feeding Chickens in Winter”

February 9, 2011 – Low Ebb of Winter?

I certainly hope this week marks the low ebb of winter.

It’s been particularly cold and windy, making it unfit to be outdoors other than for brief periods.  The urge to get out and do something is particularly great now.  The days are getting longer, although darkness still rules the evening and early morning hours.  However, there’s promise of warmer weather ahead that might allow me to get out and prune trees, tear apart old buildings, or whatever else can be done outside.

one year ago…”More Snow”

February 8, 2011 – Claire’s Lemon Meringue Pie

OK, it’s back to Iowa farm-grown produce.  Today, we feature lemons. I neglected to post these back over Christmas break, when the lemon harvest began in earnest.

cut lemons

Yes, these lemons were grown at High Hopes Gardens, albeit indoors for some of the year.

Claire shows no remorse shortly after ripping these baby lemons from her long-time companion lemon tree, named Panda.  Being raised on a farm, and around farm animals, I guess she had no troubles tearing this lemon from its mother and immediately cutting it up.

The non-meringuey part of the pie.

lemon meringue pie

The completed pie.

Never one to know when to stop making Panda feeling bad, here Claire returns with a sinister smile to taunt Panda with what her babies looked like after being knifed, crushed, and cooked!

one year ago…”Home DNA”

February 4, 2011 – Emma Buries the Subaru!

Sorry, no pictures of the scene, I was at work when everything went down. Imagine this – a country road, a squad car with lights flashing, a mother mad at you for venturing out without a hat and mittens, and another neighbor there with a pickup plowing a path out and then towing you out. I’m sure it wasn’t Emma’s best trip to school.

The storm had left drifts on the road, but one lane had been plowed. At the first hill a hundred yards or so from our place, the story goes, Emma drove into the banks as to avoid a car that may or may not be cresting the hill at the same time. She ended up burying the car in a big drift. Now, I saw the gleam in her eyes when she arrive home a few days earlier and marveled at the ease of driving through the drifts on the way home from school shortly after the storm hit. So, if she’s anything like her father, the drifts on the hill may have been an attractive nuisance and called her name. But all’s well that ends well, she was only a few hundred feet from home and was retrieved in short order, although not with fanfare and blinking cop car lights for ambiance!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #194″

February 2, 2011 – Could Have Been Worse

The storm that has everyone riled up wasn’t over the top terrible at high hopes – we just hunkered down and waited.  Emma drove home after school yesterday and to my mind was a little too excited after crashing through snowdrifts with ease in the car to get home.

I had to use the Subaru as a plow because it was in front of the tractor in the shed and needed to move before the tractor could get out.  I made a start on clearing the driveway with the tractor, blade, and scoop before a neighbor came over with the industrial model snowblower.

It makes quick work of the heavy, compacted drifts.

The Christmas tree windbreak to the north captured about a four foot drift along the north edge of the property..

one year ago…”What Does Half a Beef Look Like?”

January 29, 2011 – Smallest Chicken Egg Ever!

There was a bit of a surprise in the chicken coop this evening – a mini-egg!  This egg was so small it would fall right through the egg basket!

smallest chicken egg

We’ve had some weird eggs before, but never one this small.  I guess if you were on a low cholesterol diet, you couldn’t get into much trouble eating this one.  I was hoping it would have a perfect little yolk, but it was all egg white inside.  Wouldn’t that have been cute in the frying pan?

one year ago…”How Much Noise Does a Skystream Make”

January 24, 2011 – 2010 Southwest Windpower Skystream Results

Ok, the numbers are finally in from last year’s Skystream production.  In summary, the Skystream produced nearly identical production per month (339 kWh in ’09 vs 333 kWh in ’10), but our household electric use dropped from an monthly average of 962 kWh to 857 kWh.

Production stats for the Skystream Turbine for 2009-2010.

