Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Cheapskates Guide to Building OR the Pallet Shed

So much to do here on the not-so-urban farm. Juggling school, single parenting, and farming is never easy but it's a little more difficult with all the rebuilding to do after this summer's drought. Technically, we're still in drought as the soil moisture is dangerously depleted. We calculated yesterday that it will take 15 inches of rainfall to get the soil back in good shape to grow food.

I want to share with you a project that was long overdue. We've needed another shed to store hay and feed but the expense kept delaying building it. Then a friend told me about building with pallets. I googled the phrase and found a wealth of information that I modified for my particular site. I decided to build this one right next to the one I built last spring. The plan is to let the back wall of the sheds function as part of the fence. That way I don't have to pony up for more fence than absolutely necessary and I make the most use of my small lot because I'm not wasting space between the shed and the fence.

Locals call this area Swampeast Missouri. Although we're in a drought right now, next year we could be flooded (like last year when the Corps dynamited a levee to save the town of Cairo). So I wanted my shed up off the ground with a floor of pressure treated wood.

I used pressure treated 2 X 4 to create a 4' X 8' frame on 16" centers. The cinder blocks were leveled before placing the flooring on them.

Then I placed the first course of pallets. I used 31" X 31" and 53" X 31" pallets that I picked up for free at a local business. Free is good, we like free.

The floor is exterior grade plywood. The first course was screwed into the joists with long deck screws. It looks a little wonky, doesn't it? At this point the chickens decided I'd built them a jungle gym so I couldn't leave it like this overnight.

Here's the second course. This course is attached to the previous one with carriage bolts. I drilled a hole, placed the carriage bolt in it and tapped it in with a mallet. If I had made this a freestanding shed with four walls it would have been more stable as I was building it bit I was trying to maximize my space and my materials.

Next time, third course, hanging the rafters and the final result.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Grateful for Issac

Today is our second day of rain. I'm sorry our relief had to come at such a high price for the people of the Gulf States.

We so desperately needed this long rain. Last night there were tornado warnings all down the length of the state which then progressed eastward into Illinois and Kentucky. There were some reports of  damage, I'm sorry for those families too.

How strange it is, this ambivalence. The rain that is our blessing has been a curse for others.

This rain is a godsend for us as now we'll be able to put in a fall garden. When it lets up I'll go out and put a shovel to the ground just to see how far down the water percolated. My fruit trees look happier already.

The animals handle rain in very different ways. Goats hate it. Just a few drops will send them scurrying into their shelter. They don't even like wet soil so after the rain stops they come out just long enough to check for tasty pecan leaves that might have fallen and then they head back to their dry shelter.

Chickens have a complex social order and are positively OCD when it comes to where they sleep. The pullets refuse to sleep in the hen house with the old ladies. Instead they roost on top of the wood pile. Even when rain is coming down in buckets they won't stay in the coop with the geezers. They sit hunched on the wood pile, making pitiful squeaking noises. They can look absolutely drenched but the down feathers next to their skin remain dry.

Turkeys are the least civilized of critters. They're kind of like the cave men of the poultry world. It can be raining cats and dogs with thunder and lightning and the turkeys are walking around the yard, calmly getting a drink from the waterers. They'll sit on the ground or roost on top of the coop but they have no interest in getting out of the rain. I have purposely let some mulberry trees grow up next to the oak tree so there is a place in the yard that is always sheltered and dry. Do the turkeys go there? Nope. They'd rather sit in the rain.

It's important to remember that, no matter how excited I may be about a good rain, I have to stay out of the garden until the soil and the leaves have a chance to dry. We humans are the primary means of transmission for many plant diseases. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi spores stick to our hands and our clothes. So many fungal spores need a fine layer of water to germinate so now is the time to hang out in the house with the kid and the pets. I hope your Sunday is as enjoyable as mine is so far.

Thanks Isaac.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Year Older

Yesterday was my birthday. I'm old enough to throw my own party now but not so old that I can't deal with technology. Or so I thought.

I signed up for a Tumblr account and set about creating my page, adjusting settings and uploading pictures. Suddenly I felt old. It took much longer than it should have and I struggled more than I have with any other social networking platform. Could it be that one year older is one year too old?

I don't know but I'm off to get my teenager to explain it to me. *sigh*

Monday, August 13, 2012

No Place I'd Rather Be

It's a beautiful night outside. Last night was beautiful, too. The heat has broken and there's a light, cool breeze.

Last night I lay on the hood of the truck with my back against the windshield, watching the Perseid meteor shower. Our skies here are so clear you can very clearly see the band of the Milky Way across the darkness of the night sky.

