Category Archives: Dangerous Critters

Year In Review

A year has passed since we got the farm. One whole year. We celebrated by hosting the chef’s parents for Thanksgiving, and eating off some 1930’s English china* we found at our local antique store, while watching the Texans almost lose to the Detroit Lions.

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(*Total freaking score, btw. Alfred Meakin service for six, with six serving pieces for $60.)

One year. I’ve dealt with deaths, large and small. I’ve made some important friendships, and lost a few relationships I thought were important. I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I thought, and to take better care of myself by standing up for myself. I’ve realized that it’s a lot better for me to drop poisonous people than to put up with their bullshit and let it leak onto me.

I’ve learned a LOT about organic gardening and sustainability this year, just by doing. I’ve learned that books are only a pathway to the reality out here, and I’m thankful for our inventiveness and outside-the-box thinking. I’ve learned to can, and how to do household, yard, and pool maintenance. I’ve gotten to be a much better shot.

I’ve learned to not dream so big and to manage my expectations, for myself, my husband, this farm, my friends, my family. For every minus here, there seem to be pluses.

My plans for the big, bad-ass garden were too ambitious, and I could not keep up. My dreams of a huge flock of chickens didn’t work400197_10151483437318368_1546550247_n out, because they just kept dying this summer. One of my geese literally flew away and never came back. But two have stayed, a mated pair that will give us eggs and babies  this spring. We got four more pullets, and we’ll have six layers by spring.

Despite all the set-backs our first spring and summer, we managed to produce so much veg that we have an over-filled freezer and about 40 jars of product.  The greenhouse didn’t happen because the winds blew the covering off and mangled the frame, but we’ll try it again in the spring. We’re doing two beefsteak tomato plants in our indoor greenhouse, so winter tomatoes!!

The pool never seemed to get quite right until the very end of the season, when we finally figured out the necessary chemical brew. We still haven’t had the money to buy a lawn mower, but it’s kind of okay, because we learned that our neighbor is a super-nice guy and brings his tractor over to drag the grass and keep it looking tight. We had two trees felled that didn’t make it through last year’s drought. Pine tree for the burn pile, and pecan tree for the smoker. (Oh yeah, we got a smoker!) I’ve learned to deal with scorpions and coyotes, and last evening while putting up the chickens for the night, a rattlesnake struck my boot. I’ve learned that I can run pretty fucking fast.

We’re installing raised beds in 2013, and that will help with the manageability for me. The beds will be closer to the house, closer to a water source, and we’ll be installing irrigation. I won’t have to deal with constant weeding, and the Bermuda grass can have its way with the big garden area, where we’re getting many ducks and geese to eat it.

IMG_1915We adopted a puppy (Mongo) and found a Siamese kitten (Mr. Peabody). I went through my first-ever dog-in-heat experience (she’s since been fixed). Doggy diapers = nobody wins. Total count: five male cats, two dogs. We’re stopping there.

This is my birthday week, and we’ll be going next weekend to cut down our Christmas tree and put it up in the great room. It looks magical when it’s all lit up, set against the backdrop of this 1930 Texas farmhouse. We’ve fixed up the house so it’s comfortable and nice for us and anyone who visits, and 2013 will see some painting and power-washing, to get it even nicer.

We got married here, and it was a magical day. I can’t imagine doing this with anybody else in the world. We’ve been able to share this place with friends and family, and that’s pretty freaking sweet. A few parties, a pig buried and eaten, our first deep-fried turkey (kick-ass, btw), music, dancing, laughter, tears.

Can’t wait to see what the next year here brings.

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Transitioning

After my last post about the horrifying rate of chicken attrition (Note to self, new band name: Chicken Attrition), we lost two more, bringing our total number of hens down to two. (One had her neck broken by the geese; one died of general failure to thrive…Chickens now have their own separate sleeping area, because geese are assholes and their time is limited*.) We’re getting more hens in a couple of days. Makes me happy!!! My little Rhodie and her buddy CM are doing their job, but two eggs a day just ain’t cuttin’ it.

Up yours, Bitch Grass.

Future home of raised beds

Garden transition from summer to fall has been slightly painful. See all that grass? That’s my garden, overtaken by Bermuda grass, or as we call it, Bitch grass. It started to seriously make a move about two months ago, I didn’t get on it fast enough and now I have watermelons, winter squash, bush beans, and carrots all competing for life. I have weeded around them, but I just don’t care anymore because they’re thriving anyway AND! Transitions. We’re moving to a raised bed system**, and giving that yard over to ducks.

Seriously. *Ducks in the big garden area, geese in the back two acres, because DUNH DUNH DUNNNNH…We’re starting an ethical foie gras business. I’m not jinxing it by giving it a name yet (I have several AWESOME candidates in a spreadsheet, awaiting availability checks and a Facebook popularity poll) or describing all of our proposed production methods. But I will say that we’d be the only ones doing it in this country (based on a model by this badass, Eduardo Sousa of La Pateria de Sousa), we’ll have around 100 birds, and the Texas A&M Poultry Sciences Department has expressed an interest in helping us develop the concept. So booyah! Come on, grant money!! (Maybe. Hopefully.) No gavage, no cruelty. Just a bunch of chattering, happy buttheads eating whatever they want for 18 weeks, then eating as much corn and yellow lupine that their little faces can gorge on for four weeks in the fall. Then, a truck ride to their final reward and the Brazos Valley and Houston suddenly become a lot more delicious!

Come spring, this is going to be one noisy joint. This winter: planning, cross fencing, building of shelters, repair of existing outbuildings, installation of Nite Guards, and dreaming of creamy foie gras on toast and duck confit next fall.

Diaper of Shame

In other news, Ursa the puppy has attained her majority. So to speak. Two weeks shy of her big operation, she jumped the shark. Again, so to speak. Anyway, lots of cleaning, lots of Doggy Depends, lots of worrying about coyotes trying to break through our windows to get at the lovely Miss Ursa. (Not really, but that’s where my brain goes when I hear them in the surrounding fields.) We have three weeks to wait until she gets to see the vet again. Yay. *sigh*

Scorpions are back with a vengeance. We’re hitting the perimeter with spray and a borax/DE mixture because it’s gotten so bad that the husband literally hallucinated one in our bed last night. He screamed, “Holy shit! Look at that!” and I was looking and looking and said, “I don’t see anything!” and he started flipping the blanket around and there was nothing there. Well played, scorpions.

**Raised beds, YES PLEASE! I just can’t keep on top of the weeding and mulching required to beat back Texas Bermuda grass. We had originally chosen that

Mulberry thinks it’s spring. What up, nature?

yard because it has 7′ deer fencing and we wanted the protection. Lessons learned? NO DEER IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD. The farmers shoot them, they got the memo…Whatever. They’re not here. I’ve seen two in a year. Also, Bitch grass will always win. Always.

So, eight 4×8′ cedar raised bed boxes will be built this winter, lasagna layering installed in each, and come spring? Let’s just say I’m really excited about not weeding, having the gardens closer to the house and the water supply, and the boom that is going to be our production. We’ll also have a large in-ground bed for the spreaders (melons, winter squash, etc.), but I at least can handle weeding one 4×12′ bed.

Jesus Christ, I just realized: That’s a busy fucking winter. What have I done?

