Tag Archives: interactive diary

What a Difference a [Year] Makes

Holy crap, it’s been forever since I posted. I miss it so much. Quick synopsis of the past ten months:

  • In January, chef left his job of six years because it was unsustainable from a “putting up with shitbags” standpoint,
  • We lived off our preps and in limbo for the next four months while chef looked for a bigger, better gig.
  • We wasted a month in Post, TX. Never go to Post, TX. Result: Psychopaths learn your phone number. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
  • Battled long and hard with unemployment and ultimately lost.
  • Several promising interviews later, we decided upon Klamath Falls, OR, where he’s Executive Chef/Food & Beverage Manager for the Running Y Ranch
  • We’ve kept the farm! It is experiencing the worst drought since 2011, which was the worst Texas drought in a hundred years.
  • My husband lost his mom to cancer a few weeks ago; it happened pretty quickly and we’re still a little shell-shocked.
  • In July, we moved a household across six states in a UHaul truck with a car-hauler attached. Four cats in the back of the truck. The dogs rode in the pickup on a trailer. Never.never again. Five days.

It has been a HARD (almost) ten months. I didn’t get a garden in because we couldn’t afford it. No farming. My gander flew away right before the goose laid her 18 eggs, and her being abandoned and an inexperienced layer meant a freeze killed all the eggs. We ended up selling all the chickens because we couldn’t move them across country, and adopted out the goose to a good home. That was hard. I killed a copperhead with a shovel, on a day where my husband had been gone at the new job for three weeks already, the ignition shot craps in the truck, and it was 106 degrees. That was a special day. We struggled with money to the point where my awesome neighbor actually showed up with groceries because he was so worried about us. Unannounced, unasked for or even hinted at by us, he just showed up. It still makes me tear up with humbleness and gratitude. We found out A’s mom had cancer, and it was so advanced that the future looked grim. That proved true.

We kept pretty quiet about it all, which is mostly why I haven’t been blogging. Waking up worried four months in a row in a hot house with two depressed adults and a bunch of heat-struggling animals isn’t something to share.

But! When A landed this gig, we also scored the most awesome house ever, and the ability to still own the farmhouse. He loves his job. We’re living on an amazing 52,000 acre ranch with landlords who have turned into VERY good friends. We’re laying in stores for the winter, are making plans for the future, and could.not.be.happier. The view from our front door is breathtaking. We are 45 minutes from Crater Lake. I got what I call my Freedom Mobile.

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My depression about having no farm this spring turned into a blessing. The drought would have killed it and me. My worries about the future have turned around so much that I am thoroughly excited about our futures. The husband is healthy and happy, as are my friends and family. We are sad that A’s mom is lost, but believe that she is at peace.

We live in what we call Little House in the Big Piney. We meet interesting people every day. I’ve got 15 pullets in the garage, waiting to be moved into a coop that I’m constructing this week. The dogs are being trained on a wireless electric fence, because if they keep chasing the cattle, they’ll be shot (hey, that’s how it rolls on a working cattle ranch). We are preparing for winter, and are completely stoked about having a fireplace in the living room.

We are endeavoring to be better children/friends/partners to our loved ones. We’re excited about our one/three/five years plans. And know now, thoroughly, that planning only takes you so far.

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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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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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Soul Asylum

Insert melon joke here.

Therapy weeding! Towards my goal of kicking depression in the nads, I’ve spent the past two and a half days out in the gardens TCB. I feel way better.

Today is a half day, because (tip: don’t get old) I’m old. I was all gung-ho the past two days, saying “Fuck you” to the heat, work periods longer than break periods, drinking lots of water, taking my supplements, working seven hour shifts. Today, I’m ass-hammered. I got out to the watermelon patch all set to finish and yeeahhhh, there’s my back, telling me I’m 46, still 30 lbs. overweight (lost some on Atkins already), take an Aleve for your back and go back inside, you dork. So I weeded some, messed with the birds, and came back inside.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my recent gardening experiences:

  • Taking non-specific depression rage out on caterpillars feels nice. Almost as nice as the *pop* they make when I punch them right in the dirt, bright green ooze squishing out of both ends. I used to be squeamish about killing them. Now, I dig it. Eat my cabbages HOW, no face?
  • I’ve developed a peripheral vision superpower because of my hyper-vigilance for spiders. After the black widow scare and given the number of wolf and brown recluse spiders I’ve seen and killed over the past few months, I’m like a side-seeing ninja. I can’t think of all the applications, but I’m sure there are a million. Call me for rates.
  • Notwithstanding the above superpower, I did have a wolf spider jump on my tits while I was weeding by the pool. It sent me into a screaming fit that could probably be heard in town. Way after the spider had been sent sailing far away by my spastic hand movements, I was still screaming.
  • My formerly sweet geese are now kind of jerks. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the big garden lately, adjacent to the poultry yard, and not only do they challenge me in the mornings when I come let them out*, but they bully the chickens a little. Not enough to separate them, but enough for me to understand that my babies have grown up into delinquent jerks, and I’m kind of rethinking my position on having them as foie gras instead of long-time pets.
  • People who read my craigslist ad (invisible subtitle: Check Out My Melons!) are probably too stupid to deserve my melons anyway. That said, what the fuck am I going to do with all these melons?

