He who has water and peat on his own farm has the world his own way. -Old Irish proverb.

Category: Farm Life (Page 4 of 4)

Mumble Grumble

Blogging hasn’t been high priority lately, obviously. But this fall has kicked my butt and I hate to write negative posts. I prefer my witty, delightful posts about how picture perfect everything is, or the ones about how I solved some huge problem by the sheer force of my intelligence and charm.

Wait…?? Who’s blog is this?? Sorry….I confused myself with someone else.

Reality is I’m a farmer now, and I’ll be damned if farmers don’t bitch and moan every once in awhile. So here it goes…

This year’s corn harvest dogged me for weeks. It went anything but smoothly, and I was grumpy through the whole dang process.

The weather didn’t cooperate at all, raining every other day for basically a month or so. Now I know talking about the weather isn’t that exciting for most people, but weather is to a farmer what a moody boss is to the low-level worker. You gotta follow their lead, but you never know what they’re gonna throw at you, and most of the time you don’t like it.

This harvest season, the weather tossed us a nice mix of rain, mist, cold, some more rain and mist, and suprisingly little wind. Which means we were harvesting wet corn off of wet ground on cold, dark, and yes, wet days.

So what’s the problem?

Well, wet corn means that we have to pay exhorbitant charges at the local grain elevator to dry the corn down to 15% moisture. 15% moisture is the level at which corn can be shipped and/or stored without risk of sprouting or fermenting. (Although fermented corn doesn’t sound so bad…ahem.)

Thanks to the wet fall, our corn didn’t dry down in the field like it could have. We were harvesting our corn at about 23% moisture. Shall we do the math?

The elevator charges $0.07/bushel to dry corn one half of one percent. (Yes, you read that right.) So that means $0.07 to dry it to 22.5%, another $0.07 to dry it to 22%, etc. etc. When you add it all up, we paid $1.12/bushel to dry the corn down to 15%.

I understand that they have to recoup their energy costs, but to the tune of $1.12/bu? Youch. When you’re making $4-5.00/bu on the corn, that’s 25% of your profit right there. Today’s corn prices are at $2.95 or so. Take a smooth buck off of that and we’re talking a 35-40% loss.

Wet land means that the oh-so-heavy equipment like the combine, grain wagons, tractors and semi trucks are driving around our farmland and compacting the crap out of our soil. Soil compaction is horrible for the health of the crops, prohibiting the flow of nutrients and water and causing all sorts of terrible problems with run-off, weeds, etc. In a no-till system like ours, soil compaction is your number one enemy. We don’t have the option to moldboard plow the land to break through the hardpan, as they call it.

We had a semi truck and a tractor get stuck in the mud. That’s how bad it was. And there are huge ruts everywhere, which I can’t look at without getting agitated.

Wet, unpredictable weather causes one more major problem….you never know when you’re going to be able to harvest. For three weeks, I could go nowhere, do nothing, see no-one. I’d have my boss at Atwood take me off the schedule because I thought we’d be working. Then it’d rain. I’d put myself back on the schedule, and Mark would show up to work the combine for a few hours.

Sometimes I’d think, “The ground’s way too wet to harvest today”, so I’d go to my exercise class or run to the store. Upon return, I’d find that Mark had been working for over an hour, the wagons were all full, and I still had to connect the tractor to the auger, lift the top off the bin, etc. The constant set-up, catch up, take down, set-up again was exceedingly frustrating.

Needless to say, I was swearing like a sailor by the time we got it all finished. But finish we did. Thank God for that.

Yeah, farmers complain a lot. We do. But if your schedule and your success was dictated by and determined by something as unforgiving and unpredictable as the weather, you’d complain too.

We’re a sorry lot, we farmers. You’ll just have to forgive and excuse us when you can. And when you can’t?

Deal with it.

We’re Famous!

Ok, not famous. But we did make the local newspaper.

About 2 weeks ago, I received a call from a man with a heavy accent who stated that he worked for the Freeport Journal Standard and wanted to interview me about the farm. I asked him how he heard about us, and he responded that he had found our information on the new Local Foods Directory put out by the University of Illinois Extension Office of Stephenson County.

Score! My friend Margaret Larson, Extension’s Director, worked hard to get the local foods directory printed in response to an increasing desire to support local producers. The directory hasn’t been out much more than a month, and I was impressed by how quickly I had been contacted by someone who had found us through it.

But then I began to wonder how this reporter dude had chosen us over the many, many other interesting and varied farms listed in the directory. So I asked him. He said he was starting a new weekly column titled On The Farm, and I was the first person he contacted. He just picked us….no special reason, really.

Well, after chatting a little on the phone and again noting his thick accent, I asked him if he minded telling me where he was from. “Well, it’s funny you ask,” he replied. “I’m from Ireland.”

A-ha!!

