Monday, December 17, 2007

Ask the Reader: What is Your Favorite Plant?


photo by DavidK-Oregon

We're going to change Tuesday's topic here at Mule Shoe Farm. We've had enough of writing about invasives and weeds gone wild. How many time can you say, "cut it off, dig it up, attack it in the late spring and it doesn't belong here"?

The new Tuesday topic will be Plants We Love to See More Of.

So I am asking you, dear readers, Please tell me what plants you would like to see more of. What are your favorite flowers, vegetables, shrubs, low-maintenance houseplants, etc.

Send an email to to make a suggestion.Your suggestions will be posted here with a suitable photo. If you have any photos that you would like to see on the web, send those in the email and we'll post them. One per week. On Tuesdays.

If you have any growing tips, cuttings or anything else that you want to make sure I mention, include that too. You can also post a comment below. Anonymously if you wish.

No, you don't have to write the article, just post your ideas.

Special Note

Since January is almost upon us, many gardeners are thinking of what they would like to start inside in January/February. I will have an assortment of plastic pots and starter flats in many different sizes with me this Saturday. If you post an idea in the comments below or send me an email about your favorite plant, you may choose your free flats or pots on Saturday.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Federal Farming

. Duchess - the no-Show goat

Last week I received an email regarding my sources for Monday's article: Does the USDA Know What Your Dog is Doing? I think the person who sent the email brings up a good idea. I should have shared some sources with all you, dear readers. I would also like to point out that I prefer comments as opposed to direct personal emails. You can even comment as Anonymous. I don't mind. I will share sources and some additonal thoughts on NAIS with you today.

Actually, I have several sources in mind for various points in my post last Monday. The trigger for writing about the NAIS program was an editorial in Backyard Poultry Volume 2, Number 6 Dec2007/January2008 issue on page 6 Is NAIS Still a Threat? You Decide by Elaine Belanger, the editor. It was in the From the Editor column which is not available in the on-line version. There are several other interestng articles that have nothing to do with NAIS.

You can find out more at the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) at the Deliberate blog in a post dating from April of this year. This blog has some interesting information. There is apparently $500 grant available to help you implement this system. A company called Global Animal Management which will provide you with a turnkey package in this arena is also apparently linked part and parcel of the pharmaceuticals industry. Hmmmm. I am leary of the connection. Additionally, the existence of a grant implies that there will some cost to implementation. Probably one I really wouldn't want to bear.

For information about feedlots and the agro-industrial methods, I refer to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and a book called The Hundred Year Lie. I cannot recall the author at the moment. Both books are available from Amazon or at your local library. I also recommend reading through Joel Salatin's website for a description of sustainable pasture management.

Also check out This website contains articles about a host of applications of a Radio Frequency Identification, called RFID, including human implantation, etc. It is hosted by another small farmer in Vermont. Today's post notes that the 2007 Farm Bill has passed the Senate. On the right-hand side of this site there is an extensive list of links related to this issue.

The final word is, of course, from the USDA at which states that the purpose of the NAIS as follows:

To protect the health of U.S. livestock and poultry and the economic well-being of those industries, we must be able to quickly and effectively trace an animal disease to its source. When a disease outbreak occurs, animal health officials need to know:

  • Which animals are involved in a disease outbreak
  • Where the infected animals are currently located
  • What other animals might have been exposed to the disease

By choosing to participate in NAIS, you will join a national disease response network built to protect your animals, your neighbors, and your economic livelihood against the devastation of a foreign animal disease outbreak.

The main issue I have with this whole setup is that it is reactive. It does nothing to actually address the problems of which disease outbreaks are a symptom. NAIS will not reward good disease-preventive agricultural management practices which are counter to an agrindustrial approach to food production. All NAIS does is help the industrial food system figure out who is responsible and far the quarantine needs to go. This is not a sustainable approach because it does not prevent disease. It seeks to limit the spread of disease. Do they intend to imply that disease is inevitable and unpreventable?

Reading a bit more at on who must participate and who doesn't have to, I learned that the following criteria means you do not have to participate.

  • Animals that never leave their premises of birth, even if they move from pasture to pasture within that premises
  • Animals that never leave their premises other than when they "get out"
  • Animals that are only moved directly from their birth premises to custom slaughter

That is good news for the backyard hobby farmer for now. All small family farms must keep up their best management practices without fail. The minute a disease outbreak is traced to a small farm, NAIS will become mandatory for everyone. NAIS does, however, affect small farmers who like to show their animals because the USDA recommends animal identification in the following situation(s)

  • Animals that are moved from their premises to locations where they "commingle", or come into contact with, animals from multiple/other premises (Examples include - livestock auctions, feedlots, or fairs)

I think may also include swapping animals to improve herd genetics. Just a thought.

So there you have it. Right now, animal identification is voluntary.

Now onto the Senate Farm Bill which passed recently. It includes the controversial Crop Insurance component which allows farmers to grow crops which are not sustainable or financially viable. For more information, I refer you to the Senate Agriculture Committee website. When I finsh digesting the main points of the Bill, I will be sure to have something to say about it here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dr. Weil and Cabbage

In his article, 11 Things You Don't Have to Buy Organic, Dr. Weil stresses the importance of getting the health benefits of organic produce whenever possible. Then he observes that some people have budget contraints and gives a list of produce that contains the least amount of pesticides. Read more . . .

I have found cabbage to be one of the cheapest fresh vegetables around. It is also very versatile for light fare and winter comfort food. You can use in salads, soups, stir fry, as a side vegetable and so on. Here is a recipe for New England Boiled Dinner that will warm you up on those cold winter days. Cabbage goes uptown in this Simmered Cabbage recipe. And here is a Polish Borscht Soup recipe with cabbage that belongs in the First, You Eat category. I am not a fan of stuffed cabbage, but there are plenty of versions of it around and many people also consider it comfort.

Here's how the nutrients stack up:
Cabbage has a good amount of vitamin C which can help ward off those winter colds. One cup of shredded boiled cabbage contains nearly an entire day's supply of vitamin K. That same cup contains 13% of your daily fiber intake. Mineral-wise it contains large amounts of potassium.

So sit down and enjoy your non-organic cabbage guilt-free.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Barking Dog

Star is ready to hunt.

We currently have seven dogs: Yellow Boy, Daisy, Sarah, Star, Salt, Pepper & Shakers. Yep, seven. Some of them bark more than others. In fact, if we lived in the city, I'm pretty sure some people would find the barking level to be obnoxious at times.

We didn't want our dogs just barking all the time for no apparent reason. We had a challenge with Star because she was from a breeding operation where she was not really socialized. period. When we first got her, she was people shy, terribly aggressive toward other dogs and quite the barker.

She barked if you looked in her direction. She barked when you came out of the house. She barked when someone came up the driveway. She barked at new people, same old people, other dogs, other animals, and at things we didn't see. And sometimes she just barked. As I write this down, I realize that we assumed she was barking for a reason, not just barking. We just didn't always know what the reason was and sometimes she really didn't need to bark. We figured she was not properly socialized.

Once she became pregnant with her first litter, she had less energy for defense. She even let us pet her and rub her belly. And she didn't bark quite as much. We slowly realized that her barking was defensive. She had six puppies in that first litter and we certainly didn't want them to pick up Star's bad barking habits. We began to browse books stores, book racks, the library and to search the Internet for tips on breaking the barking habit. We even watched an Oprah episode on training dogs to behave.

