Tuesday, May 26, 2009

life and death in the mower's garden

After waiting for the rain for a few days, it came with vengeance today for about an hour and then was nice and sunny. Totally jacked our garden. Our poor corn looks like somebody's trying to make a crop circle in our garden. I will have lots of work to do in the morning, standing everything up. I may have to take the machete and make some stakes out branches off the fallen walnut tree to hold things back up. The corn, the squash, the okra, and the wax beans all got hit hard. This guy is still going though. This is what I am waiting for: fresh peppers. Oh I can't wait to butcher this sweet green pig.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Waiting for the Rain, Happy to not depend on it.

Any form of agriculture depends on the weather, and you just can't count on it working out the way you want it to.

So far, the weather has been great for us this season. The switching back and forth from rainy to sunny is perfect for the garden, the berry bushes and the fruit trees. We haven't had to water much, but the last few days it has been dark and cloudy, but a couple of drops is all we have been getting. Luckily for us, we live on a well, so water only costs us the electricity it takes to drive the pump.

Water is one of the most important elements to any piece of rural land, and water also determines what options are available to a landowner. Our water is clean and flows easily into the cistern when the compressor is on, coming out cold and fresh.

When we lived in Las Vegas the water from the city had so much chlorine in it that if you filled up the bathtub in the small bathroom, the fumes would hurt your eyes. The price was high. Our place was built in the 'fifties and was on a corner lot with a big lawn. Trying to water it could cost $150 a month. That doesn't include electricity, that was just for the water/sewer/garbage bill.

If you're looking into a place in the country, you should find out if putting in a well is permitted. Some places with water shortages keep raising water costs until people started putting in their own wells. Cities and counties in some places have placed restrictions on new wells, so you should find out if this applies to your place. Even if it has access to a water supply company, you should find out if a well is an option. If the property already has a well, you should have the water tested to make sure it does not contain harmful bacteria or pollutants. Our tests were done through the city offices, and either they or someone in county administration should be able to tell you where to get a test. You should also inspect the well to see how quickly the water is flowing into the cistern. Ours fills up in about an hour, but the pump determines the pressure in the house, the compressor and the volume of water available determines how fast it comes out of the ground. You don't want it to take all day to fill a cistern.

Having some form of flowing water on your property greatly increases the possible uses. Even the small branch that flows through parts of our property could be used to provide water to livestock or be diverted to water crops. Understanding your water rights might very important for future development. Because whatever you do to the water on your property affects the people downstream. Of course, large water supply companies have no problem damming up a flow, but doing it down in your back forty may have you in a feud with a neighbor. Feuds are fun and all, but its hard to develop your property when someone is shooting at you.

During the recent swine flu scare we talked a lot about what would happen if there was a serious pandemic. It would be possible, but not easy and certainly unpleasant, for us to hole up here and survive. Between hunting, gathering, trapping, and raising livestock and crops, we could keep the kids fed even if we couldn't keep the lights on. We don't intend to try this anytime soon, but if we had to we could.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hunting and Gathering

This morning I went to the feed store after droping the girls off at school.

I love the feed store. I always feel like my belt buckle is just way too small to be inside. The whole place feels so foreign and mysterious.

I bought a fifty-pound salt block to put out for hunting. Five dollars and fifty cents later, I was headed back to pick good spot to put it out. I carried the small white block on my shoulder down a little incline and put it a few feet away from the edge of the small branch the snakes through part of the property. The sandy bank is covered with tracks from pigs and deer. It's not deer season so I'm really only interested in the pigs. I never thought I would even know when deer season is, let alone be planning on shooting a few.

Growing up in the suburbs I never would have imagined myself hunting, but I figure I eat enough meat that I might as well man up and be willing do some of my own killing. If I don't like it, maybe I should switch to the broccoli diet or become a cheeseatarian.

I don't think I will have a problem with the shooting, but I might puke trying to butcher the damn thing.

So far, living out here I have had to kill a few snakes. I shot one rabbit that was trying to get into the garden (my only regret is using too big a gun--after the big kaboom, there was not enough left to eat), and one Nutria that I shot thinking it was an otter sleeping in the grass. That was only the fourth time I fired the 30-06, so I was just happy to hit was I aiming at.

The pastures that have been planted with pine trees are covered with wild blackberries this year. The pines are not even close to tall enough to choke anything out, and without anyone cutting for hay or brush control, the place is completely overgrown.

This morning I picked two pounds of wild berries, and two days before I picked about the same. The kids love them and luckily Luci knows how to do all that country stuff like make jams and jellies. If I keep picking every couple of days, I think the bushes will keep producing more berries, and the ones that are there will get bigger and ripen until the cycle ends.