For many years I lived in Los Angeles. All day long I was surrounded by noise, soot, and a crush of humanity. I love people and I appreciate them as my brothers and sisters. But my time spent in the big city made me love them less and I longed for solitude. Maybe it's the sign of a true introvert, the need to spend time alone and recharging my batteries.

Today my friends posted beautiful pictures of tropical resorts. "Who wants to be here?" they asked. Not me. I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be than right here, on my little quarter acre full of life. There is less life on it these days, as we continue to do battle with drought. I cleaned out some of the growing beds today, acknowledging defeat. I can't keep them all alive. But I will not give in when it comes to my fruit trees. If I have to water my figs all night long I will.

It will rain again. I know it. Today's rains passed us by as did yesterday's storms. Not a drop fell. But this is still my little quarter acre and I defend it, one bucket of greywater at a time.

Thanks to everyone for their support and their prayers. We're almost to our first Indiegogo goal. As soon as we reach it I'll order the weed barrier and start preparing the ground for next year.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why Bad Things Happen

Last week I started an IndieGoGo campaign to rebuild the Not-So-Urban Farm after the worst drought in 60 years.

We're halfway to the first hurdle - ordering weed barrier. Once that is here, I can start clearing out the old beds and building some new ones from the repurposed parts of the old ones.

I received an email from a friend (which I'm sure was written with the best of intentions) outlining Good Agricultural Practices and how I had obviously got it wrong. It got me thinking about my perceptions and how I think the world works.

I like to think I have some control over what happens in my life. I do lots of research, I work very hard, and I seek out good advice. I do my best to prepare for every eventuality. I believe that if I do this, bad things won't happen to me. My face is in the dictionary next to the word "prudent".

Bad things happen. They happen for imprudent people as well as those who are prepared. They happen to smart people, and people who are not at all lazy. Bad things just happen and drought is no respecter of persons. My careful preparations and exhaustive research can't make it rain. All my water conservation measures don't mean much when there's no water at all.

I have to accept that my hard work may delay disaster but will only go so far to prevent it. I'm not in control. And all the Good Agricultural Practices in the world won't alleviate the need for this campaign to succeed. Please share it freely.  Thanks for your support.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Up with the Chickens

It's now 7:25 am on a Saturday. I've been up for a couple of hours. All the critters are fed with water and fresh hay.

If you had told me back in High School that I'd be up at dawn every day I'd have said you were nuts. But early morning has become my favorite time. It's quiet and peaceful. Maybe if I were on a farm with lots of acres I'd feel peaceful all day long.

Early morning here is damp. There's a heavy dew from the night's humidity. The sunlight is different, too. It's more white and clean. Later in the morning the sunlight is more yellow. Does that make sense? Can you tell I grew up in an artist household?

Early morning is just for the critters and me. It feels like a little private time before the racket of lawn mowers and pulp wood trucks begins.

I'm not anywhere close to where I expected to be. But I love it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I Might Just Faint

Woo Hoo! I got the call this morning. We've been approved for the emergency livestock well. At first I was over the moon. Then it hit me, it's a cost share program.

I have to come up with the full cost of the well, pump, and well house before I can submit an invoice for reimbursement. Very, very scary. Yes, the reimbursement is 90% which is thrilling.

All I need now is $5022. Wow.

Smelling salts, please.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hugelkultur Modification for Sandy Soil

I posted about this with pictures and everything. Really, I did. But that post has gone to blogger Valhalla so I'll try to reconstruct it. Hugelkultur was originally intended to cope with heavy, soggy soils. The branches and logs get piled up and then a berm of soil is raised over them. I have sandy soil and rainfall drains away much to quickly. So here's how I modified hugelkultur to my growing conditions.

I dig a trench about 20 inches deep and maybe 12 inches wide. I don't get worked up over exact measurements.The size of the trench is determined by my stock of logs and the limits of my own energy.

Then I fill it with logs up to the original soil line.

Then I use the excavated soil to build a berm over the log filled trench. Because I'm fighting sandy soil and Bermuda grass, I then over the whole berm with weed barrier.

I've laid down scrap lumber to make a walkway. Then I cut holes in the weed barrier and plant in the holes. These two berms have been planted with potatoes. The logs soak up water and hold it in the root zone, containing runoff. Because the logs are buried deep enough to get little oxygen they decompose in a way that does not rob nitrogen from the soil.

Eventually the logs will break down, giving back to the soil all the good nutrients the tree stored up in its lifetime. While my beds aren't to that point yet, I've already seen a big difference in how often I have to water. I water less because the rainfall stays in my beds, held by the soggy logs.