Here is what we came away with. When your dog starts to bark you have about 30 seconds to correct her/him. Go to the dog and tell it No in a firm voice. When she/he stops barking, reward the dog with some loving attention and praise. The trick is to not yell No or say so often that you are "barking."

When we started going out to Star to tell her to stop barking, she would almost immediately calm down and at least look at us. That is all without us saying anything like No. Sometimes we would say, "What is it? Show me." The point is, she immediately relaxed when one of us came to her while she was barking. We also discovered that she barked a whole lot more when she was on a run or loose on the porch than if she were confined to a pen with a doghouse.

It was clear she felt threatened and that she needed to defend her/our territory. On the porch her territory became anything she could see, smell or hear. On a run, her territory was somewhat smaller and there was still a lot of nighttime barking. My husband took her squirrel hunting a few times and determined that she responded more to visual stimuli than scent or sound. It made sense that she barked more at night. She was less likely to clearly see what she smelt or heard.

By changing her territory to something that was more secure and probably more familiar, we enabled Star to feel less threatened by her environemnt. She also had less territory to defend and thus less reason to bark. By establishing a pattern of responding to her barks, we trained her to bark when she saw something out of the ordinary, not all the time.

It seems counter-intuitive to go to your dog when they start barking. But by saying no and responding to the barking, you establish that barking has a purpose and when it should be used. It does take time and patience, but even an improperly trained dog, like Star, can learn new tricks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Selling at The Market

Last week I wrote about how the economics of conventional agricultural industrial production impact the bottom line of a small farm. This week I am going to discuss how the traditional methods fare when selling direct to retail, i.e. the local farmer's market. Actual cost data for seed, fertilizer and pre-emergent pesticide usage are from the local Co-op price list. Pesticide licensing is done by the local Extension office.

Let's assume equipment costs are the same as in last week's example: $735 per month for the equipment loan.

You need between 6 and 8 lbs of seed per acre at $8 per pound for sweet corn. Let's say you buy 18 lbs of seed for $144. All you plant is corn to sell at the local farmer's market directly to the person who eats it.

You follow the recommended conventional spraying schedules for pre-emergent and fertilizer. Atrazine is a pre-emergent, sprayed after planting costing about $25 but you also have to get licensed to use it. The license cost $20 and is available to you from the local Extension office. To obtain the license, you are required to screen a four hour video and take a short test. The fertilizer will be formulated especially for the corn, having twice the nitrogen as a balanced 15-15-15 fertilizer. The local Co-op salesman told me that it didn't matter if you were planting corn for the first year in a new field or the third year in the same field, you would still need the same amount of fertilizer. You pay $290.87 for the special formula. You will find out that 15-15-15- fertilizer would have cost you $390. So you save about $100 there. The co-op recommendation is to get the corn in as early as possible to avoid having to spray pesticide. So you plant right after tax day for an early July harvest of bicolored sweet corn. You'll still have to watch for bugs and worms towards harvest time. Customers tend to not buy wormy corn.

Now you will need to pay attention to water requirements. 1-1.5 inches per week is needed to produce high quality sweet corn. Using Tennessee average rainfall data, you should only need 355,582 gallons of water for irrigation from April through the end of June. On average the cost per gallon of water is $.013, so you can expect to pay $4622.56 for irrigation.

You start harvesting the corn in July and continue to sell it at the market for about four weeks. Using this year's local prices, you should be able to average $2.50 per dozen ears. Your land yielded 12,500 ears/acre or 37,500 total ears. The total gross amount you receive from selling your corn is about $7812.50.

Your expense for the year include equipment payments: $8820; seed: $144; atrizine plus license: $45; fertilizer: $270.87; and water: $4622.56. Total expense is $13902.43

Subtract your expenses from your costs and you net nothing and still owe $6089.93

Is it worth it? Do you feel supported in the market place? Do you have a job to support your expensive hobby?

No, no & I'll have to get one.

Let's say you manage to wheel and deal your way through the equipment and you bought no equipment with a loan. So you have no monthly equipment payment to make. Your total expense would then come to $5082.43. You would net $2730.07.

Here is a key concept for sustainability. Do not take out loans for new and expensive equipment. Buy only what you can pay for immediately. For a small farmer this means making deals with neighbors to borrow attachments and buying a much older tractor. That $2730 could get you an older tractor with attachments and you would break even, the first year.

Next week I'll discuss in detail how a sustainable organic scenario might play out.

You Tell Me ...

photo by gak

What do You Want?

We're going to change Tuesday's topic here at Mule Shoe Farm. We've had enough of writing about invasives and weeds gone wild. How many time can you say, cut it off, dig it up, attack it in the late spring and it doesn't belong here?

The new Tuesday topic will be Plants We Love to See More Of.

So I am asking you, dear readers, Please tell me what plants you would like to see more of.

Send an email to to make a suggestion.

Your suggestions will be posted here with a suitable photo. If you have any, we'll put them up, too. One per week.

Oh yeah, if you have any growing tips, cuttings or anything else like that, include that too. Send an email to to make a suggestion.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Does the USDA Know What Your Dog is Doing?

photo by klynslis

If you own a pet, you are impacted, too. The National Animal Identification System or NAIS is being implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Currently, participation is voluntary. The plan is to make it mandatory.

What is it? - USDA regulation that requires every animal owner to register as a farm site and tag each and every animal with an ID tag. Every animal owner has 48 hours to report an "event" to the USDA. An event includes coming into contact with animals on another farm site or taking you animal off your "farm" site. Want your lap dog to go shopping with you? Better get ready to file paperwork or login online and self-report.

Exception - Large animal producers can get one ID tag for a "lot" of animals as opposed to one for every animal.

Why I think it's a bad idea - This regulation is entirely reactive. The main purpose is to be able to track disease outbreaks back to individual farmers or producers. This focuses blame at the source instead of focusing on ways to solve the problem throughout the agricultural supply chain. It is the large producers, the corn-fed beef lots and commercial poultry farmers whose management practices are most likely to lead to disease outbreaks. Small farmers and homesteaders with a few animals on plenty of pasture in plenty of space are less likely to be subjecting their animals to disease likely environments. Why is the USDA not encouraging sustainable agricultural management? Small farms, homesteaders and people with one or two chickens will bear the burden of cost for tagging each and every animal on the "farm" while big producers get a break.

You can read a lot more about this issue at There are also contacts on the right hand side of this website which will allow you to voice your opinion on this important issue.
Before anyone gets ready to send an email objecting to my one-sided presentation of this topic, you need to know that anything published here on this blog is strictly my opinion. You are, of course, entitled to your own.
Any thoughts you have on this issue? Post a comment below. And contact your Congressional representatives and Senators. Let them know what you think.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Onions and Cheese and Soup

It is officially soup time here at Mule Shoe Farm. This year, we kicked off soup season with one of our favorites: French Onion Soup. For such a simple soup, it sticks to your ribs and just completely warms you up on this cold days.

The ingredients are deceptively simple: onions, beef stock, butter, old bread and cheese.

Slice 1 or 2 large onions into rings and saute over low heat in a stick of butter.

Then add your beef stock. I use a 3 gallon stockpot and add enough water to make it about two-thirds full of soup.

You can make stock using bouillon and water which is somewhat salty or you can spend an extra dollar and buy a jar of reduced beef stock. The reduced stock makes a huge difference in the more delicious direction.

Bring the soup to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for however long you want or don't simmer at all. Turn your oven to Broil and let it heat up. This is when you can simmer the soup.

