Monday, June 1, 2015

WWOOFers and Critters

Last week, I ordered this year’s turkey poults from the feed store and I asked if there was any possibility of getting some runner ducks. They said none were available, but they had extra Peking ducklings arriving in a couple days that needed homes. I impulsively agreed to take a few.
I don't think I could have done anything to make my WWOOFers as happy as these ducklings.
Mae, Kelly and Zinnie all doting on the ducklings this afternoon.
Today was a glorious sunny day and I told Kelly and Mae they needed a day off after all their hard work helping with PetalFest.  My friend and neighbor Connie invited the WWOOFers to come up and work with her horses a bit.
When I picked them up a couple hours later, Kelly and Mae had ridden with Connie around her beautiful hillside property and were all smiles. The horses seemed happy, too.


Thanks, Connie, for making it such a perfect afternoon for our wonderful WWOOFers. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Wet, Wet, Wet

Judging by my 5-gallon bucket, today we got over 4 inches of rain. (And it is still raining tonight.) Our little pond, downhill from the pasture, is burgeoning out of its banks and has risen over a foot. See that little marsh marigold in the center of the photo?  It was high and dry along the edge yesterday.
Our  water issues are not even a drop in the bucket compared to what poor Texas and Oklahoma are going through, but I will still complain just a little.


The poultry are soggy and seem a bit cranky (except for the ducks.)
We have been working like crazy to complete the commercial kitchen.  Because of all the construction our grass is gone and the entire area in front of the barn is a mucky mess (even though much of it has already been tracked inside.)  So dismaying when we are trying to get everything beautiful for PetalFest in two days!
We got sopping wet  dealing with gutter and downspout issues on the barn during the  heaviest rain. Our clothes were plastered to us - so we peeled them off and took a shower. Funny that showering seemed the appropriate response to being soaking wet.
Todays’s deluge created a river through the garden and washed away much of the lovely mulching work the WWOOFers completed in the tomatoes yesterday. We still haven't been able to plant a large portion of the garden because it is too wet. The potatoes - see left of the  tomato fences - look great, though.
The peonies are on the verge of popping open. I am happy they weren’t open before this rain or they would have been totally flattened.
Irises seem delicate, but they still look pretty good despite the downpour.
My friend Virginia stopped over yesterday afternoon to  help spruce up the gardens before PetalFest.  Last weekend, a dozen more friends spent a morning gardening, painting trim and sealing tiles. We are so  blessed by generous, helpful friends!
 I was too embarrassed by the weeds to take a before photo, but thanks to our wonderful WWOOFers’ weeding, Virginia’s planting and Jerry’s painting, the farm store now looks beautiful and inviting for PetalFest guests.
Aquaponics technician Ruth and I  plumbed the fish gazebo with irrigation driplines this week and hung eight towers above the drain-and-fill growing beds. They are filled with nasturtiums, strawberries and marigolds and make a magical green wall that also conveniently screens the view of the compost bins.
We have our fingers crossed for a sunny, dry weekend so our first PetalFest will be a success!  A plethora of wonderful  musicians, artisans, gardeners and food are lined up for Sunday, May 31. Please join us if you are in the vicinity!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Doing the Rain Dance


Do you know the Rain Dance? Two steps forward, one step back. Except for the parts where it is one step forward, two steps back.

This weird spring weather is making it hard to accomplish anything and is actually undoing many of our accomplishments:  Our heavy clay soil is too wet to weed or plant in - and weeds are having a hey day.  This morning, the strong winds had blown 6 panels off the greenhouse, which knocked over the electric fence, which allowed the cows in to trample the soft ground where grass was finally just beginning to grow.  The sudden hot humid temps of the weekend caused the cement floors and newly laid tile to puddle up with condensation, so wet we could not seal or grout the newly laid tile in the commercial kitchen. Today is suddenly extraordinarily cold, and I hear we have frost warnings tonight so our tomatoes, eggplants and basil will have to be covered.  But yesterday evening ended with a lovely double rainbow-- hopefully a promise of better weather to come.

