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.