I got an email from one of the beekeepers who answered my ad on Craigslist saying that the things they look for are berry plants, wildflowers and gardens. So hopefully someone will come and put bees out in exchange for honey.

We have seven chickens left and this the pile of eggs from this week. They lay faster than we can eat them. It doesn't help that neither of my kids are big egg eaters any more. Guess we burned them out on eggs. Hey, tell me why the kids will eat the inside of a deviled egg, but won't touch egg salad with a ten-foot pole? One of life's mysteries.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Even the small harvest is worth the work

The garden is starting to produce. It's a good damn thing too, 'cause if I was out there weeding in 90 percent humidity for nothing I would go freakin' nuts.

I did a lot of weeding this morning. I took my hoe and gave a quick tune-up with a mill file so it would be nice and sharp. I keep the file in my back pocket when I weed so I can sharpen it often.

Anybody who uses many tools knows that keeping things sharp can save you a ton of work. With garden tools, a sharp pick, shovel, machete and hoe save your back from undue wear-and-tear, as well as doing a better job hacking things to pieces.

I am not obsessed with weeds. I want the garden to produce; I don't care if everything is perfect. Some garden blogs and websites show vegetable plants in these super-clean beds covered with mulch and not a weed in sight. I'm here to tell ya, it don't have to be so. Maybe that is how you get prize-winning tomatoes, but all I want is my kids to eat fresh healthy food.

We picked a few more radishes, a colander full of mustard greens, and a pot full of green beans this morning after I hacked my way through the weeds. The male blooms are falling off the squashes and the female blooms are starting, so all is well. Tiny little cucumbers are forming behind the flowers on the cucumber plant and the tomatoes smell amazing. I always forget what decent tomatoes from the garden smell like. Bought in the store, they barely have any scent at all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Totally Retro Scarecrow

Today was scarecrow day. We decided to go for the serious retro scarecrow with a totally groovy Levi Panatela 70's suit and an awesome Oxford button-up. These are Luci's dad's old clothes that have been in the upstairs closet for years. After sorting through a pile of some serious polyester, it came down to either this or a black and grey checkered kind of thing. The black and grey had matching pants and jacket, but these pants... How could we pass up these pants? I wish the jacket was the same as the pants, but you can't have everything.

To make the scarecrow I took some big safety pins and attached the shirt to the pants. I tried to get it even all the way around and have the button just above the top of the pants. I needed some pretty thick safety pins to push through the polyester. I attached the gloves the same way with one pin in front and another in back. I could barely get them through the thick leather of my old work gloves. I also used the pins to close up the legs so that when I shoved in the pinestraw it wouldn't come out the leg. When I say pinestraw I mean pinestraw. I filled the scarecrow with pine needles I raked up a few weeks ago.

Besides the totally awesome pants, my favorite part of is the head. I used a plastic milk jug upside down with a dowel running up into it. I cut a hole in the neck of the jacket and shirt and tied it to the handle to pull up the collars. I had been trying to think of an old hat I could use when I noticed the pile of old solar landscape lights laying next to the front porch. Most of them have been messed up by the hurricanes and I had pulled them out of the ground a few days ago. I cleaned up one I thought might still work and found the least corroded batteries from a few different lights. I cut a little hole in the top of the jug and placed the light on top with the light poking down inside. Now, not only does my scarecrow look like he is wearing a jaunty little cap, his head lights up at night.

I would love to see other scarecrows from around the country. I know there have got to be some funny ones. Maybe next year I will make punk rock scarecrow with a big mohawk and a Crass t-shirt. Gothcrow, modcrow, deathmetalcrow, anything with wallet chain, the possibilities are endless.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We got green. The garden is growing well and everything is in bloom. The cucumbers have bright yellow flowers, the squash a yellow-orange bloom that should open in a few days. Today, Luci picked one radish, a few dragon beans and a big pile of Mustard greens. Normally I wouldn't touch mustard greens with a ten-foot pole, but the way she cooks them and the fact that they're fresh from the garden...I have to admit, they were pretty good.

As you can see from the photo we have tons growing in the garden, including a fair crop of weeds and grass. Since this area was covered in thick grass when we started, I am not surprised. When I tilled, I went back over and over the same area. Each time I would try to rake and pick out more big thick grass roots and leave the rest drying out in the hot sun to die. We removed tons, but I don't think we got nearly enough.

As Luci planted each row she gave the dirt a final picking over. Now we have a lot more growing from seed than from root. The grass growing from seed is small and easy to pull out. I think that if we make the garden constantly in the same spot we can reduce the amount of grass growing by tilling several times a year. I also plan on chucking the chickens into the garden right before and right after I till to munch on the weeds that are in there.Trying to weed the garden is probably the hardest part of the process. It is just so hot here. You step outside and are instantly covered in sweat. I will try again in the morning after I take the kids to school.

