Monday, July 30, 2012

New Animals!

Back in June I hinted about some new animals. It's taken an while, but I'm finally getting around to photographing the newest additions.

"Uncle" John brought this coop out last month and set it up by his garden. As you can see, "Uncle" John is quite a handy wood-worker. He had been busy builidng the coop and raising some keets since May. 

Keets are baby guineas, also called guinea fowl or guinea hens. The keets are almost fully grown, but they still hang out in the their coop. Eventually "Uncle" John will let them free-range during the day, and then they'll roost at night. 

The reason we are so excited to have guineas around here is they love to eat garden pests. We've been told that farms with guineas don't have ticks, potato beetles, Asian Lady beetles, or squash bugs. They are an organic way to deal with all those pests, and that sounds great to us. 

They are also good guard animals. They will sound the alarm when anything unusual happens - such as cars coming onto the property, predators in the area, or other animals around them. They also will kill snakes which makes them the ideal addition to the farm in my opinion!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dinner at the farm

Meals this month have been almost entirely from the farm. I'm not sure there is any greater satisfaction for us than to eat a meal that we raised. 

The summer season has some distinct parts, one of them being when the tomatoes are ripe.  We aren't there just yet, so much of what we've been eating has been green. I've also been trying to get zucchini into meals, since this was our first harvest of baseball bat-sized zukes: 

Here's a rundown of some recent dinners:
  • Green beans, potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes (from a friend's garden)
  • Green beans, fried zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes - we chop them and add some olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Popcorn - I think we were too tired to cook
  • Fried green tomato sandwiches, coleslaw
  • Potluck - we made deviled eggs, "Andy's Mom's Slaw" with our cabbage,  green beans and brisket. We also ate lots of good food from friends
  • Green beans, grilled potatoes, steak - This has been my favorite meal recently, the steak was amazing. 
  • Stuffed zucchini ("Zuccanoes"), sweet corn, "Andy's Mom's Slaw" with our cabbage

If any of that sounds good to you, then get yourself to a farmer's market. Fresh produce makes the summer delicious!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In bloom

Before we moved the farm, I was vehement that we only grow food. I thought flowers weren't useful.

Oh, how wrong I was.

 The Zinnias are like a patch of fireworks that the butterflies love. 

The bees especially love the flowers. 

And I love them too. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Storm Stories - Lessons Learned

Throughout the 12, hot, trying days after our recent storm it was easy to get frustrated. Words were said and tears were shed. However, we gained some lessons from the ordeal. 

1- Be prepared 
We are accustomed to losing power around here. We keep plenty of batteries, flashlights, and kerosene lamps on hand. After the lengthy outage, we know what should be on hand at all times. Obtaining water was the major challenge, so we’ll stock up on drinking water. (Farmer John has been working on a big water project all week – stay tuned!) Of course, we store food for the winter, but it would be nice to have some food around that is ready-to-eat. 

We ran into several health issues with our livestock and pets throughout the outage. We couldn’t reach our large-animal vet, and our main cattle resource (the internet) wasn’t available to us. So, I acquired a couple animal health books that will hopefully be a good resource for future animal emergencies. 

We have some more ideas of how to prepare the farm for a future emergency. We won’t become survivalists or even “preppers”, but the recent events have certainly opened our eyes as to what should be in place. 

2- Take care of each other 
Maybe this is obvious. But, it seems to be a lesson we keep learning over and over again. Family, friends, and neighbors are so critical for the daily success of this farm. During the storm aftermath and cleanup, many people offered their help to us as well as members of our community that were affected. I’ve never lived through a natural disaster, but this storm came pretty close. It’s comforting to know that, for the most part, the best in people comes out and we will care for one another. 

3- Keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge 
This goes right along with being prepared. My mom gave us a bottle to open when the bridge project was over. It sat in our fridge a LONG time, mocking our too-short-bridge, and we’ve just never found the right time to open it. Thanks to the generator, the bottle was cold when the power came back during the afternoon of the twelfth day. We cracked that baby open because when the lights and air conditioning came back, it was truly a reason to celebrate. 

