Tag Archives: business

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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Summer Shenanigans

I don’t know what happened to my writing muse but she needs a spanking, and not the fun kind. I think part of it is that I’ve been tits-deep in writing TWO business plans for some projects we’re hoping to get off the ground, and that kind of work is a muse-killer. She started crying about two days into it and just sort of limped off into a closet in my brain that has snacks (fudge Pop-Tarts), and Xanax. I’ll admit it here, too: I got sucked into DVR’d Olympic games for about two weeks (p.s.: Best way EVER to watch the games. Screw you volleyball, marathons, and speed walking. SPEED WALKING??).

Das Ladies.

Farm news: The chickens started laying!! I’ve waited for what seems like forever to have more than my faithful little Golden-laced Wyandotte put out her one egg a day, and BLAMMO. Went out there a few days ago to find four new eggs in one of the boxes. Sad news, however, as we lost one of the sex-links…I’d been coaxing her along to help heal an injured leg by isolating her to the smaller “chick” area of the coop, then came in to find she’d injured a wing overnight. That night, I put her in a huge cat carrier with food and water, and when I came in in the morning, I found she’d either broken her own neck or suffocated somehow. Anyway, I’ve got one lady with a cut on her leg that’s healing up nicely, and a goose that scared the crap out of me by pretending to have a broken leg for a day. Thank you, Trase of Serenity Acres Now for talking me off the ledge on that one!!

We got winter squash, cantaloupes, pumpkins, beans, corn, and carrots installed for the fall. Our peppers are still going monkey-shit from spring planting, so good news there. The tomatoes are all done, which means next year, all the heirlooms are going in the greenhouse. They just can’t take Texas.

We’ve been enjoying the pool, finally, after spending most of the spring and the early part of summer just trying to figure out how to stay on top of the algae situation. Pools are a gigantic pain in the ass, we’ve learned, but also TOTALLY WORTH IT when you’re floating around in a $2 inner-tube, listening to way loud classic rock on the shop radio, baking in the sun, and naming the clouds things like Nelson Rockefeller On a Unicycle.

Those eggs are not for you, Mr. Peabody.

Here is a gratuitous shot of our newest animal addition, Mr. Peabody. He found us outside our local grocery store, by loudly proclaiming his love from behind a row of carts. He has incredibly blue eyes, and is just now finding his Siamese voice, God help us all. The other cats are still pissed, but screw them. Mr. Peabody rules.

Thanks to everybody who emailed or commented looking to make sure I’m still alive. I’M ALIVE! And that was super sweet. I’ve been reading y’all, rest assured…SO MANY FELLOW SHENANIGANISTS!©

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Follow-up: Organic Nightmare

Healthy Mammoth sunflower

Regarding my post yesterday, 2,4-D: Organic Nightmare, there has been some movement. And wow, I never ever thought I’d say this, but I think these sprayers did the right thing.

Yesterday afternoon, I got a return phone call from M*********, the leaseholder. He explained that he’d been out of town, and returned my call as soon as he got the message (which may or may not be true*), and asked what he could do for me.  I stated to him, “We have a problem,” and went on to explain how we have an organic garden here, and how 2,4-D may have contaminated our gardens. He listened to me very patiently while I ranted a little, and then said, “Well, I’ve been using the same sprayers for a long time, and I’m going to contact them right this minute and find out what happened. 2,4-D shouldn’t have been used near your property, for sure, and I’m going to find out what is going on. Is it okay if they contact you at this number?” And I said “yes.”

Not more than a half hour later I got a call from a guy at an ag supply place in town with whom we’re fairly familiar. He asked if there were any questions he could answer about the spraying that occurred, and asked if he could come out and survey the property. He listened to me rail on as well, very patiently, and expressed his regret that 2,4-D was used anywhere near a working farm, especially an organic one. He shared that he has a home garden as well, and would not have been happy to have 2,4-D sprayed close to what his family eats. We set up a time this morning for him to come out.

He showed up this morning a little after 9:00 a.m. with the tractor operator, which, transparency-wise, impressed me. He shook my hand and thanked me for allowing him to come out. I showed him the gardens, and told him which way the wind had been blowing, how the gusts had been working, and how the tractor operator had been spraying. He told me about his company, how they do everything they can to be good neighbors, and how they consider themselves stewards of the land in this valley, even if they do use conventional agriculture methods. He told me about the organic options available at his company. He explained that the preparation of 2,4-D is the amine and not the ester, which greatly reduces wind drift. He explained how high the spray nozzles are, and how the ideal particulate (400 microns) disperses across a leaf, not bouncing off and not blowing away. He described how the tractor operator measures his boundaries (with foam), and how he ensures his own safety in the HEPA filtered cab.

