Sunday, January 29, 2012


Everyone slept in this morning. Rog has had several late nights in a row playing music (see future post about that) and as his biggest groupie that means I also am up late.  I did get up at 7:30 to do the chores, but then crawled back into bed after for another hour.
The cows were still lounging in the loafing shed at 7:30! Usually they are waiting impatiently for breakfast at the hay feeder.
The stray black cat living in the barn, whom I have decided to call "Poet," is very affectionate and has a voracious appetite. Does "he" look pregnant to you?  Maybe when I  assumed he was a neutered male that was wishful thinking.  Some farmer I am!
When we  finally got up, I made scones and Rog made coffee and we settled in on the sofa to brainstorm about the aquaponics  idea, raising fish and  plants in a symbiotic system. Sylvia Bernstein's manual "Aquaponic Gardening" arrived in the mail a couple days ago and I have been devouring it.  I think our barn has great potential for setting up an aquaponics system! (Now if we only win the lottery.)

After our breakfast we went outside to play with some toys. Rog roof-raked the solar panels. We got about an inch of snow last night and when I  did chores the PVpanels had been snow-covered. By the time we raked them, about a third of the snow had already melted off. They were  producing 1600 watts of electricity, partially covered in snow, but they are much more efficient when the light isn't blocked. As  Rog raked the panels he could easily reach with the roof rake, the  production went up to 4800 watts. They heat up quickly uncovered and the snow slides off. I just checked now, about 45 minutes after roof-raking and they are totally melted clear and producing 6700 watts at 1 p.m. on a sunny winter day!
A one-inch fluffy snow is perfect for woveling - I cleared off the patio in a couple minutes. I love that wovel!

Now we have no more excuses--time to  tackle the dreaded project: taxes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Drastic Plastic Project

Most every night after crawling into bed, we read before sleeping. Usually I read books about farming and Rog reads fiction, but currently we are both reading disturbing environmental  books.  Rog is reading The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman,  which describes  how the earth would transform if all human beings were to just disappear suddenly.

Last night he interrupted my book to read aloud from Chapter 10, about plastic in the oceans.  You may have gathered that  both us of us are  pretty environmentally conscious. That is one reason we moved to a little farm - to grow our own food and learn about permaculture. We recycle, we invest in renewable energy and energy conservation, we compost, we reuse and repurpose as much as possible and acquire most of our stuff used. We knew something about the issues of plastics in the ocean, but these facts were astounding to us:

a. The raft of plastic refuse in the pacific Ocean where  so much plastic ultimately ends up is 10 million square miles in size - almost the size of the continent of Africa! Well, that was in 2005 - it is certainly even bigger now.

b. Although some plastic (about 8 million pounds/year) is dumped as waste at sea, 80% of what ends up in the ocean originates from land-based disposal and litter. The wind blows and rivers sweep plastic bottles, bags, wrappers and other waste into the ocean.

c. The incredible raft of plastic garbage garbage containing plastic cups, sandwich bags,  fishing line , etc,  is just the surface of the problem. The wave action of the sea  continually breaks the plastic down into smaller and smaller particles, but they don't degrade- they are still plastic.  In 1998, water samples were taken for sampling krill, the microscopic food of baleen whales,   and they found  six times more plastic by weight than plankton. I can't help but imagine trying to subsist on bowls of oatmeal, where for every oat there were six flakes of plastic.

It is almost incomprehensible to think that in 50 years since plastic entered our culture, humans could have done this to the ocean. Compound that with the dead zone from agricultural runoff, ocean temperatures rising from climate change, loss of fisheries from overfishing, and the bleaching of coral reefs, and it is  overwhelming and heartbreaking.  Perhaps the actions of one individual can't make a significant difference, but it was all the unwitting actions of individuals that got us to this point. One you realize you are on the wrong path, you need to make a correction.
We have decided to try to eliminate plastic from our lives.  We already do some things to avoid plastic: we frequently use reusable bags shopping (we will definitely improve on remembering now!) and request paper bags when we don't have one. We  purchase most of our staples in bulk from the co-op and try to avoid plastic packaging and disposable items. We recycle all the plastic that we can.

So, this morning I took my camera around the house to find out where we are using plastic the most.

