Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Cabin Project - Ground Breaking

Last year we stained our cabin. This year we have much bigger plans for it. We'd like to make the cabin a livable space, either for visitors or someday even us. 

The first step is to get water to the cabin. We're combining that step with building a bathroom. The cabin doesn't have any plumbing, so we'll have to run all the septic/water/waste lines as we build the bathroom. Here's Farmer John breaking ground on the first day of the project. 

On the first day he measured for the slab-form, excavated the area, and built the form. Our friend Mark is helping design the project, so he's been talking us through what we need to do. One of Mark's major concerns is that the pipes could freeze. There isn't a basement or crawl space or even insulation under the cabin. This means we can't run water lines under the house. All the incoming water lines will run underground and then into a concrete slab. 

So, all this work in the heat, is just preparing for winter and cold temperatures. Which, come to think of it, is a lot of what we do throughout the summer. 

This promises to be an interesting project. As with most projects around here, I know we will learn a whole lot. We're especially thankful to Mark for taking on the project with us. He's a patient and generous teacher. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Perspective on a project

Here's a view of the farm from this week. Look at that bridge! You could even drive across it!

The whole bridge project was a mess, and it's not  done. The upside is that we can drive across it, and gosh that's fun. We can drive up to the house in the dark, in the rain, in the heat, and with a trunk full of chicken feed. It's infinitely better than the walking bridge. But, I do miss that walk across the creek every now and then. I guess I only miss the walk on beautiful sunny days like this and not in the dark, rain, heat, or  while carrying feed. 

That bridge was a monstrous frustrating project. And we have a large project planned for the summer. I hope it won't be as frustrating. However, when it is, I hope to remember that it will get done, and it will be worth the headache when it's all over. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Broccoli harvest

This week was the first big broccoli harvest. I headed out to the garden and cut most of the heads that were ready. Beast was curious as always. Then it was time to go inside and prep them for freezing. 

Step 1 - Soak heads in the sink to encourage any bugs to get out.
Step 2 - Chop into large bite sized pieces
Step 3 - Put in boiling water for 2-3 minutes
Step 4 - Transfer into ice water to stop the cooking process
Step 5 - Spread onto lined trays

Step 6 - Place in freezer for a day
Step 7 - Bag up the frozen broccoli pieces and pack back into the freezer
Step 8 - Enjoy garden broccoli throughout the rest of the year

Friday, June 22, 2012

A evening in the potato patch

We have three gardens. This year one of them is completely devoted to potatoes. I guess because we raise beef, we have to have to potatoes to go with it. 

Within the potato garden there are three different patches. Two of them have Yukon Gold potatoes. These are the patches where we're battling the potato beetles

The third patch has sweet potatoes. We planted 100 slips in long hills. The slips are sprouts that come from a mature sweet potato. These will vine above-ground and grow potatoes in the hills. We haven't had the best luck with sweet potatoes in previous years. Growing them in hills is a new technique for us, one that we hope will pay off in the fall. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Garden upkeep

Well, we're officially in the Summer season now. Which means our garden-work changes. We are done planting for now and will spend time weeding and doing other types of upkeep before the harvesting can begin. 

I weeded most of the garden last week and threw all the weeds into the cow lane. We were also able to harvest all the snap peas. Once the peas were harvested we pulled up the plants and threw those into the cow lane too. Some of the cattle came along and ate it all up. Instant compost!


We are working on a "Three-Sisters" garden. It will include corn, beans, and pumpkins. The corn and pumpkins have come up and look good so far. To keep them looking good, we need to keep out the critters.This garden is the furthest from the house, and tends to act as a salad bar for deer, rabbits, and groundhogs. So we set up four strands of electric fence around the garden. We're hoping for lots of sweet corn throughout the summer and pumpkins in the fall. 

Last year we bought some bales of straw for mulching the garden. This year, the price of straw has gone up by $2.00 a bale. According to the guys at the feed store this is because of all the pipeline work. They seed and mulch once they are done, they are also willing to pay a lot of money for straw. Due to the price increase, we initially planned on skipping the mulch this year. 

But, as you can see from the photos, we didn't stick with our plan. We weeded the whole garden by hand a couple times and said - "Ugh, let's just get some mulch!" In the end, I know it's worth the added expense because of the time saved. Time that can be used for other big projects we have planned. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Protecting potatoes

This is a potato plant in bloom:

This is a Colorado Potato Beetle:

This is what the Colorado Potato Beetles do to the potato plants:

Which is why we spray the plants with Spinosad. It's a bacteria that is considered a natural product, and therefore used by organic farmers/gardeners. 

Despite the above photo, our potatoes are doing pretty well right now. Farmer John has sprayed and hilled them twice. Normally we don't water the potatoes, but this year we have. Farmer John read that the most important time to water them is when they are blooming. So, we'll keep them watered for a little while. After that, it's just a waiting game to see how they do. Hopefully there will be lots of Yukon Golds for the farmers market and winter dinners. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Murphy's Law - the hay version

If it can go wrong, it will go wrong, and for the past week it HAS gone wrong. This has been the most frustrating hay season we've ever had. And, we aren't even done yet! 

