Category Archives: Animals

I Heart Chickens

What a fantastic weekend at El Rancho Loco. Chef had to work on Saturday till about 3:00, and I managed to get some house stuff done in that time, but after that, it was all hanging out and FARM.

Yesterday, we installed pampas grass out by the pool, and put in a grape vine and golden raspberry bush on the back fence.  We started gardening with the remaining Three Sisters beds, and installed tomato (three varieties), cucumber, and cabbage seedlings in the Big Garden and in the potager. He’s never ever planted even a seed. I am not exaggerating to share that my heart sang when he pushed his first seed into the dirt, covered it up, and moved on to the next little hole.  I showed him how to make rows with a 1×1″, and he put scallion and onion seeds in himself. He wanted to get the entire garden planted yesterday, even though it was too windy for some of the smaller seeds, and I needed a little time to plan for an unexpected surplus of corn and bean seeds. How awesome is that? That took up the bulk of our Sunday. Then he got to mess around with the air compressor, and figure out how to fill the Duraworx cart wheels, which were pretty spongy.Total guy activities…air compressor, a little time with the 12 gauge.  We talked to our neighbors’ cows, who were awesomely close to the fence. So many calves!!

We were due to meet friends in Brenham yesterday afternoon, which is very close to the (self-proclaimed) Crazy Chicken Lady, with whom I’ve been speaking for a couple of months. Plans kept changing and we could never seem to get out there to pick up our first hens, which has been pull-my-hair-out frustrating. Finally, we got to see her place!!!  It’s called Blue Star Ranch, and it was a booger to find, but oh man, was it worth it. She’s got over 2,000 birds!! She took us on a tour of the facility and I could not stop giggling after I saw about 200 chicks under lights in this little room. The cuteness. I could have died from the cuteness. She was describing the virtues of different breeds and ages and I was kind of turning around and around going (in my head), “Oh, the crack.” She advised us not to get two hens and a roo, which was the original plan. She said that a rooster with anything less than 10-12 hens would “rape them to death” and I believe her. I mean, dude, she’s been raising birds for 20 years and this operation was CRAZY cool. All the birds were healthy and inoculated and being kept in fresh bedding that didn’t smell at all.  She had this giant fishing net and when we decided on our hens, SHA-BAPPP, she’d nail them with the net and pick them out and hold them. It was vaguely ninja-like.

Seka and Lovelace. *sigh* Where are you, John Holmes?

We got two ladies (to start)!! They are Seka (Plymouth Barred Rock) and Lovelace (Golden Laced Wyandotte). We got them safely tucked into their coop last night, and so far this morning, they’re not availing themselves of the very large yard. I’ve been out to visit half a dozen times, and Seka is much more curious and while smaller, she’s the leader. They seem pretty happy with their food and water situation in the coop, and have plenty of shade and grass and weeds and bugs. I’d totally want to be a chicken here (until, um, they stop laying and just turn delicious). Yes, the first rooster will be named John Holmes. No, we won’t name all the chickens after 70’s porn stars.

Next payday the plan is two more, and so on and so on until we get a rooster. Then it’s hatching and baby chicks! Unless I can’t stand the wait and just order a mess of them online.

I ate some of the dozen eggs we bought from Crazy Chicken Lady this morning, and oh my shit, SO FREAKING GOOD. I keep asking the ladies, “Ready to make with the eggs? You look ready to make with the eggs. How come you’re not making with the eggs?”

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Real Farmer!!

Yesterday was the day I finally got to feel like a “farmer.” And frankly, it wasn’t even the “farming” that did it. I think I was part of the mainstream population who aren’t farmers, when I formerly pictured in my head what “farming” is. Some middle-aged dude on a huge John Deere combine tooling through a cornfield with a cuppa Joe in hand, looking a bit haggard and windblown, but relatively happy. Um, that’s not at ALL what it’s like, at least for me.

Native American genius at work

Yesterday morning I didn’t even bother changing out of my PJ’s until around 1:00 p.m., and that’s only because I got too hot. I figured yoga pants and a T-shirt were fine for gardening, so I just threw on my rubber boots, tucked in my pants, leashed up the puppy and headed out to the big garden to start planting. I started by defining the beds with my feet, turning the 20×26′ portion of the 75×100′ garden into 3×4′ beds. In addition to everything else, we’re doing Three Sisters planting this year, the most awesome system of growing ever. Corn, beans, squash. The beans climb the corn, the big squash leaves help with weed suppression, the corn shades the beans and squash so they don’t get sun-burned. I composted and planted the seeds and banned the puppy from the garden, because she thinks it’s a gigantic dig site and was in danger of receiving a boot to the head.

