Things I learned during my summer vacation

I feel like I should be in a confessional…”forgive me Father for I have sinned.  It’s been five months since my last post…”  It being summer and all the extra work that entails, plus the 14 hour days that compel you to do even more – let’s just say it’s been a busy time.  And I was joking when I said “vacation”.  Choosing to be a farmer and start a farm up from scratch at 50 means it is highly unlikely you will take another vacation as long as you live.

Hmmm, let’s see.  When we last posted I believe it was spring and flowers were blooming.  That was nice.  Now here’s the quick and dirty on what has happened since and the lessons learned:

We completed a 72 hour Permaculture Design Course online with permaculture guru Geoff Lawton.  Do you know how long 72 hours of instruction takes when you can only watch the videos late at night during the week (remember the longer 14 hour days full of sunshine compelling you to be outside more?) and you have to re-watch most of them because you were so exhausted you kept falling asleep in the middle? Not to mention the final design exercise you have to turn in to complete the course and get your certificate (and prove you didn’t sleep through everything) that again you can only work on in the evenings during the week because you are at the farm every weekend working your tail off so you can get closer and closer to the time that you can actually move down there and live in one place instead of two? It takes four months.pdc zone 1

The potatoes grew and were harvested. I learned a lot about nitrogen needs and that if you are using it in the form of cold-processed liquid fish (because you have a 55 gallon drum full of it) that you should spray it in the very early or late hours when it is cooler so you don’t burn the leaves off.  Despite that horrible mistake, we still yielded ALOT of potatoes and they are delicious.

The sun at the farm is BLAZING hot. Our home is located in the woods on an island 2 hours further north than the farm and in a perpetual state of shade. I really need to figure out what farmers in the know wear to stay cool and protected ‘cuz you can’t farm in a swimsuit.  Is there a Modern Farmer magazine out there? Anyhow, harvesting potatoes weekend after weekend in 80 – 90 degree weather led to a heat-stroke induced invention –  the “farmbrella cart”.  Take a basic mobile garden seat (the metal one that rolls you sideways) and add a little cart with a huge umbrella.  Oh, and now that I think about it, what about a drink holder?  Maybe add on a solar powered motor to get you back to the barn?  TaDa! You are protected from the blazing sun, you don’t have to be down on your knees in the dirt breaking your back and cutting off the circulation in your legs, plus you have a place to put your vegetables, gloves, tools and your water bottle.  How cool is that???  This could be a great “value-add” item for the farm store.

Dog Whispering is not as weird as it sounds. My adorable little Magpie can be a complete pain in the behind.  I had taken her through a formal puppy training class last year, but she seemed to have a mind of her own and refused to comply unless you had a treat in hand.  This became exceptionally exasperating while working down on the farm. We couldn’t get anything done because every few minutes we were running across 24 acres trying to find her. She loves the farm more than anything, and I just never had the heart to tie her up.  M was at the end of his rope (and threatening to use it on Magpie) and I was very frustrated. Enter the Dog Whisperer. When I first came across his website I was completely skeptical and frankly thought dog whispering was a little gimmicky, but being desperate I decided to give him a call.  It has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. In a nutshell, as I could probably write a whole post on this topic, dog whispering simply means communicating to the dog in a language they can understand.  You have to be the alpha.  Once I learned this I could hear the high pitch in my voice (dogs don’t respect that) and I could see when she felt my stress or anxiety and responded to it accordingly. We’ve completed our training and Magpie is responding to commands and respecting my alpha position, but I am happier to report she is still the high energy, bouncy, fun-loving dog that I adored from the start.

Magpie at the "pondle"
Magpie at the “pondle”

I should have counted my chickens before they hatched. Without going into a long, detailed explanation, suffice it to say that I learned it is a bad idea to hatch out chicks in multiple batches one month apart when you aren’t set up properly to handle multiple age groups in your coop.  Feed and fencing issues alone were two very hard lessons to learn while everything else was going on this summer. I am working on the design for my new coop and run at the farm as we speak.

