Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When the Farm Meets Reality

Life on the farm is usually "kinda laid back", to quote a famous song. However, it has its moments. Like this morning at 4:23 when I was awakened by the hysterical screeching of one of my hens outside my bedroom window. Something was after her or her nest most certainly as it was not courting time and that was not a cry of "leave me alone dear, I'm not in the mood right now!".

So I went flying out the front door, not sure what I thought I was going to do empty handed and barefooted, but I could quickly tell, she was still on the inside of the backyard fence line and not as far away as she had sounded. So back inside through the house I ran, this time picking up a flashlight and shoving my now freshly cut grass covered feet into a pair of muck shoes, out the back door to the huge oleander where she must have been hiding prior to her being accosted.

My glasses were not in the bathroom where they normally were, so I was half blind, but there is not much question in my mind that the white furry flash I saw in the corner dragging off my hen was that of the tail of a skunk that used to compete for my barn cat's dinner every night. (my barn cat has disappeared, by the way, and now I'm wondering if Pepe had something to do with that, too!)

I had a stick in my hand, as my gun was in the barn from having just recently chased off a stray dog who had come sniffing around looking for lunch the other day. And without anything else all I could do was hope to scare the skunk off into leaving my sweet hen to possibly recover from whatever damage he may have done to her so far. No such luck....he dragged her off under the house where I heard her final gasp of a half screech. My poor girl. I was too late to help her.

They won't always stay up close to the barn where they are much, much safer. It is these renegade chickens that brave the cold, cruel urban world of reality outside of the safety of their farmyard that I often lose in the still of the night. Either to an animal catcher, y'all remember the rooster's tail story back a year or so ago, or to a hungry four-legged predator. Even the snakes that patrol the barn are more interested in rats, eggs (which I try to find every day) and scaring my horse boarding customers than taking on a full grown chicken.

Now the race was on to see if I could perhaps save her nest of eggs, as I didn't hear any chirping babies left behind, and I had a broody hen who would surely adopt and incubate them the rest of their way. While mosquitoes surely fed on my bare legs and arms, I pushed aside the thick branches of the old mature where I figured she'd been nesting just moments earlier. Thick, heavy coverage - no wonder she thought she was safe in there. No dog would have ever found her, that is for sure. But the only thing I could find, even after returning to the house to hunt down my glasses so I could actually see, was a surprised mouse staring back into my flashlight glare.

This is the part of farming that is not enjoyable. I treat my chickens like pets, many are named, and it is much different to lose one of these than when one of the thousands in a flock of nameless birds disappears and no one even notices, except maybe the dog on duty who had fallen asleep on the job. Not that most all farmers with a heart don't dread the loss as I do, and I've come to accept that I can't always protect all of them, but it is harder to tell one is missing when they are not part of the handful of critters joining you for lunch outside by the house or greeting you at the back door for breakfast several times a week - hoping you drop a crumb of that sandwich or toss them a stale cracker or some of dinner's scraps. Because, don't ya know, there isn't enough for them to eat on the 2 or so acres they roam all day.....

Well this was in much contrast to the potential winner of a funny home video contest from an event the other day when the trailer turned into a spontaneous see-saw as I pushed down on the trailer hitch from the neck of the trailer....and the tiller and tractor implement became partially airborne, along with my water bottle and a few other things....thankfully, I was solidly standing on the ground and did not join them in a heap on the tailgate of the trailer. I didn't hear any distant laughter so I don't think my moment was witnessed by any of my next door neighbors who surely often get a chuckle out of my moments of learning curves....another thing about urban farming - you more often have an audience than when your farm is surrounded by other farmland, so many of your farm escapades are not just your own to muse over. Oh well, keeps me and my neighbors amused.

I suppose I'll get an extra early start today, now that I'm extra wide awake. Maybe make myself a fresh batch of blueberry muffins for breakfast since I have an extra hour or so before the sun comes up and I break the news to Nobutt that one of his companions is gone. And I'm not much of a skunk hunter....but I see a call to the wildlife management group later today, I've had about enough of Pepe and his gang, he better hope they find him before I do.


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What's Growing on the Farm

No E coli on the Romaine at your local direct farm to market stand

When multiple farms' harvests are combined into one - it makes it rather difficult to isolate the problem. The result - massive recalls.... The Latest Outbreak.....

One of the many valid points by Brad Stufflebeam at the hearing last week - IF, a small direct market farmer had a problem with one of their crops, which they rarely do as a direct result of the kind of farming we do - it would be traceable - immediately. The entire country's market of lettuce and anything containing it wouldn't need to be shut down and recalled. When will they learn?

Meantime, Life on the Farm...
Spring is being pushed out by early warm temps and dry weather in April. April showers? not in North Texas....I'd have to double check, but I think we had a grand total of less than an inch here on the farm. May is not starting out any wetter.