Unsurprisingly, it looks like our areas of greatest plastic use are the bathroom and kitchen. Cleaning products, shampoo and bath products, medications, and toothbrushes all create plastic waste. I must admit, I hesitate to give up plastic containers in the bathroom, where metal rusts and broken glass in the shower is hazardous. For a long time I have been intending to  make my own safe cleaning products - perhaps now is the time and I can reuse these containers.
This is the embarrassing  jumble of plastic containers in the  bottom drawer of the kitchen cabinets. We do so much baking  (esp. for Farmers Market) that we use a lot of plastic storage containers for grains, seeds, sourdough starter, as well as leftovers.  We make our own yogurt when the cow is giving milk, but how can you purchase yogurt or  cottage cheese other than in plastic? How did they supply it before plastic was invented? (Oh, I remember  waxed paper cartons-- now they would be plastic-coated.) We do reuse such containers for many purposes around the farm (seed-starting, parts storage, chicken feeding, berry-collecting)  and ultimately recycle the recyclable ones.  Hmm, I guess this means no more bottling our honey in those cute little plastic bears.
With three cats, we have three of these. Plus a large number of buckets and tubs in all sizes for animal watering and feeding and washing stuff. Can't do without a litter box, but when I was a kid we cut down cardboard boxes for litter boxes, which were discarded when they got disgusting. However, our three plastic litter boxes will probably last us our entire lives, so we should use them rather than throw them out. Our 2.5- and 5-gallon buckets came from the co-op and grocery store and are all re-used and well-used.
I didn't find much plastic decor in our house - I am more susceptible to vintage ceramics and wood. But having recently reupholstered a sofa and chairs, it is apparent to me how much plastic goes into furniture upholstery (foam cushions, padding, textiles...)  Even though I  tried to do good for the environment by reupholstering old furniture, I  used new polyester fiberfill to wrap the cushions.
Gardening can be fraught with plastic.  This year I am investing in a soil blocker and will not need to use pots to start my seeds. I can reuse the trays  collected from years past buying plant a starts.
Toys and tools. These are my bodywork tools (foam roller, Back Buddy and ball) that would be pretty hard to give up. But there are a myriad other tools, too - plastic-handled screwdrivers and  paintbrushes,  power tools with plastic casings. Some of these could probably be found with wood handles if we ever need to replace them. And then there is all that plastic in our most beloved tools: computers and  camera.  We are past the toy stage, other than a few  games and a couple of Barbie dolls I still have from my childhood, but if you walk through the toy section of a discount store, yikes! So much plastic, from tiny Legos to huge outdoor play structures. And then just think of all the toys children have that never even get played with!
My 3-year-old warm, indestructible, impermeable, Muck boots made with neoprene and other mysterious synthetic compounds. What could ever replace them?  Farmers wore leather work boots in the past, but surely they couldn't have lasted through what these boots survive gracefully and comfortably, could they?
My heart sort of skipped a beat when I realized that if we were going to give up plastics, that would mean giving up painting with acrylics. I am an artist who paints in acrylics. But I am not  Picasso;  my artwork is certainly not of the caliber that it should persist into eternity like acrylics will. Have to contemplate going to watercolors or some other medium...
This is one of the windows in my office, which like all the other windows on our house, is covered with plastic film for the winter to reduce heating costs.  It makes a tremendous difference in comfort, allowing us to reduce the thermostat,  and significant  difference in fuel use. Until we can afford to replace the windows in this old house, is it worse to use plastic on the windows or burn more fossil fuel?
Our high tunnel greenhouse, covered in two layers of plastic, is a similar issue to the window film.  We are still harvesting greens in January from it - but does growing locally year-round for ourselves and a few  other families, avoiding the  transportation and packaging our  vegetables  would otherwise require, balance out that expanse of plastic in terms of environmental impact?

It isn't going to be easy or always clear-cut, but we are going to make a  serious effort to avoid plastics altogether, find good alternatives, make mindful decisions, and reuse and recycle any plastics that do come into our lives. I'll keep you posted.

P.S.  if you haven't seen it, check out the movie No Impact Man

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jewelled Weeds

I have a long list of things to accomplish today and taking photos was not on the list,  but there was freezing mist during the night and I couldn't resist  capturing some of the  lovely ice-encrusted weeds.
The milkweed pods were most amazing.

Obnoxious wild parsnips are especially beautiful.
Dogwood tips.
More milkweed pods.
The tree branches made a clattering sound as they swayed in the wind.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cows in Snow

Jitterbug in the Snow
It's actually snowing, significant snow! We are forecast to get up to 6 inches.  The temperature has warmed up to a couple degrees above zero, with no wind, so it feels  much more gentle than yesterday.

