farming, Uncategorized

Spring Planting

I bought some dormant rose bushes today – Sadie loves knockout roses, but a full-size rose bush is about $20.00 a pop. I went straight back to the clearance wrack, they had these little root balls wrapped in paper and plastic, with trimmed rose bush stalks peeking out of the top. The branches were covered in a think layer of wax, which helps keep the plant from blossoming too soon. I have been wanting a few roses to plant next to the shop since around Christmas, but Lowe’s didn’t start stocking them until a few weeks ago.

So I brought home 5 little baby dormant rose bushes, get this, they were only $5.00 a piece! Sadie likes to watch plants grow any way. I dug 5 little holes by the shop and spent way too long looking for small rocks to make a bed, and voila. A successfully executed project in less than half a day. I have not gotten mulch yet for them, that may have to wait until next month.

Unfortunately, Sadie and I do not spend a lot of time or resources on these type of ‘beautification’ projects. What I mean is, typically what we do from day-to-day is either playing catch up, making sure everyone is fed and watered, the firewood is dry, or the bills are paid, before we fall into bed and call it. It’s not a bad thing, I think we have come quite a long way since I have moved here. But it’s just where we are right now – so it’s nice to be able to spend a little time investing in something that will be really beautiful next year.

A few weeks ago, we prettied up the barn lot entrance, which Sadie had been wanting to do for a long time. We have a big, red gate leading to the barn and the pasture, so we framed it with lumber and it spruced it right up. Almost like something out of Kentucky. We were pleased as punch. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d have roses at the entrance of that too, although the horses might be tempted to reach through and have a taste-test.

Spring is coming to the farm, slowly but surely. The grass is poking through the clay, buds are appearing on all the ends of the trees, and just yesterday, I saw a few iris stalks coming up from outside my bedroom window. Tonight and tomorrow will be cold though, but at least the days are getting longer. I only have one big brush pile left to burn, the other two sites have been raked and combed over for nails. It’s amazing how many nails that old barn left behind. We still have several large logs up there from the post-Christmas work day, but I’ll borrow a tractor to push them all together so they can smolder down.

On Friday, Sadie and I went up to White’s Hardware and got 25 pounds of potatoes, our onion sets, bush beans and a few ounces of beets. Once we get the garden spot re-tilled, we will start those on the lower end. I walked over it today, all the dark, soft dirt is just waiting to be dug up.

Several months ago we raked bags and bags of leaves over it, which are mostly mulch by now. Pretty soon it will be time to turn the earth, and till, and plant, and pull weeds, then pull more. Before I know it there will be fresh veggies on every available table and counter space in the house, and mason jars taking up the rest. But not quite yet. For now, it’s nice to watch the world wake up from winter as it does best – nice and slow, with a new surprise to look forward to every morning.

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farming, Uncategorized

Plan? What plan?

I had a friend ask me what my “5 year plan” was. But sometimes, I don’t even know what the 5-day plan is. But I think in 5 years, my life will look a lot like it does today. And that doesn’t scare me one bit. There’s no such thing as boredom on the farm – I don’t feel trapped here, or tied down in any way. I mean sure, if I won an Alaskan cruise I would have to parcel out all these chores to different families, so they wouldn’t get overwhelmed or run away screaming..but I haven’t entered any contests lately, so I don’t think that will be a problem.

In 5 years, I hope we have a new chicken coop, and water piped up there so I can have ducks again. I’ve already drawn plans to build movable stalls in the horse barn, and we have the lumber to do it. I’d like to fertilize and sow seed in the pasture, then maybe get a few cows.. I plan on getting new siding for the house, gutters too. We need to replace the windows. We need to fix the bush-hog, and get a utility trailer for the 4-wheeler. Right now I have 2 brush piles waiting to be burned, but I’m sure there will be new ones to light then too.

We did burn some brush today, the enormous pile of limbs and leftover barn from the great Post-Christmas Work Day. A few friends came out to help me stack wood in the shed, and we tended the fire all day. It’s still burning now, low and slow, but I can see bright little flames from the window. My hair and my clothes smell of smoke, and there is black soot under my fingernails. I kept taking off my gloves and laying them down, and eventually gave up on wearing them at all. But it was a great day. I hope in 5 years from now, they will still come out and help me with those random projects that would take me ages to complete on my own. Things like cleaning fence rows, or clearing the creek bed, or finally going through all those boxes in the basement..

That’s part of farming though. I have been here almost 2 years and it’s a community project. There is always, always something that needs doing. Different seasons bring different responsibilities. And that’s part of what I love about it – every day is guaranteed to be different. You’re never really done. You just do what you can for the day with your own two hands, once every one is fed and watered and put up, you can fall into bed and dream about doing it the next day.