Month kWh Produced
by Turbine
kWh Used by
Jan ’09 334 1275
Feb ’09 368 1109
March ’09 482 899
April ’09 570 961
May ’09 433 782
June ’09 210 693
July ’09 177 867
Aug ’09 146 923
Sept ’09 130 801
Oct ’09 411 889
Nov ’09 383 686
Dec ’09 464 1315
2009 Totals 4068 11549
Jan ’10 334 733
Feb ’10 376 851
Mar ’10 389 713
April ’10 524 755
May ’10 384 946
June ’10 227 740
July ’10 120 823
Aug ’10 116 1254
Sept ’10 280 656
Oct ’10 304 687
Nov ’10 591 850
Dec ’10 353 922
2010 Totals 3998 10284

2009 Summary
In 2009, the Skystream produced 4068 kWh, an average of 339 kWh per month. The farm and household used 11,549 kWh, an average of 962 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 35.2% of our energy.

2010 Summary
In 2010, the Skystream produced 3998 kWh, an average of 333 kWh per month.  The farm and household used 10,284 kWh, an average of 857 kWh per month.  The Skystream produced 38.8% of our energy.


2009 Summary
In 2009, the Skystream produced 4,068 kWh, an average of 339 kWh per month. The farm and household used 11,549 kWh, an average of 962 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.6% of our energy.

2010 Summary
In 2010, the Skystream produced 3,998 kWh, an average of 333 kWh per month. The farm and household used 10,284 kWh, an average of 863 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.9% of our energy.

one year ago…”Sleep, Who Needs Sleep”

January 23, 2011 – Local Food Momentum Building

A couple items of note slipped by notice on the blog last week.  First, was the unveiling of the Iowa Food and Farm plan to the public.  I went to the session and it was well attended by the public and the media, with print and TV media in attendance.  About a half-hour into the program, the lights went out in the building where the briefing was being held – so I guess you could say we’re still all in the dark about local foods – but one of the farmers in attendance had  a flashlight, so the speakers could read their remarks.

The other event was the initial meeting/meal of the new “Harvest from the Heart of Iowa” local food group centered in Marshall County .  Over one hundred residents and farmers showed up for the local meal and election of officers.  It was nice to see so much local momentum for the group.

one year ago…”The Ultimate Christmas Tree”

January 21, 2011 – Growing More than Crops!

In my wrap-up of the PFI meeting a few weeks back, I failed to mention the marriage proposal one of Linda’s students made in front of the entire PFI gathering.  The following is a story from Agri-News.

Young Farmer Proposes at PFI Annual Meeting
By Jean Caspers-Simmet

LEGRAND, Iowa —For Garrett Caryl the recent Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference was the perfect place to propose to his partner Rebecca Lamb. When he and other beginning farmers participating in PFI’s new Savings Incentive Program were introduced, Caryl, 21, and Lamb, 20, were asked to talk about their operation.

While on stage, Caryl got to the heart of the matter. “I really wouldn’t be here without Becky,” he said. “She’s a special gal.” With that, he popped the question, “Rebecca Lamb would you marry me?” He got on his knee and offered her a diamond ring.

“I suddenly realized, ‘He’s going to do this in front of everybody,” said Lamb who readily accepted Caryl’s proposal. “I was happy and shocked. I had no idea what he was doing.” The couple said they will likely wait a couple years before they have the actual wedding. “I’m pretty excited to start my life with Garrett,” Lamb said.

The couple met at Iowa Valley Community College in Marshalltown. Caryl, who is a certified welder, is in the entrepreneurial diversified agriculture program. Becky is studying to be an art teacher.

Caryl works full-time at Green’s Products in Conrad while he’s attending school because he believes in paying cash. He services semis. “I was a dorm RA, and Becky and I met when I was playing a prank on some baseball players,” Caryl said. “Becky had never farmed, but one of the things I liked about her was that she wasn’t afraid to scoop hog manure with me on a cold windy day.”

