Monday, July 20, 2015


    This last weekend Jess and I took a break from the farm for a few days and went down to Seed Savers Exchange just outside Decorah Iowa. If you are not familiar with Seed Savers Exchange it is first and foremost an organization dedicated to allowing gardeners and farmers to preserve heritage varieties of plants. The do this first by establishing an exchange where members can exchange seeds of heirloom varieties of plants. They also offer catalog sales of some of these varieties as well. I encourage you to get to know them and become a member.

    They have an annual camp out and conference at the amazing farm in Decorah. They have a number of speakers every year as well as seminars relating to many aspects of small farming and homesteading. This year I attended sessions on cider making,garlic types,isolation structures and perennial plant propagation.I plan to talk more in depth about these in future posts.
Jess was particularly impressed with her lectures on preserving food via fermentation and solar drying as well as a talk about Mohawk native food traditions.
We both came home excited to put our new knowledge into action.

   First thing to do when we got back to the farm was to see how well the plants and animals had done while we were away. I first went into the corn field as I knew it was going to have grown quite a bit in the heat. I wasn't ready for it to be quite so tall. I am 6ft tall in boots and i can not touch many of the tassels if I stand in the garden. Some plants appear to be pushing 10ft!

I then checked on the orchard to see if we had any damage from the storms over the weekend. I did see that many of the apricots were ripe and that some had fallen from the wind. I gathered the fallen fruits up and brought them to the pigs.

The pigs have grown so quickly this summer that it can be a bit overwhelming even if you just don't see them for a few days. They loved the apricots and apples. And I am sure it will improve their flavor. They really are starting to get to a size where you can envision how the meat is shaping up and look forward to meat on the table and yet also feel the slight sadness that their last day on the farm will bring.
In the garden everything has gone a bit wild. July heat and plentiful rain has lead to things running each other over. The big dogs of the garden have taken to pushing the little ens about. Cucumbers have begun to colonize ground in earnest. The climbing beans have reached the top of their trellis and are attempting to take to the sky. Sadly the weeds are likewise making a play for domination.

So back to the weeding and the tending.
I still have a fair amount of wood to split and stack in the pole barn as well as everything else as well. But for now at least I am refreshed and inspired again.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Peas and pork.

We are getting off to an amazing start this Spring. We finally have to geese sitting on ests and hope to see goslings soon. Our pigs continue to grow at an amazing rate. We are making arrangements to purchase a woodstove and cut down some of our older trees for firewood. Things are going really well for us but the garden has been the real showstopper this Spring.
 We have head enough moisture as well as enough heat and sun to really get the plants off to a running start. We planted a bunch of potatoes back in april and they seem just about ready to flower already. We have had to hill them twice. The great asparagus glut has come and just about gone.The newest thing to come online has been strawberries. There really is nothing like a strawberry straight from the garden and still a little warm from the summer sun.
   After that it looks like peas will be coming in and we can't wait. Peas are favorite for us. I grew up in a time of tight budgets and limited access to fresh produce. When I was younger I liked peas but I had only had canned or boiled peas. The sort of peas that were ready for war in Vietnam, olive drab and reliable if not exactly enthralling. It wasn't until I had frozen peas that I really fell in love with them. They were so sweet and had a bit of pop when you chewed them. They also had a flavor that spoke of Spring time and lush and growing plants. Then I had garden fresh peas and it happened again. I fell deeper in love with the humble pea. What frozen peas had garden fresh peas had even more of. Jess and I usually "compete" for the first few spoonfuls of peas and I look forward to it every year. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


