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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why Farm?

I remember often as I was growing up being at the farm when my grandpa and uncles were farming. I also remember many times where they were quite unhappy with the equipment as it was broken and deadlines were needing to be met.

Yesterday, Ethan, myself, and the kids took the day to go pick up some more cattle. At noon we stopped at a roadside historical marker to have lunch. We were about 2 1/2 hours from home and about 45 minutes away from the farm we were heading to. Before Ethan got a chance to bite into his sandwich, he noticed a problem with the trailer tire. We soon discovered that the bearings were no more.

We couldn't pull the trailer back into town so we unhooked it and drove the truck back to see if we could get some help. Ethan ran in and out of shops trying to find someone who could help. Some of the responses he got included: "We're about ready to go home." (Turning to fellow employee.) "Do you want to do it?" (Fellow employee) "No." Also, "We don't do that kind of thing here." And, "Yeah we do that, but the mechanics just went home."

So we headed back and sat by the trailer to finish lunch. Ethan called his dad, who owns the trailer and lived about 1 1/2 hours away. He said he would come help out, but it would be a bit until he could get away. We took the kids to a park for awhile and then went and sat by the trailer again to wonder if we were going to be able to get our cattle.

Around 3:30 Ethan's dad and brother arrived with some tools, and they got to work. After some more running around, we were able to locate the parts that we needed (or at least that were close enough) and got the trailer temporarily fixed. Off we went to get our cattle, and we were able to unload our new additions to our herd and get home 15 minutes before midnight.

So what's so appealing about farming? I think there are many things, but one thing stuck out to me today - the importance of community and helping others out.

As we were sitting along the side of the road with a tire laying on the ground and with our 3 1/2 year old and 22 month old, there were many, many cars that drove right on by. Some of them would slow down and look and then keep going. Some of them would slow down and look, wave, and then keep going. I'm sure they had places to go, people to see, and deadlines to meet.

The whole time we were there we had one guy step out of his truck and ask if we needed anything. He was a farmer. An interesting thing about farmers is they also have deadlines to meet, many of which effect their income - getting crops in before the rain, getting crops out before the rain, taking care of livestock to keep them healthy and productive. This farmer that stopped even had a deadline for today he was trying to meet and was having problems lining up equipment, but he still stopped. He even drove back later when he came up with an idea for us. I think he realized the importance of community and helping others out.

Also, when we finally located a part we needed, it was in another town. The owner of a trailer business was just about ready to leave for an event he was helping with, but he said that he would stick around for us. When we got to his business we saw that it was located right beside his house on his farm. I think this man also realized the importance of community and helping others out.

Now, I'm not trying to idolize farmers. I know there were a lot of farmers that drove right past us . . . many times. There was a coop down the road and we watched them take their grain in throughout the afternoon. I also know that there are lots of non-farmers that realize the importance of community and helping others out. But I think that when you are a farmer you often depend on help from the community and from others and begin to realize the importance of it.

That is one thing that I think is missing in our culture. So many people fence themselves in: their property and their lives. I think we have a lot to learn from those who don't. And that is one of the reasons that farming appeals to me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Coffee, Anyone?

My garden has had trouble all three years we have had it. One of its problems is that it only gets partial sun during the day - the most sun we can find in our yard. The other problems is that there are walnut trees all around our yard, including by our garden, which release a toxin through their root system that is hard on many garden plants.

This year my tomato plants looked quite droopy most of the summer. I decided that they might need some coffee to perk them up.

Twice a week I go to the coffee shop on the square and pick up a bucket of coffee grounds and filters to throw into my garden. Used coffee ground are an excellent fertilizer and filters decompose and add organic matter, both of which can decrease the toxic effects from the walnut trees. The coffee shop is more than happy to give me their heavy, wet garbage too.

Although I didn't mind the coffee filters out there (they make a great mulch!), Ethan didn't really care for the look of them in the garden. So now I add them to my kitchen compost barrel outside of our door, which eventually goes to the larger compost pile in the railroad ditch adjoining our property.

After pulling out the filters, I am left with a bucket of pure coffee grounds to spread on the garden. The coffee grounds have a 20:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. To balance the ratio out to a 30:1 ratio, ideal for composting, I add sawdust - given to me from my dad who is a woodworker. The sawdust will "capture" nitrogen (fertilizer) from the coffee grounds and will make it available as the sawdust decomposes. It also adds some of the extra organic material to my garden that I was looking for.