Ladle soup into oven safe bowls. place a large slice of brown bread and a slice of cheese. Any cheese from cheddar to provolone to Swiss will do. But you want the stuff that will melt. Not the commodity cheese for this meal.

Place the bowls on a large cookie sheet and carefully slide them into the oven. Check on the bowls every so often to see the status of the melted cheese. If you just want it melted then it's only a minute or so. I like mine with a little brownness on the cheese. Some days that takes 5-7 minutes.

GET THE POTHOLDERS. I have to remind myself. The cookie sheet will be HOT!!!!

Carefully slide the cookie sheet out of the oven and place it on the counter to cool.

Allow the bowls to cool to a temperature you can handle and then serve the soup. It should be very warm but not scalding hot.

This is a soup that you will end up eating with a fork and spoon. And you will be astonished at how filling it really is. Make sure you have plenty of cold water available to drink with this soup.

And now we will have a Martha Stewart moment...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Watering House Plants

Find out what to do about the chlorine in your tap water when you need to water your houseplants -->

What a Mug!

I had a close encounter with Sevin Dust.

My friend, who will always remain nameless, may possibly been using the stuff off-label which I know is a huge OSHA no-no. "If it works, use it" is a small farm mantra. No, I'm not turning over a chemical leaf. My friend is not particularly chemical oriented either. She prefers the natural approach. So here's what happened.

She received, in barter, three pygmie goats with livestock lice. The lice were included free of charge. I'm not totally sure if there's a difference between livestock lice and human lice. Not sure I want to find out through unplanned experimentation, either.
The Sevin Dust treatment is meant to eradicate the lice problem. My job was to catch and contain the small goats. While my friend dusted them. Needless to say, I knew I was going to get Sevin dust on me and on my clothes. Not only was it windy, but I was holding goats.
The appropriate pesticide management practices if I remember correctly from my Master Gardener classes is to remove those clothes and wash them by themselves and to take a shower as soon as the job was finished. Which is what I did ASAP because that Sevin dust smell was in my nostrils and the taste was in my mouth. Friendship . . .

Anyway, the Sevin dust treatment sparked a conversation about animal management practices. When my friend's children, asked about how the goats came to have livestock lice, the discussion began. These goats had been raised on a larger farm where livestock was kept close together. Lice will flourish in unclean environments and multiply in close quarters. Worms came up, also. I mentioned that my goats and chickens don't have those problems and my friend observed that hers really didn't either. We decided it came down to animal management practices.

Here's where pasture rotation and pasture size to animal population ratios are important. By rotating grazing animals through your pastures - larger to smaller and ending up with poultry, like chickens, ducks or geese, you control your insect populations. Chickens love to eat ticks, lice, grubs, whatever: grass, fly larvae and other things left in the manure of the larger animals. By rotating pastures between grazing animals, you also strengthen the roots of the grass and make it healthier. Take care to avoid overgrazing and overuse.

Overgrazing occurs when too many animals stay in too small a pasture area for too long. There are three factors at play: number of animals, size of pasture, length of stay. These factors are tied to each other. A larger number of animals means a larger size pasture for the same length of stay. A longer stay can be managed by less animals with more space for each animal. Lower animal density means several things: lower rates of disease and less feed costs. If you do not have enough space for your grazing animals to get enough forage by themselves, then you are supplementing their feed. Period. Buying feed costs money and brings in nutrients from elsewhere. It also uses more energy in the form of transportation gasoline, production and manufacture.

Animal/pasture management can apply to pets, like dogs, too. Dogs generally need quite a bit more space then we allow them. While we probably always buy dog food, we can pay attentiont ot their outdoor spaces. If your dog pen or fenced in dog run becomes muddy quickly, then you know that the space is not big enough for your dog. Enlarge and move the space to allow your lawn to regenerate. This is why invisible fence is important. An invisible fence will give your dog fairly free roaming capabilities without the stagnant views of a fence. Dogs also tend to pace less when they are not fenced in with a visible barrier. That mean less wear and tear on the lawn.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Balancing Act

photo by jasonawhite

A little while ago, I posted a bit about trying to figure out whether a farm purchase was sustainable in Money Matters. I promised to continue writing about money needed to run a farm and how it's related to sustainability. So here is the another installment on this topic.

The basic idea behind sustainability is to do things so that you do not have to go outside of the farm to support the farm. For example, you don't have to buy extra feed for the animals because you have a enough forage for them. You don't use chemicals because that would be an outside product coming into your system.

Finances need to be sustainable, too. This concept of financial sustainability is especially crucial for small farms. Let's say you have 3 acres in which to grow corn. You grow your corn conventionally which is to say, you pay for hybridized seed, to up your production, you apply your pre-emergent herbicides, your fertilizer and spray pesticide on your crops according to the prescribed schedule. You harvest your crop at the appointed time in the normal way with a small tractor and harvester. You sell your corn to a warehouse because you do not have enough to sell direct to the manufacturer that uses it. You have sunk money into equipment, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, plus gas.

You have beginner's luck and nothing goes wrong. The crop produced is the best you can expect for the year. Let's assume also there is high demand for your corn. Not only do you sell the ears, but you are able to sell the entire plant and the entire amount at a really good price. So let's do a balance sheet on this endeavor using average or standard prices from this past year.

You can expect that your planting efforts yielded about $64 per acre net profit after counting the seed and chemicals. You have 3 acres of corn, so 3x64=$192 for three acres of corn. Since your price per bushel fell under the USDA price floor for corn, you receive an additional payment of $150 when you file the appropriate paperwork. Now you have purchased a small tractor with the necessary attachments totaling $20,000 at the beginning of the year. You have exactly $342 to apply to your tractor payment FOR THE YEAR which actually costs you $735 per month to operate.

Who would do business like this? You're always in the hole. This is not sustainable.

A small farmer would certainly want to do better than that and the prices are better if you sell stuff directly to the person who plans to use it - the consumer. So instead of selling wholesale, you plan to sell retail at the local farmer's market. That's what I will talk about next time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

When Good Plants Go Bad

There is a little, well sometimes little, plant that most homeowners love to hate. And it started out as a garden plant which escaped and naturalized. Every part of this plant is edible. It is used to make salad, wine, coffee and as a salve. Its root can even be dried, powered and used for medicine or chopped and eaten. The flowers can be fried and eaten, too. Here are some more clues. It first came to North America with European settlers, as an early spring green.

Its prolific seed capability, its fast maturation and its amazingly long tap root make it hard to get rid of. It can be virtually indestructible. If you get rid of it on your lawn, your neighbor's lawn or a lawn a couple miles away will happily re-seed your weed-free lawn.

I think you have an idea of what I'm talking about now, so I'll tell you. It is the dandelion. Yes. the dandelion. Originally brought as a salad plant. Thanks a lot folks - couldn't we have just stuck with lettuce? The dandelion is a very good cautionary tale of why exotics or plants from other places can be such a not good idea. The intentions were arguably good. North America really didn't have lettuce or edible greens. So Europeans brought them. And they're fairly healthy for us, so what's the beef?

photo by williac

The problem is that dandelions adapted too well to their "new" home. There are not the same
environmental factors here that control their growth over there in Europe. I can say, I
didn't see one dandelion over there. Even in the so called "wild" spaces. Really they were
more "untended" but that's a different story.

So back to how to get rid of them. That's what you came for, isn't it? Well, this is one
plant I've never actually tried to get rid of. Not the answer you expected, is it?
Dandelions have so completely naturalized, that to me they are like dock, mullein or
violets. They're expected in the landscape. I'll warrant though that I don't like them
actually in my garden, even though I don't mind them in my so-called lawn.

