My grandfather used to rise and shine at four a.m. to feed and milk his forty cows on his Iowa farm. Grandma would get up with him, and while he was doing his first chores in the barn she would be fixing a huge breakfast for him. When he finished feeding the cows he would come into the kitchen, kicking the mud and dirt off his boots, sit down and eat, and then return to the barn for milking.
Every single day, 365 days per year, rain, shine, sleet, snow, or hail.
I was reminded of that the other day when I was out on my stepson’s goat farm. Every day he climbs out of bed, goes out and feeds and milks the goats, and then spends the rest of his day repairing things, making cheese, and just living the life of a farmer.
1955 . . . 2017 . . . the life of a farmer is not an easy one. It is not for the weak of spirit. You’ve got to love farming or you might as well not get into it. You’ve got to love animals or you might as well not have any.
If that sounds like I’m trying to discourage anyone I’m not. I think we need more small, independent farmers in this country. I believe strongly in localism and sustainability. I believe strongly in farmers markets. I would love it if someone reading this article was inspired to take up farming . . . but there has to be a reality check beforehand.
Farming is work!
You gotta love it!
And you gotta love animals!
Even on our urban farm we have enough animals to keep us busy. Our chickens, quail, and rabbits all require, and deserve, special care. They have to be fed, and watered, every morning and every evening. They have to be provided with weatherproof housing so they are protected from the elements. There have been many mornings, when the wind is howling and the rain is coming down horizontally, when I have not wanted to go out and feed the critters, but I do it because one, they are my responsibility and two, because I love it.
One other memory of my grandparents’ farm . . . fresh baked bread right out of the oven . . . I salivate now just thinking of that smell.
Random thought . . .
By the way, in 2006 the Billion Tree Campaign was begun by some Pulitzer Peace Prize winner who shall remain nameless because, well, I can’t remember his/her name. Anyway, it was an attempt to help the Earth by planting a billion new trees by 2007. It was successful, by the way, and since the inception of that program there have been somewhere in the neighborhood of fourteen billion new trees planted.
I’m taking a deep breath and releasing a deep sigh.
Can you hear it?
October has come to an end and all winter preparations are completed. The new roof is on. The woodstove is cleaned. Firewood is stacked. Critters are protected for the winter.
All is well on our little farm.
And now attention turns inward. There is painting to do inside the house. The kitchen and bathroom floors need tiling. We will do those things as time allows.
There is also planning to do for next spring. We have to decide what we are going to sell at farmers markets and oh, yes, speaking of farmers markets, guess who was elected as Board President at the Tumwater Farmers Market?
There I was, at the Board meeting, minding my own business, when my loving wife entered my name into nomination for the President’s position. Naturally there were no dissents because, let’s face it, nobody wants that damned job.
And now I have it!
My complaining is really hollow and we all know it. I believe in farmers markets. I believe in locally-owned and grown products, and sustainability, and all those other catch-phrases which signal a return to our roots and a departure from Costco and WalMart.
So it’s all good. The winter will be a busy time as we prepare for the spring, and next spring I’ll say the spring is a busy time as we prepare for the summer . . .
My first experience with chickens was when I was seven. As I’ve mentioned before, my grandparents had a 150-acre corn farm in Charles City, Iowa, and when I was seven my family took a road trip back to Iowa to visit my grandparents.
There are still some scenes from that trip long ago that are vivid in my mind. I remember the wonder of seeing 100 acres of green corn stalks blowing gently in the wind, the sound of them rustling against each other. I remember the joy of ice-cold lemonade sipped under the shade of a giant oak, and the sight of lightning bugs at night, catching them in a jar, and the crickets playing a symphony.
And I remember three lessons about chickens: don’t ever run barefoot across the chicken enclosure; roosters are not gentle, kind birds; and it is downright gross when your grandmother wrings a chicken’s neck and it starts flopping all around the backyard.
With those as my only chicken memories it is amazing that I enjoy raising chickens today.
But I do . . . I absolutely love watching our flock of twenty . . . they provide much amusement and satisfaction for me.
They are intelligent birds, despite what some people think. In fact, I’ve found chickens to be much more intelligent than some people I know. They have individual personalities. They respond to tenderness.
And they are great gardeners!
I went out yesterday to gather some potatoes for dinner, and the chickens had saved me the trouble of digging up those potatoes. They love to do that, turn over the soil, and in the process they will unearth potatoes and just leave them there for me to pick up.
How considerate is that?