This year is off to a great start. We have been able to get a lot of things going this Spring already. We have planted most of the garden already. We have already been able to have some modest harvests from our polytunnel greenhouse and our perennials in the garden.
    Another of this year pleasures is working with some friends that have recently moved to the area and are on a similar path as us. Our new friends moved to the area last Fall and it has been great getting to know them. They are younger and have an almost unlimited amount of energy for homesteading projects and seem to really shine where animal husbandry is concerned. This has been a great help to me this Spring because while I may be one of the least competitive people out there I am still easily motivated to keep up with others most days. And our new friends have gone in big! They have already started bees,goats,geese and rabbits and recently pigs. They have already planted a garden an orchard as well and are doing quite well at all of them!
      In order to keep up with the Joneses as it were we have a larger garden this year with a small 1/25th of an acre corn field set aside for the growing of heirloom dent corn . We have increased our plantings of potatoes this year. We also have planted four new elderflower bushes and five new gooseberry bushes. Lastly we fenced off a half acre of shaded pasture on the North of the property and converted part of our bunker in order to keep pigs.
     I am in love with the pigs already. It may seem odd to say that I am in love with an animal that I intend on eating but I don't have another word for it. I feel a real sense of duty to these animals. It is my duty to watch over thee animals and see to it that they are free from want and suffering as much as possible. To see that they have the best if environment, food and water that I can provide. It is my obligation to them to do this. I am asking that they give their lives at the end of our time together and it is the least I can do. But it is part of a bargain we make with animals. Those that we expect much of are cared for well and those that can do little for us are mostly ignored by us and left to the natural state of wilderness. I look forward to all the wonderful food our pigs will provide and the sense of balance that eating that food will bring.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Project Bacon Pt.1

Ever since we moved to our home we have been on  a steady trend of finding more ways to use our land as pasture,garden, or orchard. This has been in no small part due to my hatred of mowing, but also as part of a move to produce more and different kinds of food on our farm. We have had a lovely half acre of land on the NE corner of our property that we have really not done much with ever since we moved in. It is far to distant from the house to be used as a garden or yard and it is partially shaded by mature maples most of the day so it wouldn't be ideal for orchard.  We have instead just mowed it once or twice a year and otherwise it has been under utilized.
   Well we aim to change all of that. We have decided to raise pigs on it for a season. We have never raised pigs before and are very excited to begin. We look forward both to having more and different types of animals on the farm as well as the quality meat they will one day provide us. Our plan is to purchase some feeder pigs and raise them over the Summer and butcher them this Fall. Jess has found a supplier and I have been hard at work erecting fencing and getting the old "bunker" ready to function as pig housing. Everything is just about complete on that score. The fence has been erected and the door and window installed on the bunker. The last thing I need to do is to bury a few sections of the fencing and add a strand of electric wire around the fence to keep the pigs from digging underneath. 

I don't have any pictures of the completed pen yet so please except this picture of home cured bacon I made last summer instead. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Musings on disaster.

Yesterday our heat lamp fell into our brooder and burned through the bedding, the plastic and the rolling dolly I had the brooder set on. We were lucky in that we discovered it before it had the chance to ignite and burn down the garage. We were lucky but this Springs chicks were not.

Life on a small farm is not without its successes and triumphs but that is not what this post is about. This post is about failures and setbacks. No matter what you do on a small farm you will have failures and setbacks. I have had quite a few. From hail storm ravaged gardens to rabbits that wouldn’t mother their young. Some are my fault either through ignorance or mistake and some are simple acts of random chance. 

As small farmers we invest so much of ourselves into our farms. From hours carefully tending gardens and herding flocks to time spent constructing pens and buildings we shape and mold our farms to be a reflection of our desires and dreams. For some this may be an intricately integrated vegetable garden with carefully plotted and planted varieties, plants that were selected with promise and tended with love and affection. For some of us it is a flock of busy little hens whose antics and names came to be dear to us over the hours we spend with them caring for their needs.  And when we invest so much of our hearts, minds and dreams in our farms it can be an especially difficult blow when disaster strikes. Failures on the homestead can crush your heart. Any time an animal dies I feel it is my fault, that I messed up in some way in care or prevention of harm. That can be an especially heavy burden indeed.

 There may be some luck few out there that will avoid all calamities but for the rest of us the question isn’t if but when and where disaster will strike. We have had many failures and setback and if you are a homesteader or small farmer than my guess is so have you.  So what can we do about it. First from the outset decide that you will have setbacks and that they may sadden you but that they will not stop you. Stiffen your resolve before it is even tested so that when the blow comes you have something to lean on. Second see destruction as a teacher. If you are observant you will find that every failure has a lesson in it. Whether that lesson is specific such as a hole in your fence or more general such as you can’t control everything is up to you. But I urge you to find these lessons as they will make you and your farmstead better with every realization. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Just a quick update to keep up the habit

   So last weekend we were able to actually start the process of getting the garden ready for the season. We pulled some weeds, turned some soil and removed last year's asparagus fronds. Then come Sunday we got nine inches of snow and I was immediately brought back down to earth. Spring in Minnesota is a time for flexible living. So the snow is starting to melt again and we wait.
   In other news I updated the blog a bit and added a link to my Pinterest boards which I think have some good ideas. I don't know when I might have a chance to put any of them into action but perhaps they might inspire some of you


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Catch up picture post.

