Prepping for Spring

The days are getting longer and the temps are starting to warm up a bit here in Oklahoma. We already have buds emerging from our apple and pear trees, and daffodils are about to bloom in the flower beds,  which scares me a bit considering our average last frost date around here is April 13th….Gonna have to keep an eye on the overnight temps to ensure we get things covered up if there is a threat.

Anyways, February was a pretty crazy month for me. I spent every extra minute I had studying to take the Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) exam as part of my duties relating to my job.  After seven weeks of very focused study, I finally have the exam behind me (I passed) and can begin focusing on getting things ready for the spring planting season.

After passing the exam, I rewarded myself by purchasing a DVD I’ve had my eyes on for a while – The Market Gardener’s Toolkit.  Here’s a quick promo video for the documentary:

The DVD arrived in the mailbox this morning, so I’m sure you can guess what I’ll be doing this evening. 🙂

I’ve got a small list of projects that need to be done around the property before we get into the full swing of spring, but the nice thing about this year is that we will be able to simple enjoy maintaining what we’ve already setup and put in place. No fences to build, ground to break, beds to set up, coops to build, or any of that…we can simply prep the garden and plant our seeds.

Over the next week or two, we’ll be planting seeds in trays to get them started, and putting the first few crops in the ground. I’ve bought onion starts and we’ll be planting potatoes on St. Patrick’s day along with some of the cool season crops. As far as the seeds we’ll be starting in trays, I think we’ll probably begin with basil, cilantro, tomatoes, and several other herbs that we’ll transplant at the beginning of April.

And finally, we’ve had quite the set of visitors at the farm lately.  It all started with a duck that decided to stop by and enjoy the pond one afternoon. I assume he flew in from one of the neighbor’s property because he would fly away in the evenings, and return the next day. We throw out a bit of scratch for him to enjoy while he’s here and he shows his appreciation by “wagging” his tail like a dog. The kids have named him “Harold.”

Harold the Duck

Then, a few weeks later, Harold was joined by 8 geese and a blue heron. So, at that point we had 21 chickens, 8 geese, 1 duck, and 1 heron all within view from the back window. Quite the avian army. I managed to snap a quick photo of Harold and two of his friends hanging out around the pond:

Our Avian Army

Anyways, I’m glad to be thinking about the farm again. Hopefully I can even manage to start working on another writing project soon. But overall, I’m very excited that things are working their way toward the growing season.

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Deer Nibbling On Our New Pine Trees

Pine tree damage

Back in the early spring, we planted two rows of pine trees in the front pasture to try and establish a bit of a wind break and natural privacy fence. In all, I think we planted something like 80+ saplings around the property with about 50 or so of those as part of the wind break rows.

I headed out to give them some water during lunch and noticed that there are a handful of them that the deer have started nipping the tops off of.

Pine tree damage

We have a herd of about 8 or so deer that hang around our place, graze and bed down in our pastures during the night. I love the fact that I can walk out on to my back porch, shine the spotlight into the darkness, and almost always see the group drinking from the pond or munching on the sporadic patches of still green grass throughout the yard.

They know we aren’t a threat and even feel comfortable enough to come as close as 10 yards from the house, sometimes while we’re standing there on the porch. I consider it one of the perks of country life and appreciate all the opportunities my family have to see them bless us with their presence here on the homestead.

But sometimes their presence comes with a cost. When we planted the pine saplings, I knew it was a roll of the dice that some of them may be discovered and possibly chewed on by the herd. We made sure to plant extra knowing the risks. And if today’s survey is any indication, it looks like they have, in fact, discovered some of the trees.

Pine tree damage

That’s alright though. If I can get 50% of the trees to take root and make it past the deer’s curiosity, I consider it a win. I guess my thinking is that I’d rather lose a handful of trees to feed a couple hungry friends than not have the deer around at all. It’s a trade I’m happy to make.

The next stage the trees will have to make it through is when they are tall enough for the bucks come and start rubbing their antlers on them during rut season. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. 🙂

Mulching The Garden (Permanently?)

My father-in-law was looking to get rid of some extra straw bales, so I took them off his hands and used them to mulch the garden for the winter. Most of the garden was still bare and starting to really dry out (we’re dangerously close to entering into drought levels) and that’s no shape to leave the soil in during the winter months. Not to mention that I’ve been looking for a good way to mulch the garden permanently moving forward.

Coincidently, I’m also currently reading No-Work Garden Book by Ruth Stout which outlines a continuous, heavy mulch method to keep weeds at bay and soil in healthy order.

As I’ve read through the beginning chapters of the book, I’ve thought about our specific context here at the homestead and realized that the one thing we have an abundance of around here is pasture grass (and therefore hay). And now that I have an inaugural layer of mulch down on the garden beds, I may take the next few years and give the continuous mulch process a try.