I posted a layout of our garden for this year. We think putting the sunflowers at the bottom of the slope was good idea because they get tons of water. Next year if we don't have a separate patch for corn, then the corn will go at the bottom next time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No roots, no life

Came home to find that the roots of two of the pole beans have been munched away by some type of critter. Desperate to fix this--I can't watch as something eats my garden. We have invested way to much work in it to see it destroyed.

This seems to be one of the big problems for the beginning gardener: either not sure what's eating stuff, or just not sure what to do about it. We think it may be cutworms so I am going to look for a solution on-line.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The world needs ditch diggers too

Now I know why my father always said the world needs ditch diggers too. This would come up when ever my grades were bad (which was pretty much all four years of high school). I remember thinking "What the hell for?"

Well. Now I know. Probably people who grow up on dirt roads know the importance of a good drainage ditch, but personally I didn't realize that ditches were not a natural occurrence.

I have begun to see the need for good drainage. The last few rains in Tyler County have been like freakin' monsoons. During this last torrential flood, the branch that runs through parts of property was more flooded than I have ever seen it before. The water is normally three feet wide and six inches to maybe two feet deep. Two days ago, the water was up to twenty feet wide in some of the flatter places.

The massive amounts of water are taking a toll on the road. Sections of dirt are coming loose and washing down the road. The problem is that through the years, the ruts that we drive on have become lower and lower until they are little channels that the water can't get out of. Worse, the side that should be higher isn't, so the water is not running down the hill towards the branch anywhere except one spot right in front of the cattle guard at the house. The water has cut a hole right in the road that goes under and across. If left alone, that section of road may just turn into a huge sink hole.

I had to do a little maintenance.
Most people out here use a tractor to keep their roads going, but right now I am a pick-and-shovel guy. I can't emphasize enough to buy a good pick and shovel...spend the extra money, it will be worth it.
In order to get the water off the road I had to cut a small opening on the lower side so that the water can flow down the hill. In order to get the water from the other rut to flow the right direction, I made a small berm, kinda like a big speed bump or dam right before the ditch so the water will hit it and be forced to flow off the road. I made three of them, one at each spot where it starts to change height. I am hoping that I will have few days for it to dry up before it rains again. To make the berm I used big clumps of grassy dirt with thick roots to help bind it together, but without time to pack it down, it may just all wash away.
Someday we will re-cover the road with gravel or concrete wash, which is little hunks of concrete that they wash out of mixing trucks. Right now we're just hoping the road doesn't just turn into one big sloppy mud puddle.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The power of time

So after a bunch of digging and sweating we are starting to see a little progress. Everything in the garden is coming up really fast. We have only had to water every couple of days as the rain and sun have been taking turns.

Most of the tomato plants have small tomatoes starting to appear. Now that they have fruit we have to start supporting them. We have twelve tomato cages; for the rest we drove old PVC into the ground. Tomorrow we have to get out and tie the plants to the PVC to support them. We will use the bright pink flagging tape that we had left over from marking trees not to be cut during the logging.

Tomorrow, we are going to pick some mustard greens to eat with dinner. My youngest loves mustard greens with hot vinegar sauce. Yeah, I know its a weird thing for a four-year-old to eat, but when we go to the Pickett House to eat lunch she will eat at least one whole bowl, sometimes two. The kids will be so excited to eat from the garden. Plates are always emptied faster when they know they helped grow what's for dinner.

Luci and I like to garden for different reasons. It appeals to her because of the whole "magic of nature" thing. It appeals to the "cheap bastard" side of me. Like, why would I want to pay 79 cents for a bell pepper when they grow right out the ground. Money doesn't grow on trees, but some of the crap we buy does, so let's get us some of those trees. That is what we are real goal is out here: to grow as much as we can for us to eat. Kinda like a 401k plan, the best time to invest is always now. Even if maybe you could find a better investment choice, the power of time can't be beat. Hopefully, next year we can get more fruit and nut trees planted. This year was figs and raspberries; Luci is talking about cherry and peach trees for next year.
There is a website about homesteading in Houston that I like, just click on this link--they live in the inner city: http://www.orchardchronicles.com/. I get the impression that they are doing the kind of thing we would like to do someday. The idea of having a high-density home orchard is interesting. I don't think we would ever want to make a living from agriculture, just to grow enough to supply us with fresh quality fruits and veggies with leftovers for family, friends and a little barter. The real plus for growing our own is that we know exactly what's going on and into it--we are in control of pesticides, organics, etc. Because face it, the end result is that it goes into the bellies of our daughters.