It sounds like it is quite a long drawn out process, but really it only takes a couple minutes. It also gets me out of the house and outside where I can feel like I am doing farmy type things. I think if/when we get to the country, I might still go after the free coffee fertilizer but will just dump it into the compost pile to be spread later - after the filters decompose. As for now, I am hoping that all of this will help turn my golf ball sized tomatoes into softball sized tomatoes next year!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Where'd Ya Get Your Jeans?

A funny thing happened a couple years ago. We were at a football game and one of the kids in Ethan's youth group (Ethan is a youth director) asked him where he got his jeans. She thought they were pretty cool. Later that week, another kid asked the same question during youth group about the same pair of jeans. What was so cool about them? They had been patched from the inside - the new style that came with a nice price tag.

There was something about these jeans, however, that the students didn't know about. These jeans were probably at least 3 years old at the time, and when they were purchased - there were no patches. Yes, these jeans actually earned their patches, and I put them on. On the inside. Before I knew it was cool.

Today I spent the better part of my afternoon patching up the pile of jeans in the picture. The pile has accumulated since spring, and I figured that they better get fixed up since the fall weather is coming. Unfortunately for my husband, jeans with patches are not what is cool anymore. Now it is jeans with holes all over - unpatched. If only I would have let them be. But some of the holes were getting a bit, well . . . indecent.

We aren't really that concerned with the changing tides of coolness anyway. We're just trying to go another year without having to buy more jeans. So I'm just going to keep patching away. And when you think about it, fashions cycle - so jeans with patches will eventually be cool again. And I bet these jeans will be there to see it!

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Fall Plantings

I am by no means an expert when it comes to fall gardens. Actually, this is the first year I have tried some fall plantings, although I heard about my Grandpa putting in his fall seeds while growing up. Today, I finally picked my first vegetables from my fall planting - BEAUTIFUL green beans!

I had planted green beans in the spring. The plants looked great at first. Nice solid leaves with no signs of pests. Well, that didn't last long. By the time my beans were ready to be picked, the leaves looked like lace from being chewed up so badly. The beans were just as bad. I tried to salvage some of the crop, but it was hard to find even an inch on a bean that hadn't been nibbled by insects.

Many people suggested powders and chemicals that we could treat them with to chase away the bugs, but that equaled more expenses. As you might have noticed, we are trying to do things with as few inputs as possible. So I gave up my hopes of canning beans, pulled all the plants, and decided to do some research so I could try again next year.

As I was doing my research, I found out I didn't have to wait until next year. I read that many times fall beans will be better than beans planted in the spring since most of the pests are gone by the time the beans mature. So off I went in search of more bean seeds. Most stores had sent theirs back, but I found one greenhouse that had 1/4 cup of seeds left. I bought them out.

I had a little bit of a late start in getting my fall beans planted since it took me so long to locate seeds so I soaked them overnight to hopefully cut down on some germination time. After they were well swollen, I put them into the soil. A few days later, up popped my beans!

I was pretty excited with the thought of another try with beans this year, but I soon became somewhat worried as I saw their leaves starting to look a bit like lace again. As I resisted the urge to pull them out, the nights started becoming cooler. As the nights started to become cooler, I noticed that the new leaves weren't getting eaten. (Hopefully you can see the difference in the picture.)

Today when I went out to the garden, I saw that there were a few beans ready to be picked. I was somewhat apprehensive as to what I would find hidden within the plants. What I found though were beautiful, long green beans without any signs of insect damage. It seems as if the insects clocked out for the season when the nights started to get cooler - and just as my beans started to mature!

So now I still have some hope of canning beans this year. I also still have some hopes for my spring planting of beans. While doing a little digging around I read that planting savory next to your beans will help ward off bugs. I think I will give that a try next year.

Here are a couple other pictures of my fall plantings. The first is peas. I don't know if they will amount to anything. I found extra seeds in my basement quite late but decided to throw them in the ground since I had them. The other is lettuce. I will be planting new patches every 2 weeks until it stops growing so we can have fresh lettuce too throughout the fall.
I'd love to hear comments from other fall planters as to what works for you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I had a hard time today deciding what to title this post.