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Double Down

We’ve had a rough few days at El Rancho Loco. First, on Saturday morning early (like 5:00 a.m.), we both woke up to start the day. Nice start to our weekend, yay! I reached to the floor, in the dark, for my kick-ass Dickie’s camo shorts and SHABBAP, got hit by a scorpion. I screamed on the top of my lungs, “Motherfuckingshitballsfuckingscorpion *breathe* AAAAAHHHHHFUCKYOU!!!!” The only scorpion in the entire house was sitting right where my thumb reached. We know because we spent the next 15 minutes looking around the carpet with a blacklight. What are the fucking odds? Why my bedroom? There’s no water there, there is only certain death. I think my friends and family are safe from scorpions though, because every one of those pieces of shit will come for me while my loved ones run away.

When Lovelace was the biggest lady in the yard.

So I iced my thumb and put NeoSporin with lidocaine on it and went out to let out the chickens/geese. I noticed my favorite (she’s my favorite now, despite this post where I called her Bitchface #2) is looking a little funky. She usually stands in front of the geese right at the door, waiting to be let out (she’s the alpha). That morning, she was on the ground, and when she got up, she was limping. Then I noticed that she had a little eye funk and was wheezing a little. So I did some research in my books and online, and we got some VetRX to help with possible respiratory infection and cider vinegar to add to the water, to help with her overall malaise and possible parasites. I spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning her butt and rubbing her with medicine and watering her. I put her in the jumbo cat carrier to isolate her. She spent the next two days sliding downhill.

Yesterday, I called a chicken pro who told me it might be Marek’s, might be CRD and to get Tylan or LS-50 to inject her with. I spent all day yesterday feeding her little sips of water with apple cider vinegar, and rubbing her head and talking to her. She fell asleep in my arms a few times. We’re a one-car family, so I waited till the chef got home to take me to Tractor Supply. I watched a couple of videos to see how to inject her. I went and checked on her before we went. We got home, I loaded up the syringe, took it out to the coop and she had died. Ants were already covering her face. I started bawling and brushing ants off her face while Allan went and got a garbage bag.

I know it’s stupid and it’s not really my fault, but I feel like a failure. I know it’s stupid to have gotten so attached after I said I wouldn’t, but I did anyway. I know it’s stupid to take this personally, but I am.

Body count since March:

3 dead goslings (pecked to death by Seka and Lovelace)
1 dead Cuckoo Maran (pecked to death by Seka and Lovelace)
1 dead Plymouth Barred Rock (Seka) decapitated by owl
1 dead sex-link (unknown reasons)
1 dead Gold-Laced Wyandotte (Lovelace) and I don’t know why

We have three geese left, plus one sex-link, a Rhode Island Red, and two Cuckoo Marans, only one of whom is laying because the other one has a failure-to-thrive syndrome where she has not properly developed her comb or wattle, and doesn’t have a proper vent size for laying. So at least we still have three layers.

More proof that I suck.

We talked to some friends and we’re going to keep doing it, even though I feel like the worst Mom ever. (Ursa got bit by what we’re afraid might be a brown recluse or a black widow spider. We have to keep an eye on it for necrosis. Researching how to treat it at home in the meantime. This picture looks like she’s in pain or is lethargic. This is actually her relaxing after tearing around the yard after toads, rabbits, grasshoppers, the wind, like she does every day, rain or shine.)

We’re going to get more chickens and a rooster, so I can start brooding chicks. We decided that the rate of attrition in a free-range Texas chicken yard is always going to be a little high, so let’s double-down on this effort.

I’m going to spend today and maybe part of tomorrow feeling like I’ve let the team down, then snap out of it and start looking at new hens.

They will not get names.

Here are some good things from the past few days…

Mr. Peabody. Scourge of all other animals in this house.

Surprise flowers. Lilies? Ideas? I didn’t plant them.

Seeds up: Broccoli, thyme, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, cilantro, Swiss chard.

Pool looks awesome.

Chef’s awesome.

My mom came through a cataract surgery totally great.

My dad’s still kickin’ it in his La-Z-Boy.

Weather’s getting cooler.

Getting my car fixed next month.

Party on October 6th.

Still breathing.

Big p.s.: Awesome friends and family. Thanks for making me feel a little better, y’all. Big love from me and Allan.

UPDATE: Ursa has histiocytosis, a common benign growth on her nose that is apparently kind of like a wart that will go away on its own. So, Huzzah! to both our vet, who didn’t charge anything, and to life, for not handing us another shit bouquet.

Also, those red flowers are Oxblood Lilies.

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Heat and Funerals

This super-informative piece on Mother Earth News says (page 3), “…remember that it’s unwise to do hard outdoor work when both the temperature and the humidity are high. When the two numbers added together equal more than 160, stay indoors during the middle of the day.”

I would edit that to add, “If you live in south central Texas, however, it is technically ALWAYS the middle of the day. Plan on building robots to do your gardening, because those two numbers will equal greater than 160 for the next four months.”

I just got in from an hour’s-worth of harvesting tomatoes, feeding and watering the chickens and geese, and watering the gardens. After standing in front of the window A/C, I’m at least not dripping sweat from every pore; only my hair is still soaked. The cats lasted about 10 minutes out there, and the dog looks at me like I’m slow in the head whenever I open the door to let her out.

The plants are all suffering. This year’s averages are already 10 degrees above normal and everything is browning. I water in the mornings and we’ll be constructing some shade dealies next week (when the chef’s on vacation…YAY!) to help at least the tomatoes. We’ll also be filling the indoor greenhouse with starts to go in next month. The only thing really thriving outside right now is a super-tall volunteer sunflower in the potager. (Not my garden; it’s too freaking hot and I’m too cooked to go out with a camera right now. Thanks, random blogger, Cheryl.)

While the husband’s home, we have a ton of outdoor chores to attend to for our party July 7th*. It’s going to be a blast! However, pool needs fixing up, gardens need cleaning, pit needs digging, lighting needs putting up, grass needs mowing, food and supplies need getting boughted. (Okay, that last one got away from me.)

Here’s an actual photo from our garden from Tuesday, June 26, 2012, or as I like to call it, “Family Shit Day.” Go ahead, click on the photo. It’s a black widow and her boyfriend, right under one of the tomato plants. I pulled back a big clump of stems to get at some ripe tomatoes underneath and THERE IT WAS. Oh, I ain’t proud to say I Sevin’d the shit out of her, but, I SEVIN’D THE SHIT OUT OF HER. Then that wasn’t enough, so I scootched her and her boyfriend out and smashed them under my rubber boot toe into the dirt until they were a whole mess of splat and legs.

Also on the “getting boughted” list for the party: Outdoor and indoor foggers, tiki torches, personal bodyguards, spider mace**.

*Send me an email if you’re local and come on out! (You’ll be required to answer a series of questions allowing me to judge whether or not you are a dangerous ax murderer, Obama supporter, or Romney supporter.)

**Is there such a thing? Because if there isn’t, I’m going to invent it and be a gajillionaire.

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Friday a.m: Off to Chicago to attend a service for my uncle, and see my large family for the first time in a while. Way too long a while for some of them. Funeral Saturday. I’m looking forward to a lot of laughing and hugs and some cathartic tears. I know Uncle Don would be pissed if we didn’t laugh as much as we can at this thing.
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PRODUCT REVIEWS

Screen door on a submarine.

ORTHO BUG B GON MAX (Manufacturer, Scotts. Active ingredient, Bifenthrin [pyrethrin]): I sprayed this bullshit chemical cocktail over my entire yard. It’s supposed to work to kill grasshoppers a) on contact and b) later. How well does this work?

NOT AT ALL.