I have not ever loved anything as much as I love farming. And I don’t think it’s really something I can explain. It feels like this is what I was born to do. It’s inside of me, somehow, like this dirt and clay I call home runs through my own veins. Today flew by – we worked hard, got a few cuts and splinters, but there was laughter and water breaks too. Then that big sigh when you look at a shed full of wood for next winter, and you know that one more thing is done until then. Sadie made pea salad and spaghetti bake, and we all ate until we were stuffed.

In 5 years, I hope there are more meals and laughter. More gardening, canning, mowing, and feeding. More chickens and eggs, and more hay put up in the barn. More sunrises over the mountains, and watching the sunset from the porch. I want there to be more writing too – I don’t write as often as I should. There are always stories to tell, it’s just finding the time to stop living them, and start telling them. I am looking forward to these next 5 years of life, of farming, and everything in between.

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farming, Uncategorized

Christmas Miracles

I am very thankful it’s Saturday. The dogs are napping by the stove, Sadie is reading the paper, and I hear the birds just outside looking for spilled seeds. It snowed all night, the sun is shining and everything is glittering white. I have already started to dream up when we can plant the garden.

I am thinking of getting Honey Bees this year, not sure how that will play out but it seems like a good idea. And we plan to have several rows of corn we can grind into cornmeal, which I am excited to try. Even though it’s winter on the farm and the land is resting, there is always something exciting in the works.

The pigs have a date with you-know-who on January 24th. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss them, even though they did get out on Christmas day and had me up to my elbows in mud right when family arrived. Once we got everyone put away, it was a wonderful evening. Sadie had a full feast laid out, we ate and swapped stories into the night.

My Uncle Jack’s first cousin is a sweet lady named Wanda, the who wears rings on every finger. She married a man named Robert who met Jesus right before he got out of prison – now he’s got some stories. Robert is the kind of guy who will just about break your hand every time he shakes it, and will do just about anything to help somebody. He and my Dad got to talking after Christmas dinner, and before you could say “fruit cake” they already deemed the day after Christmas as a farm work day.

The next morning, we woke up to Robert’s arrival in his bucket truck, pulling a trailer with the most beautiful Bobcat machine I have ever seen. We all stood outside, half finished toast and coffee in hand, and watched as he roared up the driveway with a claw-full of brush from a pile by the road.

I don’t think anyone had time to blink that whole day. We removed two old stumps that tree experts told me we couldn’t do anything with. He cut down at least 8 dead trees that were posing a threat to our house, then he started on the remains of my Uncle’s shop that had collapsed years ago. My sister and I took down old fence lines while Robert, my Dad and my Brother reduced entire trees to little piles of firewood. We took two loads to the dump, and I am proud to say that was the day we removed the final, old abandoned toilet on our property.

By 5pm, everything was done. Robert heaped the rotten trees and pieces of the old shop in a big pile to burn. It was, by far, the most productive and satisfying work-day we have had yet. He wore us out, but we got more done in that day than we have since I got here. It was a Christmas Miracle and I won’t ever forget it.

 

 

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farming, Uncategorized

The Great Smoky Mountains

Well if you’ve been anywhere near the news lately, you know that over 17,000 acres of the Smoky Mountains have burned in a wildfire. Our farm is just a stone’s throw from the Sevier County line, but we are about an hour from Chimney Top, where the fire started. Two weeks ago was the first time Sadie and I went over the official fire plan, what we would take, where we would meet if we got separated.

The forecast called for rain that night, but in just a few hours the wind had picked up and spread sparks all over the mountains. We could smell the smoke from our house. I kept standing outside, scanning the sky for the sight of embers. It was terrifying. We planned on opening gates to let the horses out, turning the pigs and chickens loose, and packing the dogs and cats in the car. But what can you take? How can you pack up an entire farmhouse? What if we left and came back to land charred and scorched, without our home, or the familiar outline of the old barn on the horizon?

The fire jumped roads and rivers, it leveled homes, buildings and cars. You can’t stop something like that. Firemen from all over the country worked overtime, they risked their lives to try and contain it. But coming off months of drought, with high winds, all you can do is get to safety.

All I could think was to get the dogs and cats and get on the road. And that all I wanted to take was my Uncle Jack’s knife, our land survey, and the door frame that has our heights marked in sharpie. But what about my favorite boots? The quilt on my bed that’s older than I am? All the pictures? Sadie’s shotgun that Jack gave her for their anniversary, my books, Nana’s paintings, a bottle of beach sand from my brother, all the letters and cards I have saved from over the years…?