Meet the girls

This Aine. She's still a little shy.

This is Lucy. She's not.

They will both be bred this fall but right now they're working on their championship eating skills.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gardening without rain.

It's not raining here, again. While my own garden is limping along I am surprised it's alive at all. In an ordinary year, the things we do here allow us to conserve water in a big way. I suppose that's what's keeping the crops alive. Water conservation works really well when there is water to conserve. Here's our favorite low water growing tricks. 1. Hugelkultur. Yes, I've talked about it until you are bored to tears, but it really does work and I'm grateful we built those beds before the drought hit. 2. Plastic mulch. I know. It's plastic. We've tried every plant based mulch and they just don't work for us. We have fine sandy loam soil and an abundance of Bermuda grass. Keeping that devil under control and conserving water at the same time is enough to make us willing to use plastic. Tip - treat it gently, cover it in straw to avoid UV breakdown and you can use plastic mulch for two or three years. Not bad. 3. Use food producing plants with vining habits as ground cover under upright plants. By interplanting tomatoes with cantaloupe the mulch stays shaded and we get twice as many plants in a single bed. 4. Rain barrels. They're awesome. But they only work when there's rain. Ours have been empty for weeks but they sit ready, willing, and able to store water if and when we get some rainfall. 5. Greywater. Greywater from baths and showers is best because it has much less soapy stuff in it. We need greywater that we can harvest temporarily and as low tech as possible. So we hooked up another drain hose to the clothes washer and hung it on an extra barrel by the back door. We collect both the wash and rinse water, letting the rinse water dilute the bad stuff that's in the wash water. It's not a perfect solution. Don't use this kind of greywater more than once a week or you'll build up salts and other nasties in the soil. I only use it on fruit trees and bushes and I make sure to water twice with the hose for every time I use the greywater. Things we have not done yet that would also help... - Drip irrigation. Oh yes, I'd love to run some drip line underneath the plastic mulch. So far the budget has not stretched that far but maybe, just maybe. - Dig a well. I'd looooove to have a well. Using chlorinated municipal water is bad for every plant in the ground. The veggies don't produce well and the forage plants put on new growth at a snail's pace. I put in application for a drought relief well but the conservation guys haven't come out and won't return my calls. Guess all that aid went to the big guys, too. - Pray harder.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Where have you been, Amy?

I've been right here, slogging along. You see, my county has been in a drought for most of the summer. Now we're at the very worst level on the US Drought Monitor. Bleh.

Dealing with drought is kind of like slowly sinking in quicksand. You go out to the growing beds early to do the watering, hoping to find that the plants have responded to the watering you did late last night. But they haven't. The blossoms open and then they drop. No tomatoes, or beans, or peppers. Days turn into weeks and the plants stop even producing blooms as the limp along.

It simply is not possible to counter extreme heat and drought with a garden hose. Since there was nothing new to report I didn't post any blogs. I was so sure the rain would come and my season could start just a little later than usual.

But the rain hasn't come. And it's time to move forward because this season's harvest is, as my kid says, toast.

So I started an Indiegogo campaign to rebuild the growing beds and improve the general infrastructure so the farm can be more resilient. With proper weed barrier and a drip irrigation system I think we'll recover from our losses. You see, when the plants don't set fruit, there is nothing to sell at the Farmer's Market.

Here's a link to the campaign.

If it sounds like a worthy undertaking to you please share the link freely and widely. Thanks.

I hope to have something to report before long.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Managing My Soil OR Talking Dirty

First an announcement from your friendly neighborhood organic farmer...there will be no photos in this post. Why? you ask. Because it's 99 degrees outside and I'm not going back out there.

It's been 6 years since I bought this little house in this little town. For 5 of those years I've been growing most of what we eat and 4 of those years I've been growing for other families, too.

I've had some time to find out what works here and what doesn't. My soil is a fine, sandy loam which means it doesn't hang on to nutrients very well. So I put the chickens to work. Throughout the off season I rotate the chickens through the beds. I let them scratch and dig, eliminating weeds and larvae. When they've completely destroyed any scrap of vegetation, I pile fall leaves about a foot deep in their temporary runs. They shred these leaves, working them into the soil and putting all those lovely micronutrients back. Oh, and they poop. A lot. They put a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus into the soil. I also save big quantities of egg shells. I grind them in a spare coffee grinder and use them and spent coffee grounds as side dressing during the growing season. Finally, I compost until I can't compost any more. I compost chicken, rabbit and goat poo, plus any leaves that may be left, kitchen scraps, garden debris like corn stalks and anything that will sit still long enough. Since I have little to no clay, this organic matter is the only thing holding on to those lovely little cations that make our plants grow.