I explained our stance on 2,4-D, on GMOs, and on anything non-organic. I told him I’m in contact with Texas A&M Ag Sciences, and how I’m a blogger who advocates organics. I showed him how much work we’ve done, and told him how heart-breaking it was that it might have all been undone by carelessness. I told him that we didn’t necessarily feel like there had been any malicious intent, but carelessness can have the same damaging effects.

Here’s the thing: I think we might be okay. We talked for a long time about how the effects would have manifested themselves if there had been significant spray drift. He showed me right across the fence similar weeds which were clearly toppled over or showing signs of distress, and feet away on my side, the same weed looking healthy as ever. I don’t know if we’re okay yet, because 2,4-D drift can take up to 14 days to show itself. I don’t know yet if our plants are going to show signs of damage or not, or if they do if the yields will be affected. I do know that I don’t feel like crying or throwing up anymore, and that my stomach has eased up on the knots.

Four days from now, he’ll be back out and we’ll look for signs of damage on the tomatoes and sunflowers (the two most sensitive barometers of damage). Then, a week after that, he’ll be back out. We’re not looking for a pay-day here. We’re not looking for a get-rich scheme. We’re only looking to be made whole if something is indeed wrong with our gardens.

Thanks for everybody’s kind words yesterday. It really helped, knowing that so many people understand how distressing this was, in our tiny little part of the organic world.

*If he’d called me back right away, I might not have contacted the Texas Department of Agriculture. I’m not out to get anybody into undue trouble here, but not calling me back asap was not a great move. Even if I think the “See Something, Say Something” campaign from the DHS is a bunch of alarmist, big-government, controlling bullshit, I DO believe in it in the garden.

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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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Staying Ready

We got this farm for several reasons. One of those, that I’ll speak to today, is preparedness. We’re not avid “preppers,” nor are we over-the-top “survivalists,” but we do think things are getting worse before they get better (tanking economy, civil unrest, new wars), and feel like it’s smarter to be prepared than caught flat-footed. What it took was a tiny shift in paradigm, embracing a larger worldview while simultaneously focusing on our own backyard. I don’t even think of it as as “survivalism” so much as homesteading.

This farmhouse is over 80 years old. It was last remodeled in the late 80’s or early 90’s. The outbuildings are in disrepair and in need of some serious love. It’s kind of the perfect spot in which to learn how to REALLY reuse/reduce/recycle. That and the fact that we’re on an extremely regimented budget makes this way of life essential, rather than merely interesting and practical. And it IS interesting! Go look at any article on sites such as:

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me (and others who were fans of the book series, Little House on the Prairie as kids). I love the idea of making my own soap and candles, of canning and preserving, of someday having a root cellar.  Hell, I wish I had a reason to want muslin, or actually like saltwater taffy (for a penny). I’ve gone in for gardening and truly appreciating the earth and what it can provide for so long that if I didn’t get this farm, and soon, things were fixin’ to get really stabby in our previous urban loft. But that isn’t all this farm is intended to provide for us. It is intended to provide a sense of safety and security. That’s why we chose a relatively remote location. It’s intended to be as self-sufficient as possible, which is why we chose a place with a good well. It is intended to house animals, which will provide us with milk, meat, or eggs, which is why we went for as much acreage as we could afford. It is intended to go off the “grid” enough so that we can sever ties with the electric company, by eventually having solar and wind powered batteries and a generator.

All that takes money, to be sure. So for now, we’ve laid in our gardens, which was pretty expensive, but necessary ($100 to have tilled; seeds, $90; organic fertilizer, $25; compost tumbler, $300; assorted tools, $100; greenhouse, $800) to be at least off needing fruit and vegetables from the grocery store by the end of summer.  Not 100%, but close enough so we can feel like we’ve made progress and have enough to donate to the food bank, and still enough left over to put up some stewed tomatoes (or something). We have two mature laying hens and a mixed run of six chicks (who have gotten big enough that I had to build them a new “condo” out of large moving boxes and duct tape yesterday). We have a dog who is getting so big that we’re going to have to buy her a large crate sooner rather than later. Her job is to be my farm buddy, and protect me from predators, animal or human.