“Simple” metal pole buildings are a lot more expensive than you think. Especially when you budgeted for one two years ago when you were thinking you were going to build it yourself (with all of that extra time) and you didn’t take into account site prep and curtain drains and hauling gravel by the dump truck full…  Man it adds up.  Ouch.  I think we better sharpen the pencils and get back on that house budget. But the good news is we are moving forward.  The site has been cleared, compacted and graveled.  The building will actually start going up in a week or so and if all goes well we should have a barn within the next month!  This is a major step forward for us.  With our nifty permaculture farm design in hand and a large, dry workspace – I think we will really make a lot of progress on the farm this next year.

barn and house site clearing in the distance
barn and house site clearing in the distance

Water is a life-giving resource.  but it can also suck the life out of you when you have to haul it around in 275 gallon totes and 55 gallon rain barrels or roll 3000 gallon cisterns uphill, not to mention loading that bad boy on the truck, strapping it and driving it down to the farm.

3000 gallon cistern

3000 gallon cistern

We need a water management plan that isn’t so physically taxing and time-consuming.  We spent most of every weekend at the farm this summer dealing with water.  Hauling it, pumping it , setting up drip irrigation lines, and so on.  To add insult to injury, we arrived at the farm last week to find the water totes completely empty and the drip lines ripped apart and chewed into pieces. From what M could surmise, it was raccoons. Luckily the rains are starting up and we now have a more manageable water plan to get into place before next summer thanks to our permaculture design course.  Hopefully we will have enough funds after the barn is built to implement it…

Taking care of your health is EVERYTHING.  The contractor for our barn suffered a stroke in the middle of the site clearing.  Luckily he is doing much better and he has a son that is working diligently to hold the fort down while he is in rehab.  About the same time one of our neighbors lost his job and then found out afterwards he has lung cancer.  To make it worse, he has no insurance.  Neither of these people are much older than me.  My new mantra: eat healthy. sleep well. less stress.

Always look on the bright side of life. (are all of you Monty Python fans humming along?)  Seriously. I have relatively good health, I am married to the most amazing man who loves me to pieces, and we are actively working together to make our dreams come true.  Does it get any better than that?  Well, honestly, I wouldn’t mind winning the lottery…


About La Femme Farmer

Starting up a small farm is the goal for the second half of my life. It's a late start I know, but better late than NEVER! Growing food, cooking and eating are my passions and now I get to do it full-time (and then some). and yes, that's a tomato from my garden!
This entry was posted in Barn, Chickens, Crops, Dog, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Water Management and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Things I learned during my summer vacation

  1. DM says:

    I love posts like this, where you report the good and the bad, lessons learned the hard way,etc. A chicken lesson to pass along (if you haven’t read that post on my blog) Don’t raise heritage breed roosters to eat and feed them organic grain , and let them free range @ the same time unless you want to spend $12.00 a pound (your cost) on the finished product. Those breeds take 12 to 18 weeks to get to any level of maturity, the grain is 2.5 times as much as non-organic grain and when they are free ranging they are burning off the calories so they don’t gain weight 😉 Just one of many painful financial lessons I learned last year.

    • Thanks DM! We tend to learn a lot of things the hard way, but those are the lessons that stick with you! I will go read that post – thanks. Although we don’t raise heritage breeds to eat – we just “harvest” the roos that happen to hatch out (at 18 weeks), we have 3 right now that are literally eating us out of house and home but have been so busy down at the farm we haven’t had time to do the deed.
      Thanks for stopping by! My husband has been following your blog for awhile and forwards your posts to me all of the time. It’s time for me to get those directly, so consider me your latest follower.

  2. Love this post. Some of what you’re doing just sounds so back breakingly HARD to me. So much lifting and winching and loading and unloading off trucks. I would be so daunted. This starting from scratch thing of yours has me full of admiration.

    • Thanks. We definitely need to get better tools and learn to work smarter before we break our backs and wear ourselves out. We try to cram as much as we can into a weekend which makes it harder. We’ve been putting off getting a tractor or a gator until we had a secure place to store it and thought we’d have a barn by September, but it is still yet “another week”??? away…

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