Listen, I admit, I’m a big softie when it comes to our birds and animals. I’ll never wring a chicken’s neck. I’ll never kill one of our rabbits for meat. The quail have a free pass for life on our property. I simply enjoy the process of raising them all, and I enjoy interacting with them. I find them to be soothing at a time when outside influences are anything but soothing. When Facebook feeds become maddening, and the evening news is driving me into depression, my animals and birds are there to soothe me.
They are my drug of choice, a much-healthier drug than the alcohol which once ruled my life.
And just for the record, I still don’t run barefoot across the chicken enclosure. That’s just a tad too “back to nature” for this boy.
Sustainable Living . . . a nice little catch-phrase which has hammered its way into our consciousness over the past couple decades . . . an attempt to lessen our carbon footprint on this planet by making lifestyle choices which are Earth-friendly!
I was raised during the 50’s and 60’s and I have to tell you, the concept of sustainable living was a non-factor in Tacoma, Washington back then. My dad loved to fertilize the lawn, loved to water the lawn, loved to mow the lawn, loved to burn stuff in the burn barrel, loved to use pesticides on the plants and trees and lawn, poured used motor oil into the gutter, stop me if any of this sounds familiar.
That’s just the way things were back then. Dad didn’t know any better, despite Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” which I am certain my dad never read. Hell, in truth, I didn’t know any better back then, and when I purchased my first home I was just as guilty of harming this planet as my father had been.
But I know better now. I have learned things, and armed with that knowledge I can no longer claim ignorance and unlearn them.
I was talking to a friend the other day, telling them that we got rid of our lawn and replaced it with thirty berry bushes.
“Why did you do that?” he asked.
“Because lawns are a waste of resources and there’s no point to them,” I proudly answered.
To which he replied: “What the hell difference does it make? It’s only one lawn in a world with millions of them.”
It’s hard to argue with his logic and yet I will. Yes, it is one lawn. No, in the grand scheme of things, it probably makes no difference at all.
But to do nothing in this world, at this time, is unacceptable to me!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have berries to freeze.
“They rely on you, Bill, and that means you have an important responsibility.”
Yep, words from my dad, talking to me many moons ago about taking care of two baby bunnies I had adopted at the age of eight.
God they were cute!
But the cuteness wore off pretty fast when I realized that I couldn’t go play baseball until I cleaned out their hutch, and one night when they somehow got loose and were running around in the backyard during a rainstorm, they weren’t too damned cute then either.
But they were my responsibility, and they relied on me to provide a safe environment for them.
I took those words to heart, and I still do. I think of them each morning when I go out to feed the chickens, rabbits, and quail. I think of them every afternoon when I’m cleaning up poop and repairing animal enclosures.
I watched a documentary a couple weeks ago about a chicken farm where eggs are produced for supermarkets. It was disgusting! The chickens, by the thousands, were all crammed into small cages with barely enough room to move. That was their home, a space no larger than 18 inches by 18 inches. There they were fed. When they laid an egg it would drop out the bottom of the cage, roll down a chute, and be picked up by the egg people.
Just for the record, that is not what I consider “taking care of an animal.” To me, that kind of treatment is inhumane, and I won’t be a part of it. And no, I do not support that kind of animal care at the supermarket. Our chickens provide us with eggs, and our meat comes from farmers we support who have functioning hearts.
I run a small, urban farm. I am not in this to maximize my profits or increase my tax deductions. Taking care of my animals and providing a safe, loving environment for them is, to me, a labor of love. The smallest “cage” I own is a 10’x12’ aviary. Every animal and bird I own has been picked up, held, and hand-fed by me or my wife.
I don’t want to sound preachy, and I’m sure not telling anyone else how to run their small farms or how to take care of their animals. All I’m telling you is this is what I believe. To me, it is not a large leap to go from mistreating animals to mistreating humans.
They rely on me and they are my responsibility.
And I consider that responsibility to be of great importance.
I get a break today. A good online friend of mine, Carol Stanley, asked if she could do a guest blog and I jumped all over that opportunity with both feet.
Carol recently published a book on healthy living, and you can find a link to that book at the end of this post.
Without any more b.s. from me, here is Carol!
THE IMPORTANCE OF FRESH FOODS
By Carol Stanley
The grocery store can be a scary place in today’s landscape. The aisles are filled with packages of complete meals, vegetables with mysterious sauces, cans of a variety of vegetables, meats and sugary snacks. And most of the packaged foods contain additives and preservatives that are often claimed to be safe for human consumption. Even though you may feel self-righteous purchasing organic produce and packaged foods you cannot be totally sure of their freshness. If products have “certified organic” on the package you can be assured that it is organic. However, you will be a few steps ahead of the game if you base your diet on fresh foods.