Then I started multitasking, like what “real” farmers do. I put the puppy in her crate and turned a fan on over her. I got a jug of water because it was starting to get hot, and I threw that, stakes, spray paint, wire, hardware cloth, wire cutters, a new hose, my cell phone and an ECigarette into my cart (we quit smoking two months ago!!), and headed for the potager area. I fenced the potager with cinder blocks and hardware cloth to keep the puppy out. As I was moving cinder blocks, I noticed scorpions were STILL hiding under them, so I shifted gears, turning into a murderous pile of rage, smashing them with a trowel, smooshing them with my boots, yelling at them, “Just DIE, asshole fucks!” and then masked up and sprayed the entire perimeter of the house with Demon WP. CHRIST, I hate them. (As I was moving a pile of stakes, I noticed a little smear of something on one of them. It was the tiniest baby scorpion I’ve seen yet, with its body smooshed and its tail sticking up in the air…It was adorable, all dead like that.)

We're fancy!

Potager (French for kitchen garden)

Also, I noticed a gigantic fire ant mound in the freshly tilled potager, so I had to take some time out to douse the area with poison and water it in. Then I walked the grounds and poisoned about another dozen ant mounds and watered the poison in.  I dosed the pool with these little chlorine tablets, because while I was over there killing ants, I noticed the algae’s getting out of hand.

Then I spray painted some stakes silver to mark my Three Sisters beds. I staked and chicken-wired a secondary compost area next to the compost tumbler (after learning the night before that I’m composting wrong).  I installed four tomato plants in the potager, and got bottom-less containers around them to protect them from the 20 mph gusts that are headed our way right now*. I got my new hose hooked up at the back garden and sprayed in my seeds and then got the tomatoes watered in.

During this farmer-y day, I took several a/c breaks in my office, because I’m a heat-fainter from way back. While inside, I Sharpied “3 Sisters” on the painted stakes, then cleaned the kitchen and threw in a load of laundry.

Going back outside to admire my handiwork, I noticed that the ornamental pears are starting to bloom, as are all the trees that made it through the drought last year. My potted cucumbers have their first flower, and my strawberry plants have actual strawberries already. As I was watering Brad, the pear tree, I noticed new buds. The mower dude was out here and worked his magic and the property is looking tight.

Today, I’m putting in three more Three Sisters beds, and seeding in onions, scallions, beets, cilantro, chives, basil and purple snap beans. The fiance’s working till 2:30 today at his chef gig at A&M. Then we’ll go to Tractor Supply for more hardware cloth and chicken feed, because the ladies are coming tomorrow!!! I’ve got to finish laundry, and finish getting the wedding invitations addressed, go buy stamps, and finish a letter for Allan’s nephew. Still have to get the seedlings in the ground, and finalize the garden plan.

*A got off work early yesterday to help me stake down the greenhouse with proper ground ties.

The work here never ends, and I’ve figured out that’s what “farming” means. I could not be happier.

p.s.:  OOOOO, I saw my first snake the other day! A little brown guy who slithered away under some weeds when I tried to say, “Howdy.”

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If you’d like to help us with our Soilent Greens goal, would you consider either a $ donation or pimping this site out on either your blog or Facebook page? We’d sure appreciate it, and will pay it forward however we can. Organic Farm Business. Thank you!!

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Best Laid Plans…

So here’s the part where I admit that we might have bitten off more than we can chew, financially. We started trying for this house all the way back in June. We planned the gardens and dreamed of sustainability and looked at endless pictures of goats, chickens, horses, dogs, geese, and farmhouses. We looked at root cellar plans, and bought seeds and books on construction, plumbing, and electrical, before we even had a closing date.  We got practical and made a business plan and did some marketing research and budgets for the business and our home. Several appraisals and a whole lot of mortgage company shenanigans later (seven months later), we finally closed on the farm.  We had saved money and borrowed money and lived frugally and missed the holidays to keep expenses down. We thought we had done everything right, with an eye towards bringing in some profits as soon as the greens started coming in.

We found out there was a leak in the roof right before closing. We thought it would be simple enough to fix, so we closed anyway. Then the rains came, hard. The leak turned into a much bigger deal than we had anticipated, and while still all fixable by us alone, it ate into our Soilent Greens and family gardens money. Then we encountered electrical and plumbing issues, and found out what a black hole it is financially to keep this place warm in the winter.  Everything conspired to cost us more than we had anticipated.

Not nearly as fun as putting it up...watching it crash down.

Big weeds, goin' down

Behold the greenhouse disaster. While not super expensive to fix (it requires a “Tie Down Engineering High-Wind Load Kit” which we wished we had known about…but somehow we missed that part before 20 mph winds whipped through the field two days after the build) it still eats into our Soilent Greens money. (We DID tie it down with long lengths of rebar, but apparently that was not enough…duh.) To add to our money freakout is the fact that not only did Ranger (Walker, Texas) find us, but after I made the mistake of saying, “All we need is an orange one to complete the menagerie” it came true. What appears to be Ranger’s un-neutered brother is an orange tabby A named Jujube.  They love on each other, then tear each other up. We’re looking at some patching and vet bills until we can get them fixed.

So far we have the land tilled for the Soilent Greens vegetables and our personal gardens, 7500 sf plus our 11×22′ kitchen garden. We have some seeds started, and have one greenhouse, tables, tools, and willpower. What we’re lacking is everything else.

We are AGONIZINGLY close to our dream. Please consider helping us realize it? Further explanation is available at the site, Organic Farm Business.