Alternative F: Sometimes for cooking.

The partner (who is a working chef) has this insane dream of replacing our propane stove with a wood-burning stove. A wood-burning stove. I told him I refuse to light a pile of logs to fry a couple of eggs, and if he’s hell-bent on cooking on a wood stove, he can get one of those stoves with a cooking surface, and it’s going in the living room because its primary duty will be to heat the house. Dude’s nuts. We NEED a stove to stay warm next winter; I don’t NEED to light one in the summer to cook a pork chop.

Every day is hands-on learning, learning, learning. Way different than theorizing in my head and education from my books. I wrote on Facebook yesterday, “I just accidentally punched my ear really hard, freaking out when what felt like a Pterodactyl flew into my head. It was a butterfly. I think I’m going to have kind of a difficult first spring/summer out here in the country.” And it’s true: The next six to eight months are going to be a trial. Will I survive the bugs? Will I survive the heat? Will I strangle the first rabbit I find in my cabbage patch? Will a hornet sting me in the eye? Will I shoot my first diamondback with the .410? Who knows.

There are a few blog sites I follow that are pretty hardcore from a prepper standpoint, but I really enjoy the posts. Two of them have semi-annual writing competitions, this one at survivalblog.com and one at thesurvivalistblog.net, both of which I had considered entering. (If one of y’all wants to enter, the prizes are freaking COOL.) But I’m going to hold off until I actually know what I’m taking about. I want to write about organic gardening and sustainability, but until I’ve actually weathered a couple more seasons with regard to both of those topics, I’d feel like a poseur.

So I’ll just keep pushing through, learning something new every day, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

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If you’ve not seen it before, we have a Soilent Greens fundraiser going on here, Organic Farm Business. As always, we hoping for either an “angel investor” or as little as a dollar, all towards the goal of self-sufficiency, making a little money, and helping to feed the Brazos Valley. (Our story is at the bottom of the page.)

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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.

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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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In Between…

I never intended for this blog to be about the evils of GMOs, but more and more I’m inclined to devote at least a portion of my time (for now) to the subject. However, this post is about the farm and animals and gardens; GMOs will come later today.

Southern carnage ensues

This past weekend we made a road trip to Houston for a nephew’s first birthday party, where the fiance was the chef d’jour. He made vegetarian biryani, jambalaya, and laid out six or seven big batches of a crawdad boil. If you’re not from the southern United States, you might not know about this practice. It’s a Louisiana-based traditional meal, where crawdads (i.e., crayfish, crawfish, mudbugs) are thrown live into a gigantic pot of boiling water that contains super-hot spices, potatoes, corn, onions, garlic, and any host of other vegetables. The resultant soup is then strewn over a paper-covered table, and otherwise civilized people fall on it like it’s made of cocaine and birthday wishes. It’s full on carnage, elbowing your way to the next bit of crawdad or tidbit of artichoke. No plates, no forks, few napkins. Sucking the head of the crawdad is the favorite part of the feast. People put extra Zatarains on their food and walk away from the table saying things like, “I can’t feel my mouth.” (No, I don’t eat crawdads. That shit’s nasty. Heh.)

The part that’s farm-/animal-related is that Ursa the Puppy got her first pickup truck ride, got her first time in a city, got her first time meeting a big group of people, and got her first time hanging with another dog. She was a rock star! She dug being in the breeze; she was great getting in and out for potty breaks; she drank water from a cup; she charmed strangers. She still jumps up on people when she’s excited, and with her little razor-like baby claws, it’s a problem. But I’m still working with her and she’s getting better on the leash every day. Thank God, because before this weekend, when she seemed to have matured a little bit, every day was potentially a fresh new hell of scratches on my arms from the errant jump or three.

*sigh*

I’ll have time to blog twice today because the farm is under water again. Last Friday we were SUPER INDUSTRIOUS (chef was on spring break) and we got in all the seedlings and the majority of direct-sow seeds into the big garden and potager. I figure between the two, we’ve got a third of an acre planted, which is awesome. But not so awesome is the torrential downpour that happened last night and this morning, which considering how high the water table is already, might just drown the entire lot. We’ll just have to wait and see.  I’m a little scared about losing the crops. (Okay, a lot scared.) The high winds compromised the greenhouse structure again, and we’re going to have to get more tie-downs on that thing and multiply zip-tie it to the fence if we have any chance of saving it.