Eat a gigantic bag of dicks, Scotts. Yes, you were a cheap, well-marketed seeming solution to my problem. You are also made of balls. Big, hairy, useless balls. I spent an entire morning spreading your poisonous merde over grasshoppers and crickets and lawn and it turns out? YOU’RE MADE OF USELESSNESS AND DESPAIR. Thanks again, chemistry schmucks and marketing (“Bug B Gon”? Really?) lie-sacks of turd.

Price: $14.99 each x 2 (because I’m stupid) = $30.00

Rating: I hope you get genital warts

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Ashtray on a motorcycle.

SEVIN BUG KILLER (Manufacturer, Bayer. Active ingredient, Carbaryl): Know what’s good about this product? Only its no-nonsense name. Know what it does to grasshoppers? Makes them genetically susceptible to the ability to LAUGH IN MY FACE. Nice work, Bayer. It’s not bad enough that I broke my No-Bayer-Products rule because you fuckers kill bees, but I also paid you money to buy a poison that DOES NOT WORK? Well played, assholes. You win this round.

Also, nice white crud left all over everything. That’s swell.

Price: $25.00 (1 gallon)

Rating: I hope mutant spiders lay eggs in your face

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Tits on a bull.

FRONTLINE (Manufacturer, Merial. Active Ingredient, Fipronil (pyrethrin): Here’s how well your vaunted products work on my cats and dog: EXACTLY ZERO TIMES INFINITY. I spent almost $100 to get the dog and cats flea-free, unable to dose them with anything ELSE THAT WORKS for one month, because it would probably kill them. So we get to bomb the house (then wipe down every surface and vacuum every freaking nook and cranny), spread diatamaceous earth all over the carpet, repeatedly vacuum, use peppermint oil in the flea baths, spray the cats and dog with flea spray, and get flea bites ourselves, FOR ONE FUCKING MONTH. I hate you so much. If hate were people, I’d be China.

Your useless, over-priced poison products only served to make one cat foam at the mouth, and the rest be re-infested within three days. Your claims that it lasts a month make me want to drive to your homes and leave flaming bags of poo on your lying liar porches.

Price: $100 for cats and dog (six treatments in all)

Rating: Just die. You exhaust me.

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Floodin’ Down in Texas

When Texas says a big ol’ storm is coming, it ain’t playin’.

Aftermath:

Extreme foreground: Ancient, blind Siamese (Louie)

Dang, that’s the fig tree…

So guess what I get to do today? Use the chainsaw!* Break up all those limbs into firebox-sized pieces, pretend I’m Jesse James Dupree from Jackyl…

*Oh wait, I only said that to scare the husband. I’M NOT ALLOWED TO USE THE CHAINSAW! Even I know that. I’m extremely uncoordinated, easily distracted**, and prone to flights of physical and mental fancy. Not what the safety direction writers had in mind when they were handing out wisdom on the use of death-dealing tools.

**Actual Facebook excerpts regarding my canning experiences yesterday:

“I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson here. No more canning for Donna. Because part of canning should never be the words, ‘OHJESUSGODMOTHERFUCKSHIT’ while running for ice, then burn salve.”

“‘Tomato concassé is fun to do!’ said no one, ever.”

PS: It only rained and blew so hard because I planted a wee baby olive tree in the potager. Thanks, Texas. Jackass.

PPS: In other news, my scorpion sting is extremely inflamed and itchy. I think I’m paying for my “I’m a badass” statement from yesterday by (perhaps) developing life-threatening shoulder tuberculosis. Pictures later!

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Texas Summer

Texas on fire: True story.

While it’s not as bad yet as it was last year, this summer has started with a vengeance, with very little rainfall and temps nearing 100 already. Yesterday’s first-of-the-season climb to near 100 had me hiding in the living room where the A/C works the best, and Googling things like, “Is it tacky to leave your new husband to move to Canada, but only for the summer?” Google had a lot of baffling responses, not the least of which involved Mounties and Bullwinkle.

So it looks like I’ll tough it out, because I’m not unlike a rock star who also has super powers (imminent). Because last night I got my first (AND ONLY UNTIL FOREVER) scorpion sting, and IT DIDN’T EVEN HURT THAT BAD. I don’t want another one to prove my point, mostly because I’m not a psychopath, but seriously? Manageable. Threw an ice cube on it, husband applied vinegar, got back into bed and went to sleep.  After cussing a lot and making sure that motherfucker was smashed to shit. Because come on, FUCKING RUDE. In my bed. Near my face. Oh yeah, the husband got stung too, but it was on his ankle so not nearly as terrifying as my near-face experience.

In other news, the grasshoppers have taken over the asylum. When one walks outside, one is surrounded by a cloud of flying grasshoppers, whose main job is (apparently) to try to get down my shirt, inside my boots, and onto my eyeball. I walk out to the gardens flapping my arms and making noises that I can’t properly articulate in print. I think they’re the noises that cause psychiatrists to prescribe lithium, stat.

My new summer missions: Kill all the things*, and save all the plants. Because the plants are really suffering already. I have an extremely frugal rig involving old sheets and bamboo poles, in order to shade some of my more delicate heirloom tomatoes. Because losing those would make me sad. Also getting researched for my database are extremely drought-tolerant varieties of everything else, because it’s Texas, y’all! I’ve got another planting season coming up here in a couple of weeks.

*As for killing all the things, here are some genius suggestions for killing adult grasshoppers (we’re dumb and didn’t take care of this shit in the spring, when they’re WAY easier to kill):

I hate you. In your faces. With a hammer.

  1. Plant flowers. Really, ask.com? REALLY? That’s almost as helpful as the time I looked for “recipes for leftover turkey” and you suggested “Sandwiches.”
  2. Weed control. Seriously. Double Ew Tee Eff. I live surrounded by working cattle fields, some of which contain weeds that could block out the sun. Should I call my ranching neighbors and request they organically spray several thousand acres for grasshopper control, because dinosaur-looking asshole grasshoppers are scaring me and eating my cabbages? That sounds reasonable.
  3. Get chickens! We live on four acres. Maybe 100 chickens per acre should do the trick. Think the husband will notice?
  4. Wait for cold weather. I swear to God, the Internet is just begging for me to come to its house and kick it in the scrote.

In reality, we’re going to have to broadcast EcoBan Semaspore bait and maybe Nosema locustae bait, and play the waiting game.

In other farmhouse news, FRONTLINE SUCKS. You heard me. Useless. It vaguely works on the cats, but the puppy is miserable. I bombed the house, vacuumed everything within an inch of its life, washed everything that is washable, gave her a bath, applied Frontline, and waited for the magic to happen. The fleas laughed at all of us, reattached themselves to my baby puppy’s body, and have never been happier. So now we get to wait for the month to pass before we apply Advantage, which is even MORE expensive. Congratulations, fleas. You win this round.

In awesome news, we’re having a pig bury/pool party on July 7th! The chef/husband is digging a hole, then filling it with lava rocks and a burlap/chicken wire-wrapped 50 lb. pig. We’re expecting around 40 people, debauching the pool and braving the heat. If you’re a vegetarian, I recommend a 20-mile safety buffer. It’s going to be epic. We’ll have misters on the front porch, a party tent on the pool deck, a keg of Lone Star, and rock music as loud as we can stand it.

PS: We’re going to cover all the vegetables and do a yard-wide application of Ortho Home Defense spray a few days before the party. Suck poison, you dinosaur freaks.

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Organic Gardening: The Lessons

I’m learning something new every day out in the gardens. Some big lessons, some smaller. All vital to having an even better garden next year.