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Big Doin’s

This was a super-big weekend for El Rancho Loco, when the partner had a rare two-day weekend off. Many lessons were learned. The biggest, most profound message  was that (1) some shit won’t go right, and (1a) unexpected shit will. (1b) Have alternate plans in place at all times. (1c) Prepare for disappointment and move on. (2) Old farms are weird. (3) Cats like Italian sausage.

It started with Friday late afternoon, when the fiancé went to town to the Post Office to pick up a box filled with wedding preparation goodness. That part went great. The part where he picked up the rented Rototiller went great, too. The part where we actually went to use the Rototiller at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, not so much. The belt kept falling off the spinny thingie and we got about one square yard out of the 75×100′ garden tilled before the rental dudes had to come out and pick this thing up. We had a five hour window on Saturday to get this thing done, since they close at noon on Saturday and are closed on Sunday, so no tilling.  DISAPPOINTING.

But, the fiancé says, “Well, let’s go get your chickens!” And my heart sang. For about five minutes. Because we realized if we wanted to eat actual food or drive the truck with enough gas in it, our budget says “No” to chickens until next weekend. So! I whimpered for a few minutes, then we decided to move all the compost (30 bags) over to the big garden, in preparation for tilling next weekend. And by “we” I mean the partner and the truck moved it all over and I unloaded a few bags, because I’m awesome. Oh, and we did have enough cash to buy our first fruit tree, a pear that I’ve named Brad. Yay! We got a few strawberry plants too, and I spray-painted a cinder block bright red in preparation for planting them in it. So crafty!! A said, “Wow, that’s a really red cinder block!” so I consider it an endorsement.

Then we decided to chainsaw the dead pecan trees into little pieces, with our brand new Husqvarna gas-powered chainsaw! With such a fancy name, it must rock. Would.not.start. A frustrated fiancé messed with that thing for an hour until his arm almost fell off. So! We decided to clean the pool, because the previous owner left us all the cleaning equipment and the water’s looking a little heinous. We turned on the pumps and filters and geegaws and dealie-jobs and I got out the brand new sweeper brush, and the Bill-engineered hose attachment doesn’t fit. Nothing in the world was going to make it fit.  Since our budget isn’t allowing pool parts this weekend, we moved on to Plan X. We have this Mule driveway alarm that we got on clearance at Lowes, It’s missing this attachment for the pole that brings it up to car height, so we had to rig some PVC piping to hold the sensor. We decided to use Great Stuff foam and Gorilla glue, which worked out great after we realized that all but one of our previously-used cans of Great Stuff were fused shut or foamed up solid. Ever actually read the back of one of those things? “Great Stuff can seal itself shut. One time use of can should be anticipated.” What a load of turds.

Burny Joe's pile of win

I think that’s the point where we decided, “Let’s just go burn stuff.” See, we had a gigantic pile of the previous owners’ detritus (mostly wood) on the back part of the acreage, just dying for the right conditions to be burned to the ground. And what a great use of the gasoline we were going to use in the tiller and chainsaw! We moved a few stacks of golf cart body parts (another story) and unearthed a complicated nest of fire ants. There was a short pause while I ran around the yard brushing ants off my neck and hair and freaking out and disrobing while running, but I digress. We used a lot of gasoline on that pile, and by “we,” I mean Burny Joe, the partner in crime. He poured that whole can around the pile, we stood fairly close while he lit it, and moved away über extra fast when the entire thing went up in a whoosh that probably could be seen from space. It was still burning right up through Sunday, the day when we actually achieved some goals.

Success! Huzzahs and glitter bombs!!

We got the greenhouse up! It’s a 10×20′ “commercial grade” greenhouse with windows and doors and we got that sucker up in record time!

Suck it, you nasty POS

Other Sunday successes include a stray tomcat adopting us. It’s not a “success” per se, but I’m putting it in the win column because he’s really sweet and has a bad-ass name. It’s Ranger (as in Walker, Texas). He’s un-neutered and harasses our four indoor cats mercilessly, so a snip is in his very near future. Also in the win column is the fact that we tore out the Worst Toilet in the History of Toilets, and will be replacing it sometime this week (we already have a cool-as-hell Jacuzzi toilet waiting in the wings…just need some parts).

We laughed a lot and there was dancing and singing, both nights. We figured out that power is not getting to the one barn that was supposed to have power, so we couldn’t plug in our super-cool shop radio, but we didn’t care; we’ll figure that out later. The grass and weeds are overgrown after only two weeks since mowing, and we’re okay with that, even though we don’t have a lawn mower and have to hire that service out for now. Not a huge deal. We got repeatedly mauled by stinging nettle, and we uncovered a whole new scorpion area that A quickly poisoned (as well as the entire house).

We mostly just kept wandering off and coming back to each other and going, “Holy shit! We OWN this!” A got to drive around the back 40 in his pick-up truck and lean out the window and yell, “I’m driving around my own land! That feels so cool!” Our puppy ran around with us and was super-unhelpful with the greenhouse build, running off with attachment cords and A’s gloves, but we were okay with it, because that’s what they do. We ate carnitas and mega hot pico de gallo, loved all over our wedding invitations and my wedding boots, A got to watch his Tank Battles shows last night for a few hours while I played Zynga games online.