One of the sex-link chickens (not quite ready for laying pullet) has a bum leg. It’s not bumblefoot and she’s not bleeding, so I’m hoping it’s just a sprain. I’m fortunate in that this is my first animal injury, and it’s a pretty easy one. Diagnosis: bum leg. Treatment: keep away from jerks, and give extra supplements. She seems to be hopping around okay, and two of the other hens are (shockingly) keeping an eye on her and making sure she gets food and water.

*Every morning between 6:15 and 6:30 I go and let the birds out of the coop. Every morning for the past few weeks, the geese kind of hang back and talk to me. *Bapbapbapbap* So I talk back, of course. Then they started flapping their wings, a few days later. Kind of experimental, one, then the other, then the third goose, flapping then settling. Then a few days later, it progressed to big flaps, and talking REALLY LOUDLY to me.

“I will be delicious!”

Then, and this was the last straw, they started spreading their wings, yelling at me, and RUSHING me. Ohhhh, that will not stand. So the first time they did it, I raised my arms like wings and said, “Oh, FUCK no,” and advanced on them and they backed down.

Then, they started the funniest thing ever and I hope I can catch it on video. I start to walk out of the yard, and I hear *flapflapflap* *shuffleshuffle* and turn around really quick, and they drop their wings, and resume scrounging in the grass. “What? Just eating some bugs. What up, mama lady? Doodly do.” Then I turn around to leave and it happens again. At least twice before I get out of the yard. Seriously cracks me up.

A week ago I was heaving tomatoes at their heads in consternation. Now it’s cracking me up. Baby steps.

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Good Day

I don’t normally write in the evenings; it’s just not my brain’s creative time. I’m usually tapped, mentally, by 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Anyway, today is different because today was pretty freaking great. And nothing really happened.

Not mine, but close enough. So sad…

The heat has been bumming me out for a few reasons, mostly because it was hastening what I thought was the demise of all the garden vegetable plants. They’ve looked miserable and stopped producing.  I tried watering consistently (even doubled the schedule for about a month), Neem oil/baking soda/vinegar for potential disease and insects, compost side-dressing for nutrients. Then, I tore out a few dead tomatoes and kind of gave up on the rest of the gardens. Brown, sad, non-producing, cat-faced tomatoes, no fertility. I thought it was blight, but nope. It’s just been so fucking hot and dry that they were giving up. The  squash was dying; the green beans gave up weeks ago. Pepper plants looking droopy and sad, with no fruit or flowers. The only thing thriving is the watermelons. Nothing can stop them. They’re aliens.

Well, a few good rains and cloudy days last week changed everything. Real rain is simply unbeatable. The plants perked up and more miraculously, started coming back. The tomatoes and peppers have new blooms on them, they’ve set well, and we’ll be getting new tomatoes in a month. The squash (“”Prolific”…I can’t recommend this squash enough) has gone crazy again, after slowing down for a few weeks.

What happened today is I finally had enough of neglecting the gardens we worked so hard to establish, so I got to work outside. I started weeding at 7:00 a.m. I worked on and off all over our gardens and yard for almost six hours, with frequent breaks. I deadheaded flowers, Neemed everything, composted, hoed the beds, tore out big grass around the pool by hand, blew out the pool filter system, battled wolf spiders, put away tools that had been left out, cut down the spent sunflowers to harvest the seeds tomorrow, found the laying hen’s new hidden nest, stood down the geese when they charged me this morning.

It was a normal day on the farm. One I’ve not experienced in months, and haven’t even really wanted to, because the second effect of the heat for me is that it kind of saps my will to live. I get depressed, and that’s a fact. Lost interest in normal activities, fits of extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, erratic sleep, intermittent bouts of sadness, and even inappropriate anger. Money worries, sick and dying family, frustration over a couple of stalled projects…

This summer has been hard, but for unexpected reasons. I anticipated the bugs and heat and physical exertion to get the better of me, sooner rather than later. What has actually happened is my heart gave out, figuratively speaking. Texas summer tried to suck away my will and spirit. So I’m going to keep an eye on this tendency towards lethargy when faced with Texas douchebaggery. It’s a stupid cycle, and nobody I know or love deserves to be around it, least of all me.

So, suck it summer. You are not the boss of me.