Obviously, it will take a few years to allow the system to get up to full speed, but with two multi-acre hay pastures currently sitting idle, it’s worth seriously considering as a way to reduce or eliminate my current practice of tilling the beds. While we had good yields this year with tilling the soil, I’ve always had a long-term goal of moving to a no-till method. Again, considering our specific context, I think it’s worth a deeper look.

Setting Some New Goals

So, this past holiday weekend, in between multiple Thanksgiving gatherings, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and spent some time making progress on planking the bridge across the narrow end of our pond.

Wider view of the bridge

Everything about the bridge has been reclaimed from the scrap heap. The telephone poles that span the banks were delivered free from a friend of mine who works for an electric company. The boards used to plank the bridge were a mixture of reclaimed pallet boards and various odds and ends that I scrounged from a big junk pile that came with the property that I’ve slowly been tearing apart. Overall, I’ve been able to get about 80% across and it’s cost me nothing but sweat and muscle. Still need to pull about 7 more pallets apart, use the wood to plank the remainder of the bridge, sand everything down and put some sealer on it.

Now that the Route 66 5K is over and most of my winter preparation chores are complete, I figured it was a good project and metaphor to subconsciously begin thinking about transitioning into some new goals.

The winter months have always been a time of rest and relaxation for me. I usually spend my time watching movies with the family, reading books by the fire, and doing everything I can to go to bed early and catch up on some sleep. I also try to pick some sort of writing project and exercise regimen to work on just to keep my creative and physical muscles moving.

Here are some of the new things I’m shooting for:

  • Running – I plan on continuing my progress and slowly furthering my distance up to 10K. I’ve put together a running schedule for the next 8 weeks that I think will get me there. In addition to increasing my mileage, I’m also adding in a few days of light cross training to try to strengthen my ankles and legs a bit more for the longer distances.
  • Writing – I’m still working on getting this screenplay over the finish line. I’ve not been as disciplined in my writing as I have been in my running, but I have put together a schedule that I think will get me to THE END by the first of the year, possibly sooner if I buckle down or get a long weekend to focus on it.
  • Reading – I’m currently reading Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. I’ve got about 50 pages left to go and then I’ll pick up the next book on my reading list. My goal is to read 4 to 5 novels over the next few months as well as a stack of non-fiction books on gardening and a few memoirs from fellow farmers.
  • 2018 Goals – every year I take the month of December and try to set some yearly goals for myself, so over the next few weeks I’ll be thinking through and writing down some bigger goals for the coming year (more to come in a future post).

Closing Out The Garden

Harvesting the last spinach block of 2017

Spent part of the morning harvesting the remaining block of fall spinach.

That about concludes the major gardening activities for 2017. As such, we’ve officially turned the chickens loose into the garden to have at whatever they can find and scratch up.

Garden clean up crew

The garden’s not the prettiest sight at the moment with everything nearing its end, but it’s a reminder that we have a good first year’s harvest put away in the pantry for the winter and a time for thanksgiving and rest is coming very soon.

I think one of the best parts about growing your own food is how you get to connect to the cycles of the year at a deep level. There’s just something about it that feeds your soul. Not only that, but you also have the opportunity to truly embrace holidays such as Thanksgiving where you can reflect and appreciate the fruits of your labor and the gifts of the garden.

Now that most of our harvesting is complete, I’ll spend the next week or so cleaning up the plants that are left, adding a bit of compost to the plot, and mulching everything in preparation for the winter. It’s one last act of love given back to the soil that has provided us so much this year.

Farm Update: Chicks Move Outside & Canning Fall Beans

Lots of activity on the homestead this week. We moved our 6 new chicks from the brooder out to the transitional chicken tractor before they make the final move to the big coop with the rest of the flock. We do this intermediate stage to help them grow to full size before putting them in with the other birds.

New chicks move outside to the chicken tractor

Utilizing the tractor also allows us to get them physically side-by-side with the larger flock (the last week before integration we’ll push the tractor right up to the chicken run where the other hens run around), yet maintain a barrier to prevent the larger hens from pecking on them while still young.

They will still have to go through the process of learning their place in the pecking order once they move in with the older hens, but we’ve found in the past that this process makes their integration into the larger flock very easy and almost without incident.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re starting harvesting from our fall garden. With almost 8 gallons of beans harvested, we started the process of snapping and canning everything.

Snapping fall beans

The first day took three rounds of canning and we still have one more round to go.

Canning fall beans

When everything was finished we ended up with 24 quarts of canned beans.

Canned beans

Row covers have worked well when the temps have dipped into the mid-to-lower 30’s at night. I expect we’ll probably get another harvest this weekend and estimate around 2-4 more gallons.  So, if my math is working today, that put us somewhere around 40+ quarts (maybe over 50) when done.

We’ll end up sharing some with neighbors and friends, but that should definitely be enough to last us through the winter.