We (especially Rog)  worked so hard on the commercial kitchen all weekend, but I will focus on non-kitchen projects this post.
There is an unsightly mound of dirt and brush in the woods as a byproduct of the  septic system installation, so I am slowly transforming it into a 30-foot long fairy garden. It is still sparse, but should look magical when the ground covers, wildflowers and ferns start growing.
Gnomes and fairies and thrift store treasures are tucked in.
Unearthed a sweet, grumpy toad while digging by the barn. I relocated him to the pollinator garden, which seemed safer with all the construction going on at the barn.
Yellow magnolia has another blossom.  It is a giant flower for such a tiny tree.
I found this darling garden bicycle sculpture at a thrift store - perfect for  my cow-riding-a-bike sculpture plan for Petal Fest!  I hope I can find time to do this!
Yesterday, Chris and his assistant Ruth delivered the new green wall structure for the aquaponic system.  We have set it up temporarily inside the barn using hydroponic nutrients until we can hook it up to the pond (a good thing since it might frost tonight!) There are eight towers, which we have planted with  everbearing strawberries, nasturtiums and basil. I hope to purchase a second tower later this summer and we will use them to grow all winter in the heated greenhouse.
Ruth setting a tower of strawberries into the frame.
The plants are facing the window, of course, so I took a shot from outside, looking in at the towers. Right now they are seedlings, but  in a few weeks it will create a dense green wall. The frame is on a base with wheels so we can move it fairly easily.
Chris also delivered 15 pounds of tilapia for the pond, approximately 60  small fish.
The tilapia seem to be settling in well and getting along with the goldfish and koi.  However, for tilapia the water has to be above 45 degrees and the temperature outside  has plummeted today.  This morning, the water temperature was down to 50 degrees, so we covered the pond with a pool blanket to help hold the  heat in. There should be enough thermal mass to retain the heat for another day until it warms up again.
Since the garden is so soggy and plumbers are working in the kitchen, WWOOFers Mae and Kelly were assigned chicken-coop cleaning this morning. (It is the kind of physical labor that will warm you up on a cold, windy day.)  They figured out how to outwit the guardian of the coop, Lucy the Goose, and now the chickens can enjoy clean, fresh bedding.
Fingers crossed for the weather to give us a break so we can make some decent headway!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Beauty and Industry

I will start with our industriousness- you will have to wait until the end of the post for the beauty (unless, like us,  you find work sort of beautiful.) We have been working SO hard. Today, the last enormous pieces of kitchen equipment arrived, the hood for the range and the air exchange unit. If you have followed our kitchen progress on this blog, you may recall that our beautiful commercial Vulcan range was a very generous gift from a Farmer's Market customer, however, it was not usable in a commercial kitchen without the extraordinarily costly hood, ansul fire suppression system and air exchange unit. These things are huge and heavy. And of course it had to be raining when we unloaded them from the freight truck.
The hood! Hooray!
The air exchange unit. Chris and Rog  rode atop the  crate to counter-balance it as it was hauled down the driveway, which made me a tad nervous. But I suspect they had fun.
I had spent most of the day tiling the bathroom with a hodgepodge assortment of sample tiles acquired from HGA when they became obsolete, from the ReUse Center, and a few leftovers donated from friends’ tiling projects. (Meanwhile, WWOOFer Kelly  cleaned and sealed the quarry tile in the kitchen in preparation for grouting - unglamorous but important work.)
Here is the bathroom floor, about 3/4 completed. I am so delighted with the result!  Still has to be grouted  - tomorrow’s goal.
The bees have also been working hard. A peek inside the observation window of the top bar hive, showing all the lovely comb the bees have been building in the past few weeks.
Now for a bit of beauty. We are still enjoying many tulips in bloom. I love these purple tulipes with fringed edges.
Bleeding hearts are at their peak - white...
and pink.
I have begun planting flower containers, but still lots of veggies to get in if it ever dries out a bit.
A few of the fish in the silo pond. (My coy sweetie gave me the large calico koi for Mother’s Day.)
The new aquaponics towers and the tilapia are supposed to arrive this week..but tilapia need warm water and today it was only 45 F, so we are waiting for the weather to warm up, for more reasons than one!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tile -ophiles