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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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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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Farm Wedding

Well, we did it. Got hitched at the farm. It was a small but fierce gathering, and everything I’d hoped for was included: Family, friends, reunions, good food, good music, marrying my best friend. The groom gave farm tours, we had a taco truck, and the bride was a little flibbertyjibbet, but it was a beautiful day and I’m grateful to everyone who helped share the love.

Pictures!!

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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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Gardening Waves

Beautiful SC Texas. I'll come back to this when the grass is dead this summer, and remember...

Behbeh chicks! Someday, they're going to love me. Right now, not so much...

Let’s kick this post off with a view of the farm, so freaking pretty that I had to share. The trees are all coming in, the grass was mowed on Friday, everything’s stowed, and the farm’s looking tight. Springtime in South-central Texas. Can’t beat it.

Plus, chicks!!! Under the red grow light, their eyes look Satanic. They peck at my rings and generally have a shit attack when I try to gently pick them up. I’m wearing them down with food and love, though…

Surprise bulb from the former owner. Thanks, garden present!

So far, the gardening comes in waves. We were *able* to plant three weeks ago, but probably shouldn’t have, because of the two bouts with torrential rainfall that drowned both seeds and seedlings. There was just no way to know that, though.

After the floods, we couldn’t work the gardens for days and days afterwards, which causes downtime even when it’s sunny, to allow the gardens to dry out. Which is super-frustrating.  Then we caught about a weeks’-worth of break with sunny weather, tried all the seeds again, and then got three days of non-stop rain. Gaaahhhh…

And although I’ve been a gardener for about 15 years, I’ve never had anything larger than roughly 40 s.f. to plant in. Now I have almost 2/3 of an acre that we’re devoting solely to crops, and this is the first time I’m going totally organic. In the past, I’ve cheated and relied on Miracle Gro and Sevin, when things just got too hairy. You’ll kind of try anything when your roses have all succumbed to black spot. Now it’s just us vs. nature’s nasties, armed with a garlic/dish soap concoction for the rust, a chili pepper/dish soap concoction for the bugs, and vinegar/hand-pulling for the weeds. The learning curve is pretty steep, but we’re getting there.

First up in the experimentation: Tomato rust vs. garlic stuff.  Garlic stuff wins!  I started with just a blended garlic/water deal, and have graduated to this (plus blended garlic):

2 tbsp. canola oil
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 tsp. Murphy’s Oil Soap
1/2 gallon tap water

Before chili pepper spray. Next week: "After" picture. Stupid bugs.

which super-extra works. I pulled all the blighted leaves off, have been spraying with this stuff for a week, and the tomatoes look awesome. My tomatoes, peppers, cukes, and cabbages have fallen prey to grasshoppers and caterpillars already, so I’m using a chili pepper/garlic water spray, which the jury is still out on. It’s only been two days of application, so we’ll see how we are in a week.

Today is remarkably beautiful. 79 degrees, slight wind, low humidity. I got in beans, corn, squash, and watermelon, replacing what was washed away, drowned, or moved to a new location. I’ve got what looks suspiciously looks like corn growing where we definitely did not put it. When the garden comes up fully, I’m going to tell people we did it that way on purpose because we’re non-conformists and eclectic.

Okay! Off to check the fire ant mounds that I poisoned yesterday morning, and if that poison doesn’t work this time, it’s a boiling water enema first thing tomorrow morning…

Meet your foe: Vinegar, bitches!

Oh, and p.s.!!: Nettle update. I’m trying a full-on vinegar attack out in the chicken yard.  Here’s a “Before” picture. As soon as it starts dying, I’ll throw a party and post pictures of us dancing on nettle dirt.

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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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mot d’introduction

El Rancho Loco

My name’s Donna, and I’m a gardening/prepping/sustainability addict. I come from a background that can at best be described as “eclectic,” and at worst, “psychotic” (I’ll dip into my history from time to time in this blog). Short version: North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Florida, Chicago, Kentucky, Chicago, Hawaii, Missouri, Texas, legal secretary, bookkeeper, writer, office manager, artist.

My goal here is to have an interactive diary of what it’s like to get ready to have a farm/what it’s like having a farm/what the future holds on a farm. I cuss a lot, am occasionally really funny, and if you want to argue without getting personal, I’ll throw it down. If you irk me, you’re banned.

I became interested in gardening about 15 years ago, and have dabbled at it ever since. Only dabbing until now, because I never owned my own land. Now, we have a farmhouse in Texas with four acres and every single inch is going to be dedicated to a purpose, whether it’s food, beauty, animals, or business. My fiance and I are greatly interested in sustainability, prepping, homesteading, practicality and back-up plans.

I’m engaged to the most awesome partner ever. He’s a French-trained executive chef and we’re never at a loss for how to spend our spare time. We share information and recipes, laugh like idiots whenever possible, and dream of now and the future. We’re getting married on the farm in May and he’s as stoked about getting this ball rolling as I am. We look forward to sharing ideas, hopes, dreams, and the most useful and interesting resources around.

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