At first I thought about titling it "We Paid For It, I'm Using It" since that is something Ethan teases me about saying. I thought maybe I would talk about how I wash out the cereal sacks to use as toss away table coverings for projects like making noodles and bread and for the kids to do their Play-Doh and other crafts on. It only takes a second to rinse them out when the cereal is empty and makes project clean up SO much faster. The "We Paid For It, I'm Using It" phrase is a phrase that I also used a lot when I would toss my banana peels in the back flower bed to decompose and add nutrients to the soil before we started a real compost pile. But I decided against that title.

Then I thought I'd title it "Cereal Sacks and Alternative Farming" and talk about how a farmer only receives a fraction of the price of an item in the grocery store. As I was making my noodles today and using the cereal sacks we paid for, I was thinking about how we also pay for the cereal box, the processing of the cereal, the transportation of the cereal, the advertising for the cereal (unless you buy the generic like we do), the wages for the store employees, the overhead for the store . . . and really the farmer that grew the grain gets very little of the amount that was paid for the box of cereal. I thought maybe it would be interesting to post about how alternative farming and direct marketing take out a lot of those additional expenses so the farmer gets a higher percentage of the market price, but I decided against that post too.

Next, I thought about titling my post "Where Do You Want to Spend Your Time?" and talking about how trying to save money at home will reduce the amount of money that you need to earn, which can help you be at home more, which can lead to more opportunities to save money at home, which means that you will need even less to live on, which might eventually lead to allowing one parent to stay at home with the kids or even the other parent to be able to farm - all taking into consideration that you aren't trying to save money to be rich but to be able to spend time at home with family and friends. But I thought that post might get a little confusing.

So I finally decided to title my post "Supper" and let everyone know that for supper we are having ham and noodles, mashed potatoes, green beans, and bread.

By the way, the ham was from leftover ham broth I had canned. The noodles were homemade with eggs from our chickens, and I used the cereal sacks that we paid for while making them. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to can any early beans and our fall beans need another week or so before they are ready, so I had to use green beans from the store that are hardly worth the 33 cents I paid for them (and the can, and the transportation, and the. . .). And although I had spent most of the kids' nap time making bunches noodles so I could dry some for later meals, I decided to go ahead and make the bread too since a penny saved is a penny earned.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Raspberries, Rabbits, and Fire

Raspberries, rabbits, and fire. What do they have in common? . . . our ditch!

My husband is an associate pastor/youth pastor, and we have lived in this parsonage in town for 3 years. The property we are on borders the railroad tracks which comes along with a deep, thick, woody, weedy ditch. The police caught a fugitive 2 years ago in our ditch while my husband was on a mission trip and I was home alone with the kids, but that's another story!

Before we moved here, and a short while after, many of the church members would use that ditch for dumping brush and clippings. Thankfully, we receive no more outside yard waste, but there was quite the pile of brush that had accumulated in the ditch. Right beside the brush pile that first year, I found three raspberry vines.

For 4 summers now, I have been pruning those vines and allowing runners to root. I have also been weeding the area and cutting down saplings so they can get more light. Many of the tall weeds aren't around anymore, and creeping charlie is starting to take over the vacant ground around the vines, making a nice carpet to walk on. I now have so many vines that I don't even bother counting them.

There is one problem though. Since my raspberry patch has expanded so much, the rabbits found it last winter. They chewed almost all of my vines to the ground while the snow piled over their other choices of food. Needless to say, I didn't have very high yields in my berry patch this summer.

One of the big problems is that the brush piles that were dumped here make quite a nice home for little bunnies in the winter, and the biggest brush pile was just a couple feet from my berry patch. Very convenient for cold little rabbits who don't want to hop far in the snow to have their breakfast . . . or lunch . . . or supper.

Since one of the things we are interested in having is pick-your-own fruit, we decided this would be a good opportunity to do some experimenting and learning with pest control. We figured that we had two options. One was to fence in the raspberries, and the other was to wage war on the rabbits. A big aspect of alternative farming is keeping your inputs (expenses) low so your profits remain high. To fence in the raspberries, we would have to buy fence. So you guessed it, we decided to wage war on the rabbits.

Since we live in town and shooting them is legally out, to the disappointment of my husband, we started by destroying their shelter. Over the weekend we burned up and cleared out the brush pile by the berries. While Ethan was managing the fire, I took care of the fall pruning of our raspberries and cleared out some more saplings. When we were done, we were left with a nice clear area that has had decomposing matter on it for quite a few years and now ash, which is good for fertilizer. I will either trail some raspberry runners over to our newly cleared land to extend my patch or plant some blackberry starts from my mom's garden or my father-in-law's farm to experiment with.