On a happier note, the animals are all doing great, we’re doing great, and we’re well underway with the wedding plans. I can’t wait to see our family and friends. It’s been way too long.

Here’s a bonus shot I like to call “Porch Hobos.”

Nice sack, Ranger. Next month, Mr. Snip-Snip!

If you haven’t seen this before, please allow me to share the text of a fundraising drive we’re having via a site called “GoFundMe.” Here is the text of our “About” page. If you can donate $ or a link, we could sure use the help. Maybe someone you forward it to or share with would like to be an angel investor in our goal to donate food this summer. Any little bit helps, and thank you for reading.

We bought an old farmhouse and four acres in Caldwell, TX in February of 2012, with dreams of starting an organic farm and microgreens/exotic vegetables business called Soilent Greens. We had moved into the house in November of 2011 as renters, and realized that 80 year old farmhouses need some love. That “love” turned out to be a) fixing a leaky roof; b) heating it through the winter (one only, until we get a wood-burning stove); and, c) repairing several plumbing and electrical issues. All of these issues of course came about after we closed on the house, as-is.

We used all of our Soilent Greens start-up money and most of the garden money to fix/maintain the house, all right before spring planting time. We can’t move forward until we somehow get funding. The following plan gives us six months-worth of operating expenses; we hope to be self-sufficient well before that.

  •  Seeds: 450
  • Trays: 100
  • Grow medium: 300
  • Nutrients: 200
  • Misting system: 200
  • Clamshell shipping containers: 150
  • Labels: 100
  • Boxes: 200
  • Blue Ice: 200
  • Licensing: 300

The dream here isn’t all that spendy, but it’s grand. We want to sell what we can, use what we can, and donate the remainder to Brazos Valley Food Bank. We want to work with the community and teach school kids how easy it is to grow your own food. We plan to work with our local CSA to sell our goods and spread the sustainability word. We have restaurant contacts to make a little return on the Soilent Greens concept.

The 7500 sf garden has been tilled and there’s an 11×22′ kitchen garden for us by the house. That’s a LOT of growing room. Plus, we have a greenhouse in place, awaiting Soilent Greens “seed” money.

If you can find it in your heart to help us with our dream, we’d be eternally grateful, including sending you greens and vegetables, and inviting you to come stay at the farm for a weekend, helping us feed the chickens and geese, and maybe wrangling a goat or three.

Even if you can’t send money, good vibes are sincerely welcome as well. Thank you!

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Sustainability vs. Monsatan

A fellow blogger asked me to expound on the topic of heirloom/organic vs. hybrid/organic seeds. I’ve been putting it off because the subject is bigger than just seeds and begs a much more detailed account of what “sustainability” means to me and my partner. To answer the question simply though, Heirloom/organic = sustainable/healthy; Non-heirloom/non-organic = non-sustainable/potentially unhealthy. Heirloom seeds produce fruits and vegetables that in turn produce seeds that will make the same fruit and vegetable, over and over again, year after year. Non-heirloom, or hybrid or GMO seeds, do not. (That is not to say that all hybridized seeds are genetically modified. It is just a line that we’ve drawn in our personal sand about our purchases.)

First up, for those who are curious about the various types of seeds available out there, you have a ton of choices, and not all are created equal. They might each come packaged in a lovely catalog, or be alluringly displayed at your big box store checkout aisle. They are not.created.equal. It comes down to GMOs, or genetically modified organisms and the Great Monsatan.  If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly urge you to do so immediately: The World According to Monsanto. (It’s free to watch and disseminating it is encouraged by the film’s producers.) It describes in vivid detail how genetically modified foods are ruining lives and our planet.

It’s touted as a way to “feed the world,” when what it actually is is a genius way to make money off a circular reasoning, self-fulfilling line of products. They create genetically modified seed that resists say, Round-Up. Then the farmer is able is able to plant the resistant seed and use Round-Up to control weeds and not kill the plant. Sounds super-smart, correct? Except that Round-Up has been proven to cause DNA damage, birth defects, liver dysfunction, and cancer, is decimating bee and butterfly populations all over the word, and remains in the plant’s tissues through the life of the plant, meaning when we eat the plant, we eat the Round-Up.