4- Yes, it could happen to you 
Sure, we live on a farm, out in the country, we were bound to lose power in a big storm. Of course since we are out in the country, the work crews didn’t get to us right away. What surprised me the most was that people in town lost power, and theirs stayed off for a long time. People right in the center of our town were without power for over a week. Farmer John’s parents, who live in a neighborhood very close to town, went eleven days before their lights came back. So, no matter where you live take a moment to think about some of the situations that could happen, and then refer back to Lesson #1. 

Thanks for reading about our storm adventure this week. We’ll get back to stories from the farm soon. In the meantime, go check your flashlight batteries and get some jugs of water. Really, go do it!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Storm Stories - Repairs

On Day 11 of our power outage a big crew showed up. They were here to put up a new electric pole and transformer. I was fascinated with this process, and took a lot of photos. 

First, Farmer John had to convince them that they could drive across the bridge. It was quite a sight to see.  Two of the crew, in addition to helping guide the trucks, were also recording the whole event on their phones. I guess it's not something they see everyday either. 

Next, they got both trucks up the hill, and scoped out the situation. Coco stayed right in the middle of the whole event, just in case they needed her help. 

My favorite piece of equipment from the day was one of their trucks. It was not a bucket-truck that   normally comes to mind with utility work. This truck was specifically for setting poles. It had a big claw for removing and placing poles, a huge auger for drilling holes, hydraulics to run a big tamper, and general crane-like abilities. I'm trying to convince Farmer John that we need one of these around here. 

There wasn't much else going on around here that day - these guys were the show. Farmer John and I camped out on the porch and watched all the action. It was a lot of fun. They really knew what they were doing. The whole thing only took about two hours.

We got to talk to them a bit during and after the whole event. Mike was in charge of the lines in our area. He raises cattle a ways south of here, drives his personal truck - not the company one, and drove back home every night to make sure his cattle had water. He and Farmer John had a lot to talk about. The other foreman is from Sistersville, and he could give us the report about damage to the county just south of us.

The rest of the crew was from all over the place. One from Indiana, one from Iowa, one from Illinois, and one from Washington - he must get the award for coming the farthest for this! The guy from Illinois has an aunt who lives in my hometown, and was eager to pull out his wallet and show off pictures of his kids - both redheads!  

Getting to chat with the crew made me a bit more understanding of the long outage. It was pretty amazing to hear just how bad and just how far the damage spread. They were a long way from home and working very hard so they could go back.We thanked them for their work, sent them on their way with gift certificates to a buffet in town, and admired our new pole and transformer. 

Next, it was time for us to get to work. With the lines off the ground and back where they belong, we could start clearing the downed branches. Farmer John fired up the chainsaws and we both started cutting up the largest branches into firewood, then hauling the smaller ones into brush piles. 

We ended up with one truckload of firewood, and eight truckloads of brush. Not bad. 

Also, we're very safety conscious around here. This is why - even when Farmer John is standing on top of the four-wheeler, using a saw attached to a long pole, and cutting the limb above his head - he wears eye protection. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Storm Stories - Coping

Our 12 days without water and power were not the easiest, but here's how we managed. Again, we used Anna's advice and figured out a system

We got word of the storm while still in Wisconsin and were able to purchase a generator Rockford. Turns out this was a good decision since there were none to be had anywhere around here, and the power was out much longer than we'd first expected. 

Farmer John set up the generator here to keep the freezers running. We have beef and lots of veggies that we wanted to keep frozen. The generator ran here throughout the day, then in the evening Farmer John took it to his parent's house and hooked it up to their freezers. It ran there overnight, and he'd pick it up in the morning and repeat the process. We lost a minimal amount of food because of this system. 