When you have dandelions in places you don't want, the trick is to dig them up completely.
You have to get the whole taproot. And you better do it BEFORE they go to seed. Otherwise,
just forget it. Of course, if you're having folks over to tour your garden, you'll want them
out anyway. There is a perfect tool for digging them up. I think it looks like a flattened
forked tongue, but you probably have your own ideas. It's called a dandelion weeder and you can get them just about anywhere. If you don't feel like spending money, a fork works pretty well, too.

If you can't dig them up, then you can slice off the top portion of the dandelion and as much of the taproot as possible up two inches. That'll at least give it a pause before it comes back.
Some people swear by regular severe lawn cutting, but this is not good for the grass and the
dandelion adapts by flowering sooner when the plant is below the cut level. Smart little
weed isn't it?

Of course, you want to take off the flower heads before they go to seed. A bonus there is that you can take them in, wash them off and pan fry them in butter with some diced onion, maybe a little salt and pepper. Yum. You may not care then that you have dandelions. I warn you, though, if you start eating them, they'll be harder to find in your yard.

For further reading on this subject check out these links:

Monday, December 3, 2007

Smile and Wave

photo by GlennFleishman

When the Open Air Market opened this April, the first Saturday was not great. In fact, I was the only one there and it was drizzling. It was also a bit airish. I set up and stayed, so that people would know I was planning to be there on a regular basis. I think I even sold something. That day began my unofficial smile and wave campaign here in Ashland City. I felt the compulsion to smile and wave at every car passing my small stand.

I remembered how in Cordele, GA, where I lived in my 'tweens, that everyone was always friendly whether they actually knew your name or not. "Hey, Howya doin'?" was the most common greeting. It was delivered with the air of utmost familiarity and friendship everywhere in that small town. I also remember how different that felt than how it felt where I was born, a big metropolitan area. I became friendlier and in the process relaxed. The relaxation led to an unintentional kindness. I certainly wasn't taught at earlier age to be nice to strangers.

This act became so reflexive that when I went to college in a different large metro area, I was astounded to be approached by the "spices of life" everywhere I went. It wasn't until I realized it was the friendliness I brought with me from Georgia that was attractive, that I stopped. I did not want to be the target of unwelcome attention, so I reacquainted myself with the rules of big city life - don't smile, don't make eye contact, stay in your bubble. The kindness that I habitually exhibited began to disappear. I became bitter, cynical, unfriendly. To my Southern self, I became rude. I was anonymous in the crowd. I considered it necessary survival tactics. What exasperated the situation was that I actually enjoy being friendly. It's easier for one thing and it's less stressful.

I moved to a neighborhood that was close-knit and began to meet my neighbors. Soon I could walk down the street and greet nearly everyone I passed. And we were kind to one another. We collected cans for the man who made his living from them. We looked out for each other's houses and vehicles. We fed each other's animals and we checked on the sick and elderly regularly. One day, I was at Mrs. R's taking coffee with her and Marie, when the subject of tenants came up. Nearly all of us were tenants, but the comment was made that the tenants who were not from the neighborhood did not take care of the property they were renting. I asked if the tenants were known. Had anyone ever visited them? No. They're not from this country. We wouldn't talk to them. Then very logically and naively, I asked (I had to - it's in my nature) Well, then how do you know the place was a mess? It was explained to me that people like that always lived in filth. It was clear to me that the unkindness and prejudice in this situation arose from the relative anonymity of the newcomers. Nobody got to know anyone else and certainly there was no greeting going on between relative strangers.

This story brings me up to Ashland City, another smallish tight knit community. One thing I like about Ashland City is that it is a small town and I could get to know everyone if I wanted to. But something puzzled me about this place in Tennessee. I rather expected it would be somewhat like Georgia where everyone would say Hello to each other and give a friendly nod. Nope. Not really. I used to joke that this was a little bit of New England plopped into the South. Keep to yourself. Really. Please.

This allows all kinds of gossip. I have witnessed first hand, how word spreads around town about this, that and the other. How people bear 20 and 30 year old grudges over high school gossip. What we need is a little more kindness and a little more community. One of the roles of local farmer is to bolster community. It may be unintentional but nonetheless, people meet each other at the market and they begin to talk. More folks will stop in and check out your vegetables if you smile and say, Hello. More than that, I learn what food the community needs and what difficulties some people might be having. All the various kindnesses that were paid to me over the years, can be paid forward to others.

Paying kindness forward is not a new concept to me and it doesn't appear to be exclusive to my upbringing, although that is certainly where I learned it. Check out this Zen Habits post on paying kindness forward. This idea drives the food giveaways and various neighborhood assistances that go between us in a small town. It is the old way of farming. We all help each other, without a ledger to keep track, because we are paying forward. We are not lending a hand, we are giving a hand. And there is a difference. A loan becomes a debt which must be returned to the lender. A gift becomes the property of the recipient who can re-gift it to someone else. And it all starts with a smile and wave. A friendly hello. If we don't know each other, it is hard to be kind. We don't know. We have no information. In the absence of information, the mind fills in the blanks. And the gossip spreads without basis.

The first step is to smile and wave. Ask how the person is doing, and listen to their answer. Take the kindnesses given to you and pay them forward. Mule Shoe Farm will be at the Open Air Market this Saturday (unless there are sick children) and I will be smiling and waving at the passing cars, just like always. Stop in and say Hi. We'll talk and build up our community through mutual kindnesses.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Best Museum Food I Ever Had

photo by bcmom

The year the American Indian Museum opened on the Mall in Washington, D.C., I missed the inaugural pow wow because I was teaching. Then I took students to Washington in December for a leadership conference. Again I missed the museum trip because of scheduling issues and because I was the only one really interested in going. A few weeks later, we traveled to the DC area to visit my parents. Then I finally got to go to the museum.

As we wandered through four floors of culturally appropriate architecture, artworks that we had only seen in books and small traveling cart displays that allowed you to hold replicas of our ancestors' material culture, the hunger struck. It was cold outside and we had been travelling, so I was terribly hungry. Typically I pass on museum food, because it is overpriced and not necessarily that good. But my mother was buying. She had heard that they had some interesting dishes there. The theme in this restaurant is foods native to the American continents. The menu featured things as diverse as buffalo and elk burgers to tortillas to local freshwater fish. Then I saw it - turkey with cranberries and squash, I think. I believe there was also corn involved but I don't exactly remember. The cranberries stand out.

I have long been a fan of cranberries. I'm not big on sweet drinks and I find the tartness of the cranberry quite refreshing. When I worked at a bar, I used to mix my own non-alcoholic beverage featuring a glass filled with ice, cranberry juice and a splash of lemix. Better than water on a busy night, though much more expensive.

Related Reading

I checked out Wikipedia for nutritional information and here is a summary of what I found out. Cranberries contain plenty of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthum. The most common native food storage method before refrigeration, was drying. Cranberries can be stored easily in the winter because of the cold temperatures and they can be dried in the sun. Once cranberries are dried, they could be mixed with dry meat and suet or bear fat and nuts to create pemmican - high energy road food. Talk about nutrition. Something like that would ward off rickets in the winter and many other vitamin deficiencies that were common prior to the 20th century.