Speaking only for myself and my partner, I can emphatically state that we do not want these products in our bodies, near our home, in the US or on the planet, period. They can fuck you up, they can fuck up the planet. Whoever Controls the Food Controls the World, and I don’t want these assholes in my yard.

Here’s a link to a site that gives a wealth of information, other links and studies, and videos. Google “GMO” and you’ll come up with thousands of hits, scientific studies, research papers (and even a few propaganda nuggets from Monsanto, BASF and Dow). (Yes! Chemical companies are in the food business and buying up seed companies faster than we can even blink. Monsanto, thanks for Agent Orange!) GMO foods are not required to be labeled as such in the United States, and to date, we are the largest country using GMOs to not require labels. No informed decision making for us, thanks to the gigantic GMO food lobby that owns our politicians.

Devil Corn

In 2005, Monsanto purchased Seminis, the largest “developer, grower and marketer of fruit and vegetable seeds in the world” (from their website). Here’s what that means to the average home gardener (each of these widely available seeds is owned by Monsanto and has already or is undergoing some sort of genetic modification…DON’T BUY THESE SEEDS):

  • Beans: Aliconte, Brio, Bronco, Cadillac, Ebro, Etna, Eureka, Festina, Gina, Goldmine, Goldenchild, Labrador, Lynx, Magnum, Matador, Spartacus, Storm, Strike, Stringless Blue Lake 7, Tapia, Tema
  • Broccoli: Coronado Crown, Major, Packman
  • Cabbage: Atlantis, Golden Acre, Headstart, Platinum Dynasty, Red Dynasty
  • Carrot: Bilbo, Envy, Forto, Juliana, Karina, Koroda PS, Royal Chantenay, Sweetness III
  • Cauliflower: Cheddar, Minuteman
  • Cucumber: Babylon, Cool Breeze Imp., Dasher II, Emporator, Eureka, Fanfare HG, Marketmore 76*, Mathilde, Moctezuma, Orient Express II, Peal, Poinsett 76, Salad Bush, Sweet Slice, Sweet Success PS, Talladega
  • Eggplant: Black Beauty, Fairytale, Gretel, Hansel, Lavender Touch, Twinkle, White Lightening
  • Hot Pepper: Anaheim TMR 23, Ancho Saint Martin, Big Bomb, Big Chile brand of Sahuaro, Caribbean Red, Cayenne Large Red Thick, Chichen Itza, Chichimeca, Corcel, Garden Salsa SG, Habanero, Holy Mole brand of Salvatierro, Hungarian Yellow Wax Hot, Ixtapa X3R, Lapid, Mariachi brand of Rio de Oro, Mesilla, Milta, Mucho Nacho brand of Grande, Nainari, Serrano del Sol brand of Tuxtlas, Super Chile, Tam Vera Cruz
  • Lettuce: Braveheart, Conquistador
  • Melon: Early Dew, Sante Fe, Saturno
  • Onion: Candy, Cannonball, Century, Red Zeppelin, Savannah Sweet, Sierra Blanca, Sterling, Vision
  • Pumpkin: Applachian, Harvest Moon, Jamboree HG, Orange Smoothie, Phantom, Prize Winner, Rumbo, Snackface, Spirit, Spooktacular, Trickster
  • Spinach: Hellcat
  • Squash: Ambassador, Canesi, Clarita, Commander, Dixie, Early Butternut, Gold Rush, Grey Zucchini, Greyzini, Lolita, Papaya Pear, Peter Pan, Portofino, President, Richgreen Hybrid Zucchini, Storr’s Green, Sungreen, Sunny Delight, Taybelle PM
  • Sweet Corn: Devotion, Fantasia, Merit, Obession, Passion, Temptation
  • Sweet Pepper: Baron, Bell Boy, Big Bertha PS, Biscayne, Blushing Beauty, Bounty, California Wonder 300, Camelot, Capistrano, Cherry Pick, Chocolate Beauty, Corno Verde, Cubanelle W, Dumpling brand of Pritavit, Early Sunsation, Flexum, Fooled You brand of Dulce, Giant Marconi, Gypsy, Jumper, Key West, King Arthur, North Star, Orange Blaze, Pimiento Elite, Red Knight, Satsuma, Socrates, Super Heavyweight, Sweet Spot
  • Tomato: Amsterdam, Beefmaster, Betterboy, Big Beef, Burpee’s Big Boy, Caramba, Celebrity, Cupid, Early Girl, Granny Smith, Health Kick, Husky Cherry Red, Jetsetter brand of Jack, Lemon Boy, Margharita, Margo, Marmande VF PS, Marmara, Patio, Phoenix, Poseidon 43, Roma VF, Royesta, Sun Sugar, Super Marzano, Sweet Baby Girl, Tiffany, Tye-Dye, Viva Italia, Yaqui
  • Watermelon: Apollo, Charleston Grey, Crimson Glory, Crimson Sweet, Eureka, Jade Star, Mickylee, Olympia