Since I personally don’t always trust labels I am happy to claim that 95 percent of what we eat doesn’t have labels. Home gardens are sprouting everywhere today and many people are getting in the “fresh”game. This year we began our first little garden growing herbs, tomatoes, peppers and ochre. I love going outside and cutting fresh herbs and adding them to different recipes.
Speaking of herbs and spices these little leaves of flavor offer huge amounts of vitamins and minerals. Did you know that Oregano acts as an antibiotic? Along with the wonderful flavor of fresh produce, you can control the soil and create truly organic products. I will not do a tirade on all the processing that goes on with food today, but we do know that we are not getting the vitamins and minerals that were in the food 30 years ago. For example there is so much publicity on the negatives of gluten today. I am wondering if it is just the over processing of wheat that is causing people to suffer from digestive problems. Anyway you cannot go wrong growing your own produce.
There is something spiritual about going outside and watering our little garden and gathering food for dinner. You can start your own little garden with just a few pots and soil.
Here is a link to my newly published book on Amazon “Feel Better Every day” where I share many healthful ideas to support a healthy lifestyle http://a.co/8Y7LHwq
THANK YOU, CAROL!
I especially loved the comment “there is something spiritual about going outside an watering our little garden . . . “
Anyone who loves gardening understands that statement!
I’ll be back next week with some more of my own thoughts on urban farming. Until then, I hope you have a spiritual week in the garden.
I like the changing of the seasons. I really don’t have a favorite. It’s the process of change I enjoy, watching Nature move to the next stage of the yearly evolution, and me becoming a part of that whole scene.
I like preparing for the upcoming season. I like the challenge of it all, knowing much of it is within my capabilities, knowing I can meet the challenge and be fine, and knowing I have animals who depend on me to meet those challenges successfully. No, this isn’t the 1800’s, and the challenges, and outcomes, aren’t severe, but still . . .
Having an urban farm makes me more aware of life. I watch as the chickens molt. The rabbits’ fur seems to double in quantity. Geese fly overhead, their vacation spots already reserved and waiting for them. Squirrels are busy doing what squirrels do best, prepare for the future. I love the crispness of the fall mornings, and evenings. I love the firewood pile, the smell of it, the anticipation of winter nights spent in a toasty home safe from the cold and dampness, feeling at times as though I’m revisiting the womb.
I like watching as the weather patterns transition. Highs move on, lows settle in, the wind shifts from the north to the west, and the taste of the air changes. Cloud formations are different, not only in color but in shape, and they move with a rapidity in the fall, as though an urgent calling must be answered. There is an unsettled feeling to the fall, and just below the surface is a hint of threat, watch out now, be prepared, or winter will scrape and claw on our delinquencies. It is foolhardy to ignore the fall, Nature tells us, so heed the signs and whittle down that to-do list.
And every year I think of the seasons as a metaphor for life, how I am now in the fall of my life, spring and summer gone, only one season left for this body, and a brief melancholy passes over, but then every year winter comes, and goes, and I find a new spring calling to me, rewarding me, one more year to come, a life not yet at the terminal.
Don’t paint outside when there is a forest fire raging 100 miles away.
That was the lesson I learned the hard way last week.
Just when I start to think I might have a little intelligence, I do something like the following . . .
I woke up one morning last week to a fine dusting of ash on the ground and cars. There was no doubt where the ash had come from. We have four major forest fires going on in Washington State, and with the wind shifting, blowing from eastern Washington to western Washington, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the ash was a product of those fires.
So I did my writing thing for a few hours that morning and then decided to paint the picnic table the same color as the outside sheds. It was a hot day and that was pretty much all I planned to accomplish outside that day, but I was determined to at least do that. I whipped through that chore in good time, washed off the paint brush, put everything away, and poured myself a nice, tall, cold glass of water, quite pleased with my accomplishment.
An hour later I was reminded that I’m not nearly as bright as I want to believe I am.
Yes, the ash fell on the new paint job, stuck to it, and left the picnic table looking like a cheap knock-off of some Jackson Pollock painting.
Welcome to my world!
I do that stuff quite often. I get so focused on getting a job done that I don’t take the time to properly plan the job out. Part of the problem is no training. I’ve had to teach myself practically everything related to home improvements, so I make a ton of mistakes. But I do learn eventually, so there’s that to embrace.