Except for a stray million dollars to find us, I could not ask the universe for more.

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Getting Situated

We moved into this farmhouse the day after Thanksgiving, so it’s been about what, almost ten weeks? We got the kitchen unpacked the first night, and being an experienced packer and mover and unpacker, I had the important bathroom stuff ready within an hour.  Soon after, I tackled the living room, and most of our bedroom. I set up the second bedroom as a “staging area,” intending for it to be where boxes sit as I tackle them one at a time. Haahahaaa!!!! That last part is rich! It’s actually where (I wish) boxes go to die, because they’ve only been pawed through/torn into since, when we absolutely HAVE TO get something out, like printer paper. (I swear, that was one of the panics.)

My bestie and her husband came about a month after we moved, when it was still (kind of) acceptable that I wasn’t more organized. Now we have other besties coming for the weekend, and they’re going to want to have a place to sleep, turns out.  So I’m getting it done, bitches!  Can’t have my buds thinking (knowing) I’m a hobo.

The mule I don't have to feed.

They are going to help us tackle part of our prodigious To-Do list, because they’re handy, and they volunteered. (*) are offered up to them as awesome helper monkeys (this is all stuff I want to accomplish before we have the wedding here on May 12):

  • Repair holes in chicken house roof*
  • Work on watering system*
  • Repair brooder box*
  • Get chickens(!)*
  • Build Duraworx cart*
  • Poison ant mounds*
  • Install garbage disposal
  • Install new toilet
  • Install new vanity
  • Replace a run of fencing
  • Repair old chicken house (repurposing for geese)*
  • Build 3-sided shelter for geese (by March 19)
  • Paint every single surface in this God-forsaken bastion to the glories of cheap wood paneling
  • Get tool shed set up and squared away
  • Move all compost to big garden/Roto-till that bitch
  • Roto-till potager
  • Set up greenhouse/irrigation system (after February 13)
  • Burn piles in back 40
  • Find roof leak/fix
  • Repair ceiling in living room

Even if we only get to one thing on the list we’ll have a blast, because they’re super fun to work with and will keep my spirits high. This list is gross, so I might kidnap one of them to helper-monkey me for the next month.

Puppy update: As of just last evening, she has stopped being a crate spastic. It’s been a rough transition for all of us, but she gets out to pee and poop and eat about every two hours, and sleeps through the night without crying. She’s figuring out that “Go outside” means “Pee and/or poop outside” and has learned the leash and collar really well! We’re giving her more time on-leash now indoors, and she’s learned that the cat box is off-limits.  While I’ll never get another puppy, I know how lucky I am that this one (while a gigantic pain in the ass) is super smart and anxious to please. She’s happier, the cats are happier, the humans are happier. Everybody wins!  She’s gonna lose her shit with two new people for the weekend…

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Happier

Well, the BFF and husband didn’t make it out because of screw-ups on my end and that makes me über sad.  But it’s at least a little okay, because it turns out my chicken lady is closed this weekend because of torrential rains yesterday and last night and she’s dealing with a shit-ton of mud issues. So we wouldn’t have gotten chickens anyway.  Next weekend though, for sure (although the bestie won’t be here and I’ll have to put off buying her chickens until her next visit).

I hate you so much!...ZZZZZZZZZ

The other thing that’s helping ease the sting of not seeing her is that we FINALLY got a crate for the puppy.  Thank you, Universe.  Because lovely little Ursa-boots was getting on my last freaking nerve and if I found just one more thing with puppy holes in it, she was going to be in danger of well…Nobody wants to go there, even mentally.  She spent a few minutes whining, then kept falling asleep. I’m pretty sure it’s not from trauma.  As you can see it’s got a divider, so she’ll be able to grow into this thing and most importantly, STOP SHITTING IN MY HOUSE.  We got her some worming stuff from Tractor Supply, because she’s had some suspicious-looking stuff in her poop and that’s disgusting and not good.

The cats are seriously happier now.  They’ve finally gotten back to being able to eat food because it’s still in the bowls and not puppy-purloined.  They’ve all kind of walked by the crate and gone, “HaaHAAAA, asshole! Look at you all upons with the crate-iness, stupid!”

Yesterday was emotionally draining, but in the “Win” category we got shipment of organic mulch and compost, enough to do the big garden. We need to rent a rototiller and dig that bad boy in, because it’s time for potatoes, corn, onions, garlic, and a host of other direct-to-ground seeds/starts.  The greenhouse will be here the 13th, and I’ve already got most of what I need to start on the 14th (except for um…seeds. Note to self: Buy seeds).

Also in the order were a new vanity and toilet for the Heinous Bathroom From Hell.  So excited to get a toilet that flushes!  I’ll feel so glamorous!

In the further theme of making lemonade from lemons this weekend, chef’s making hamburgers and pomme frites today, and pizzas tomorrow (walnut/apple/Gorgonzola, sausage/cheese, and mushroom/tomato/cheese).