As for now, we will start setting our rabbit trap to decrease the overrun rabbit population in our ditch and will take them to the woods. Sure, more rabbits may move in, but at least they won't have a house right next to my vines. We'll see if my berry plants survive this winter.

Here are some of my black raspberry plants all pruned up.

This is a picture of our ditch. In the foreground you can see the area we just cleared out and burned. The green growth behind the cleared area is part of my raspberry patch - all started from 3 vines!

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Soup's On

A few times throughout the year we will bake a turkey. I freeze the meat in meal size portions and cook down the bones and save the broth. Tonight I popped open a jar of broth that I had saved and made turkey soup (using carrots from our garden). We also had sourdough bread. I had started some sourdough last night for bread sticks to go with our pizza pasta, but it took a lot longer to raise than I had expected. So instead, I baked two loaves of sourdough bread this morning. (I had to stay home from church since the kids are getting over chicken pox.)

I was happy with how the soup tasted, and I thought the sourdough bread was better than the regular bread I make. I still haven't found a recipe I like for yeast bread, so maybe I will be making sourdough bread a bit more.

Here are the recipes I used.

* 2 Cups of sponge
* 3 Cups of unbleached flour
* 2 tablespoons of olive oil or softened margarine
* 4 teaspoons of sugar
* 2 teaspoons of salt

Mix and knead like you would a yeast bread. Allow more time for the rise than you would a yeast bread. (Bread machines won't work for this recipe.) Punch down and form loaves. Let bread rise again. (Also allow more time for this step than you would a yeast bread.) Turn oven on at 350, and bake for 30 minutes. (Do not allow oven to preheat.)

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* 1 quart turkey broth
* 4 cups water
* cooked turkey
* 1 medium onion - chopped
* 3 carros - sliced
* 2 celery stalks - chopped
* 3 potatoes - diced
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/3 - 1/2 tsp pepper
* 1/2 tsp garlic salt
* 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Preserving the Harvest

This year I have started canning. I have slowly been accumulating canning supplies for the last 5+ years. I decided that it was about time that I do something with them. I started out canning some pinto beans. They didn't cost me much in time or money so I wouldn't have been that disappointed if they didn't turn out. They actually turned out great though, and I have been using them in Mexican dishes.

After I gained a bit of confidence with my beans, I pulled out the ham and turkey broth from the freezer that I was saving for soup. I also canned that and was pleased with the results.

Finally, I felt like I was ready to move on to bigger and better things, which was good because my tomatoes were becoming ripe. Unfortunately, our garden is placed in the only spot in our yard that gets any sun (1/2 of the day) and is surround by walnut trees (poison to gardens!), but I have gotten enough whole tomatoes canned to last me a year, I hope.

Now that my whole tomatoes have been stockpiled, I have been canning spaghetti sauce. Ethan seems to like it, which is good, but I still don't think I have tweaked the recipe enough to make me put it in my recipe box. Luckily, I still have lots of tomatoes in the garden to ripen so I can keep playing a bit.

Here is a picture of the tomatoes I "squished" tonight. (Caleb asked what I was doing, and I informed him that I was squishing tomatoes.) The pint jars are some of my spaghetti sauce, and the quart jars are some of my whole tomatoes.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Town Chores

As I mentioned earlier, we are trying to do as much learning as possible from in town, whether it's experimenting or researching. One of the things that we are experimenting with is "pastured chickens". This spring we built a movable chicken pen for our backyard. We were able to build it completely out of salvaged materials, except for some of the chicken wire. (You can see the assembly in this May posts of The Beginning Farmer) Every day, Ethan's job is to wiggle it over to a new spot in the yard. The chickens eat 30% of their feed from the grasses and what they scratch up in the grasses. The variety of greens and living critters makes their eggs quite a bit more nutritious and delicious! Ethan also checks on their feed and water every day and collects their eggs. Ideally, broilers (meat chickens) would be the ones being pastured in movable pens while laying hens would be in a moveable chicken house on a trailer (to keep their area fresh), but this is what will have to work in town.