For example:

  • Insect control: Cabbage loopers DECIMATED our cabbages; they were skeletonized within two days. We Neem-oiled the crap out of everything, but it was too late. There are still viable cabbages in the middles, but I doubt they’ll reach their full potential. NEXT PLANTING: Covers.

    (Borrowed from the IntraWebz.) Ours is even worse. It’s too sad to photograph.

  • Insect control: Flea beetles ate the SHIT out of our Rapini. NEXT PLANTING: No Rapini. Because not only is it susceptible to flea beetles, it doesn’t do well in the heat, it bolts, and is very low-producing.
  • Heat control: Plan for the heat earlier. It’s Texas, Donna the Dummy. Even “heat tolerant” varieties are melting in the sun. And it’s not even really hot for the region yet. NEXT PLANTING: Shade covers, more frequent watering, mulch.
  • Mulch: Put the mulch around the plants, Donna. It’s not doing any good in the bags, except as a perfect home for scorpions.
  • Tomatoes: Learn early on which are determinate (bush type) and which are indeterminate (sprawling monsters). That way, you’ll know which are coming out early and can be replaced (determinate) and which will continue to produce throughout the season (indeterminate), and plan your garden accordingly.  So your garden doesn’t look like ass because of big gaping holes you didn’t plan for.
  • Succession plant: Put beans in planned areas week after week, so you have continuous production. Same with tomatoes: Have seedlings going all the time in the greenhouse so you can replace what needs to come out.
  • Automate: Because standing out there watering in the 6:00 p.m. highs of 96 degrees (soon to be 106) is balls.
  • Packet/product labeling: Remember that labeling is not necessarily accurate for your conditions. We planned 3×6′ beds for our watermelon. The first plant that came up is now easily 15′ around. It is taking over the entire garden and will have to be pruned back (much to the horror of the husband, who is convinced it’s from another planet and wants to see how big it will actually get). Labeling also doesn’t necessarily know that we live in Texas, so “full sun” means plants probably won’t thrive here, which is actually the SURFACE of the sun.
  • Compost: Learn now to make compost tea and get it made, because that Jobe’s organic fertilizer just ain’t makin’ it. I have yellowing leaves (nitrogen deficiency), and a general malaise on some of the plants that just won’t do.

Nice tomato shot…Again, not ours. *sigh*

Some things you just can’t plan for. Like volunteers and what I call “wanderers”.  We have several of both in our gardens. The volunteers just kind of pop up in totally unexpected areas (a tomato in the cucumber patch, a sunflower in the cucumber patch, a bean plant in the tomatoes).  Wanderers happened from our torrential April rains shifting seeds from bed to bed. I refuse to pull either “mistake” up. If they have the temerity to live where they weren’t planned, then good for them, the little rebels.

I CAN, however, plan my garden better next year. We just kind of free-balled the plants this year, with only an eye on height (tall stuff in the backs of the rows). In the winter, my plans on paper were very elaborate and precise. By the time our seedlings were up, all that changed, only I didn’t account for it on paper. See, seedlings don’t all come up, and the ones that do don’t necessarily make it through the hardening-off stage. Plus we went and impulse-bought different seeds (for direct sowing) than what was accounted for, and changes didn’t get incorporated into the on-paper plans.

Which reminds me, NOTE TO SELF: Paper plans are pretty, but impossible to maintain. Find software for garden planning.

I DID make a database last night of our plants, so I can record what’s working and what’s not, planting and picking dates, and which tomatoes are which. Because if we want serious production (and we do), we can’t keep winging it out there.

To-Do List This Week:

  • Find easy compost tea recipe, make and apply
  • Get down mulch (at least on tomatoes)
  • Buy row cover supplies for shade
  • Finish database
  • Start plan for summer planting
  • Weed (always)
  • Take out non-performers
  • New beans, cukes, corn, cilantro
  • Set out basil, yellow peppers
  • Plant olive tree in potager

Who said this was easy on a larger scale? I guess people who have never done it before…

p.s.: SUPER HELPFUL tomato list.

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2,4-D Drift: Organic Nightmare

Tractor of death. The tree in the foreground is on our side of the property line.

Yesterday morning, I was all doodly-do, doing my morning stuffs, when I heard big machinery noise, closer than normal (they’re working on the county roads around us right now). I went outside and couldn’t see anything, and then all of a sudden there was a crop-spraying tractor, complete with two big white chemical tanks and two giant boom arms, spraying the shit out of our neighbor’s acreage. I called the husband and said, “Holy shit, they’re spraying chemicals on the front acreage” and he suggested I stop the guy and talk to him, so I did.  What follows made me later throw up my lunch.

Me: *Hailing tractor guy*
TG: *Stops tractor and comes over*
Me: Hi, are we neighbors?
Him: Nope, I'm working for the guy who leases this parcel, M*******.
Me: Whatcha sprayin'?
Him: 2,4-D, for goat weed.
Me: Oh. Um, we have an organic farm over here and it's drifting onto my 
property...
Him: Welllll, the wind's mostly blowing my way and it's a real light spray, 
so you oughtta be all right.
Me: You're kidding, right?
Him: *Goes right on spraying*

2,4-D. Mother-humping goat fuckers. This devil juice makes (and I’m not exaggerating in the least) RoundUp look like harmless chemical Kool-Aid. Dow AgroSciences’ contribution to the weed-killing business is the main defoliant contained in Agent Orange. It’s been around since 1946.  It is under attack again (thank God) because Dow is trying to get approval for its 2,4-D Resistant Corn, to take the place of Monsanto’s failed RoundUp Resistant Corn, which created super bugs and super weeds, and is no longer able to withstand RoundUp bombardment because of genetic mutations. Genius! (It’s in the EPA’s lap right now; let’s all count on them to do the right thing, right?) It’s a DEFOLIANT, which means it kills plants dead. What it doesn’t kill, it mutates. It’s suspected as a cause of “…major health problems such as cancer, lowered sperm counts, liver toxicity and Parkinson’s disease. Lab studies show that 2,4-D causes endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity, and immunosuppression.”

If you’ve followed my blog for even a short amount of time, you know how I feel about chemicals in our farms, ranches, food supply. Here, about Colony Collapse Disorder; here about pesticides and BPA; here about Monsatan, again, and again, and again.

We’re out here in a tiny patch of Texas, practicing only organic gardening, using compost, organic fertilizers, organic topsoil and mulch, Neem oil, blood, sweat, tears, dreams, and hand-weeding. Do y’all know how much EASIER it is to be conventional in a garden? Of course we could use RoundUp for the weeds; it’s an extremely effective, efficient killer! Of COURSE we could use Sevin insecticide! It’d be way easier than having to get up extra-early to apply Neem oil, or smooshing cabbage rollers by hand. We did ALL OF THIS SPECIFICALLY  TO KEEP CHEMICALS OUT OF OUR FOOD.

“Before” picture of the big garden.

Just writing this post is making me cry. I cried yesterday when I fully realized what had just happened to us. I pulled up my research on 2,4-D and found lots of new stuff, all horrifying. I learned about ground permeation, wind drift patterns, plant aspiration, and the life of 2,4-D. I contacted a professor/friend at Texas A&M’s Ag Sciences Department. He shared with me that tomatoes are especially sensitive to 2,4-D, and to keep an eye on them first. He told me to keep photo documentation of the plants in case the rancher might not do the right thing by us.

And of COURSE tomatoes are affected first and worst. They’re the crop we’ve most heavily planted, in the greatest variety. We were looking forward to canning, sharing, and perhaps selling a few to our chef friends.