Caryl is building his farming operation in between school and work. Last year he and Lamb raised vegetable starts, 15 broilers and five Berkshire hogs at his Colo home. They produce a worm tea from red wiggler worms that they raise in totes. They feed the worms apple and potato scraps and “anything that’s biodegradable.” They spray the tea on their crops, which last year included organic corn and vegetables.

This year the couple is renting an acreage near LeGrand. Eventually, they hope to rent the farmland that goes with the acreage. Since neither of them was raised on a farm, they’re starting small. This summer, they will raise 375 broilers, vegetable starts and a few vegetables. They also want to buy Red Wattle sows and get into niche pork production.

Caryl said Practical farmers of Iowa is a great organization. He learned about it through his ag courses. PFI has held its annual meetings at Iowa Valley Community College and he attended. When PFI offered the SIP program, Caryl applied. “I couldn’t have done the program without Becky,” Caryl said. “I’m dyslexic, and Becky helped with the writing and paperwork.”

Caryl said he thought he’d propose at the PFI meeting because “Becky would be less likely to say no in front of the group. PFI has been there for me. They’re like family.” The couple had been looking at engagement rings recently, and Caryl told Lamb to do some other shopping “because I wanted to talk them down on price. Really, I was making an appointment to come back and buy the ring.”

“It was very special to me to see her face that day,” Caryl said. “I really do love her. We both want a large family. We joke that we want 10 kids so that we’ll have a 12-row planter.” As a part of SIP, Caryl meets with mentor John Gilbert who farms at Iowa Falls. Through the program, Caryl and Lamb will save up to $100 per month for the next 24 months, and PFI will match the savings dollar for dollar up to $2,400. The money can be used for farm business purchases. They are also developing a business plan.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #192″

January 15, 2011 – Technic Medics 5 at State Tournament

Today was the day so eagerly awaited by Martin and the First Lego League team.

Here the team gets pumped up during the opening ceremonies.

The event was hosted by the College of Engineering at Iowa State. This gathering shows part of the crowd gathered in the atrium of Howe Hall.  Out of the 400 or so teams in the state, this event gave 72 teams that qualified from regional events the opportunity to compete.

The judges look approvingly during the technical interview where the judges review the robot runs and look at a printout of the code the team used to program, along with notes the team made. If you look closely, you can see under the robot a red light that indicates a light sensor is turned on and is following the black line to push the robot sensitivity sensor.

Getting ready to start the robot.

Changing attachments on the robot during the run.

The team was thrilled to win first place in state for the mechanical design of their robot!

Martin with his chance to hold the trophy.  The team will have one more meeting, where we’ll debrief the team and “decommission” the robot (i.e. take apart).  It will be with happy and sad memories that the robot gets unplugged and taken apart – but the kids will no doubt remember the fun for a long time to come!

one year ago…”Winter Wonderland”

January 14, 2011 – Martin’s First Lasagna

Martin had the afternoon off from school, so he had time for a new cooking adventure. We looked up a lasagna recipe and Martin was off to the races.

This was Martin’s favorite part, layering the meat mixture, noodles, mozzarella cheese, and cottage cheese mixtures.

It turned out wonderfully, and best of all, since we were making a big mess, Martin made one to eat and one to freeze.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #191″

January 13, 2011 – Thingamajig Thursday #241

Here’s this week’s thingamajig Thursday. This one might be a bit tough.  It’s something that came out of Claire’s room when we were cleaning it out getting ready to move the office up there.

Also check out the last thingamajig answer.

As always, put your guess in a comment below.

Look for the answer in the comments after next week’s thingamajig is posted.

one year ago…”Chickens in Nest Box”

January 10, 2011 – Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan

Today is the day the Iowa Local Food and Farm Plan was delivered to the state legislature. A bipartisan request was presented last year that stated: “To the extent feasible, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture established pursuant to section 266.39 shall prepare a local food and farm plan containing policy and funding recommendations for supporting and expanding local food systems and for assessing and overcoming obstacles necessary to increase locally grown food production.”