This is what is supposed to happen. (Follow the links if you'd like to read about how it happened last year.)
First the hay is cut, and then it dries for a day or two. The last step is baling. Farmer John and his dad get the baler hooked up and then drive around the field to bale. 

Someone (usually me) moves the bales into piles, which makes it easier and more efficient to pick up. 

Then they get thrown onto the tailgate of the truck...

 ...and stacked on the truck, before going back to the barn to be unloaded.

The above photos were taken when we baled the hay from our lower field. This is the field where all the pipeline work was done. We knew there wouldn't be as much hay from that field this year. We only got 45 bales. There may be more if we do a second-cutting in that field, since it has been reseeded. 

So, the first field went well. Farmer John, his dad, and I could do all of it ourselves. But, it all went downhill from there. The next day they raked the upper-field and the tractor tire went flat. 

The next day, after fixing the tractor tire, they baled the upper field. Then it was time to move up the road to a neighbor's place. Midway through baling this field, the baler tire blew. Being the original tire from the 1955 baler it's understandable. The process was put to a halt as Farmer John ran around town trying to find a 1955 International Harvester Baler tire. As you can imagine, it's not something normally in-stock. He was able to locate one at a tractor-implement emporium about an hour from here. 

The following day Farmer John's dad was able to drive up there and pick up the new tire. He reported there was a long line of folks picking up parts, so we aren't the only ones having...difficulties...this hay season. 

Finally, the tire was fixed, and the baler was rolling once again. We'd assembled a hay crew - Chad, Matt, Farmer John and myself - we were ready to get all the hay in the barn. 

But wait, not so fast, something else had to go wrong. The baler kept shearing pins. We kept unclogging the baler and fixing the pins. Finally, the baler just broke. Not a part on the baler, but actually a piece of cast iron that was on the inside of the baler. So, that was that. We packed up the baler, crew, and tractor and went home to pout. 

Luckily, we were able to find someone that could fix it the next day. It was a Sunday by the way, and we are very grateful to Al for his time and effort. The tractor and baler went on a field trip about a mile up the road from the farm.

At first we thought he would be able to weld the piece back together. But, of course, we weren't that lucky. He had to fabricate a whole new piece! He's pretty talented. The piece he made is the long-ish triangular piece at the edge of the workbench. It attaches to the side of the baler and holds sprockets. 

Farmer John and Al got the piece attached to the baler. They thought the timing would be off, but to everyone's shock it was fine. We were back in business! 

Farmer John, his dad, Matt, and I finished baling our neighbors field on Sunday. The plan was to bale our friend's place on Monday. But, of course our luck ran out once again and it rained. You know the saying "Make hay while the sun shines"? It's true. 

Which brings us to today. Another crew was rounded up, everything went smoothly, the hay was good and dry, and it's now neatly stacked in the barn. Hallelujah, we're done! At least until August, when we'll do a second-cutting. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When you don't have anything good to say...

It's been a rough week. More on that eventually. In the meantime, what do we do for fun?

Compare OUR heads to broccoli heads of course! For the record, two different heads of broccoli and they were delicious. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012


If you have about 4 minutes to kill, this is a fun video. It combines a few of my favorite things: chickens, muck boots, coops, Wisconsin, and Michael Perry. I'm not going to show it to our flock though, I think they'd be jealous. 

Also, for any local readers, we have eggs for sale. They are $2.50/dz. and we can arrange delivery. Send me an email if you are interested:  mtoppe{at}gmail{dot}com

Watch Michael Perry: Chicken Shack on PBS. See more from In Wisconsin.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Garden greenery

Our garden by the house is so green right now. It's a big change from last year when we didn't even get to plant it until mid-May! We spent most of Sunday weeding, harvesting and planting. Here are a few photos from around the garden. 

The dill and onions are doing well. Especially the dill. Anyone have a recipe to use lots of dill? What I mean by that is, does anyone have a recipe to use lots of dill that isn't pickles?

The collards are also looking healthy. They've been thinned and weeded, now they are getting big. We've been trying out ways to cook them that doesn't involve bacon grease. So far balsamic vinegar and ThistleDew honey is my favorite. 

The peppers aren't looking so great. They haven't seemed to grow much since we planted them. We don't see any bugs or signs of disease. So, hopefully as it gets warmer they will get growing. 

Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil! A gift from my trip to San Francisco this spring. 

Our broccoli is doing so well this year. Farmer John says it's the best broccoli we've ever grown. (Although, I think he said that last year too.) We've eaten it steamed with some potatoes a couple times in the past week. 

Finally, here's another view of the garden. This part has the warm-weather crops - tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants and peppers. The garden will be much more colorful as those crops mature. 

Monday, June 4, 2012


Sorry that I've been a bit light on the posts recently. I was off the farm and back in the mid-west to celebrate our IT Guy's graduation! It was lots of fun to see family, friends, fellow alumni (!) and have a big party.

Now life on the farm is really getting going. Stay tuned for hay season, garden updates, new animals - perhaps all in one week. 

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