PLANNING FOR NEXT YEAR
That’s our main focus right now, getting ready for next year. There is still about 30% of our backyard which is not used for much of anything, and that bugs the hell out of me. Bev and I need to figure that out fairly soon. The problem is the chicken population we have. Planting in that remaining 30% yard is problematic with the chickens running loose. They would love to dig up anything we plant. Yes, we could cage them, but I won’t do that to my birds. Perhaps, and I’m not joking about this, I’ll cage the new planting section instead. I have enough leftover chicken wire. All I need to do is make a hay bale garden section and cover that section with a wooden frame and chicken wire.
Something to think about, and that’s a project I can do without worrying about forest fire ash.
SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT
Three years ago I built our first aviary. I followed that up with another one the next year. We have a third out at our son’s farm.
No, I know nothing about building, but I studied enough framed buildings to understand the basics, so I did all right. I was a half-inch off plumb with that first aviary, 10’x12’ in size, so that ain’t bad for an amateur.
Anyway, the reason I mention it all is this: those three aviaries have been great multi-use structures. One is currently holding our firewood for this coming winter; the other is holding fifteen nine-week old hens until we sell them as pullets. Those aviaries have also been homes for quail, other chickens, and have served as greenhouses.
One thing I would suggest for those of you who are not talented in building things: plan the aviaries, or any building projects, so they are the size of pre-cut lumber. Please note I said my aviaries are 10’x12’….those two sizes are standard cuts for 2’x4’s at any lumber yard, so I didn’t have to do much cutting while building the aviaries. That may seem like a small thing, but I don’t like to do any more work than is absolutely necessary on any project. Anybody who would build a structure 15 feet in length has a screw loose. LOL Pardon the pun!
THAT’S ALL FOR THIS WEEK
Rain is coming! I can’t tell you how excited I am to report that news after the summer we’ve had. Of course, check with me about November and I’ll be singing a completely different tune. J And I’m really not complaining about our weather. After watching not one, but two hurricanes on the news, I’m quite pleased with Western Washington weather.
Balancing a full-time job with developing and upkeeping an urban farm is endless. It should be one or the other, but both? Maybe for someone younger than me, sure, but I’m about to turn sixty-nine, and I’m feeling it.
I’m just whining. Stop me when you recognize the tune. LOL
Seriously, we created a monster in the front when we took out the lawn and inserted close to thirty berry bushes. Three years later the berries are quite healthy, quite happy, and threatening to take over the neighborhood. I say all of this with a smile on my face, but it does also mean more work to add to the to-do list.
My dad loved lawns. He was always out there with his pesticides killing dandelions, always out there with the edger, cutting perfect lines on the periphery, and of course always out there with the lawnmower making sure the lawn looked uniform and well-cared for.
What a friggin’ waste of time.
Of course, I never told him that. This boy is no dummy!
Yep, same tune, different lyrics. The grapes went crazy this year. The watermelon vines literally grew up the side of the aviary
and over the top, mixing with the vines of the thorn-less blackberries and the grapes. It’s like a lush jungle back there, and I absolutely love it.
We’ve been feeding the rabbits fresh lettuce for a couple months now. We have enough potatoes to feed all of Ireland. About the only thing that didn’t grow in abundance was corn, but that never does in our backyard and I’m okay with that failure.
Oddly, my mom and dad weren’t much for vegetable gardens. I say oddly because they came from Iowa. At one time, my mom’s parents owned a large corn farm. Maybe that’s why my mom didn’t care too much about raising a garden. She spent far too much time as a child among those tall, green, rustling stalks.
Me, I remember vacations on that farm, and the wonder of it all, soil so dark as to seem artificial, white cumulous clouds floating overhead, fireflies at night, bullfrogs singing in the dark, it really was a magical kingdom for a pre-teen.
I’m in the process of painting right now. Then I’ll be in the process of hauling away brush, and then in the process of pruning, and then in the process of . . . well, you get the point.
I’ve always been like that when it’s property I own. I like doing chores. I like building things. I like the challenge, and it is a challenge since I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time, but I do love the challenge and I love the results. It beats the hell out of watching The Bachelor on television.
For those of you who are reluctant to try odd jobs you aren’t trained for, I will say this: if this boy, with zero training in any of the base skills, can build and repair, then anyone can. There are tutorials on YouTube which can teach you practically anything if you are willing to make the occasional mistake while learning.
They are just about done laying for the year, which means they are just about done residing on our property. I’ll sell off the flock in September and start fresh with new birds in February. Yes, we could use artificial light and they would lay eggs during the winter but honestly, I don’t feel like doing that. I want to take the winter off and concentrate on writing novels.