I’m upset still, even after I learned the leaseholder’s name (who’s responsible for the spraying), contacted him (no response), found out the regulations he violated*, and reported him to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Tomatoes galore.

I’m upset for several reasons. We started this entire farm endeavor with one goal in mind: organic sustainability. That has been ruined. I can no longer bill these vegetables as organic, and we now have to decide if we even want to eat them ourselves. I’m upset because to get rid of this poison (assuming it doesn’t kill the crops outright), I’ll have to pay to have the site dozed, replace the topsoil and amendments, and start all over. All the little baby plants we started from organic seeds in our little greenhouse, misting and lighting and thinning for MONTHS, then lovingly potted to harden off, then transplanted and agonized over for months while they struggled to grow, all fucking ruined. A’s first gardens EVER, all ruined. Every hour we spent digging, weeding, fertilizing, watering, pruning, caging, and loving these gardens have been fucking RUINED by this dude’s careless disregard for anybody but himself.

*Prior Notification: Nope. None given.

Proper notification for use of methyl, ethyl, butyl, isopropyl, octylamyl and pentyl esters. Nope.

No use in winds higher than 10 mph? Fucked that up, too.

Amine-only 2,4-D? Don’t know. I doubt he even obtained a permit to do the spraying.

I’m going to use this blog as I do regularly, but now with the added feature of keeping record of what’s happening to our plants, and what’s happening about enforcing the regulations. If I didn’t have a place to vent, I might possibly go mad.

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Pesticides/BPA – Another Rant!

I subscribe to a ton of newsletters and Facebook feeds regarding sustainability and organics and farming, and I just ran across this piece called, “Foods That Contain the Highest Amount of Pesticides.” Which just pisses me off. Not because of the information (I love learning), but it reminds me that my local grocery store only offers a few organic options. We were shocked to learn that they offer any at ALL, to be honest, but it is only potatoes, apples, oranges, and something else I can’t remember. (I’m even starting my potato garden from their organic russets!) We live in a rural part of Texas, where peoples’ idea of “organic” is “that hippie shit that pot smokers eat.”

And wait, holy cow, awesomeness plus. As I was writing this, my FB popped up with THIS:

Thanks, Greenpeace!

Greenpeace Shoppers’ Guide to GMO-Free Food.

How exciting! I’m no fan in general of their shenanigans, but dang, this saves me a lot of work, because frankly, I was setting about making my own list to share with you all. What a ton of work I’ve been spared! Cool. (I know it’s for Canada, but I recognize everything on that list as being available in the United States.)

Anyway, pesticides and herbicides…I’d rather skip the potential cancer (and every other) risk inherent in those chemical controls, but until our garden comes in, all we can do is hope for the best by avoiding what we can,buying organic when we can, and doing diligent washing when it’s questionable.

We’ve stopped buying canned goods because of the BPAs…And Oh My God, I’m getting pissed again, just doing research on the horrors of BPA. Look at this bullshit piece of propaganda, which I’m fixing to refute.

“Myth: BPA causes heart disease.”  Truth: BPA causes heart disease: BPA Chemical May Be Tied to Heart Disease. Chemical BPA Linked to Heart Disease, Study Confirms.

“Myth: BPA causes cancer.” Truth: BPA causes cancer: New Study Links In Utero BPA Exposure to Breast Cancer. Study: BPAs, Parabens Linked to Breast Cancer.

“Myth: A harmful amount of BPA gets into your food from storage in polycarbonate food containers.” Truth: A harmful amount of BPA gets into your food from storage in polycarbonate food containers: The main way that people are exposed is through eating and drinking contaminated food and beverages from containers containing BPA.

“Myth: BPA exposure from sales receipts can pose health risks.” Truth: BPA exposure from sales receipts can pose health risks: Synthetic Estrogen BPA Coats Cash Register Receipts.

Sometimes, there's not enough dynamite.

“Myth: Hundreds of studies have linked BPA to a large number of serious diseases.” Truth: Hundreds of studies have linked BPA to a large number of serious diseases: Google “BPA health studies. Thousands of links to hundreds of studies. (Here’s just ONE from the NIH: Expert Panel on BPAs.)

“Myth: Government agencies rely on industry-funded studies and ignore other science.” Truth: Government agencies rely on industry-funded studies and ignore other science: FDA Draft Decision on BPA Deeply Flawed.

“Myth: Government regulators are heavily influenced by industry lobbyists.” Truth: Government regulators are heavily influenced by industry lobbyists: How Lobbyists are Spinning Weak Science to Defend BPA.  Opening the Industry Playbook: Myths and Truths in the Debate Over BPA Regulation.

Myth: Government regulators routinely defer to industry officials and delay regulatory action to restrict BPA at the request of industry. Truth: See above.

Myth: An increasing number of state lawmakers believe BPA is a risk; the federal government has not been upfront about the dangers. Truth: See above.

Hell, every single link on Wikipedia leads to evil.

Screw those chemical guys AND the FDA. We don’t buy anything with bisphenol A in it, and know this, many canned goods companies (like Campbell’s) are phasing out their use. But until that time, get rid of any plastic containers that have the recycling code “7” on them. Buy “BPA-Free” products. Avoid canned goods for now. Be safe, folks! They don’t care about anything but the almighty dollar.

Okay, enough of this angry-making jazz. I’m off to put sparklies in the garden to scare the birds and rabbits, build a bigger enclosure for the chicks, and write a blog piece that hopefully will win us some stuff!!

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REALLY? Really.

I had intended to post this morning with some photos from the farm, depicting the bounty that spring is bestowing upon our valley and sharing how lucky I am to be given this opportunity to live where I do, and how cool my friends and partner are. I was going to post a thank you for being nominated for a blogging award.

Instead, I started reading (again) about Indian farmer suicides (one of my Facebook “Likes” linked to a 2008 article which halfway through, I realized I’ve already read), which lead to a Google search for “Past month” and “Indian farmer suicides.” Go ahead and Google it yourself. It’s mind-blowing. Pages and pages and pages of recent and old articles related to the subject. (I also got sidelined by a piece on Neotame, NutraSweet’s “answer to sugar” which is 13,000 times stronger than table sugar, is made up of “aspartame plus 3-di-methylbutyl, which can be found on the EPA’s list of most hazardous chemicals,” and doesn’t require labeling.) (p.s.: NutraSweet was formerly owned by Monsanto.)

Here’s how it works, for those of you who haven’t watched The World According to Monsanto.  Poverty in India (a largely agricultural society) is staggering, accounting for one-third of the world’s poor. Think about that number. Poor farmers, formerly growing “traditional” or non-GMO seed, have been led down the garden path repeatedly by Monsanto, sold the idea that signing a contract with them to use their proprietary (“Bollgard”) Bt Cotton seed, which promises higher yields, greatly reduced need for expensive pesticides, and lowered water consumption, will greatly improve their profits.

THE EXACT OPPOSITE IS TRUE. It requires up to four times more water to grow, which in India’s drought-stricken environment, means a devastating loss of crops. It no longer resists the insects it was genetically modified to resist, and in fact has created “super weeds” and “super bugs,” which have adapted to get around Monsanto’s biological controls and are far more destructive than the original bolls it was meant to thwart (and clears the path for further infestation by formerly non-threatening insects and weeds, because the plant is weakened). Further devastation to crops. Facing financial ruin, many Indian farmers turn to high-interest money-lenders, and then have another crop failure and can’t pay Monsanto for new seed, can’t afford pesticides to kill the super bugs, can’t afford to pay back the money-lenders, can’t afford to feed their kids, can’t afford to school their kids. On top of that, Monsanto says it’s because farmers don’t grow their crops correctly; it’s their fault. THEN, they prosecute any farmer who attempts to save seed, because their seeds are copyright-protected.