Tomorrow, I will talk to my bestie and reassure her I’ve stepped away from the edge, call my Mom to tell her I love her, and hang out with the chef, giggling at stupid people (so easy!) and being domestic.  Also, we’re building a Duramax cart to haul all the compost and mulch over to the big garden and watching the SuperBowl (for commercials only…Couldn’t care less about the game).

OH! And I have a lead on two free donkeys, a mama and son.  The owner’s offered to even trailer them over here!  I’ve asked to meet them first and if all goes well, we could have donkeys BY TOMORROW!  Hee!!!

(And plus too, today I got in the mail the funniest Valentine card from my friend Kat, and Sandy sent me a beautiful card with a house-warming gift and lovely, lovely words.  I have the best friends ever, y’all.  For serious.)

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Gray/A-Holes

Just not feelin’ it today. It’s been gray and rainy here for a few days and I’m irked with the pets, irked at the partner, irked at myself, irked with life. Now I’m pissed at the word “irk.” Fuck you, irk.

I’m spending my morning doing laundry and reading homesteading/survivalist/prepper blogs, something I’ve really never done before. I don’t necessarily give a crap about reading of anybody else’s experiences unless a) it’s something I’m doing/learning about myself or b) they’re awesome writers and then the topic doesn’t matter to me.  Yes, I’m just that self-absorbed. Anyway, a lot of these sites are shite, but there are some gems out there.  A little goal here is to start linking to the super-compelling sites and blogs, and hoping that they do the same with mine. Really good tips, shared experiences, and the reinforcement of the idea that I might never be able to kill my own chickens. It’s just that repellent to me.

I’ll meet my blog-link goal probably next week, which is probably the last time I’ll have a spare moment before the spring animal/gardens/greenhouse madness begins. I’m going to have to make myself a schedule and keep to it, so I don’t burn out on this endeavor. Blogging will help me stay sane too, so that stays in the rotation.

Couldn't find a picture of "yellow laundry" so here's a picture of ingredients for a grilled cheese sandwich that some asshat makes with a clothes iron.

Anyway, laundry is an asshole. See, we have well water that is (for now) unfiltered. We don’t *drink* that shit, but we do have to take showers, do laundry and use the sinks and toilets.  All my clothes are stained yellow.  And it’s not a cool, on-purpose, Rit Dye sort of staining.  It’s a stupid piss yellow here, piss yellow there kind of staining. But until we get the Lowes whole-house filter system or get Culligan out here, I’m just going to have to stay pissed off.  Priorities!  Groceries, utility bills, seeds, greenhouse, animals, THEN we can get non-yellow clothes.

The asshole dog is scratching at the door, but it’s a big pane of glass so she can’t really hurt anything. I’m going to let her stay outside and eat twigs for a while so I don’t end up throwing her into the wood chipper. (No, we don’t have a wood chipper, and no I wouldn’t do that. Maybe.) We’re finally getting the crate for her tonight, so we can start training her in it and I don’t have to be the Bad Mom whose voice is mostly yelly.  Destroyed plants, chewed cords, piss and shit, terrorized cats…that’s a typical hour, and I’m so over it. My friend Sandy is SO RIGHT when she prophesied that I would be not be a puppy Mom again.

The asshole cats are acting out by knocking stuff over, fighting with each other and incessantly pawing at the doors to either be let in or out.

My to-do list is mostly cleaning early so I’m not embarrassed to have the Lowes delivery dudes in my house.  Big order coming today! That part might cheer me up. My best friend’s coming tomorrow and that will definitely cheer me up. We’re buying chickens tomorrow afternoon, and I hope they’re not assholes too. We’re kind of all full at the inn, thanks.

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Fresh New Country Hell

Not our farmhouse

I’ve wanted a farm for years and years. I got wooed by the lovely old farmhouse photos you see on the Internet and in magazines, and I’m so into gardening and animals and sustainability that it just seemed like a natural progression. With the wants come the dreams.  The little stories you make up in your head about what it will be like to have a farm and a great, old farmhouse:  Verdant, fertile fields with the gentle lowing of cattle and the crimson sunsets that signal the end of your magical day! Juleps on the porch whilst lounging on a restored Adirondack chair with your partner by your side! We shall picnic on our lovely, manicured green lawn, admiring the good work from our farm animals, and communing with nature! The faithful farm dog vanquishing foes and fetching your slippers!

The devil's butthole

Here’s my reality. Last week our newish puppy was chewing on something a little too vigorously and it made me nervous so I dug it out of her mouth. It was a particularly rubbery piece of cat shit. After I boiled my hands, I vowed to never examine the puppy’s mouth again unless she appears to be choking.

I raked out the chicken house yesterday in preparation for our new flock this weekend, and found a whole chicken leg, foot and all.  Just kind of lying there with no story attached. The puppy follows me everywhere and when she came into the chicken yard, she immediately started limping. It’s because she keeps running across patches of spiny sow thistle, which from what I can tell are bristles from Satan’s asshole.

I poked a mound next to the pool and found out it was fire ants. They came pouring out and I’m pretty sure were going right for my eyeballs, but I’m faster. There are carpenter ants coming in through the utility room door. Poison is in all of their futures.