“Now I know why you picked us,” I laughed. “It couldn’t have something to do with the fact that our farm is named Irish Grove Farms, now could it?” He chuckled and admitted that yes, that might have had a little influence.

Just goes to show that we should never underestimate the importance of a name.

We had a nice 3 hour visit where we grilled him on every detail of his life. And then at the end, we let him ask us a few questions as well.

This is what came of it: Making the Move to Organic

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Monday Happened

Phew. Thank goodness it’s Wednesday. ‘Cause a few days ago, we had a Monday. And boy, what a Monday it was.

It’s corn harvesting time, and it’s been a tough season. We had an incredibly cool and wet spring, followed by a wet summer, a month-long dry spell in August, and then a return to rain, rain, rain ever since. The corn harvest started over a week ago and should take us about 4 to 5 days to complete, yet we’re barely half-way there, thanks to this wet weather that won’t go away.

I knew Monday was going to be hectic. I had a full schedule that started at 5:30 a.m., which included getting the kids off to school, harvesting corn all day, and work at Atwood from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. But Marcel had opened the lid on the bin for me, bless his heart, before he left for work and I was thinking I was sitting pretty.

It was cold, mind you. The temperature had dropped to the high 20’s overnight, and that means the tractors must be plugged in to keep the diesel fuel warm. I was pretty confident farner Mark would start combining at about 9:30 or so, so I was planning on plugging the tractors in at 8:00, and even thought I could run to the store for some milk and bread before we got started. Just as I was brushing my teeth, at about 7:45 or so, I heard a knock at the door. Yep, it was farmer Mark, ready to get started.

“Well, yes, of course I’m ready to go,” I lied, “I was just getting ready to go out and connect the tractor to the auger.”

“Well, okay then, I’ll get started.” replied Mark. “I’ll need a few more wagons out there in a minute or so.”

Assuring him that yes, I’d get everything moving, I called my mom in a panic and told her I needed her to get Armando fast. Then I ran and plugged the tractors in. Maybe they’ll heat up in the 10 minutes or so that it’ll take me to run the wagons out to the field, I thought.

I thought wrong.

When I tried to start our John Deere, a huge, troubling puff of white smoke billowed out of the exhaust pipe as the motor slowly chugged, chugged, chugged….and nothing. Chug, chug again…..and nothing. Then I jumped over to farmer Bill’s tractor that he had lent us. His tractor chugged a little more enthusiastically, but wouldn’t start either.

The tractor motors wouldn’t start, but unfortunately my motor was going strong, and the muttering and grumbling started tumbling out….

“I can’t believe I didn’t plug the @^*&#% tractors in earlier.”
“I wish Mark would’ve called me and told me what time he was starting this morning.”
“Where is my mom to get Armando?”

Well, Mom did show up pretty quickly and got Armando, and I quickly called Marcel to ask him what I could do to speed things up. At this point, farmer Mark had two of my four wagons filled and I was getting really behind.

Marcel told me to wait 10 more minutes and try again. So I did. But this time the starter motor was really sluggish, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I wore the battery out. I called Marcel back in 10 minutes, grumbled at him pretty good, and had him listen to the motor. “Yep, you’re gonna have to charge the motor,” he told me. Which incited some more whining, swearing, and general gnashing of teeth on my end. He walked me through the process, and after another 15 minutes and another full wagon of corn in the field, the tractor started.

Hallelujah, we’re in business.

I quickly pulled the tractor out of the barn, got it in position to hook up the PTO to the auger, and quickly found out that the auger’s arm that connects to the PTO was frozen. It should usually slide back and forth pretty easily to help you slip it over the PTO on the tractor, but this time wasn’t moving an inch.

So now I’m really cussing like a farmer, folks. I call farmer Mark on the cell phone and, with much embarrassment, told him I couldn’t get the auger hooked up. My thoughts at this point were going downhill fast, and consisted of some really mature things like, “I’m such a girl,” and “God, I’m an embarrassment to myself and this whole family,” and other nice things. Can you tell I was a little more than frustrated?

Mark came over, tugged and pulled, and finally pounded the ice out of the auger arm. We got the tractor hooked up, and I have to admit I was relieved to see him struggle with it and felt a little vindicated in my wimpiness. He went back out to combine some more, and I made an SOS call to farmer Bill…..”if you’re home, could you please come and help me for a little while?”

Just as I pulled up to the auger with my first load of corn, Bill showed up. Mark was pretty much waiting on me at this point, so Bill’s help was going to be a godsend. I tugged and pulled and hung like a monkey from the wagon door that is soo hard to open, and finally started unloading the corn into the bin. And as the corn flowed out of the wagon, the relief flowed out of my body. Bill helped me get a handle on my Monday, and am I ever grateful.

I just hope we finish the corn harvest before another Monday comes around.

Oh, and Bill? Could you clear your calendar, just in case?