It’s a rather remarkable request from the legislature. The report was released today and you can find the report on the Leopold Center webs site.  I helped write part of the introductory section, and my favorite few paragraphs of the introduction that place the report in a historical context are copied from the report below.

Iowa’s soils are among the most productive in the world, and are considered to be one of the state’s most important natural resources. Through a fortuitous combination of geological history, abundant rainfall, and hard-working farmers, Iowa offers an agriculturally productive environment that few places on earth can match.

More than 30.8 million acres are devoted to agriculture in Iowa, which accounts for 86 percent of the state’s land area. Iowa ranks first nationally in corn, soybean, hog, and egg production. In 2009, Iowa farmers produced agricultural products worth $24.3 billion dollars, and exported 26 percent of these products around the world. In addition to its contribution to the economy, agriculture plays an important role in the cultural and social fabric of the state. County and state fairs, farm toy museums and historical farm re-enactments offer Iowans a chance to celebrate and explore their state’s agricultural heritage. Many Iowans also honor their agrarian traditions through antique power shows, “barn quilts,” the recognition of heritage and century farms, and restoration and tours of historic barns. Agricultural events like the World Pork Expo, Cattle Congress, and World Food Prize Symposium attract many out-of-state and international visitors to Iowa.

Poised as it is on the cusp of all things agricultural, Iowa has led the nation, and sometimes the world, in agricultural innovation. Iowa was the first state to accept the provisions of the Morrill Act in designating Iowa State University as the nation’s first land grant university. The nation’s first tractor factory set up shop in Charles City, and agricultural innovator George Washington Carver is a prominent Iowa State alum and food pioneer. Henry Wallace, the inventor of hybrid seed corn and founder of Pioneer Seed Company, traces his roots to Adair County. Cresco native Norman Borlaug started “the green revolution,” and Grant Wood found artistic fame depicting Iowa’s agricultural heritage.

one year ago…”Cheap Ice Melt”

January 9, 2011 – PFI Conference Review

The Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference is over for another year. Besides the “Know Your Cuts of Meat” session, here are some things I’ll remember. Saw/heard some nice touches for a house. Imagine a house with a nice front porch on a bank overlooking a pond. Now the pond has the geothermal loop in the pond and has a cupola on top with a big fan that can funnel all the hot air out of the house on a hot day if need be. Or imagine a house that has a 6 foot bed of sand under the basement that is criss-crossed with pipes from a solar thermal heater. The ground under the basement warms up all summer and then releases heat into the house during the winter.

Or imagine a group of farmers banding together with other interested partners to create a new kind of business relationship. In this case wheat farmers from the Washington state area annually meet with millers and bakers and decide what the prices will be for all to make a profit up the line. Everyone is protected from radical price swings and they can all plan their business expenses for the next year.

Imagine a grazing regime that can leave pasture more lush and hold more animals at the same time. Imagine a gymnasium filled with young and old farmers with a passion to make a living on their farms while maintaining their resource base. The meeting was all this and more!

one year ago…”Take Homes from This Year’s PFI Conference”

January 8, 2011 – “Know Your Cuts of Meat”

One of most non-traditional sessions I attended today was entitled “Know Your Cuts of Meat.”  It was sponsored by local berkshire pork company Eden Farms from State Center, located just a few miles from our farm.  Eden Farms provides pork for white table restaurants from Manhattan to the San Francisco Bay and I can say it is the best pork I’ve ever tasted.

The session started with the primal cuts of half a hog shrink-wrapped on a table.  Inside the shrink wrap, the pork was somewhat already cut up and reassembled before shrink-wrapping for the presentation.

Here’s a whole pork loin (top along the backbone).

Here’s the slab of bacon from the belly.  You might not think an hour and a half would fly by so fast talking about meat cuts, but it did.