I fixed the smaller bathroom toilet yesterday (which had a leak), only to realize that there was an actual rind of black scum from our well water in the tank and bowl since I’d shut the water off to it for over two weeks. I had to apply this powdered rust and iron remover product that requires rubber gloves because it’s so caustic. I’m scrubbing the horror out of that heinous toilet for my best friend and her husband’s arrival this weekend, but that piece of shit is getting replaced as soon as our Lowes order comes in. Disgusting.

I pulled up a corner of rug in the dog run to see if there are hardwood floors underneath.  I’m pretty sure there ARE under the plywood sub-floor, but it also turns out one or more of our cats have been lovingly sharing their urine there as well. So that got scrubbed with a vinegar/baking soda/hydrogen peroxide/essential oil concoction, as have all the little puppy accidents that have been shared with us over the past few weeks.

Also not our farmhouse

In addition to the litany of small domestic crimes, there is the scary wildlife.  There are coyotes aplenty in these parts, and no cat or puppy is allowed outside during the dark hours.  They are EVERYWHERE at night, calling to each other from all around us, and our theory is that they’re living under the abandoned haunted house next door (actual photo of our real-life coyote-infested haunted house…you’re welcome). We know now why there is double fencing dug down below the dirt around almost the entire perimeter of the farm, and it’s not to keep stuff in.  They are so creepy-sounding (if you haven’t heard them, Google YouTube “coyotes howling”) and give me baby heart attacks the closer they sound to the house. I left the windows open last night so we could get the nice breeze, and A goes, “Terrific, a wolf’s going to come through the bedroom window and chew out my throat.” I said, “Better you than me. That’s why you’re closer to the window, so I can get away. Thanks for that!”

And, I’m not making this up, but there are wild peacocks in that area, too. I mean I’m no bird expert, but the alternatives are macaws or condors. The latter two seem unlikely.  The noises they make are wild!  It sets off the donkey in the next field, so we get surrounded by a Wild Kingdom cacophony of sound that they don’t tell you about in the (imaginary) “Buy a Farm!!” brochures.

When the livestock gets here, I’ll be dealing with worming and shots and animal shit and pee and fur and feathers and a whole litany of OTHER things I’m not thinking of or never knew about. There will be tears and outrage, but I’m also certain there will be belly laughing and awesome tales.

So, it’s everything I thought it would be plus a thousand more things that I didn’t think of, because books and reality are two different ways of learning.  I’m grateful daily for the whole stinky, scary ball of wax.

Note to self: Never kiss puppy on the mouth again.

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So Excited!

Just ordered the first greenhouse for the business.  It’s 9’x10’x20′, big enough for 6 tables, which will hold the trays and grow medium and seeds for the microgreens!  While it’s not very big, it’ll be big enough to experiment and to start the small orders rolling out.  We’re going with a soil-less system that is fairly proprietary in nature (i.e., I thought it up first, bitches, so back off) and I need to get some of those components ordered as well.

Microgreens are amazing for many reasons, but one of the great ones is that most seeds mature in 12-14 days, making order fulfillment super easy.  I’ll be rotating the propagation cycles so there’s always something coming up ready, and using the floors for our own seedlings which will go in the potager or big garden.

Some of the micros!

  • Lemon, licorice and lime basil
  • Radish
  • Chives
  • Pea tendrils
  • Carrot tops
  • Popcorn shoots
  • Onionette

Some of the exotics and edible flowers:

  • Szechuan Buttons
  • Chamomile
  • Mustard flowers
  • Miner’s lettuce
  • Buddha’s Hand (fingered citron)
  • Cucamelon
  • Watermelon radish

I’m also excited because I’ve found a local resource for tilling in the big garden (thank you, Craigslist!) with my HUGE order of compost that’s coming in Friday.  Planting is starting super-soon here in south Texas and I’m already behind on some things, like ordering my potato fingerlings and garlic starts!  I use this site a lot for planning: OrganicGardening.com (That’s a link to the zone-by-zone to-do list for February).

OTHER EXCITING NEWS is that my bestie and her husband are coming for a visit from the Hill Country this weekend, and we’re going on a chicken-buying spree!  I talked to the coolest (to me) lady yesterday for about half an hour, and picked her brain and giggled and was way too excited about chickens.  She’s got 2000 birds on her homestead and is starting her regular sale in two weeks, but she agreed to let us come by this weekend and get a jump-start, because we already have the hard structure in place (and I might have sounded like my head would explode if I don’t get my hands on some chickens soon).

So! I’m thinking we paint the “Friendship Chickens Unincorporated” sign while listening to loud punk rock, buy some hens, buy some feed, love on some chickens and maybe look at a few donkeys! In my life, that’s probably the most exciting weekend I could possibly imagine, unless Queens of the Stone Age came over and helped me weed the garden and I fed them carnitas.

Right now, I’ve got to go find my old Siamese cat, who’s been outside way too long. He probably thinks a super-shitty attitude will save him from coyotes.

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Donkeys and Experience

New family member??