Mi Bountiful Gardenita

Gardenita. I like the ring that has. Even if it is Spanglish and might win me some scorn from our anti-immigrant compatriots.

I’ve spoken Spanish daily for the last, oh, 12 years or so, and I still find it exciting to communicar in another language. Especially for small-town-old-me. And somehow I’m still as American as I was before I spoke Spanish. Or at least I think I am. I think I’ll go check, just in case. Yep….still freckled, still blancita, still blue-eyed. Our compatriots can all heave a sigh of relief on their way to their jobs at the meat-packing plant. Oh wait. Our compatriots don’t like to work at meat-packing plants. Never mind.

One downfall of being bi-lingual, however, is that my command of the English language has faltered. I used to have an impressive arsenal of complicated palabras ever at the tip of my tongue. My college friends would sometimes comment on my impressive vocabulary and use of proper grammar, and I’d feel all smart and educated. (That is until I’d get to my next class, where the professors were more than happy to bring me back to reality.)

The grammar I’ll attribute to my Grandma Alice….she’s a stickler for proper usage of the English language. She always knows whether one should use ‘lie’ or ‘lay’, ‘who’ or ‘whom’, and ‘its’ or ‘it’s’. I find myself double-thinking through my sentences when speaking with her, lest she raise her cejas at me and say, exasperatedly, “Jackie!” (Hi Gramma!)

My nice vocabulary, however, was due to the fact that I was quite the bookworm as I grew up. I read lots and lots of books. Of all types and kinds. At all hours of the day, night, and early morning. In junior high, I was a huge fanatica of the Anne of Green Gables series, and I imagined myself to be just as heady, analytical and charming as Anne. Why, I was Jackie of Irish Grove, mind you. Except I wasn’t really all that heady, analytical or charming. Ah, the beauty of an over-active imagination and plenty of tiempo to read!

My vocabulary now, however? Post-Spanish? Now I stumble on even the silliest of sentences. I often can’t think of the names of simple things like ‘strainer’ or ‘chain’ in English, because colador and cadena are just easier to remember. That leads me to say really inteligente things like, “Mom, where do you keep your, um…your, eh…you know, your colador? What’s that thing called that let’s you squeeze the liquid out of a food?”

Knowing a second language has freed up my mind and improved my creativity, but boy, has it put a padlock on my tongue!

The worst part is that while I can still call to mind some pretty nice words, I can’t remember their proper pronunciation, and they tend to come out with a Spanish accent. This gets really bad at work, where I teach biologia and nature-related topics. Oh, and even though I’m interacting with kids of all different ethnicities, I pronounce their Asian, African, and sometimes even American names with a Spanish ring. Sometimes even rolling an ‘r’ here or there. Then they raise their cejas at me.

Anyways, I was wanting to talk about how much comida I’ve gotten from my teensy-weensy gardenita, and I got side-tracked.

Gardening is fun, and it is absolutely amazing to see the cantidades of food one can get from even the smallest of gardens. When Marcel and I first moved into this house, we planted a huge, lovely garden that was about 1/3 acre. Wowsa. That was alot of work, especially since Ana was a bebe. We kept it up for two short years. With each additional child, my garden got exponentially smaller. Until we ended up with our cinco, quaint, small raised beds.

But I still get a lot of food from my gardenita, especially considering the cold, wet primavera we had. When you add in my many failed tomato plants (they had a fungus or something), an extremely late planting date (mid-June), the fact that my espinaca bolted as soon as it had about 2 leaves (too much heat), and a pretty lackadaisical attitude about watering and weeding, you’d have thought I wasn’t going to get much of anything. But I’ve gotten loads of medium-sized onions, enough tomatoes for fresh salsa, green and wax beans (yummmmm-y!), and zucchini.

Oh, zucchini. Lovely, lovely zucchini. Bountious, copious, plentiful, fertile zucchini. It’s the conejo of the vegetable world, if you know what I mean. Thankfully I love it, so no complainin’ here. I’ve shredded and frozen bag after bag of zucchini to use for muffins and queques this winter. I’ve chopped and sauteed zucchini every night for weeks now.

Today I made zucchini bread, zucchini cake, and zucchini hashbrowns, even, topping them with homemade salsa. De-lish. Tomorrow I might try a zucchini pie recipe I found in one of my cookbooks.

And if my zucchini plants don’t slow down soon, I just might have to start pranking the vecinos with my zucchini. You know the one, where you ring the doorbell and run, leaving a pile of…..um, zucchini…..yeah, that’s it……on their front doorstep?

Between the home-grown garden veggies, eggs, chicken and beef, we’ve been eatin’ like reyes y reinas here for weeks now and we don’t even have any large grocery bills to show for it. Now if that’s not un-Amercian, I can’t think of what is.

Pluckin’ Party

Rumor has it there’ll be a pluckin’ party around these parts.