Because of all this sand, keeping rain where it falls is a big challenge. I have about 3/4 of the garden converted to modified hugelkultur beds. I dig a trench about 18 to 20 inches deep and about the same width. I fill the trenches with logs and branches and use the excavated soil to raise a berm over it. When it rains the logs soak up the moisture and hold it down in the root zone where the plants can get to it. Then I dig another trench parallel to the previous one until my head hits the fence and I'm out of room. Over these berms I lay weed barrier. What! Over the whole thing? Yes, Virginia. Over the whole thing.

We have Bermuda grass. It is of the devil. You could drop a nuclear bomb on my town and, after the smoke clears, you'd find twinkies, cockroaches, and Bermuda grass all sitting there unscathed. So I cover the whole bed in weed cloth and plant my veggies right through it. This also keeps in moisture and reduces erosion.

Your soil will be different. You can get a good idea of what you're working with from the NRCS or USDA websites. Just google "soil survey" and your town or zip code. There is probably a map already online that shows what you have. There is also a Soils Web app for smart phones that gives you results based on GPS coordinates. It's very fun. 

Don't be afraid to experiment. It's hard to over-compost. The plants will tell you if you've made a mistake and many times they'll recover and still produce for you.


Monday, June 18, 2012


Bogger has fixed whatever issue was driving me crazy and I can write again.

I don't have anything deep, philosophical, or earth shattering to say (although I could go off on a rant if you'd like). I discovered something I would like pass along.

Last December I stopped using commercial shampoo. I'm trying to eliminate things I can't pronounce from my life and shampoo is chock full of stuff like that. So I've been using baking soda and vinegar. After the initial adjustment I'm very pleased with the results.


I spend most of my day outdoors in the intense Southeast Missouri sun. Yes, I do try to remember to wear a hat but sometimes I forget. My hair paid the price. It became rough and very, very dry. Last night I mixed 1/4 C honey with 2 T olive oil and an egg yolk, got my hair nice and damp and then smeared this concoction all over it, twisting the ends up in a bun so I wouldn't leave a sticky trail all over the house. After 15 minutes I rinsed enough of it out so that I wouldn't draw flies as I slept and went to bed.

This morning I did my usual routine in the shower with baking soda and a vinegar/water rinse. It worked! My hair's all nice and soft again and it moves like it should.

Okay, there's a part of me that feels a little weird about writing a post on hair care. I'm not much into appearances. Most days it takes all my energy to be good, I don't usually have much left to spend on looking good. I suppose this will be my little indulgence. I'll try to write about something really important next time. K?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Boiling a Frog

Have you heard the story about how you can boil a frog? Supposedly if you put a frog in cool water and slowly raise the temperature to boiling the frog will just sit there. It's one of those shortcut phrases that describes how we make little changes, one at a time, and then a few years down the road our lives are transformed.

I bought my home 6 years ago. My husband had developed a variety of mental illness that doesn't show up until middle age. I knew I'd end up a single parent and I needed to lower my overhead and my stress level at the same time. I bought a little house that needed a LOT of work but it was cheap. About the price of a decent car.

I did what I could. I bought a clothes washer but not a dryer. We hung our clothes on the line for most of the year and over the floor furnace in the winter. I started the garden that became the Farm Share business. I bought some chickens.

Then I bought some more chickens and an incubator to hatch even more. We got turkeys (they were very tasty). I re-learned how to can and dehydrate my own foods. Then came pickling.

I slowly realized how much undesirable junk is in the stuff we buy from the store. I learned to make laundry soap, and vinegar, and shampoo, and see where this is going. We don't go to town for groceries anymore, we go for supplies.

This year we tripled the garden space and acquired two goats. Next year I'm determined to finally get bees.

This morning I woke up and had that moment, the one where you see clearly how far you've come. It feels pretty good. My life doesn't look anything like it did 6 years ago. Except for the cats, I'll always have too many cats. lol.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

My turkeys hate the ice cream man

We all remember the ice cream man, right? He'd drive around town with plinky-plink music blaring, stopping occasionally to be mobbed by little kids clutching quarters, dimes, and nickels they'd begged from Mom or fished out from under the sofa cushion.

We have one of those in my town. He only goes down the side streets because the main drag is actually a two-land rural highway.

He plays his plinky-plink music and my turkeys hate it. Or maybe they love it, I'm not an expert in turkey psychology. So imagine a single stanza of that music that plays every 30 seconds or so.

And every time it plays 18 broadbreasted bronze turkeys gobble in unison. Every time. Over and over again.