Sometimes, increasingly, Indian farmers see the only way out as suicide.

 

Winning!! (Except, not at all.)

Some Indian provinces are fighting back. The Punjab government has “refused to agree to US agrichemical giant Monsanto’s demands for intellectual property rights protection for its BT cotton seeds and has accused the company of a “monopolistic” plan to take over agriculture in Punjab.”

India is of course not the only country to come under attack by Monsanto. And make no mistake about it, IT IS AN ATTACK. Look at how heavily-planted those awesome crops are, here in America. The Indian plight strikes me personally because of the cultural reaction of suicides, but lives are being devastated all over the planet.

Despite the fact that the United States is leading the charge to push GMOs worldwide, the world (and yes, the US) is resisting. Check out the Community Alliance for Social Justice.

Spread the word; sign the petitions. Help stop the propaganda being spread by the GMO companies by seeding truth among your friends and families.

Just Label It (petition). Here’s the biggie. Almost one million signatures and comments…

This is exhausting. But! Gotta go feed the chickens, spray pepper spray on whatever is eating my cabbages, check the chicks, take some more photos, and perhaps blog happier thoughts later in the day.

 

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Oh, GMO…

I cruise around the Internet all the time, as I’m sure you all do. Sometimes my occasional sidetracks take me to “alternative media” sources which y’all might not have seen yet, including a few I’ll focus on today while discussing another disgusting facet of the GMO industry: The incestuous relationship between GMO manufacturers and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Why you should care: Watch this video where another little kid explains the dangers of GMOs.

(I found this video a few months ago, and I can’t stop watching. If I wasn’t already certain he has AWESOME parents, I’d adopt him myself. He’s dreamy.) Maybe go check out Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, who is referenced in the video. He and Dr. Vandana Shiva are vocal proponents of sustainable agriculture, and big heroes of mine.

Watch The World According to Monsanto, if you’ve not already seen it. Tell your friends. It’s free. It’s important.

In my blog pieces, “Sustainability vs. Monsatan” and “Monsatan Lovers,” with videos and links to information about the scientifically-proven dangers of genetically modified organisms and their adjunct products, and the wholly evil business practices of their manufacturers*, I attempt to give a glimpse of the reality of GMOs in our food and agriculture systems. On sites like Seeds of Deception, they’re doing much more comprehensive work than I could ever attempt, and there’s a “Summary and Debate” page with 65 Health Risks of GM Foods. I already know a lot about this topic, but lately it’s like falling down a rabbit hole of more and more horrifying information.

*********************************************************

You might ask, “Who regulates GMOs in the United States? The answer is “nobody.” Click the link to read an awesome article that articulates the problem of GMOs running amok in America. If you don’t believe her, Google “how are gmos regulated in the usa?” And click any link.

Monsanto promises they’ll do research on their products and present the US governmental agencies with the results. The US government then says “Yea” or “Nay” based upon their “unbiased scientific review.” It’s essentially a system of mutual trust. Which is hilarious (if it weren’t so sickening).

“…Monsanto claims that its injection of foreign DNA into its GM crops is also automatically safe because, get this, DNA is present in natural crops as well. Never mind that the injected DNA is foreign and unnatural, and is used to alter the entire genetic structure of GM crops — according to Monsanto, its unnatural DNA is automatically non-toxic because every other plant also has DNA. Case closed.” Which is patently absurd to a normal, thinking human being. But apparently our government agencies are not manned by those types.

The Senate’s Agriculture and Water & Rural Economic Development committee chair, Democratic Sen. Brian Hatfield, and two Republicans, Sens. Jim Honeyford and Mark Schoesler, have all taken money from Monsanto, reports the Organic Consumers Assn.”

“Committee Chair Hatfield denies taking campaign cash from Monsanto, saying the Organic Consumers Fund is making ‘wild claims,’ even though anyone can see the public record of these contributions by entering ‘Monsanto’” at this search link in the Contributor Name box.

“…why do the GMO giants seem to be ever-growing and encroaching on more and more farms and foods?  Through bullying, lobbying, and putting key figures into key positions of government. That’s how.”

Know who’s guarding the hen house? Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for the FDA. Why does that matter? He’s also a former lobbyist and vice president for Public Policy at Monsanto. This year alone, Monsanto spent over $6 million in lobbying dollars to keep their GMO madness safe from testing, regulation, and labeling by the US. Think that money’s going to orphans for kittens at Christmas time? Me either.

HOW DO WE FIGHT THIS BULLSHIT???

Sign Petitions:

Eat local and organic meat and produce. Buy from your local farmers’ markets. Buy heirloom and/or organic seeds and grow your own. Write your congressmen and women and demand GMO labeling, like every other major country already has. Join the sites above and get updated information through Twitter or Facebook. Watch the movie linked above.

I’m not exaggerating when I say these people are monsters.

*Topic for a whoooole other rant.

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Monsatan Lovers

Delicious glyphosate!

I recently received a comment from a fellow blogger in response to my blog post, “Sustainability vs. Monsatan.” I was going to just delete it because it is unbelievably ROOD and condescending, but I’m feeling righteous this morning and have decided to rebut his unsolicited patronizing blurb of wrongness. Here is his comment, unedited by me or anybody else:

“Submitted on 2012/03/16 at 8:42 pm

Obviously a fear mongering blog post. GMO’s are feared because the average person does not understand them. The GMO’s that once were banned in many parts of the world are now being accepted since the science proved the fears were not real.

There have been long term tests of the effects of GMO’s and they are still going on. I’m not talking about one test, I’m talking about scientifically replicable tests. Testing that takes years to prove one way or the other. So far there is no difference in the effect of GMO’s versus non-GMO’s. The tests that seem to show an adverse effect from GMO’s, show about the same amount of damage as washing your hands with soap and do not have a control to show what a non-GMO does. The word is as stated above, potentially, so far, no difference.

GMO’s do much more than just making a plant resistant to a chemical. Some of the most exciting GMO’s are ones that make plants have better root systems so that they can survive in dryer conditions. There are also some GMO’s that are making plants so that they are more efficient, thus they use less fertilizer, or even survive insect infestations that previously would have killed them. There are so many GMO’s that you should not lump them all into one Monsatan pot. In fact, Monsanto is not the only company that is producing GMO’s, nor were they the first.

By all means keep eating heirloom varieties of plants. We need those varieties for protection from some as yet unknown problem, but please, it does not have to be organic or heirloom to be sustainable. Eat them for the taste or the novelty, not for some potential, but never proven problem.

Beware though, some of the organic practices are just as scary as non-organic ones. I’m thinking of things like organic peanuts that leaves them open to a natural toxin. There are many real natural things out there that WILL kill you or make you sick. There is nothing potential about it.

Sustainability means so many different things to so many different people that it is hard to peg down. Please do not confuse a love of the old ways of doing things with being sustainable.”