Even more important than keeping the freezers going was taking care of the animals. Their water comes from our well, which runs off of an electric pump. So, no water. In the winter when the well/pump didn't work we used the hand-drawn well, and a stream. However, as Farmer John wrote in this post, that stream doesn't run in the summer. 

Farmer John loaded a water tank into the truck, he could fill this up in town. Once filled with 250 gallons of water, he brought it back to the farm for the cattle. He connected the tank to a garden hose and ran it downhill to fill up a couple troughs. We also used this water for the chickens. The big water tank had to be refilled about ever two days. It wasn't as easy as our normal system, but it worked well. 

With the freezers and animals taken care of, we could focus on taking care of ourselves. On top of all of this, we were dealing with a heat wave. Water jugs were hard to find when we got back to the area, but we did get a few bottles. We drank plenty of water while at the farm and refilled them in town in the evenings.

Our biggest help in dealing with the power outage and heat was Uncle John and Lil's house. They generously offered their home for our use while they were away on vacation. It was our refuge - a place to shower, cook meals, and escape the heat. I don't think I could have survived this time without it. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Storm Stories - Damage Report

On Friday June 29, a storm ripped through the Mid-Atlantic States. It also hit our farm hard. Fortunately, we were not here to experience it. Farmer John, Coco and I were headed home from Wisconsin after spending a week with my family. We’d heard storm reports on the news and from Farmer John’s Mom and Dad. We knew we were coming back to a mess. This is what we saw when we crossed the bridge:

We had many limbs down in the yard around the house. Our electric pole with the transformer had snapped and was lying on the ground. The limbs and transformer had pulled down all the electric lines. The main line from the right-of-way was on the lane, the lines from the house to the cabin and barn were snapped and on the ground. We had to climb around and through the lines to get to the house.

Surprisingly, no damage was done to the house, besides a few things that had been blown off the porches. The cabin, building and upper building also survived without damage. Of course, we didn't have power or water. 

The trees and barn sustained the most damage. The large Chestnut trees near the barn lost some huge branches. The tin on the barn roof was loose in some places and missing in others. 

The largest section that was torn off created quite a skylight. We were thankful that it wasn't above all the hay. There was very little water damage done to the hay. 

Pieces of the barn roof littered the yard, along with all the tree debris. 

After Farmer John went to check on the cattle (who were all fine) he reported lots of trees and limbs down in the woods. Sections of fence were damaged, however the down trees created a natural fence to keep the cattle in. We lost some chickens, but the remaining ones were fine - just out of water. 

We're thankful that there wasn't more damage done to the buildings or animals. Currently most of the tree debris is cleared from the yard, and the barn roof is fixed. Overall, the damage was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

...and we're back!

After 12 days of no electricity or water at the farm, we are back! It was certainly an adventure. There will be lots of upcoming blog posts to tell the stories. For now let me just say thank you to everyone for your support. Countless people offered up their help during this time - homes to stay in, places to swim, home-cooked meals, friends who didn't mind my complaining, a celebratory drink at our favorite pub, and lots of moral support. Thanks to everyone for your concern and help along the way!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Still No Power

Today is the tenth day the farm has been without power. Mollie wanted me to let you know that all the cattle and chickens are fine and are drinking lots of water. And the barn roof is fixed!

-Farm IT Guy

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Storm Update

Most of you have heard about the storm that swept through the mid Atlantic states last weekend. It hit West Virginia, and the Jennings Brae Bank Farm, hard. Mollie asked me to post this update on her behalf because they are without power.

The storm ripped a transformer down into the yard. All the utility lines were pulled off the house, barn, and buildings. Many trees and limbs are down. The animals are mostly okay, except for a few missing chickens. The tin roof was blown off parts of the barn. There is a lot of fence damage due to the downed trees. The farm is without power and water. The power company says the power will be back on Friday at the earliest. Mollie and John were able to obtain a generator to power their refrigerator and freezer, thus saving their frozen produce and meat. Through the kindness of friends, they have a place to stay in New Martinsville until their power is restored.

Reporting from Rockford, Illinois,
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