Potassium helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balances in the body. Diets high in potassium can ward off hypertension. Vitamin C can ward off colds and help maintain energy and overall good health. A lack of vitamin A can lead to a variety of defects in vision, including night blindness and corneal drying. Lutein and zeaxanthum are important for warding off diseases like macular degeneration. Lack of these two nutrients also leads to pale dry skin.

Oh yeah, back to the museum restaurant. Let me say that the turkey dinner was fabulous. The best I've ever had. I talked about how good it was for at least a year. If you ever get to Washington, D.C. visit the Museum of the American Indian and try out the delicious food in their restaurant.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How to Save a Horse

Don't ride the cowboy. Talk to a barefoot farrier.

The following set of tips was developed by Jim Apple, a barefoot hoof care farrier in the Middle Tennessee area. He is today's guest writer. You can post questions to Jim in the comments section below this article.

First and foremost be devoted to helping your horse. Founder is a painful situation for the horse. Conscientious and humane care must be given at all levels. Here are some guidelines to make this easier for the horse, for you and for me..

The horse

  1. Dry lot the horse. Use a run in shed or open stall, if you don’t have a area fenced in-DO IT!

  2. Determine the founder trigger. I can guarantee that your horse did not “just founder”.

  3. No green grass, no grain-PERIOD

  4. Feed grass hay 24/7, stay away from hay that is high in sugars, like alfalfa.

  5. Keep the horse moving, once it is comfortable. You might have to walk the horse in the beginning.

  6. Make sure that water is available at all times, Free choice salt and minerals should be in the dry lot.

  7. Place the hay, water, salt and minerals at different spots once the horse can move of its own free will. Set it up with water in one corner, hay in another corner, salt in the third corner and minerals in the fourth corner.

The caregiver

  1. Be prepared mentally to do this. It can and will put a strain on all aspects of your life.

  2. Realize that you can only do so much; the rest is up to your horse.

  3. Ask questions

The farrier

  1. Provide conscientious and humane trimming. Schedule the next visit.

  2. Measure the horse’s feet and encourage the use of protective hoof boots and soaker boots to help the horse be comfortable during the healing process

  3. Ask questions and provide answers and educational material.

*At some point during the recovery process, most horses have minor setbacks such as abscesses, thrush, white line disease etc. Regular trimming and soaking the horse’s feet once a week in equal parts apple cider vinegar/water for 20 minutes will keep those problems to minimum. In some cases daily soaks will be necessary. Be patient. Your horse can survive founder.*

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Get Some Air in There

I have found the composting Bible. The first and last word in composting. Mike McGrath's Book on Composting is it!

Why am I so excited? Because he has some great ways to speed up the compost pile and he explains it so I can understand. The greatest new thing I want to try out is putting a chimney in the compost pile. Yep, that's right - a CHIMNEY.

Here's what I plan to do based on Mr. McGrath's suggestions:

Take some of my friend's wire fence discards and roll them into 6-8" tubes. Set a tube into the ground where I will put a new pile. Then I will take the partially decomposed remains of my two big compost piles and carefully layer them around the tube. I will intersperse the layers with leaves that I've raked up into suitable piles for jumping in. (I have to keep the kids happy somehow and work ain't it). When the pile is approximately 4 foot high and 4 foot wide and 4 foot long, I'll build another pile with another tube. The tube is supposed to act like a chimney and circulate air through the pile speeding up decomposition.

I have to take care that the compost does not fall into the tube when piled up around it. I can't wait to see if the pile puts off steam. Then I know it's really cooking. If the piles start smoking I'll post some pictures here.

If the pile don't produce steam, I'll have to check the moisture and composition to make sure I got that right. The moisture should be like a well-wrung sponge and the composition should be 30 parts brown to 1 part green. This time of year I may need more green, but then again maybe not since I put kitchen garbage in there and I have plenty of that.

I want to have compost ready for the early spring plants which I will be seeding in February. According to the Mike McGrath book and many other oral sources, compost is the best thing for your plants. It's ready-made free natural fertilizer. Compost builds the soil health.

Healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy food = healthy eaters.

And less work for me. Yep - Livin' the Dream

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's on Your Side of the Fence?

I want to hear from you. What weeds, weedy trees, annoying shrubs, and "bad penny" vines are you having trouble with? What do you want to know about or do you have eradication and annihilation tips? If your combat tips are organic, that's even better.

On Tuesdays I write about exotic invasives and other weeds. I've pretty much been writing about the weeds I encounter regularly that I wish I didn't have. And oh boy, do I have them, but that's another story entirely. I want to hear your stories.

Please post a comment with your ideas and/or questions below. I'll take the time to post your experiences or answer your questions here at the Mule Shoe Farm blog in the upcoming weeks.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Check it Out!

I am at the library in Ashland City which is where I produce most of the blog, most of the time. The public library is a great resource in our community and is housed in a new building on County Services Dr. which is right off of Frey Street, A.K.A. Hwy 49.

Did you know they have a fabulous meeting room, you can reserve for your organization's meetings? You can reserve three months at a time. The meeting room has plenty of tables and chairs, a coffee maker and even a ceiling mounted slide projector and screen for PowerPoint presentations.

Is your Internet connection at home slower than Christmas or your computer is down? Do you have a laptop and simply need to get out of the house to get some work down. The library has a great many computers for public use. You can print two pages per day and make 3-5 copies of important papers. Plus there is a 15 minute check you email computer.

There are weekly story time groups for pre-school aged children that feature hands-on activities. In addition to all this, the library will also reserve books for you, renew books and if they don't have the book but it's in the TN library system, they'll order it in for you.

The hardworking librarians are friendly and very helpful. Check them out.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Juicy Fruit

photo by southernpixel

Apples are a fall season fruit that stores well into the early winter. We've all heard that they're nutritious - eat at least one a day and you'll not see the MD as the saying goes. And according to my daughter's unofficial survey of vegetable-hating fourth graders, apples are loved by pretty much everybody. Except maybe Snow White. Talk about lousy publicity. Of course, "they" also say any publicity is good publicity.

Apples originated in Central Asia where their wild ancestor still can be found in places like Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Apples are not usually cultivated by seed. A special technique called grafting produces apple trees with a promising root stock and a branch from a mature tree with desirable apples. One reason apple are not often produced from seed, is that the seeds require quite of bit of work to germinate. First they must be scarified which means wearing the hard covering off. Then they have to be babied through the germination process carefully. Once you get a seedling, it will take many years to develop fruit. The fruit may or may not resemble the original apple in any way.

Apples are a late autumn fruit in cooler climes which stores well through the winter without losing too much of its nutritional value. Many foods are not so lucky. They must be eaten as close to harvest to avoid losing their nutritional appeal. My daughter says that apples are juicy, yummy and colorful which makes them interesting. Apple juice is often the juice of choice for babies through adults. And apple cider vinegar has been blamed for longevity for, well, a long time.

Let's look at what an apple has. Vitamin C definitely. That will help ward off colds and combat fatigue. Vitamin C is part of an apple's antioxident package which helps reduce the risk of cancer. Phenolics, a type of antioxident found in apples, can protect nerve cells from neurotoxicity induced by oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is involved in diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Apples also contain an assortment of B vitamins with their fiber and sugar content. Apples are a far more nutritious and sweet than, say, an apple flavored hard candy. They only have 80 calories on average. Apples also contain pectin which helps gell fruit and supports your digestive tract by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. This miracle fruit is known to promote healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Apples are in season, so they should cost less right now. Many small growers in Washington State and other places, self brand their apples. These may cost a bit more, but the local farmer receives a better price for a superior product. Some examples of small farms who are surviving can be found in films such as My Father's Garden shown on LinkTV, or websites like Bill Pace Fruit & Produce or in places like Whole Foods. There are even a few folks in the local area who grow apples. This year's weather pretty much cancelled out the apple harvest, but next year, I'll be looking for apples at the Ashland City Open Air Market.