I am relieved about the warmer weather because I was very worried about Lafonda. Yesterday when I fed the cows their evening meal, her udder was  very full - usually voracious Lindy keeps it emptied out, but she wouldn't let him nurse, probably because her teats were injured by the cold.  They can be quickly frostbitten or seriously chapped on cold, windy days  because after the calf nurses they are slobbery wet, exposed to the freezing wind.  I smeared her teats with warmed coconut oil to soothe and help protect the skin.

Her udder had to be emptied, so after supper, Rog helped me  bring LaFonda into the barn to be milked.  It was kind of an ordeal, because I haven't milked since October. The vacuum pump is with my neighbor Frank getting tuned up, so I had to hand milk. Everything was frozen and had to be  thawed, warmed, washed and sanitized first.  At least by the time we got to milking her it looked like Lindy had managed to drink some out of two quarters.  She was very kicky, not wanting me to handle her sore teats, and my arthritic hands can only milk a short time, so I only milked a half gallon and hoped Lindy would be able to get another meal. If she isn't emptied, there is a risk of mastitis, and that would not be fun for  LaFonda or for me.

Happily, this morning her udder was much less full, so Lindy must have managed to get a good meal.  I applied more coconut oil and will keep a close watch on her.

The snow helps me get in the mood for painting. It's a good thing, since the Crossings show is only 10 days away and I still have  a few pieces to finish.  The painting above is Jitterbug in the Snow - a small (12 inch x 12 inch) acrylic on canvas that is a companion for
Lindyhop in the Snow
Lindyhop in the Snow.  I usually work much larger, so these are like miniatures for me.
Buff in the Coop
Not all these new paintings feature farm animals, but yes, there are quite a few of cows and chickens.  Paint what you love!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snow Scupltures

We have scarcely any snow yet this winter, perhaps two inches on the ground right now at most. So I was delighted while taking a back road home today to be driving along a hilltop cornfield where all the snow had blown into the ditch, deep enough for the wind to create snow sculptures.
The barren cornfield. Don't let that brilliant blue sky fool you --it was very cold with a brisk breeze and my fingers were instantly numb.  Why do I always get inspired to take snow photos on such nippy days?
Sharp shadows highlight the windswept snow sculptures.
This snow sculpture looked like a jumbled pile of gigantic books..
Snow with Dairy Queen curls.
Weeds, snow, wind, sunshine and shadows - what a great combination

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Not Your Usual January

How did I miss I more than a week without blogging?  It's not because we have been taking it easy  - so much is going on! I have managed to take a few photos most days though, and will try to catch up a bit.

Usually I look forward to January as a time  to sort of hibernate, read books,  catch up on inside projects. This year is so weird. Until a couple days ago we had no snow.We had over 60 degree temperatures  in January! That's just not right.

Currently, I am working very hard to complete a new batch of paintings for my art show in February -that's less than two weeks away!  I lost a few days to painting this week because I presented at at the Minnesota Organics conference in St. Cloud on Friday (about farm interns - we were a case study) and  at a library event last night (about eating local foods - I was the show-and-tell local farmer,)
The days are getting noticeably longer and already egg production is picking up. In December we were only getting three or four eggs a day, but now most days we are collecting a dozen.  So, I made farm-fresh deviled eggs for the local foods presentation at the library.  My co-presenter, Dave, demonstrated a local chicken pasta meal, and I provided the salad, picked entirely from our high tunnel, comprised of  spinach, claytonia, chard, kale, beet greens, radishes, carrots, scallions and pansies.  It is so incredible to be harvesting beautiful garden produce in January!
The warm weather has certainly reduced our our fuel oil expense this year, especially compared to last winter, which was so unrelentingly cold. The fuel oil delivery guy also seems a lot cheerier this winter, working in such balmy temps.

We finally did get some snow a couple days ago.  During morning chores, Jitterbug looked like she had been sifted with  confectioners sugar.
Lindyhop looked a bit like a big, snowy polar bear.
There wasn't enough snow to require getting out the snow blower, but it did motivate us to replace the scoop on the wovel.  (The scoop had broken when the wovel slipped from its storage spot in the garage rafters last fall.) The driveway didn't really need shoveling, but I used the wovel on it anyway, just because I kind of miss the routines of real winter.

Then, we took a little walk through the prairie to savor the snow.

More snow would be welcome.