Of course these things are nothing compared to our lives, or the lives of the animals we are responsible for. But they are what make my life mine. I love this farm life, and  I still can’t believe that I get to be a part of it. I wake up every morning and look at the mountains fading to the horizon, over fields cut by the creek, and surrounded by fences I’ve repaired with my own to hands.

I’m proud to work this land with my Aunt Sadie, everything we own is on these 18.75 acres. And all of that could be lost in a fire. This land is more than land to me – my Mom grew up here, and now I am thankful to call this farm home. I will never take these things for granted.

But the wildfires have already begun to fade from the national news. The curfew was lifted last week, and people are returning to Gatlinburg to see what is left and what is gone. Sadie and I made the drive up through the mountains on Saturday, we took a dear friend of hers home from the hospital, and neither one of us knew what to expect.

Ric lives on the very end of what’s called the strip, a small two lane road surrounded by shops, restaurants and hotels. There are tourists walking the streets year round, and it’s a popular skiing spot in the winter. Sadie and I have been several times, we usually take my younger cousins, and there are always plenty of people to watch walk by.

The strip was all lit up, but the surrounding mountains were black with soot. The wooden sign welcoming you to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was over halfway burned. Several cabins just hundreds of feet away were reduced to cinders and ash, sometimes only chimney’s remained. We saw cars reduced to twisted metal shells, fallen trees, and the smell of smoke and soot hung in the air. Pulling up at the apartments, we saw a home burned to the foundation, it sat just a few hundred yards away.

Outside of the apartment there was a red X spray-painted on the concrete, marking that the first responders had searched the building for bodies. They had kicked the door in – it would close, but it wouldn’t latch. Neighbors came out to greet Ric, hugging him, telling us they were thankful he was okay.

I’m learning that East Tennessee is a bit different than most places around. Since the rain helped to contain the fire, donations have poured in – many of the shelters had to turn away clothes and bottled water because they didn’t have anywhere to store them. People have opened their homes to their neighbors who don’t have one. Dozens of stores have started toy drives to ensure that families who have lost everything can still have a Merry Christmas.

Sadie and I are so blessed, we got several days of rain and I know that it came just in time to help the fire fighters. But I won’t forget that night where the wind howled around our house, and I knew there wasn’t anything we could do to stop the fires that may have spread to our home.

If you want to help the folks in Gatlinburg who have lost their homes, please donate. The wonderful Dolly Parton is hosting a telethon tonight, you can tune in online or on TV. Please consider giving to help some of our neighbors in these Great Smoky Mountain’s!

http://www.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/music/2016/12/12/how-watch-dolly-partons-smoky-mountains-telethon/95360082/

From our farm to yours, these Green Acres are an amazing place to be.

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farming

What a Drag

When I was a teenager, my two older sisters kept their horses at a barn about an hour from our home. It was outside the ‘bustling metropolis’ of Palatka Florida, and sat on almost 400 acres of beautifully tended fields, clean fence rows, and wooden trails you could get lost in. In exchange for board, we would help with chores around the barn – cleaning stalls, exercising horses, and dragging the pasture.

Dragging the pasture was just a fancy way for the owner to say “go knock down every pile of horse poop in that field so the grass grows even.” We would hook a metal livestock gate to the back of the Gator and make laps around the endless fields. My sisters, being fair dictators, set up a schedule so we were able to take turns. Becca would even let me borrow her iPod (which was a big incentive) on my round.

The shift would start with getting a full tank of gas from the gallon jugs in the shop,  a charged iPod (when it was available) and some kind of protective wear like a hat or sunglasses. If you were smart, you would start with an empty bladder. When it was my shift, Amber would open the gate wide and wave me in, making sure no horses got out, and taking care that it was latched before walking back to the barn. I usually did a perimeter lap, then started and one end and worked my way to the gate and civilization.

There was some kind of meditative element to all that driving. I would let my mind wander, turning at each end of the fence, humming along to whatever song was playing. Some small part of me found satisfaction in turning that pasture back into a smooth, green field. It got lonesome, but there was peacefulness there too.

We’d usually break at lunch and head down the road. The shell gas station had amazing, seasoned potato wedges and chicken fingers. Something about all that driving really worked up an appetite. Then it was back to the barn, back to the pasture, and making the final turns to finish the field.

Time went by, as it does so well. When my sister’s prepared to go to college, the horses were re-homed. I volunteered at the Jacksonville Zoo during high school, then got into surfing, then went to college myself. Looking back, it’s funny to see how things get shelved just before college. I was another wide-eyed freshman then, if you has asked me then where I would be in 5 years, I would not have said living on a farm. I had no idea that it would come back full circle.