Consuela Maria de Badonkadonkey

This is a donkey I found last night on Craigslist, “Free to a good home.” In the same town as me. Now it just so happens that the fiance and I are gifting a donkey to my best friend, who will be my matron of honor at the wedding.  She really wants a donkey, we really want a donkey*, this is the cutest donkey in the history of donkeys.

The rub is, however, that none of us have done this before (as is true of almost every single endeavor we shall be undertaking at El Rancho Loco and Soilent Greens). We don’t know what we’re doing.  BUT! I’m a fast learner, and they have these things called “books” and this big thing called the “IntraWebz.”  With things like the gardening, I already have experience, yes, but not with microgreens or greenhouses. With animals, my experience is limited to horses when I was a teenager, and cats all my life.

Ursa the Obtuse

BUT, here are the other things in our favor:  We have the room, we have the small amount of money it will take to feed her and get her her shots, we have gigantic hearts, and she’ll have so much to do here as part of our family! Job one, she’ll be expected to scamper. While occasional lolling about is fine, we expect shenanigans.  Number two, I might train her to carry a monkey in a little saddle (but probably not…I WISH). I will train her to take a halter and a lead, so she can come along with me to hang out while I do certain chores (for moral support).  We’ll expect her to love the bothersome carrots and sugar lumps we’ll occasionally foist upon her.  We’ll expect her to take care of that pesky hay and water we’ll be providing her. While we won’t necessarily expect it, hopefully she’ll learn to not trample the geese with whom she’ll be sharing a field (I’ve read they are good companions).

But as with every other undertaking here, I have a certain amount of trepidation because I’ve never done it before.  Take this puppy we have. Yes, she is the cutest puppy to ever live.  AND, she was “Free to a good home” too! No lie.  Three weeks ago a couple in front of the grocery store was giving away her and her litter mates (7 brothers!) and we could not say “no.”  However, she is mentally unstable and given to unbridled fits of retardation.  As I shared with a friend, she is simultaneously brilliant and moronic. And while I haven’t lived with a puppy since I was twelve, the partner has and assures me that she does not need the short bus or a helmet. He tells me she’s naturally “gifted” and with training and maturity will grow out of the need to bite my feet, herd me with nipping and barking, tear up my garden, shit on the rug, eat cords and cat shit right out of the box.

She does come when called, plays fetch, sits on command, and naturally heels (when she’s not trying to walk between our legs). She loves having her belly rubbed and she sleeps right next to the bed without any problems. No whining or crying.  I’m having to train myself more than anything, for instance, accepting the fact that she really needs crate training to stop her from having accidents, because I’m not super-human and can’t watch her every minute.  She’s gaining weight at a rate of about 2 lbs. a week, and at this rate we expect her Black Mouth Cur/Golden Retriever DNA to put her at around 70 lbs., so I have some fast learning to do.  BUT I CAN DO IT. (I just hope she doesn’t grow up thinking her name is “Jesus Christ, REALLY?”)

Again, I ain’t scared. None of us is sure whether we’re exceptionally brave or unspeakably dumb. I’m hoping it’s 90% former/10% latter.

*In all seriousness, though, the donkey will have a job, but it’s one that is instinctual: Warn of predators like coyotes, and hopefully protect against a potential fence-breech.  I’ve read they’re naturals!

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Soilent Greens, Plus, Plus

My partner and I are inextricably bound to the sustainability/homesteading way of life. It’s in our DNA. We both feel strongly that the mainstream “American way of life” is not sustainable, that looking out for your own is the only way to go, and preparing for the worst while enjoying the here and now is what wakes us up in the morning, and keeps us going through each day. It’s only since we both got into our 40’s that we were able to make the dreams a reality.

Soilent Greens is the name of our business.  We will be producing microgreens (in greenhouses) and exotic vegetables and edible flowers for high end restaurants in the Brazos Valley. Through A’s profession, we already have sales relationships in place, and an awesome resource in Texas A&M.  Organic certification by the USDA is planned to start in April or May, and we have software to purchase for record-keeping and fees to pay for registration with the County, State and Federal authorities. We’re looking into our CSA options, and will be donating excess to the Brazos Valley Food Bank. We’re working with some students at Texas A&M with irrigation, greenhouses, organic options and sourcing.

A large portion of the outdoor gardens and all of the potager will be given over to production for us, and this summer, fall and winter will be a learning process on how to freeze-dry, can, preserve, cure, and freeze.  We would very much like to have goats soon for milk, which will throw in the learning mix how to milk, make cheese and soap (and of course, how to take care of goats). We’re also planning on a rescue donkey (because my BFF wants one and because they’re AWESOME guard animals against coyotes, which seem to be really fond of our farm…assholes), and ten or so geese (for a business yet to be announced).

We started years ago by buying our produce and meat local and organic whenever possible, and by researching/planning planning planning our own organic concern so when the time was right, we’d be in place to start immediately.