So that means irrigation is going full speed ahead and with our "off the grid" system down due to a lightening strike taking out our circuit board, I'm having to do my part at stinking up the air which i hate. But, we have to get water on the gardens, too and we're not getting much help from Above right now.

Since we need to rebuild our board anyway and do some rethinking about things, I am thinking about a long term solution that includes sinking a dc powered well pump into some pipe out in the pond. Seems there are far more choices for dc powered well pumps than continuous run land pumps we're finding and we'll need the ever expanding power of a larger pump as we continue to expand and need to irrigate more crops over time. We'll see what our wonderful volunteer engineer says. Seems I've taught him well as he's now busy growing a successful home garden for he and his wife and doesn't get out to the farm as often....

A drip tape monster is tamed

We were on the receiving end of the gifting of some drip tapes from farmer Sharlena who moved on to AZ to be with family. While finding all of the little leaks that come with prior years' tapes takes some time, being able to re-use the tapes that would otherwise have ended up in a dump before their time is a good thing. We do our best to patch and plug, thankful for the savings of not only our capital.

Naturally Beautiful

We're harvesting the last of the lettuce this week before it bolts with the early heat that came on last week and the one before. They are sure pretty and what our CSA can't consume, will go out for our hungry market day friends on the 15th so be sure to come, 9-noon. The Gleaning Network and a few local "hungry families" will enjoy the rest that is left.

Market Day's have been fun and busy this spring. We have a few new farmers/producers this year and our little "boutique" market is coming along nicely. Far as we know, we're still the only all organic/clean food market around - maybe in the state. And while it keeps us small, my point for sticking to this policy is that if you're going out of your way to look for good, local, food, might as well find clean, nutritionally dense food, too. Food that is grown locally is great, as it is fresher than the supermarket's offerings for sure - but I don't want pesticides on my food and I want to support those who support the earth's sustainability in their growing practices for many reasons.

We have an organic dairy and produce farm scheduled to join our market in June and as the produce comes in, so will the farmers we've been talking to including a local garlic farmer and various market farmers' seasonal produce growers with things like corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, squash, etc.

The rainbow of carrots are looking good here at Eden's - from above anyway - and I can't wait to harvest them. Beets, collards and the chard are dodging whatever has been eating the green mustard and our kale. Looks like a small black beetle that nothing else wants to eat. I don't like to use Spinosad, as it is non-selective even though it is an organic product, when eaten, accidentally in a water droplet or on the leaves as pests consume them, it will kill it's eater. So struggle as I may to stay with a target use control, we'd like to have some green mustard before summer comes on and I'll carefully spray just those plants when the winds die down. Bt , another organic tool, (this one is a specific insect targeted control), needs to go on the squash and tomatoes as I've started to see signs of nibbling - usually a caterpillar of some sort.

Parris Island Romaine at its Peak

It's dry and I suspect that is what the plants are hollering about - We Want Water! I'm doing so with irrigation, but nothing compares to a nice, gentle soaking rain. We pray.

Probably our biggest disappointment this winter has been the spinach and strawberries. Too much rain this winter kept several rows under standing water much of the growing season and roots need air to breathe as well as moisture to grow. We'll see about converting these obviously low and flood prone areas to compost areas rather than growing rows in the future. The compost piles will serve as water breaks and the "tea" that does run off should make anything downhill quite happy. :)

Our CSA potluck picnic was lots of fun and everyone seemed to really enjoy getting to meet others who are like-minded in the support of small, local urban farms - this one in particular. We toured the back 40 and saw where the honey bees' new home will be later this spring/summer. There are spring shares available - for details on how to join us and help support a small, local growing farm.

Supporting local farmers, organic or not, and growing some of your own food, helps send a message to DC and your state that you want choices in your food sources. We're not advocating an end to big ag, just a correction to what the results of it have produced.

Many thanks for your support of local farms, farmers, and clean food.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Food Safety "Listening" Session Comments

Here is what 2 of my fellow farmers so elequently shared with the FDA down in San Antonio. Please listen to the logic in what they say - and then explain to me how the absense of logic in the proposed regulations doesn't make sense to Senator Cornyn or anyone else supporting this bill (S510)?

100 crops = 100 safety plans! We'd need to hire people just to handle the paperwork!

And Brad nails it - we've already got that - tracibility.

Great job Judith and Brad - thank you and the others there in San Antonio, during the peak of planting season no less, for representing N. Texas Farmers, too.

Please be sure to continue to stay posted on this issue - we'll need the support of our customers/supporters to help make the voices of the farmers heard. Let them know you have food safety with your farmers' direct sales.

Your food choices will be at risk if they shut down small farms by virtue of over-regulating them out of business. And our food will be no safer, and in fact, less safe, as a result of it passing.

Senator Testor has proposed ammendments we need to get behind - we all want food safety - small local farms already have it. Go to for details, to support small farms' representation in DC and Austin, and to stay posted on this and other important issues that affect YOUR food.

MarieEat Your Food - Naturally!