But here we are! And I wouldn’t trade it, as Sadie says, “for all the tea in China.” Last week I found myself rooting around in the barn for the perfect gate to drag the pasture with. I finally decided on a chain-link fence panel that we had discarded, mainly because at some point, someone had cut a large round hole in the middle. It wasn’t much good after that. I found a sturdy rope, hooked up to the back of our four wheeler, and off I went.

I couldn’t help but think of how, about 10 years ago, chances were I was doing the exact same thing on another farm, pulling another gate. Without overstating my point, it was surreal. We haven’t had rain in months, so following my bouncing, chain-link panel was a great big cloud of dust. The horses didn’t care for my idea on bit. I circled the field around the barn, where they spend the hottest part of the day, until Sadie got home. She laughed, and I kept right on.

Fortunately, the 4-wheeler has headlights, so I worked a little past dark. At least until I was satisfied I had made some kind of effect on the appearance of the pasture. I put the rope away and leaned the panel against the barn. It had found another use and would stay, for now. It was full of dried grass and pieces of pulled weed. Then I made my way up the hill back to the house, dusty and smiling, to whatever delicious meal Sadie had on the stove. Maybe one day I will ask her to make some potato wedges.

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farming, Uncategorized

Horse Talk

We had the vet come out a few days ago, he reminds me of my Uncle James and I think that’s why I like him so much. There are lots of different kinds of vets, of course. And there are lots of different kinds of horse people. James was the kind with a calm voice and quiet hands – he had a steadiness about him that put jumpy or nervous horses at ease.

James was always more comfortable in an old barn than anywhere else. He was the kind of cowboy that knew it didn’t matter what kind of saddle you had, or how old your boots and spurs might be. Good horsemanship comes with experience, with worn leather and faded jeans. He would rather have a familiar horse and dog for company out on the trail, honest and reliable, than a high dollar show pony.

The vet, John, knew James fairly well. He has made several farm calls for us since I moved here. He came out in the spring to float a few teeth and castrate our 2-year old colt. John is also the one who made an emergency call for a mare we used to own, Miss Smokin’ Kaylee, who decided to spoil a nice, quiet Sunday morning by running through a fence. He and his wife left church early that Sunday to help, and I’m not sure what we would have done without them. After just a few minutes with her, I could tell he had been around horses for years. He was calm, gentle, spoke in a low voice and ran his hand down her neck in long, smooth strokes. Not only did it calm her down, but it helped me calm down too.

Some horse people like to be the boss. They have heavy hands and jerk with their legs and arms, demanding instead of asking. This makes for a jumpy and a flighty horse. Other people, usually on the more green side, are scared something bad might happen, and remain tense the entire ride. Getting hurt is a bit of a given. You can be kicked, bitten, thrown, run over or run under trees, just to name a few.  Horses are herd animals – everything they do is to ensure their survival. And you just have to know how to read those signs and communicate in a way they understand.

The thing I appreciate the most about John is he talks through everything with you. He doesn’t talk at you, or to you, but with you. When he came out to castrate the colt in the Spring, he explained the reason for the dosage to put him under. He showed me how he rubbed the vein with his thumb to desensitize it, before smoothly putting the needle in to inject the anesthetic. About 45 seconds later, the colt’s eyes glazed over. He widened his stance, trying to brace himself, and his head lowered until his nose almost touched the ground.

John eased him over, and the colt laid down with a sigh. He then looped the lead-rope around his back leg and tied it around his chest. After putting on a pair of gloves and washing the area thoroughly, he talked me through exactly what he was doing. I won’t go into detail, but I learned quite a lot that day. And after a few minutes, the colt stood, head still drooping, and we turned him back out in the pasture for the day.

Malcolm Gladwell has a theory that to perfect something, you need to practice for 10,000 hours. Think of musicians, athletes, reporters, what have you. For you to truly master an art or a task, you have to have so many hours, days, years, of repetition for it to really sink in. James had that. Our vet has it, thankfully, and is willing to teach me some too. Sadie definitely has it, and it’s something I hope to learn too. It helps when the thing you are practicing is also a life passion of yours, one that keeps you up at night dreaming, and gets you out of bed every morning!

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farming, Uncategorized

The Pig Derby

Since I’m still sick, and nothing exciting is happening, I’ve got to write about the day that the pigs got out. Pigs are notorious escape artists, everyone knows that. They are clever and usually hunger driven. They can just about get out of any pen, anywhere, anytime.
I got back from helping Uncle clean stalls, it was ridiculously hot outside, and I decided to get Tug up out of the field and give him a nice cool rinse with the hose.