The kid and I stand in the yard and listen for it, makes us laugh every single time. OOH! There they go again.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crazy Busy

I haven't had much to say for a looong time. It's amazing how crazy busy things can get. Doing the Urban Farm thing while attending college full time is more of a challenge than I had anticipated. Well, maybe it's a big challenge because I'm so demanding of myself. I wish I knew how to be satisfied with middle-of-the-road grades and an average garden. Why is it that I feel I have to be perfect?

I don't know.

Other things have happened that I let get in the way of this blog. Certain people were swiping my content and my photos and claiming them as their own. I'm not sure how to handle this. I'm sure it happens to other bloggers. I know for sure that Chickens in the Road have had a particularly beautiful goat photo copied and reposted all over the web. She still writes every day, sometimes twice a day.

But more than that, for the first time in a long time I'm not really sure what I want. Scratch that, I know what I want I just don't know how to get it without giving up everything else I want. I own a home in a little goober town. It seems that every Master's Program and every job that uses my skills I look at would require that I leave my home. I don't think I can go back to being a renter. And at 48 I don't know if I'm willing to spend 5 years rebuilding my finances in order to own a home again.

So I'm floundering. And it shows.

On the Lucy. A delightful mini LaMancha doeling who has come to live with us.

Monday, January 23, 2012

No-Poo Update and Thoughts on Frugality.

My classes have started up again so just a quick check in here.

We are now  6 weeks into the no-poo experiment. I'm using baking soda and vinegar infused with thyme instead of shampoo. I'd like to say this is all about ridding my body of toxic materials but it's time to confess my utter cheapskate-ism. I was born a McPherson and I don't know it the stereotype is true but I hate spending money when I don't have to.

That said, I think it is perfectly reasonable to spend 20 bucks on 100 grams of really awesome sock yarn like this.

LOVE Lorna's Laces superwash sock yarn. Oh yeah!

Back to the task at hand. "So, Amy. How goes the no-poo experiment? Can you go out in public, yet?"

Why, yes. I can.
I'm beginning to see a real difference in how much oil my scalp produces. Instead of turning into a grease-ball by the morning after washing, my hair now looks good for two full days and about halfway through the third day. The other upside. My hair looks and feels much thicker. I've always had very fine hair and it tends to be kinda flat. I have a lot more volume and my hair feels smoother, less fuzzy.
I'm washing with baking soda once a week. Lucky for me, I'm an Agriculture major and wearing a hat one or two days a week just helps me look like every other Ag major. The thyme/vinegar rinse goes on after the baking soda is rinsed out. It makes my hair very shiny and even a little more red (yay!).

We'll see how long before I can go all week without going all greasy.

Next - DIY deodorant.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

No Poo


Have you tried the no-poo experiment? There are lots of reasons to give up shampoo; it's full of icky chemicals and it is expensive when compared to alternatives.

I've tried going no-poo more than once but gave up when my head turned into a grease-ball. My hair is very fine and very oily. I have washed it every day since I was a teenager. I'm told the scalp adjusts to less washing by producing less oil. yeah, uh-huh. I'd get about two weeks into no-poo before giving up.

Since I have a month between semesters I thought I'd give it another try. I did some preparation, too. I filled a half-gallon jar with sprigs of thyme and poured in apple cider vinegar. Then left it for 6 weeks so the good stuff in the herbs could get together with the good stuff in the vinegar. I strained it into another jar and waited for the semester to be over.

I stopped using shampoo on the 12th of December. It only took three days for my head to get disgusting. But I'm an Aggie so I have LOTS of hats. On the 6th day I washed with baking soda and vinegar. Obviously, I didn't do it right. My hair felt really weird and I had baking soda in my ears.

A couple of days later I washed it again with baking soda and my herb vinegar. It felt better. But still a little strange.

I waited a week. Major greasy-head. This time my hair felt cleaner on the first wash and it didn't get so oily afterwards.

This morning I repeated the routine. My hair feels thicker and doesn't lie so flat on my head. It is definitely more shiny. I think it may be a little redder, too. I have another week or so before school starts, more time for my scalp to adjust if need be.

Here's what I learned:
It does take time for the scalp to change how much oil it produces.
Infusing herbs in the ACV makes a big difference, less drying, more shine.
It is very important to brush the hair throughout the day. Using a commercial shampoo strips the oils and conditioners make the ends look good. My hair now relies on it's own oils to condition the ends and the only way to get the oils down there is to brush.

I hope I can keep this up. Fortunately, no one expects an Ag student to be fashionable so I can get away with hats every day of the week. Hopefully it won't come to that. I'll keep you posted.