No, we will not slaughter any. We tried that and we didn’t enjoy it. There’s something about raising a bird from egg to adulthood, taking care of it, being with it daily . . . I find it real hard to cut their heads off after forming that bond. I know, silly old urban farmer, right, but that’s just who I am and I’m fine with that.
Our brooders have been very good moms this summer. Two of our original hens have taken chicks under their wing (literally) and raised some fine chickens. We are currently selling off fifteen Blue Andalusian hens for $10 each, and once they are sold we’ll bring in more chicks and raise them and sell them. I’m pretty sure we’ll raise chicks all winter long since it’s a fairly easy process using the aviaries we have in the backyard. The heat lamps are already set up to provide heat during the cold days and nights, so I’m pretty sure that’s what we’ll do.
I don’t know if I mentioned this, but Bev manages a farm and garden store here in Olympia, and they sell chicks at that store, and this summer they sold over 3,000 chicks from that store. I think that is fabulous news because many of those chicks went to first-time urban farmers who wanted chickens in their backyards, which means there are a whole lot of people in our city giving this urban farming thing a try.
OUR NEW PUP
By the end of September Maggie May will join our little farm. She is a Northwest Farm Terrier, a relatively new breed of farm dog, and we are excited to have her here. They are great herding dogs, especially with chickens, so we’ll put Maggie May to work next spring…and pamper her this winter.
PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR
Our plans will center around the farmers markets. We have decided to keep raising quail, mainly because we just love those little birds, and the eggs ain’t bad either. We will be making some herbal dips to sell at the markets, packages of spices and herbs which people can mix with sour cream….and I have another coloring book I want to publish before the markets begin in April.
Our sons are putting a new roof on our house in late September, and after that is completed I’ll attach a new arbor to the house for our grapevines. And I have a new deck to build for the grandma’s cottage out back.
And I plan on sleeping in past six several days each week.
I could tell you more but I have work to do.
Catch ya later! Thanks for stopping by and Happy Farming to you!
We can’t eat all the berries we have grown this year.
I know, I know, freeze them! We will, but that’s not the point.
The berries are coming from our front yard, which is no longer a lawn but instead is a cornucopia of thirty berry bushes.
Too cool for words!
It began in earnest three years ago. We laid down cardboard, put hay over that, and let nature do its thing. We kept adding cardboard where necessary, added fallen leaves, added more hay, and when we could we started planting the berries.
Three years later we have a harvest fit for a neighborhood of kings . . . and queens.
I hate lawns. I hate mowing lawns. I see no purpose in lawns. I think lawns are stupid.
On the other hand, berries are not stupid, but wise.
A young couple we know just purchased their first home. Pretty exciting news for them, five acres just outside of town, a partially-constructed workshed along with the house and land, plans already being made by this young couple, and it is hard not to be excited for them.
They asked me yesterday if I knew anyone who raised goats.
I love sustainable living and the strong sense of community.
Just so happens our son has a goat farm.
Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!!!!!!!!!
Community! Too cool for words!
I’m exhausted thinking about my to-do list. Why get more tired writing about it now? If you have an urban farm you know what I’m talking about.
LOOKING FOR ADVICE
I don’t mean this as mean so please don’t take it that way. I am actually amused by it. I recently queried why my quail would suddenly stop laying eggs, and within an hour I had fifteen different responses, all from very earnest people, all dead certain that they were correct based on their experiences, all highly-critical of the other opinions.
I personally think the quail stopped laying because it was too hot, but that’s beside the point.
The point is this: one size does not fit all in farming. What works for one person may not work for you, and what I do to solve a problem may not be considered wise by you.
It’s okay! Really! We don’t all have to solve problems the same way. Take a deep breath and relax.
Share information with each other . . . give suggestions when asked for . . . and chill the hell out!
If you raise chickens and quail, you are going to need grit at some point. Grit is used as a way to properly digest food. It goes straight down the bird’s gullet and “mashes” up the food they have eaten. That’s because chickens don’t have teeth, so the food they eat goes into their stomachs as lumps and not digested, chewed food. Grit does the work of teeth.
Many farmers use ground up oyster shells as grit. We use chicken egg shells as a substitute. I put the shells in a plastic bucket, and pound them into little pieces using a splitting maul. You then take those shells and bake them in the oven for about ten minutes or so. Some people don’t even bake them. I’m not sure which approach is correct. Either way, our chickens will eat it, as will the quail.
Yes, chickens eat chicken egg shells. Call it cannibalism if you want, but they love them and the shells are good for them.
I GOTTA GO
Enough of this writing stuff (even though it pays the bills). I’ve got work to do outside now that the heat wave has ended. For one I have to collect eggs. The girls are laying again. J