Here are some of the things we have done since I last wrote in this blog. From most recent to least recent they are...

We went to Kona this spring and got a chance to see coffee grow. 
 Jess is still amazing. 
 We continue to have our fall festivals every year and raise money for the food shelf. 
 I went hunting for elk in Wyoming
 The views were amazing
 It was a great trip. 
 I backed out of this spot 15 seconds before that branch came down right where I was. 
 Our rhubarb is kind of overwhelming now
  I am getting a little better at catching smelt. 
We are raising geese as our only waterfowl now. 
 Katz's deli 
 Jess looking suitably aloof for springtime in NY. 
 We took a trip to New Yor.
 We cured and smoked some bacon on the farm. 
 The last few winters have been way too cold. 
 I tried to tan a deer hide. with mixed results.
 I got to meet Hank Shaw in person. 
 We have harvested and eaten shaggy manes.
 We added a poly tunnel for season extension. I still haven't got it quite figured out yet but I am getting better with controlling it. 
 We continue to harvest our hops and brew beer with them. 
 We were adopted by a barn cat named Florence. 
 We fenced off a large part of the yard as a field for annimals
 We attended the seed savers annual convention
 We attended a number of great lectures there. 
 I spent a week in the BWCAW 
 I have gotten better at finding morels in the spring time. 
 We made nettel and pumpkin ravioli. 

We hatched our own baby chicks

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spring is sprung

Well Spring is the season of new growth. I don't exactly know what the new restart of the blog might entail but I hope to get the blog started back up again.
     We have some big plans for the farm this year. We plan to try raising pigs for the first time which is very exciting. So far I have cleaned out half the bunker and filled it with straw. I have also arranged a heat lamp and made a feed trough for our future piglets.
     We also are planning to raise a significant amount of dent corn this year as part of a project to produce a special corn grits.
    We also kept six of the geese over the winter and while they don't appear to have much interest in laying eggs just yet we have hopes of raising our own goslings this year.

So lots of plans. Hopefully more to come soon!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Polar Vortex

It seems that this Winter we are getting a taste of future things to possibly come. I am no climate scientist but this irregular cold weather we have been having this year meets my understanding of Climate Change. It has been exceptionally cold exceptional early in Minnesota this year and it has lasted longer already than is usual. I suspect that there is more of this in the future. So I did the only sane thing I could think of and ordered peach trees for this Spring. Now Minnesota peach trees may not be the first thing that Springs to mind when I say the word polar vortex but they are connected.
   Firstly since the climate is changing it can go in either direction so for me on zone 4 that means planting both zone 3 hardy and zone 5 hardy plants. And secondly I have been thinking a lot of old Sam McGee and his home in Peach Tree Tennessee this Winter. Plus I just really love the idea of my own peach trees.
   I also ordered a pair of Paw Paw trees. As a native fruit that are hardy quite far north with a great taste I am excited about these. It will likely be at least 3 years before I get to taste a Paw Paw but I am playing a long game here on the farm.

Keep Warm
Frustrated Farmer Rick

Monday, December 30, 2013

New car

As part of our long term plan to reduce our reliance on ancient carbon based fuels we have decided our new car needs to be at least a hybrid or fully electric car. After having driven a number of vehicles and doing the math it lools like the best car for us will be the Chevy Volt. The fully electric car is superior for short trips as we can run only on electricity for the first thirty or so miles. For longer distances however the hybrids have slightly better mileage.
I  am fully aware that when we charge an electric vehicle we are most likely still using ancient carbon but future plans for us are to begin producing electricity which would completely change the equation. So for now we have decided on the Chevy Volt.