As as aside, for any of you who may have read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, the Iowa farmer featured in the book just happens to be the distinguished-looking gentleman in the sports jacket on the left, so when you read about Michael riding in the combine with George, here’s a visual for you!

one year ago…”Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference”

January 4, 2011 – Holy Guacamole!

This holiday season we unwittingly had some Dean’s Guacamole dip. Or so we thought we had guacamole dip. The label looks nice – green with photos of avocados, tomatoes, and onion proudly displayed.  Better yet, it boasts 0 grams of transfat per serving.  But a closer look at the ingredient label reveals that it is only “guacamole flavored” and in fact, contains less than 2% avocado!

Here’s the ingredient label:


Compare to a guac recipe that more people might think of:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 red onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1-2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • A dash of freshly grated black pepper
  • 1/2 ripe tomato, seeds and pulp removed, chopped

Should you be able to produce a food label with pictures of ingredients that make up less than 2% of the product?

one year ago…”Emma’s 2nd Wood Project”

January 3, 2011 – Winter Reset

A wonderful January 3. Was able to get all the Christmas lights down, clean out the stock tank – all in still 30 degree weather. The snowless ground and a chance to be outside for a while might go a long ways towards making “cabin fever” more bearable this season.

It’s nice not to be slipping on ice, it’s nice not to be shoveling out the path to the chicken coop, it’s nice for the sheep and goats to get out on the pasture and roam around, instead of staying cooped up in the barn. With no terrible weather on the horizon, it will be nice to at least get through the first part of January without any of the typical winter hardships.

one year ago…”Maizie in the Snow”

January 1, 2011 – Goodbye to 2010

I thought I’d begin the year with some of my favorite photos from the last year.

We’ll lead with the “barn dogs” one cold December morning.

Here’s a shot you can only get once a year – frost on a zinnia.

Linda Barnes

As a storm passed, we had great mammatus clouds overhead.

It’s really quite remote and quiet where we’re at – a reminder on a cold winter morning.

baby lamb and boy

There’s also a continual cycle of life on the farm.

Things can change in a hurry – a day firing the maple syrup stove turns nasty, so in goes the stove into the shed – improvisation is always a great quality to have.

Garlic – we were lucky to get it out during the wet early summer.

More invention on the farm – this time Martin’s cat feeding station.

ag incuabator, MCC susutainable agricultgure

After many years of angst and fundraising, the ribbon cutting for the ag incubator building at MCC happened this year.

cherry pie

Linda’s pies and fruit from the farm – a combination to die for!.

Devils Lake

A great lunch spot at Devil’s Lake Wisconsin.

Baptism Falls, Tettegouche

Finally, the kids at perhaps one of the world’s best outdoor playgrounds – Baptism Falls along the coast of Lake Superior.

one year ago…”Looking Back on 2009″

December 31, 2010 – Winter Break!

Remember a few days ago this same shot with piles of snow and frost – all gone!

When it gets up to 61 degrees on December 30, snow goes by-by real fast.

This airmass feels much like early April – first cumulous clouds after months of stratus, warm, moist air, and the promise of apple buds.  OK, now I’m getting carried away with the apple bud part.  And I think we all now what might follow this respite!  But at any rate, it’s nice to rid the driveway of ice and have a clear slate for the snow to fall the next time.  It’s like Winter 2.0, starting January 1 without any snow.  Hopefully it makes for a shorter mental winter.

Claire (and I) woke up at 4:30 am for her flight from DSM to Chicago.  It was delayed from 7:30 am to mid afternoon, and her connecting flight to Montreal was also delayed, so she had an extra 12 hours or so of waiting in airports today. The best part of the day, wasn’t the delay, but not having her luggage arrive!  Sometimes too much information isn’t a good thing.  I was tracking her flight on flight tracker and watching the Chicago radar and as she was en route, there were tornadoes SW of Chicago, with the storms heading that way – it was a race, would the plane beat the big storms to O’Hare?  The plane did and most of the strong storms went slightly south of Chicago, so the plane landed without incident.

one year ago…”Happy New Year”