And now, a quick kid friendly recipe suggested by my daughter as the best way to eat apples.

Slice an organic apple into long slices
spread with organic peanut butter or dip it in the peanut butter
sprinkle organic raisins on top
Eat, eat and eat.
Then eat some more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Money Matters

Starting in my 30's I began to seriously research what I would farm, how I would accomplish my dream, and what was necessary to make farming a possiblity for my family. As I worked my way to management in the computer industry, I learned how to calculate costs and return on investments over time. I applied these things to the dream.

A epiphany came when I was researching requirements for selling dairy products. I was helping out at my cousin's goat farm in Michigan and asking questions of her suppliers and friends. I learned that a combination homogenization/pasteurization machine often sold to small villages in Africa would cost around $10,000. The friend recommended that I consider purchasing that machine if I intended to make a go of it in the dairy goat business.

I only wanted 5 goats for milking. A handful for meat and the rest would be sold. Here's how the calculation goes. If I milked a gallon from each goat each day that would be five gallons a day or 35 gallons a week. Some milk would be reserved for family use making about 30 gallons available for sale each week. If I sold the milk for $3 a gallon - the retail price then for goats milk, I could potentially make $90 per week on milk.

$90 is gross income. I factored in my costs. My feed would cost approximately $32.50 per week. This is the only cost I considered. At the time, I didn't count mileage or water or anything else. The net weekly income would be $67.50.

The next question is how much would I net a year from selling milk and how much would I save my using my own milk products. 5 gallons a week would provide for cheese, butter, cream, yogurt and drinking milk for the family. At the time of the calculations, I estimated I would save about $7 per week by using my own stuff. Added to income, it makes $73.50 per week. Just multiply by 52 to the annual net income - right? Wrong. Female dairy goats need to be bred every year to keep up the milk supply. They dry up for about 2 months before giving birth. That's at least 2 months of no milk pre-birth and 1 month pst- birth. No milk for 3 months or approximately 12 weeks. Take twelve weeks off the year.

Now at last I can get an answer. Will I be able to make a dent in the cost of the equipment in a year? $73.50 X 40 weeks = $2940. No - not at all.
I do not want to take out a loan for $10,000. I am extremely debt adverse and that was before I heard of Dave Ramsey. I wanted to earn the money up front. It would take about three years at full production to earn enough money to pay for the machine in cash. That was not appealing to me and I began to research other options.
I will write more on considering the money needed and its relationship to sustainable farming in the following weeks. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pretty in Pink - Pretty Annoying

What pink and green and grows all over?

A mimosa, of course.

Like that question only has one answer.

Actually mimosa can be quite lovely to view, but it is not your friend. Albizia julibrissin or mimosa has been here in North America for such a long time, we have come to think of it as belonging. Where I grew up in Virginia it was an extremely common site, particularly along highways. I was a little surprised to find it on Tennessee's Exotic Invasives Species list. But the sad truth is mimosa is a noxious weed tree.

Mimosas have all the common characteristics of many pest plants: easily suckers, the least little bit will sprout, exceptionally long dormancy ability, prolific seed dropper and it's from Asia. It has made it all the way to Tennessee's Watch List 1 with a rank of 1. That means, it is ranked as a severe threat which easily naturalizes and displaces native plants. One plant it takes the place of quite easily is the red bud tree.

If you're with me so far, you'll want to know how to get rid of it - organically. Get out the chainsaw or the ax or the tree pruners. Cut it down. When it suckers up, cut it down again. Pull the stump if you can and continue to cut the suckers. If you mow the area regularly, it won't have much chance to reproduce. Or you can grow a thick canopy forest. Mimosas prefer the sun. Although they will tolerate partial shade, they do not grow in the shade.

Learn to recognize mimosa seedlings and pull them as soon as you can grab them. If you weed them when the soil is slightly damp, you'll have a better chance of pulling the whole root. That's what you want to do, because the least little piece left will grow a new tree.

You can girdle large mimosa trees, if they haven't fallen down on their own. To girdle a tree, you use an ax to cut through the bark on the tree at about six inches above the ground. Cut a ring all the way around the tree, taking care to go through the outer and inner bark layers. The tree will slowly die. The best time to do this is in April before it begins to bloom. Really you can girdle whenever the fancy strikes. The late spring is best because the tree has expended much of its stored energy on spring growth and it will likely sucker a bit less once it begins to die. Keep up with those suckers, too. Cut them off when they appear. I guess you could put animals who like to eat bark near it, too. Like goats, sheep, horses, cows, etc.

Then plant something else. Make it native. For ideas about what to plant in our Middle Tennessee area, check out Landscaping with Native Plants. They have several brochures which can give you ideas based on location, soil moisture, sunlight and pH.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lighten Your Load

Mondays are for anything local that strikes my fancy. Some days are more local than others.

photo by theogeo

Fall is a traditional time of "nesting" for us at the farm. In preparation for winter, we like to get the house in order and take stock of what we have. This helps us plan during the winter. Right now, the clutter is overwhelming. Like most folks, we moved into the house with very little and the collection of stuff just grew.

We have now been in our house for eight years. Despite two yard sales and at least monthly drop offs to the charity trailer, we still have too much junk. How do I know this? Because it's all over the house. Everywhere. Did I mention, we have graduated to paths in certain areas?

I am tackling this cleanup job a little bit at a time. Each morning after everyone is fed and the kids are at school, I pick an area of the house that I can clean in about two hours. That's Tip one: Don't over commit your time. Spend 2-4 hours max per day decluttering.

Tip two: There are three categories: Keep it, ThrowAway, and GiveAway. As I go through each area, I put the GivaAways in a box and the ThrowAways in a trash bag. I am left with a pile of stuff I want to keep.

Tip three: If fills up more than half the space available, cull through it again. It's time for the hard questions. Do I really need the five half full band-aid boxes or can I consolidate the boxes? Do we need twenty plus scented soaps which we haven't ever used? That's a GiveAway definitely.

Tip four: Take care of the GiveAways and ThrowAways immediately. Several decluttering books I've read are not clear on this. I know how I procrastinate. And some of you out there do too. You know who you are. How do you think the house got so cluttered in the first place? As I fill up the GiveAway boxes, I can take them out to the car.

Our local charity drop off takes stuff until 2pm, so I have to leave the house by 1:30pm. This gives me a time limit, so cleaning up is not a never-ending task for that day.

This is really a 10,000 foot view, but these simple guidelines can get it done. If I know I don't have the time to declutter today, I plan for it the next available day. My challenge is sticking with it consistently. I also seem to have unusually generous friends, because no sooner do I clean up one area, then someone drops off a box of stuff they think I can't live without. My challenge is to find a good home for this stuff - which is not my house.

What are some of your challenges keeping your house cleaned up and tidy? Time? Toddlers? Generous Friends? Pack rat spouse? I'm curious to see what challenges you have encountered and how you overcome these challenges.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's the Great Pumpkin!