I learned your name because your email address is attached to the comment. So I Googled you. Your name is Michael W*****, and you farm 880 acres of corn and soybeans in W*****, MN with your dad. That’s cool. I farm 4 acres of about 40 different things in TX with my fiance. The major difference here (besides size and variety of veg) is that I’m in no way endorsed by any company, nor do I rely upon any corporation’s contracts, money, or largesse to maintain my little grow-op. I am willing to bet one million (hypothetical) dollars that you depend on Monsanto seed for your livelihood, thereby negating any opinion you have on the subject as highly prejudiced and worth a hill of crap (in my opinion). (Actually, that’s doing a disservice to a hill of crap, which I can use in my compost pile.) If I’m wrong about that, then I apologize.

However, I will rebut every daft, subjective idea you have espoused on my blog, and quite easily, because I know how to read, do research, back it up (as I did in the original piece), and contrary to your rude assertion, DO understand GMOs.

For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to stick with Monsanto GEs and Roundup (specifically glyphosate) Ready Seed, although I did mention Dow and BASF in my original piece (again, you misspoke).

First, allow me to address this little nugget of “wisdom”:

“There have been long term tests of the effects of GMO’s and they are still going on. I’m not talking about one test, I’m talking about scientifically replicable tests. Testing that takes years to prove one way or the other. So far there is no difference in the effect of GMO’s versus non-GMO’s. The tests that seem to show an adverse effect from GMO’s, show about the same amount of damage as washing your hands with soap and do not have a control to show what a non-GMO does. The word is as stated above, potentially, so far, no difference.”

I’ve taken the liberty of blending GMO research with research on glyphosate/Roundup and Roundup Ready seed, because that’s what my initial post was about.

So basically, however well-meaning your comment may seem on its face (and I doubt that), you’re simply wrong. If you find studies that find Roundup Ready Seeds/Roundup/Glyphosate/GMOs are harmless, you’ll also find that they’re prepared by the GMO corporations themselves by their paid scientists, with no oversight, no non-funded peer review, no independent analysis. I’d just as soon trust a fox to guard my chickens.

Also, since my original piece was specifically about those topics, I did not address other genetically modified organisms or systems. Of course I know there are other GMO systems and manufacturers; anyone with a sixth grade education knows that. I also believe that there are certainly some cool innovations in the world of GM crops and animals, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean I’d advocate their willy-nilly dissemination across the globe before enough unbiased scientific research and evidence proves them absolutely safe for consumption or proximity to humans or other animals.

Peru, Hungary, France, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, and Portugal all have complete or partial bans of GMOs. Do they just not understand GMOs because they’re “average” people who fear what they are too dumb to comprehend?

With regard to the remainder of your comment, it’s absurd that you’d imply that choosing sustainability is “old-fashioned.” There is not a way to be more forward-thinking than choosing a sustainable approach to farming and life in general.  Or your assertion that, “There are many real natural things out there that WILL kill you or make you sick.” No shit, Sherlock. I guess I already knew that rattlesnakes are poisonous and that’s why we don’t pet them on the head. And yes, there ARE many ways to view sustainability. My entire blog is a testament to the way WE SPECIFICALLY have chosen. I’d no sooner go over to your blog and imply you’re simple-minded than I would back-talk my mama, and it’d be pretty cool if you didn’t drop in on random strangers’ blogs and tell them they’re feeble.

You seem like a very nice person. But please, believe what you want and keep it to yourself and off my blog. I’ll stay here in Texas and mind my own heirloom/organic operation, and only occasionally fret about GMO drift and the fact that Monsatan might sue me for copyright infringement.

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Heirloom Sourcing/Monsatan Follow-up

A fellow blogger asked about heirloom/non-GMO seed sources in the UK . So I applied my deft Google-fu to the problem and here are some lists for several countries:

UK:

And now wait a second, this is pissing me off. I clicked on Heirloom Vegetable Seed Catalogs (William Rubel dot Com, whoever he is), and I noticed that Burpee is on that list, a company I KNOW buys seeds from Seminis (Monsanto-owned). So I dug a little deeper. Here’s a post from the owner of Burpee, supposedly debunking the rumor that Burpee is affiliated with Monsanto. Personally, I think that if they buy seeds from a company that is owned by Monsanto, then they are affiliated with Monsanto. But if you want to use them, carry on. Back to the list.

  • WilliamRubel.com (Very comprehensive list of heirloom seed catalogs, despite the Burpee thing. Read each blurb carefully; some are organic-only, not heirloom)

Canada:

South Africa:

This is not an endorsement for any particular seed company or source, just a list for you to start your own research.

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That said, relating to my earlier post, here is some more information about GMOs, specifically Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seed (text copied from their website):

“Developed in 1974, Roundup® brand agricultural herbicides continue to be a perfect fit with the vision of sustainable agriculture and environmental protection. In fact, their use on Roundup Ready® crops has allowed farmers to conserve fuel and decrease the overall amount of agricultural herbicides used.

Roundup Ready® Soybeans were commercialized in 1996, followed by alfalfa, corn, cotton, spring canola, sugarbeets and winter canola, which contain in-plant tolerance to Roundup® agricultural herbicides. This means you can spray Roundup agricultural herbicides in-crop from emergence through flowering for unsurpassed weed control, proven crop safety and maximum yield potential.” [emphasis mine.]

Fantastico!

Except they fail to tell you of ongoing and recent studies showing that weeds and insects that were formally resistant to Roundup are now genetically capable of defeating the seeds’ resistance. In other words, generations of mutated pests and weeds that were formally resistant have developed ways around the Monsanto Über seeds that were supposed to stop them. Nature.Will.Out.

Google the phrase “resistance to Roundup.” Thousands and thousands of research articles, empirical evidence, scientific proof that these seeds are creating genetic monster super weeds and super bugs.

That means that the contractually-obligated farmers, all over the world, who HAVE to buy Monsanto Roundup Ready seed year after year, are seeing their crops wiped out by the very weeds and pests Monsanto promises to protect against. And you know how Monsanto deals with the problem? They tell farmers that farmers screwed up.

These horrors are of course only tangential when compared with the fact that Monsanto has known that glyphosates cause birth defects and cancerous tumors.

Six EU countries have banned GMOs. Peru just did. South Africa already has. WHEN IS THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT GOING TO STOP ACCEPTING HAND-OUTS FROM MONSANTO, BASF and DOW?

Probably not any time soon. Know who’s the “food safety czar” for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration? Michael Taylor, formerly a lobbyist for Monsanto.

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On Procrastination and Pests

I’m supposed to be writing two blog pieces (I’m a paid SEO writer in my other life), one on Legionella standards in hospitals and one on Hospital Emergency Preparedness, but I just can’t wrap my brain around those two subjects right now, as sexy as they sound. I’ll get to them after I blog here, I swear it. What has distracted me most this morning is fruit flies, then that lead to thoughts of our stray cat problem, the scorpion problem, the stinging nettle problem, the wasp problem, and my level of acceptance for each (or lack thereof).

  • Fruit flies: Moderate
  • Stray cats: Moderate
  • Scorpions: Zero
  • Stinging Nettle: Zero
  • Wasps: Zero

Elvira called. She'd like the name of your manicurist.

I went ahead and availed myself of one of the tips on this site: Wikihow’s Six Methods to Get Rid of Fruit Flies. I chose one of the killing methods because, really? “Catch and Release”? For real, why? They’re not endangered tigers. They’re not even trout. They used to be maggots, and now they’re still disgusting. (Also, what up with the badly painted nails, yo?) We’ll see if the kill-mixture of water/dish soap/apple cider vinegar really works.