Our 50 meat chickens are market size, and so, they’ve reached the end of their journey.

Butchering is never easy. We don’t name our food animals, nor do we cuddle them or play with them. But we do have a relationship with them. We care for them, making sure they are happy, well-fed, comfortable and free to roam around the way nature intended. They have a good life, as far as domesticated farm animals go. Yet it’s always difficult to bring that life to an end.

I want it that way……to be difficult, I mean. The day that butchering becomes easy, the day I don’t feel conflicted about killing an animal, that’s the day I should get out of the livestock business.

But until then, we’ll continue to raise food, knowing that we’ve done our best, the animals were humanely treated, we’re putting only the healthiest kind of meat onto our plates and into our bodies, and we’re supporting the family farm in the process.

So, if you’ve never seen a chicken be processed before and want to educate yourself on how a fully feathered bird turns into that boneless chicken breast on your plate, come on over.

Tomorrow’s the day (Saturday). Bright and early. Rumor has it fresh chicken will be on the grill by noon.

Oh, and wear old clothes.

Felling the Giant, one machete-swing at a time

That’s right, I said machete. Machete. A third-world tool that no self-respecting, American-born, tractor-drivin’, weed-busting conventional farmer would ever, ever touch.

I guess that’s why I’m not your usual self-respecting-American-born-tractor-drivin’-weed-bustin’-conventional farmer.

Cause a machete is what’s been occupying my right hand for a few days straight now, and I gotta tell you……ouch, ouch and ouch. My forearm is extremely sore, and my middle finger (yes, the naughty one) is barely working this morning. My hands are blistered and my waist hurts so bad from the rythmic ‘bend-swing-fell’ movement of the machete that I’m walking around, preggo-style, with my arms propping up my lower back. And no, I’m not nine-months pregnant! ‘Cause if I were, I wouldn’t be so %#$&* sore from using a machete.

But machete I did, and machete I will do again. Because we’ve got this little problem going on around here. OK, it’s a big problem. In fact, a giant problem. A giant ragweed problem.

Gaint Ragweeds are the enemy of all conventional farmers. They are this huge-mongous weed that grows about 11′ tall (seriously), their roots send out many stalks that happen to be as thick as small tree-saplings, and then. Then! Then they do something that is quite amazing, and extremely frustrating, especially if you’re 1) a farmer, or 2) a person who suffers from hayfever.

They put up this glorious (in their mind, at least) flower head, with copious amounts of pollen waiting for the most minute gust of wind to carry them straight to your nose and mine. (Cue sneezing and wheezing.)

And when the pollen does its job of mixing with its friends (yes, it’s called cross-pollinating….I’m not really as dumb as I make myself out to be), the flower-heads will turn into seed-heads and drops thousands upon thousands of tiny Giant Ragweed seeds into my corn or bean-field. Which will promptly turn into thousands of huge-mongous Giant Ragweed plants next year. Noooooooo!!

Giant Ragweed are all too common in these parts. Especially on farms like ours where we don’t plant Round-up Ready anything. Round-up Ready corn and soybeans are also known as GMO crops–Genetically Modified Organisms. The scientists take genes from unrelated plants and splice them into the DNA of the corn or soybeans. This change allows farmers like me to herbicide-spray the crap out of our corn or soybeans without killing them. Except farmers like me don’t plant GMO crops. Did I already say that?

But before you think we’re all virtuous or something, we do spray herbicides on our fields. They’re called pre-emergence herbicides, and they’re sprayed on the land before we plant the crops. They kill all those sneaky little weed seedlings that sprout the moment the weather warms. And they give our crops a ‘head-start’, a chance to get established before the weeds come back and give ’em a run for their money. Or our money. Whatever.

Gosh, this is getting long.

So, we spray in the spring, and then try not to spray again if possible. If it’s really bad, we can re-spray, but these herbicides WILL shock the living daylights out of the corn or soy, and we don’t like to do that.

Re-enter the machete. Here I am, getting ready to go to work:

(OK, not really. I’m just being goofy.)

Marcel and I spent 5 hours slaying the giant over by my sisters house last week, and 4 hours at the back of the main farm two days ago. Yesterday I spent 2 hours, all by my lonesone, machete-ing in the same bean field as the day before. Another 2 hours will finish that field up rather nicely, upon which we’ll move over to a major infestion left by Laura’s. That one will take a good 5 hours or so. And I’m hoping that’ll be it for this year!

I’m also hoping that by the time we’re all said and done, my fingers, forearms and waist muscles will still be functioning and that we’ll have prevented 459.768 billion ragweed seeds from forming. Or something like that.

And that, my friends, will make it all worth it.

So look out, Giants. There’s a Machete-Wielding Gringa in these parts. She’ll getcha sooner or later. If she can move, that is.

Groan.

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