Fridays are all about nutrition
picture by Meowcat93

It's that big orange fall treat some of us long for all year - pumpkin. Of course, like many pumpkin lovers, I am a big fan of pumpkin pie. There is also soup, cookies, cheesecake, casserole and many other pumpkin treats. Best of all, I can indulge my artistic tendencies at Halloween and then compost the shell. I can eat the seeds or plant them for next year. But wait there's more! It's slices; it dices; and IT'S NUTRITIOUS!

Pumpkin is native to the Americas and quickly took over the spooky job of being a Jack O'Latern from beets and turnips. Colonists would cut off the top and scoop out the seeds. Then they would put in milk, spices and honey and cook the pumpkin in hot ashes. Check out more about pumpkins and their history.

Pumpkins belong to the Cucurbita family which includes butternut squash, summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers. Check out the Pumpkin Nook for fun activities and other facts about pumpkins, including how to grow prize winning giant pumpkins.

Now back to nutrition. The orange skin of the pumpkin is a clue to its nutrition secrets. Fruits and vegetables with bright orange color are high in beta-carotene which your body uses in creating vitamin A. Beta-carotene has also been linked to cancer prevention and has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Pumpkin seeds are reputed to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Pumpkin is also high in potassium - another essential nutrient. And guess what else - no salt or cholesterol. Yep. That's right no salt AND no cholesterol.

Now if I eat it my favorite way in pie, I am sure to have salt and cholesterol. I can reduce those items and the fat from the pie plus make it overall more healthy in the following ways. Substitute low fat condensed milk or low fat vanilla soy milk. Use whole wheat pie crust or low fat pie crust. Cut down on the number of eggs, use egg whites instead of whole eggs or use an appropriate egg substitute. Use Splenda instead of sugar.

Yeah riiiight.

You could do all that substitution or you could use all the real stuff and eat less.

Yeah riiight.

Who am I kidding? I'll eat less pumpkin pie when there's less in the refrigerator. Seriously, though. A healthy recipe is out there. I believe if you make pumpkin pie with fresh, organic, local ingredients (except for the spices), you will eat less because the food will be so satisfying, you'll won't be craving more...

Until the morning.

Oh, I do love cold pumpkin pie, too.

No ice cream please.

This is breakfast.

Let's have a moment of silence.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Now Where Was I?

It's early morning. The day is forecasted to be cold, breezy and wet. Jewel is laughing at the breezy graphic on the morning news. It's all hurry, hurry. Stick to the plan. Stick to the Routine. No extra time for anything if we're to leave on time. Brush Hair. Brush kids hair. Put on your shoes! Now what?

Oh yeah. Feed the animals.

"Hunter, don't forget to feed the dogs. Jewel, feed the kitties." Now, where's my coat?

And I'm out the door still looking back. A flash of white out of my peripheral vision. Did I see that right? I look full on. Yes it's a goat. Which one? Oh, it's Duchess and she's standing in the front yard. No, she's walking toward me.

"Hey Duchess, I call softly and grab the white plastic bucket piled on the desk on top of the iron work. On the porch. The coat is forgotten momentarily. I peer around for Buddy. Oh, he's in the other pen. He can't figure out how to get out. Good. He's set for now.

1-2-3-4 cups of sweet feed in the bucket. Sarah runs up to Duchess' heels. Doesn't nip but makes a perfect herding motion, then continues on. Duchess kicks up her feet and bucks her way toward the road as I come off the porch. The air is chilly and wet as the skin and hair on my arms becomes cold. No time to worry about that, now.

"C'mon, Duchess." I shake the bucket and she follows. I lead her down to the pasture where she'll be staked out today and put the bucket down. The white furry head goes down. The wide inquiring eyes disappear into the feed. She is head shy a bit as I come toward her with the buckle of the lead rope, but she doesn't pause for long in her eating frenzy.

Buddy's trying to climb the fence, but doesn't seem quite like he wants to try too hard. I have to get another container for him. Where's that coffee can from yesterday? The red plastic catches my eye. It's laying on the ground where it was kicked over last night. In the first pen. I grab it and walk to the house. Completely confusing Buddy who is still stuck in the second pen.

Now wearing a heavy jacket, I bring back the coffee can with the right ration. Shaking it gently as I walk, to get the billy's attention. Buddy tries to climb the fence dividing the two pens near the gate. His front legs hook over the wire, but he is reluctant to move quickly and jump over it. He's tangled with the fence before and it's too tall for him. He runs over to the temporary gate between pens and the roll of the wire confuses him. The fence is bent toward him, where Duchess made good her escape. She's the clever one, but she doesn't share her secrets because Buddy will eat her food. He looks at it and then turns around and heads to the opposite corner. I shake the bucket. He ignores me. I bang the bucket against the chicken house. He turns and comes back. My son stands there with the chicken feed. I set the bucket down. and try to help Buddy negotiate the temporary gate.

"Mom, the chicken's are eating the ---!" He shouts in alarms. I shoo the chickens and try to return to Buddy who is starting to wander off again. I move the sweet feed to a rock closer to me.

"Mom! the-"

"Okay, son. You're distracting me. I know the chickens are trying to eat it. I gotta get Buddy. Just be quiet. Alright?"

Buddy has wandered again. This time into the wire roll. He stops and turns around. He acts confused by the metal maze arrangement that is the temporary closure between the two pens. I put the can on top of the fence post away from the chickens and unhook the wire that creates the temporary closure. Buddy comes to the opening and looks at it, but doesn't attempt to step over the gap. He turns around. I have to show him it's okay and he can get in and out.

"Hey, Buddy. Hey, Buddy." I step over the low fence into the second pen. He looks at me. I step over the fence back into the first pen. He follows me. I take the can and he runs to the exit gate, blocking me way.

As we leave, Hunter places the chicken feed in the house and closes the gate to keep the chickens in.

"Get in the car," I call over my shoulder as Buddy and I do our start and stop dance to his stake in the pasture. I put the bucket down. His head goes into and he doesn't even look up when I snap the lead rope on.

So starts the day.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Southern Food: Collards

Fridays are all about nutrition. Picture by strawbaleman.

Collards are associated with the South, nearly always. But I found some interesting recipes from other places. Check out this soup from Portugal, or this tasty dish from Ethiopia. The truth is that collard greens can be quite nutritious no matter how they are cooked. But too much ham hock = too much fat. The simplest way to make them, by boiling them in water for awhile, is the best way to eat them.

Collards are an excellent autumn food. They can withstand frost. I saw it happen with my own eyes this week. We had heavy frost on the field two mornings in a row and picked well over a bushel of collards today. There's more where that came from, too. Some people say they taste even better after a frost. Even though you can grow them year round, they are best from January to April when other vegetables do not grow.

Some of the nutrients found in collards include vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin E, folate, potassium, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B6. 1 cup of collards properly cooked contains less than 50 calories and a little over 20% of recommended daily fiber. It also good for a heart healthy diet because of the B vitamins, folate and riboflavin.

Believe it or not, collards also contain about 22% of the daily requirement for calcium in one cup. I was amazed. If you are lactose intolerant, this is one way for you to get calcium in your diet.

One thing to bear in mind is that collards is part of a group of vegetables that contain oxalates and should not be eaten by people with kidney or gall bladder problems. You can read more on the nutritional details of collards at the World's Healthiest Foods. Even more information about collards can be found at: World Community Cookbook

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Where's The Egg?

Thursdays are all about animals.

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, my thoughts turn to providing warmth and shelter to the animals. Will their nutrition needs change, now that it's colder. Will the length of the day affect them in any way? Do/can animals get SAD (seasonal affective disorder)? It's sounds kind of silly, but since I want to keep my animals in the best possible health, I must ask.