The horses were standing in the hall of the barn, head to tail, dozing and swishing flies. Tug’s flank was dark with sweat, he had ‘road map’ along his shoulder, which is just a horsey way to say his veins were showing, trying to cool the blood pumping up and down his legs. We walked up to the pump house just outside of the kitchen and he picked at the grass while I hosed him down.

I scrubbed his sides with a handful of grass and rinsed the dust and sweat away. He tossed his head when I sprayed his nose and ears, but it just a bluff. We both knew how much he was enjoying it. Right when I finished rinsing his other side, some movement on the hill caught my eye.

Tug and I both looked and I saw the unmistakable shape of piglet running past the chicken coop. My stomach flopped over. Good gosh, all the time and sweat and money that went into it, there he was running around as free as a bird. It was like watching a $100 bill blowing away into the wind.

I tied Tug, then thought better of it, immediately untied him and led him to the main gate. I pulled the gate closed and dropped the rope – he could pick grass, he would be fine, as long as he didn’t get his rope tangled up too bad. I sped-walked up to the barn, then noticed the back gate on the high hill was opened. Which led to the woods, and the road. Knowing the day so far, Tug would end up out there while I was chasing pigs. I about died running up that hill. got that gate latched, then walked back down to survey the damage.

The latest version of of the ‘Piggy Palace’ included a wooden platform in the barn for the piglets to take shelter, and a rectangle yard leading from there alongside the wall of the chicken yard. Sadie got a 50′ roll of woven wire, which we stretched just outside two strands of electric wire. The three boys had somehow gotten out and were running laps around the barn.

I couldn’t see any obvious gap where they got out, but who knows. I herded the two girls into the barn and barred the opening with boards, then went after the three boys. They wouldn’t let me anywhere near them. They would split up, run around the field, then join back together, tails wagging. I needed backup – so I called Uncle Rick.

The conversation went something like “hey, are you busy, the pigs are out” and he sighed and said “I’ll be right there.” I already had sweat dripping down my face, so I backed off a bit and kept an eye on the piglets. After a few minutes, they settled down to graze again, completely oblivious.

When Uncle arrived, he grabbed a stick and an apple basket and tried to help me herd them to the hall of the barn, where I could corner one and grab it long enough to put back inside the fence. I couldn’t tell you how many times we chased them around the barn – it had to be at least 30 laps. Lots of sweat, and a few choice words later, I realized we needed another plan.

I cut the strings holding the wire to the side of the barn and stretched it out. Uncle herded the piglets around the barn again, and they ran right past me. The black and white one decided to check out the plastic trough we had next to the barn, climbed in, and couldn’t get out. It would have been funny, if we weren’t so frustrated, watching his little legs run in place. By the time I got over to him, he had clamored out. That would have been an easy catch.

So around the barn we went again, piggy legs pumping, and I held the wire open. Uncle backed off a little once they came around the corner, and I think that’s what did it. I swung the wire around again and voila – the Piggy’s were back in the palace. We heaved a sigh of relief, wiping sweat from our eyes.

But it wasn’t three seconds later, that dang black and white piglet ran to the end of the wire and ducked underneath. I was dumbfounded. Here we go again. Uncle said “That pig belongs between a biscuit,” and I couldn’t agree more. He sure was a clever thing. I moved the boards to the barn and herded the two captured piglets in with their sisters. One went right for the pan of water and sat right down in it.

Uncle and I herded biscuit around the barn again, and he made a quick turn for the hall of the barn, leading to the gate where the rest of his brothers and sisters were relaxing. I saw my chance. I dropped the stick I was holding and went straight for him. Against the barn wall and the wire gate, we both knew he was trapped. I dove on my knees and tackled him against the ground.

Biscuit squealed, Uncle laughed, and I held on tight. I grabbed him by the back leg and yanked him up in the air. He was writhing like a fish on a hook. I swung him over the fence and dropped him in the pen with his siblings. Once I let go, he quit screaming, and I brushed myself off. Uncle and I tightened the wire fence and discovered that the electric current had stopped because it had a bad connection to the grounding wire.

Uncle fixed it with some electrical tape and gave me a tester so I could check it daily. We laughed all the way back down the hill. I found Tug and put him back in the field, he promptly rolled in a patch of dirt, and I decided to call it a day. It was definitely more excitement than I had bargained for.

When Sadie got home, Uncle told her what happened. She thought we were making it up! Once we convinced her it was true, she said “Well, I guess I’m moving out.” Considering the pigs were her idea, I knew she felt bad we spent all that time chasing them. I said “If you do, you’re taking those pigs with you!”

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