Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Day In the Life...On the Farm

I'm frequently asked, "What is your typical day like?" Well, typically, they are not typical.

I mean, more times than not, something seems to come up that changes what I had originally planned, at least temporarily, until something unexpected is cleaned up, picked up, fixed or captured..... So maybe the better question would be, what do you normally plan for each day? Here is an entry I started during the triple digit temp summer we (barely) made it through this year....

I don't generally use an alarm clock anymore, a welcome change to my life as I always hated being uprooted by some loud buzzing or ringing noise, (and no, the roosters are far enough out back that they don't generally wake me up at 4AM, either - I create a bit of a misconception about all farmers being up before the crack of dawn I guess), but somehow I do manage to awaken by 6, at the latest, and usually earlier - especially if the sun is coming up on a clear, summer morning.  I do generally see the sunrise if I look out the back window. In the winter, that time is sometimes later due to the shorter days, but I have a hard time sleeping much past 6:30. My internal clock is apparently pre-set. 

Depending on how hungry I am myself, sometimes I feed the animals first, and come back in while they are eating to make something for me. But always, the inside cats have to eat first or no one gets any peace. If you have ever been owned by a cat, you'll understand.

Stormy - making sure the little chicks are "safe".....

After all of the big critters are eating, and assuming none have become feed themselves, or victims of a stray dog overnight, the chickens are let out of their coop and any youngin's taken out of their crates and I do a quick cleaning of my horse's stall.  If it's been awhile since "stripping" it, sometimes I'll take longer and loosen up some of the old, compressed bedding/manure/urine. But ideally, it is just the loose manure from the night before. This then goes into a pile to be composted.

This is part of my "closed-loop" program; using what's available on the farm, for the farm.

I check the plants in the greenhouse on my way in or out from feeding the critters and water seedlings as needed. (Here is another place something can go wrong - a stray chicken or nocturnal critter knocking over trays; fire ants eating seedlings; winds blowing the shade cloth to name it. But that's right, we're going with a "normally planned" day, right?)

So now that I'm fed, the critters are fed and cleaned up after and the greenhouse is all set for the morning, it's off I go to the gardens....where anything goes!

50'x100' Shade Cloth Up in a 20' Tree - the Garden Gnomes Had a Party?

Out there I do a visual check to make sure there haven't been any overnight catastrophes. You know, stray dogs running through drip lines, rabbits eating seedlings, wild hogs knocking over bee hives, rats or whatever chewing through drip tapes - well, this one doesn't usually rear its ugly head till I start to irrigate and see a fountain or flood emerge at the end of one of the rows.

I keep a garden journal, (which could probably become a comedy/drama novel one day), and try to remember to record a little something each day about the farm and what I observe, or want to remember next year.

I walk up and down each row and make written or mental notes about what I've found/see, need to do, should have done, etc. (The written notes are recorded much better than the mental ones - because the memory fades as each new thing pushes the oldest one out.)  I look for new seedlings, things to harvest, insects or their damage, check the soil for moisture, especially in seedlings' rows, and determine if irrigation is needed. That's when the fun really starts. LOL

2/3 of the pond disappeared leaving about 12" of sludgy "water".

Of course there is starting the pump - well, since burning out the last 2 dc (solar) powered pumps and nearly losing all of the water in the pond, I'm forced to use a gas pump now, you know, like a little weed eater engine. Oh, no, it's not that easy - the starting is fine, it's the finding water that is a challenge. Up till the week we rec'd a 2" saving Grace rain, I would start and set up the pump in the rowboat, hose over the back end, shove the boat out past a marker I'd previously placed in the water showing where the water was deep enough to draw from without picking up mostly mud from the bottom of the pond, and hope the wind didn't keep blowing the boat in too far to shore. Always an adventure!

After a little-rain but heavy wind storm came through, reclaiming the boat became the day's "before 9am" challenge...the Army's got nothing on me!

Filters need to be cleaned, tapes need to be bled of algae and other debris from the pond that sneaks past the filters and of course, the aforementioned tape nibbling. This is actually the first year Eden's has been bothered by plastic chewing creatures - but boy can they make a mess! One day, in fact, when I started to irrigate, it did look like someone had installed a new fountain at the back of the last row! Needless to say, it was not worth trying to fix all of that - so the tape had to be carefully pulled up (or, if that is too much with mature plants, it's just disconnected), and new tape laid down in its place. Good thing I had already given up on the plantings in that row and were waiting to put in something new.

Eventually, however, I managed to find a location where it looked like the water level had steadied, due to the "spring" I hoped, and tied off the boat near enough to the shore that I didn't have to wade in the pond scum to board or off-board. I scared several bullfrogs on the way around the pond where no one normally walks, but, they started getting used to me.

So, once the pump is fired up, the boat is tied up and the filters are clean - watering commences. (a little more involved than walking over to a spigot and turning it on, but I get to see wild birds, baby ducks, bullfrogs and turtles!)

Now, depending on the date/moon cycle and season I can either be planting, harvesting, weeding or preparing soil - or, on some days, a little bit of all of the above.

This summer, with the drought and heatwave, I tried to water down "hard as concrete" rows so I could till them up to get fall seeds planted. It was nuts! But, farmers do what we have to do, and if we have to make believe it is raining by dragging hose up and down the 100' rows to moisten the soil - that is what I'm doing.

The trick is not to make it muddy. Composted horse manure and amendments are then added to the sandy soil and tilled in. Irrigation lines are run again and the row is then mulched with chopped up leaves/partially composted tree trimmings, etc. When it rains, this creates a bit of a "compost tea" for the soil. It also helps keep the soil from returning to rock hard.

The days ended pretty early when the temps hit triple digits, sometimes before noon, but heatstroke is not something I'd care to experience. I've probably drank half a gallon of water by now and if I'm not hungry, I will be soon, but usually it is the heat of the blistering sun beating through my hat that drives me in.

The greenhouse is always a stop along the way again to see if anything needs another drink and shoo any chickens out. Double checking everyone has water and then by now, it's lunch time for sure.

So, that was the "typical" morning plan on those, long, hot, summer days this year. The afternoon often included a bit of a siesta, hibernating in an a/c room, and working late into the dark, often watering again, when it was relatively "cooler", at least less than 100.....

Now that fall is here, there are some mornings filled with CSA work-share friends here to help, school farm tours and classes and lately, trips to the city for screenings, Food Day and other food related events. But when the dog-days of summer are upon us, and they seemed to have lasted for 3 months this summer, this is what "Life on the Farm" is like. Not a bad life at all. Sure beats being locked up in a cubical all day - to me at least. I have said it before, this is the most rewarding, challenging, fun, interesting, etc., "job" I've ever had.
And the perks are great!

Even the volunteers and work-share members have their share of "fun"!

Eat Your Food - Naturally!