If you've been checking the egg count periodically, you will notice that it has been dropping steadily since early October. This is because once daylight hours drop below 14, chickens do not lay as many eggs. Why are there still eggs in the grocery store all year round? Are they $2 a dozen because they're flying them in from the tropics? Well, they're not exactly flying them in from the tropics. But, in large scale chicken farming the barns are kept a steady "optimal" temperature and the light is kept on for 14 hours per day. This uses energy that I can't afford. It is not cost-effective to do this for a small flock. Plus, t'ain't nachril.

I view the winter as a time to rest up and prepare for the energy of spring. Chickens that are kept up all hours of the night wear out faster. Winter also means that the chickens need to eat differently. They need to be able to have extra energy for the cold nights, so instead of feeding them only in the morning, I have to make sure they have food in the afternoon. When they eat, their body temperature rises for awhile which will help them on those frosty nights. A chicken house doesn't hurt, either. We converted an old Sears storage shed to a chicken house and they are lovin' it.

I really can't tell whether animals get SAD. I guess that one's for the scientists. My chickens are happy. And warm. And well-fed. And resting up for spring.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Another Ivy on the Ground

Tuesdays are devoted to weeds and other invasives

Ground Ivy is one of my favorite weeds to pull. It has a distinctive odor and is related to the mint family which you can tell from its square stem. In the early spring and late fall, this lovely little weed will get a jump start on just about everything else. It likes grass. It likes gardens. It likes driveway and sidewalk cracks. Its roots are plenty and its spreads like wildfire. It forms thick carpet-like masses literally anywhere and can easily overrun your lawn.
If it occurs in your garden, which it probably already does, you will have a heck of a time getting rid of it. Since I do not like to fool with chemicals, I tend to pull it up repeatedly. That's just about the only way to get rid of it. Pull it, pull it and then pull it again. Also grow other things that will shade it out. Luckily it does not care for summer much. That doesn't mean it won't pop back up when the weather cools down. This pest is a perennial. Yep. It'll come back. That's why it's so hard to get rid of.
Ground Ivy blooms in the spring and can be a source of allergies. It is for me. It's the odor I think. Once you pull it from your garden, don't compost it. Just pull it out, heap it up and let it wilt and rot on the path. Lay a thick layer of compost mulch on your garden - 3 or 4 inches, according to Mike McGrath. This should keep the ground ivy out until your seeds sprout.
Good Luck with it.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Out of the Loop

by Chaparrel [Kendra]

Yeah, I know. I've been out of the loop. I admit I haven't posted anything this week except for Monday. The truth is I haven't been near a computer since Monday. I haven't been feeling well and have had multiple doctor's appointments this week. Hopefully everything is squared away and I will be back to my usual self next week.

The hardest thing about being sick, for me, is the laying around doing nothing. Yeah, I know you're rolling your eyes at me. Who wouldn't want to lay around? It's not that I'm opposed to laying around, it's just that as a wife, mother and farmer I keep thinking of all the things I could be doing. I know I have built and re-built the new chicken house at least five times this week in my sleep. Believe me the coop gets better every time I build it, but the pieces are still sitting in the field waiting on someone to actually put them together. And that someone is me.

But then, am I all about sustainability? Doing what you can with the resources you have? Not overextending the land, the animals, the soil, or...


Ummm. Yeah, that's me.

That thought has kept me getting better this week without overextending myself too much. A little at a time. Easy does it. And so on.

See ya' next week!

Monday, October 29, 2007

No Variances On the Flood Plain

Vacant Lockmaster House near Old Hickory Dam by Brent and MariLynn

Mondays are devoted to topics of local interest.
I was reading the I-24 Exchange about various zoning variances that were denied based on instructions from the federal government that to grant them would increase the cost of flood insurance for the entire county. It seems that the attorney representing two of the variance requests withdrew the requests, saying that the issues involved had been discussed with him and the people he represented were going to abide by the county's decision to not grant the variances. No big deal, so far. Not quite what I expected but to my way of thinking, it is the only option.

What struck me about the reports of the whole affair was the insistence of the county planner for economic development that NO CONVERSATION had occurred between her and the attorney. What's the big deal, here? I'm not sure.

Okay, maybe I'm slow or naive or don't care enough about personal county politics. I didn't necessarily assume there had been a conversation, but her insistence that there wasn't one is the cause of my suspicion. Why would she make such a big deal about it? How does this relate to the junk pile further up river that has many residents upset. It was granted a variance. Doe sit violate EPA laws or Corps of Engineer requirements. I don't know.

I think it's pretty clear that the federal law supersedes whatever the county wishes to do. That's pretty much the law of the land post-Civil War and how federalism works. But I am unsure of many of the facts of the case. This situation has been going on for a bit of time, but I really didn't pay too much attention because it seemed to be over an installation of a swimming pool.

Now I am wondering what is going on. You never know when something small will become a major butt-covering issue. That's why I encourage everyone in Cheatham County to pay more attention to what is going on around here. With the completion of the Braxton in the near future, and the super-heated house building market in the north of the county, the indicators point to an imminent rapid growth for the county. If we don't pay attention, we will look around one day and wonder where all the green space is and what happened to the barns and old houses that were demolished to make way for progress.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Vegetables per Day

Fridays are devoted to topics about nutrition

The USDA recommends 2.5 cups for women in the 30-51 age range and 3 cups for men per day. So 2.5-3 cups per day of vegetables. And that's for people who exercise less than 30 minutes per day. Most of us, I think. I know when I was working an ofice job, the most exercise I got was walking to my car - maybe 10 minutes per day.

Being super-analytical, I want to know whta they mean by a cup. Straight from the USDA themselves,

In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.

Then there is a handy chart for you to look at that describes what a cup is for various vegetables. You can get there from this link:

The interesting thing about the new food pyramid is that it is customizable depending on your activity level, age and weight. Go to and click on MyPyramid Plan to go through a "wizard" to help you plan out what you as an individual should eat.

You can build a pyramid plan for each family member if you would like. This seems to be a lot of time to me. And it can be, but if you have no idea what you should be eating and how much, it may be well worth your effort to find out.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Thursdays are devoted to animals

Here at the farm, we have very ambitious plans to fence off what eventually will be a 100 by 500 foot area into several 50 foot square pens for rapid pasture rotation. Only problem for me is that is mainly a one-woman job with occasional help from various friends. Putting in fence posts two - three feet deep can be back breaking labor. When you're in a drought, you might as well forget about digging holes. I've bent my post-hole diggers blades, more than once this summer. But it must be done for two reasons: to keep the lovely critters in and keep the predators out. Here is what I have learned so far.
  • Keep your post hole diggers clean and sharp to cut through the clay-shale mix we call a subsoil.
  • It is better to attach your fence on the inside of the pen because when the goats rub against it, it doesn't bow out so bad.
  • Check out the lay of the ground under your bottom wire. If there is more than a four inch gap, this will become a chicken escape route.
  • Goats can jump anything under four foot tall.
  • Goats and chickens can mix, but whatever flimsy thing you built for the chickens will not stand up to play time with a goat.
  • Make sure your gates swing into the pen so if you forget to latch them, the goats still can't get out.
  • Make sure your gate latch requires motion along several planes to unhook so the goats can't open it.
  • A car and a fence stretcher make things a whole lot easier and tighter when putting up a fence.
Feel free to comment by clicking on the comment link above. I want to see what you have to say.