That time is now, and we’re ready.  I have had a cache of organic seeds since September.  While limited, it was a reasonably-sized variety of plants that we really wanted to start with immediately.  We purchased an in-home greenhouse in December (right after we moved into the farmhouse) and while it was probably too early to start the seedlings, I did it anyway (because I occasionally exhibit low impulse control).  Based on previous experience with this type of greenhouse, we’ve had fantastic success with germination.  Since it’s Texas, we’ve built a cold-frame and will be moving the bulk of the babies outside beginning next week.  If I get a freeze warning, I’ll move them back in, but I think we’ll be okay.

We have a potager (or kitchen garden) right outside our side door, measuring 21’x24′. It will house tomatoes, beans, a hot pepper garden, an allium garden, and an extensive selection of herbs in four rectangles.  The larger back garden (50’x75′) has been planned for 1/3 devotion to us and 2/3 to the business.

SO! Busiest spring ever:

February:

  • Harden off seedlings outside in cold-frame
  • Order chicks/raise chicks
  • Order microgreens seeds
  • Purchase all microgreens equipment/set up
  • Cultivate first round of microgreens (harvest starting Day 12)
  • Finalize logo/packaging
  • Firm up sales relationships
  • Establish shipping relationships

March:

  • Raise chicks
  • Harden off seedlings in cold-frame (round 2)
  • Roto-till cardboard and compost in potager

    Potager start: Lasagne layering (4 rectangles with 2' walkways)

  • Plant seedlings
  • Register business/Get tax license
  • Harvest first greens – SELL
  • Roto-till big garden
  • Plant seedlings
  • Finalize CSA arrangements
  • Get goose pasture ready
  • Order Talouse geese (10)

April:

  • Put chicks in chicken yard
  • Raise goslings in brooder
  • Get USDA out to farm; start certification process
  • Continue greenhouse production
  • SELL
  • Take care of all gardens

May:

  • Raise goslings
  • Continue greenhouse production
  • SELL
  • Take care of all gardens
  • GET MARRIED!!!

The beauty part of all of this? I ain’t scared.  At all.  I’m excited that I learn new things every day, even if they’re not pleasant.  I’m hands-on, every single day.  I tear shit down, I build shit up, I take care of plants, animals and my partner.  I’ve got a firm plan in place and am meeting my goals, every day. If things get too hairy, we have plans to hire me some part-time help.  Also, the plans involve making as much of this process as possible automated with timers for watering, irrigation already in place for plants and animals, and a shotgun at the ready.  And, since it’s Texas, we’re planning on suspending greenhouse microgreens production for June, July and August.  Delicate plants just can’t make it in that weather (even in a greenhouse), and I might die.  We’re sincerely trying to avoid especially the latter.

By the time we have the wedding here, the gardens will be in place and there will be animals galore.  The trees will be greened out and there will be flowers.  The pool will be up and running.

I’ll be exhausted and happy. And married. And a “real” farmer.

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Friendship Chickens Unincorporated

About two years ago, my best friend and I became infatuated with the idea of being chicken owners. She’s already in a rural setting, but inhibited by HOA rules from owning them, and I was living in a downtown area and physically incapable of owning chickens.  So we both did research and dreamed of fresh eggs and crowing and chicken shit and lady hens named Mable and Gertrude.  When my partner and I became seriously invested in the idea of owning a farm, my BFF and I decided that Friendship Chickens Unincorporated needed a reality, and so that’s where we’re headed.  We’ve done the reading, we’ve done the research, we’ve talked to chicken enthusiasts and owners.

From a sustainability standpoint, there’s no getting away from the fact that chickens are king.  They will be used for eggs and when they are no longer useful for that, they will be used for meat.  My bestie might persuade me to spare her hens from the chopping block.  But as far as we’re concerned (me and A), they’re fair game after the eggs stop.

My fiance and I started by converting an old goat barn into a chicken coop. We have galvanized tin sheets protecting most of the structure, with chicken wire and hardware cloth protecting the home-made door.  Believe it or not, the door is level to the funny old building! (We’re pretty proud of that.) There’s chicken wire (that you can’t see in the photo) protecting the upper part of the structure. We have six plastic milk crates set lined with hay and 2×4’s to allow access to the hens, and to prevent the eggs from rolling out.  There is a lot of perch area and the structure is closeable, so at night when the chickens are not roaming the yard they’ll be safe from predators.  They’re going to be free-range with supplemental feed and water.  Their runs are fenced to 7′ high, and we’re hoping that our roaming dog and the proposed rooster keep hawks from getting young chickens.  I’ve been hoarding egg cartons since June. 🙂

Next up:  The hens!! We’re going Craigslist for the initial layers, maybe two or three (picking them up and bringing them home in cleaned out cat carriers).  On February 4, when the bestie and her husband visit, we’ll pick those up and will be ordering chicks through the mail to raise in a brooder, then set in the chicken yard. If the initial layers are jerk-faces, they’ll be the first ones on our table, with the chicks being hand-raised and guaranteed sweet.  That’s the hope!

A really really wants a rooster, so we’ll get one.  I was against the idea until I read that they help prevent fighting amongst the hens, are great “watch dogs” (crowing when there’s an intruder), and will actually defend the flock against predators.  So, go rooster!

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