* Marketmore 76 is a very old cucumber-variety.  If you are ordering it from a seller of heirloom veggies,  check with the dealer to make sure the seeds were not purchased from  Seminis/Monsanto. If you buy the seeds from a big-box garden center, odds are they were purchased from the evil empire.

The bitch of it is, I’ve GROWN some of these in the past, not knowing what was in them or had been done to them. I still don’t know what’s in them, but I know not to grow them now.

Some seed companies that offer heirloom/non-GMO varieties:

  • Sustainable Seeds
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
  • Annie’s Heirlooms
  • Johnny’s Seeds (check for heirloom varieties)
  • High Mowing Seeds

So regarding the heirloom/organic vs. hybrid seed question, we view non-organic options as unhealthy, and we KNOW that non-heirloom means no sustainability. We’re on this farm for several reasons: Grow our own healthy food, sell some of that healthy food, donate healthy food.

Monsanto, Dow and BASF (among others) would have us unhealthy and dependent on them and upon the pharmaceutical industry for the rest of our (shortened) lives. To that I say: Hell No.

EDIT: 3/26/12: “Agent Orange” comes from Dow Chemical, not Monsanto.

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Oh, the Dumbness

I’m a pretty smart person but I am the first to point out my limitations, brain-wise. Last night I had a startling realization regarding the gardens, specifically the seeds, that has me kind of bummed. It’s fixable, but I’m kicking myself.

The exact opposite of "heirloom"

See, I thought buying organic seeds was the most awesome thing ever, and in some ways it is. Organic is clean, healthy, and reasonably reliable to not give you eyeball tumors. So we’ve laid in a bunch of organic seeds, germinated them, raised them to young adulthood, planted them in the garden.

However, “organic” is also not a guarantee of “heirloom,” and if you’re concerned about seed saving and sustainability, which I am, you’ll not get reliable results in the second generation of planting. That aspect, which I *know* about, never even factored into my choosing organic-only seeds. It rested in the back of my brain doing me absolutely no good until I’d already made the mistake.

Last night, the fiance brought home some organic seeds from Home Depot, and they’re cool. All of a sudden, my brain goes, “Wait a second. Does ‘organic’ mean they’re also ‘heirloom” or ‘non-hybrid’?” And immediately my brain replied with, “Probably not, or they’d be labeled ‘heirloom’ or ‘non-hybrid.'” Several gardening friends and some panicked Googling confirmed this. By mistake only one of those packets of organic also happens to be heirloom (maybe 30 different plants?).

It’s like one of those fucked up questions from a junior high IQ test: “A train leaves Amsterdam at 6:25 a.m…” only it turns out the answer is: “Donna’s not very bright.”

Shit.

We’ve always looked at this farm from a sustainability viewpoint, with an eye towards learning how to save seeds and exchange them, how to live off the land season after season, eventually coming to rely only upon ourselves. Organic only seeds does nothing to promote that. Trying to germinate and grow reliable varieties from hybrid seeds is a no-go. They can fail to germinate, fail to blossom and fruit, or will almost always return a new variety that is not as hardy as the original, or is mutated in some way that renders it unusable as a seed source in the future. Good for one generation only. Again, I KNEW that. And I’m sure the organic-only vegetables and fruits will be delicious and frankly, it’s not a hugely expensive mistake, except in terms of time. But it makes me want to smack myself.

There’s a solution to this. I’ve only used one-third of the total garden space available and there’s still time to get seeds germinated and into the ground, or even direct sow and have them come up this season. So today I’m cruising Seed Savers Exchange and choosing the basics, organic AND heirloom. Also going to give Baker Creek Heirloom a try, but only if they have organic options.

And know this: If Donna leaves on a train from Amsterdam at 6:25 a.m., she’s not going to fuck this up again (and she’s going to need a shitload of coffee).

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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.”

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

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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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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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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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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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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