Stray cats. Not sure what to do here. It started with Ranger and Jujube, and that was kind of cute and okay. Then over the course of a few days, it became apparent that Ranger’s actually kind of a dick and keeps beating up his brother Jujube and spraying all over the house, around the house, and under the house. If I open a certain window, the smell of cat spray comes blasting through, and makes the four indoor cats a little nuts (plus, God, the smell). The other night I heard a fight brewing right outside the front door, and when I turned on the light to investigate, it was Ranger squaring off with a previously unseen larger gray tomcat, who ran away when I banged on the glass. Most definitely NOT okay. We can’t have this place turn into tomcat central! For one thing, we can’t afford to fix all these idiots. For another thing, I will NOT be the weird cat lady! (Mostly because I already want to be a weird chicken lady…two titles seems pretentious). So I guess we’re looking at calling animal control, which sucks. (A was driving to work yesterday morning and called to tell me there were kittens at the side of the road a few houses down. I told him to keep driving.)

Scorpions. I don’t know what to do except keep poisoning the perimeter and getting a bomb for under the house and up in the attic. Because after two sprayings, which has worked in the past, we had one cruise right across the bathroom floor last night. A cat even stepped right on it, but was unharmed. My level of hatred for these things is beyond super-nova powerful.

Stinging nettle: This shit got to go. It’s EVERYWHERE around the farm. If you haven’t been zapped by this stuff, it feels like you’ve been burned and then it just keeps burning, because they leave tiny little hairs filled with toxin in your skin. Charming! I learned last night that white vinegar works on it and it’s non-toxic to animals, so that’s one of my chores later today. (Most of the gardening sites and forums I read last night suggest using Round-Up. Round-Up? Suck it, you earth-poisoning twats.)

Wasps: I hate to poison these dudes because they have a job to do, too, but they completely skeeve me out because unlike bees, their stinger stays intact and they can just keep coming at you. We have abandoned nests all over the outbuildings and the attic, so we’ll have to bomb those, too.

I’ll report back later regarding the efficacy of these removal methods. And gladly blog elsewhere right now, because Legionella seems less depressing than having to contact animal control.

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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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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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The Thorn in My Side…

Musk thistle, Sow thistle, Bull thistle, Variegated thistle, Prickly lettuce. They are the bane of my garden/yard existence. Remember my post where I referred to these offenders as the bristles in Satan’s asshole? I’m still going to call all of them that as a whole, but since I went and dug about a hundred of them out of our new big garden (pre-tiller) yesterday, I discovered that there is a FASCINATING ARRAY of them. (/end sarcasm font.) Behold the splendor of everything spiny:

Musk thistle a/k/a Musky asshole

Sow thistle a/k/a Bitchface

Bull thistle a/k/a Douche thistle

Variegated thistle a/k/a Ed

Here's a random Google image showing a dude growing thistle on purpose. I call him, "Variegated Dummy."

They are extremely invasive. They are hurty to step on or touch. They want to eat my puppy. They yearn to own my gardens.  They blow up to 10,000 seeds if left unchecked. We even mowed the lawn, and guess what popped back up and flipped us the thistly bird, all over the yard?

Tomorrow, they’re headed for the burn pile, every single spiny jerkface thistle I can lay my gloved hands on.

Speaking of burning, here’s a Facebook entry from yesterday: “I just accidentally/on purpose nuked a scorpion in the microwave. See, I smooshed a little one with a paper towel, went to throw it away, it tried to strike at me, so I flung it in the open microwave. While it was in there, I hit *Start*. For one minute. It burst into flames at about the 43 second mark. And I laughed. Don’t worry, A! I cleaned it up!!”

That was glorious.

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USDA: Great Balls of…Balls

Watch this AWESOME video where the cutest little girl explains the difference between a real potato (organic) and a Franken-potato (Satanic). Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I’ll start with why the USDA Organics Program is not a bad thing (sometimes).  It gives us a system by which we consumers may recognize products that are raised within strict organic guidelines. It allows us to make informed decisions when we’re at the grocery store and sometimes the farmers’ markets, being able to readily see the familiar green and white logo. In a nutshell, it guarantees that producers follow strict guidelines regarding production that uses neither chemical fertilizers or herbicides. In fact, I’m quite familiar with ALL the regulations and requirements to receive this vaunted seal of approval, and one of the coolest ones is that if you start an organic concern, you have to wait for three years for the USDA to even consider your land as free from chemical amendments.  You have to prove that no adjacent land has chemicals or GMOs drifting over to sully your crops; you have to prove that your seed and amendments are organically-sourced; you have to prove that your water supply is clean and that there is a sufficient barrier between your home (where you might use chemicals) and your grow-op.  All of this makes sense to me, even the reams of paperwork and visits from the USDA.  If you want the government’s seal of approval.

I thought I did. In fact, all of our farming plans and efforts to date have been strictly adherent to their guidelines, even before we applied. It’s a VERY cool thing to have on your product if you plan on selling, which we do.  Here’s the rub: The USDA overall is balls. It is an invasive, big brother, bloated governmental clown circus which is only out for the dollar and is used as yet another yoke around the neck of the small farmer. It is used to bully the consumer, whether child or adult. It is another instance of the government being too big, too invasive, too invested in stealing Constitutionally-granted freedoms rather than servicing the public, for which is was originally intended.

I’m going to give you a few salient examples of the Gestapo-like powers that the USDA has been given, and gleefully exercises.

2010-2012: There is a war on raw milk producers, farmers, and holistic medicine manufacturers. It doesn’t matter that the producers adhere to the letter of the law and FDA/USDA regulations regarding food safety. Here’s a breakdown from the fine folks at NaturalNews (I heart Health Ranger Mike):

“(NaturalNews) The US Food and Drug Administration has a long history of conducting armed, SWAT-style raids on farmers, cancer treatment pioneers and dietary supplement manufacturers. This list, compiled by the editors of NaturalNews, reveals only some of the hundreds of armed FDA raids that have been conducted in the last twenty-five years. (Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/033280_FDA_raids_timeline.html#ixzz1mecpUky9“) (He doesn’t mention the USDA in that blurb, but they’re in the piece.)

Some more of my recent favorites:

10/12/11: State health officials in Utah shut down a private farm-to-table event for allegedly violating USDA regulations. The event was licensed, and the chef adhered to every food safety protocol. The farm owners were forced to pour bleach over the offending meat and produce, in front of one weasly little piece of shit assistant to the inspector. In front of guests, friends and family.

2/2/12: A four year-old preschooler had her home-made lunch taken away and replaced with chicken nuggets that the parent had to pay for. The offending items? A turkey and cheese sandwich and a banana.

I can’t make this shit up.

Given the fact that we’re very much trying to live our lives and grow our crops and raise our animals in an organic, sustainable fashion, and we’re endeavoring to every day get a little further “off the grid,” why on EARTH would we subject ourselves to the power-junkie Nazis of the US government? I am not willing to surrender the sanctity of our private property to any branch of the government, especially one that has shown so little restraint, so little adherence to common sense and decency, and so much willingness to trample our rights and take our money.

I’ll pay the federal and state and local taxes. I’ll pay the licensing fees, where required. I’ll take the food safety courses, if mandated. I’ll adhere to organic practices and perform strict sanitation maintenance. I’ll package our goods with “Organically Grown and Harvested” labeling and provide print-outs of detailed information on our farm practices and sourcing to anyone who wants them. I’ll explain in person at farmers’ markets and CSAs and to our restaurant customers how we come by these organic offerings. I’ll offer tours of our facilities by our customers and potential customers, if asked.

But I won’t give these irresponsible douchepoodles one iota of permission to step on to my property. If they do, it’s “Welcome to the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution.”

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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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