Yesterday, our WWOOFing intern Kelly and I began tiling the floor of the new commercial kitchen.
This photo gives you a little better idea of the scope of this project.
We got this far yesterday.  Because it will be a certified kitchen we have to use quarry tile. The tiles have been  gathered over the past year and a half from Craigslist sellers and the ReUse Center, so we have to creatively patchwork some areas  because we do not have enough of any one type of tile. The red borders will not show because  they will be underneath equipment, but I think they look kind of cool.
Kelly and I laid tiles all day today, from before 9 a.m. until after 6 p.m. We wore gel kneepads, which helped immensely, alternating with sitting upon overturned 5-gallon buckets. Kelly learned to use the wet saw to cut tiles. She is a great tile setter, very precise.
We are now about 3/4  completed with the kitchen, not counting sealing and grouting. We will have to use an epoxy grout for the commercial kitchen, which we have been warned is very unpleasant to work with.
While we laid tile, Rog was framing up walls in the adjacent area where the wood-fired oven, storage room and restroom will be. Those are the rooms we will be tiling next.  Can’t wait.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Word-light Wednesday: X Marks the Spot

X marks the spot where my heart sings! A little walk around the farm to show you some  wonderful spring things...
Peonies preparing to bloom, last year’s pampas grass preparing to fall, and flowering crabs in full glory.
Last year the crab apple trees had so few blooms I was afraid they were dying, but this year they are  smothered in blossoms.
So is the little cherry tree - I don't expect all these blossoms to become cherries, but just think if they did!
Serviceberries (aka Saskatoon berries, aka Juneberries) also blooming profusely.
The new orange beehive, with bees installed. I intended to paint art on the hive but the bees arrived a week early.
After 5 years of beekeeping I have finally mastered the art of  firing up the smoker.
The top bar hive now has hardware cloth over the openings to prevent the dang mice from getting inside.  For some reason it never occurred to me they could get up in there, but it turned into a perfect winter condominium for mice.
A peek at the top bar hive bees through the observation window.
SBF is now a member of the Xerces Society and we have a sign on the pollinator garden gate.
The yellow magnolia had one blossom!  I was just happy it survived the winter - the chickens had repeatedly scratched out all the mulch and soil, exposing the roots.
Tulips here and there.
Ever since we moved here I have dreamed of a sweep of Virginia Bluebells across the back yard.They are finally starting to multiply into a swath.
A 5 o’clock shadow of grass is now growing in most of the construction zones, including  around the new pond.
A few of the 150 daffodil bulbs that WWOOFer Elizabeth planted around the pond last November. They are all blooming despite having to push through heavy clay soil.
It is not very impressive yet, but I love the little pond and visit it several times a day. There are always fresh deer tracks. Once I discovered a pair of sandpipers exploring the edge.

The ducks are so happy we built them a real pond and spend all day every day swimming.
Now a pair of wild mallards are often swimming or sitting on the bank - perhaps nesting nearby?
One afternoon I heard loud singing and found toads mating - when I returned with my camera  there were strands of  pollywog eggs.
I have planted a few lily pads in the pond, released some native minnows (to hopefully consume any mosquito larvae), and planted native pond plants like marsh marigolds and blue flag iris along the edges. There are now water striders and water boatmen on the surface and will soon be pollywogs... it is so much  fun to see  this bare mud hole  transforming into a pond ecosystem!
 Columbine at the edge of the woods.


Volunteer squashes or pumpkins coming up everywhere along the path - seeds must have been in the compost they used to cover the septic construction area last fall.
Orange helping me take farm photos this morning.
The cows have now been feasting on fresh grass (and a few leaves if they can reach them) for a week and they are SO HAPPY.
I have not been milking LaFonda all winter, letting Splotch  nurse so I wouldn’t have to in the cold. But this morning she was complaining she was so full that I thought I would have to quick clean out the milking parlor (it has 100 folding chairs and my mosaic materials stored inside right now.)  Must be all that lush grass she is eating. But when I came back out to set up the milking parlor, Splotch was dutifully nursing, giving me a reprieve.
Time to get back to planting the veggie garden--photos of that coming soon.