My job with the chickens is to wash up the eggs, stock up the fridge, and then figure out all of the ways we can use them. We had originally planned on trying to find a customer or two to sell our surplus to, but we really haven't had a surplus yet. It isn't that our chickens aren't laying enough eggs, it's that we are using a lot more eggs that we did before. From the record keeping I've been doing (another important responsibility I've taken on - to see if our efforts are profitable), we have seen that the chickens are earning their keep. Their eggs are costing less than store eggs, and they are better for us!

As you can also see in the pictures, we try to include the kids in as much as we can with the chores. They enjoy helping where they are able to, they develop an interest in what we are doing, and it teaches them about responsibility.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


This past week I have been working on starting a batch of wild yeast starter dough. I really shouldn't say working on it though, because it is hardly any work. I was pretty excited when my sourdough started getting bubbly and smelled of yeast, even though I hadn't added any yeast to the mix. That meant that it was started on the wild yeast in the air and on the wheat flour.

After my starter got established, I decided to try to make something with it. Since pancakes were on the menu for the next day, I thought that would be a good place to start. I used my sourdough starter, eggs from our chickens, and berries that I had picked and frozen. I mixed up some regular pancakes too so I would have something to compare them to. I thought the sourdough pancakes were great. Ethan couldn't tell a difference, but that is a compliment from him. He has very particular tastes so if something matches something he already likes, I am relieved.

One of the great things about the sourdough pancakes is that they use no milk. Our old recipe used 2 cups of milk for the same amount of pancakes. With milk being over $3.50 a gallon, these pancakes are more economical.Above is a picture of my pancakes and sourdough starter.

I would love to have more sourdough recipes if anyone has any to share. Here are the recipes I used:

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  • 1/2 c unsweetened pineapple juice (acidic and prevents bad bacteria from growing)
  • 1/2 c whole grain wheat flour or whole grain rye flour
  • 1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 c water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)

    DAY ONE - Mix 2 T whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover, and let sit for 24 hours at room temp.

    DAY TWO - Add 2 T of whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover, and let sit another 24 hours at room temperature. You may or may not start to see small bubbles at this point.

    DAY THREE - Same as day two. Add 2 T of whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover, and let sit another 24 hours at room temperature. You may or may not start to see small bubbles at this point.

    DAY FOUR - Stir mixture and measure out 1/4 c -- discard the rest. To the 1/4 c, stir in 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour and 1/4 c water. Let sit 24 hours at room temperature.

    REPEAT - Day four until mixture expands to double its size and smells of yeast. Mixture may start to bubble after a couple of days and then go flat, looking totally dead for a couple of more days. If this happens, at about Day 6, add the 1/4 tsp. vinegar with your daily feeding. This will lower the PH and wake up the yeast, which will then start to grow.

    FINAL - Once the yeast starts growing, starter should be fed equal parts of flour and water in a quantity sufficient to make enough starter for your recipe. Store the starter in the refrigerator when you are not using it. It needs to be fed equal parts of flour and water once a week to keep it alive. Either use or discard at least half of it when feeding - THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT to maintain a healthy starter! If you forget to feed it for a few weeks, it probably will be fine but may take several feedings to get it back up to par.

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  • 1 c sourdough starter
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c warm water
  • 2 large egg
  • 2 T vegetable oil (I didn't use this)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

    Place the sourdough starter in a plastic or glass mixing bowl. Add the flour and water. Stir and leave covered for 8 or more hours. (Remember to feed the starter.) After the mixture has rested, add remaining ingredients, stirring well. Cook pancakes.

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    Sunday, September 2, 2007

    But You Live in Town . . .

    Some of you may wonder why Ethan and I have blogs where we refer to ourselves as farmers - while we live in town. It is our hope to someday live in the country and have enough land where we can do some farming. Not conventional farming like most people think of, but alternative farming. (No, we have not turned into hippies!) Some people say it can't be done while others encourage us as they are doing it. And here we sit in town.

    But I believe that farming starts with a mindset so we are using this time to develop that mindset and do as much experimenting and learning as possible from within city limits. This blog will have posts about things we are doing, learning, and hoping for. I will also talk about things that I am doing to help us reach the goal of owning land in the country while still having me be able to stay at home with the kids.

    I hope you enjoy reading about our journey. Be sure to check out Ethan's blog, "The Beginning Farmer", too. (Click on the link found on the right of this page.)

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