May 30, 2015

Beta Readers Wanted

Those of you who enjoyed 5 Acres & A Dream The Book and encouraged me to write another, will be happy to know that my second book, Critter Tales, is getting closer to publication. It's shaping up something like this:
  • Introduction
  • Chicken Tales
  • Goat Tales
  • Llama Tales
  • Puppy Tales
  • Kitty Tales
  • Guinea Tales
  • Pigs Tales
  • Honeybee Tales

The first drafts of the sections are completed or near completion, and second drafts are underway. I've asked various people to read through these sections for me as beta readers. A beta reader is sort of a pre-reader. They read through an early draft to give feedback on things like readability, usefulness, continuity, and offer opinions on how to improve it. I thought that for the Introduction I'd try something different. 

What I've done has been to set up a private, invitation only blog, where I've published parts as individual posts so that feedback will be given in the blog comments. If you'd be interested in being a beta reader, you'll need to sign up to get on that blog. To do that:
  1. You will need to contact me by email at 5acresandadream at mail dot com. I will reply with an invitation to get on that blog. 
  2. I will need your real name, first and last. However, when you comment on the blog, the other members will see only your Blogger screen name. Your real name will remain private and known only to me. 

Depending on the kind of response I get, I may or may not be able to accept everybody. If that's the case I will update this post to indicate that I have plenty of volunteers. So, if you're interested, please email me. Thanks!

May 27, 2015

The Beast Is Dead

Here is an equipment tale of woe that many of you will be able to relate to. Dan's beloved walk-behind 2-wheel tractor, fondly referred to as "The Beast," is not moving.

We've only had it for a year.

The engine still runs but there is a problem with the transmission. Fixable? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, it set off a rather lengthy discussion about our goals, needs, and working smarter on our homestead.

Before we bought The Beast we set out to find a farm tractor. We scoured Craigslist and Dan traveled many miles in search of something that matched our pocketbook. Such a tractor did not seem to exist, or at least not one that was in working order. All too many ads said "runs great" only to have it mysteriously not start when Dan went to look. Or the battery had just died. Or the owner forgot to put fuel in it. Or there was something they didn't mention in the ad that they were sure was "easy" to fix. When the walk-behind turned up, Dan went to look. It started right up so he bought it.

One of the problems with buying equipment that is no longer manufactured is that it's difficult to find replacement parts. For example, ours needed a coulter. The purpose of the coulter is to cut the ground ahead of the plowshare. The plow then turns over the ground with a nice, neat edge. Without it, the plow is difficult to control.

Simplicity Model W Walk-Behind Tractor

Coulters are available for larger tractors, but we need a 10-inch size, smaller than standard. First Dan contacted our local John Deere and Kubota dealers. Unfortunately they specialize in lawn tractors and didn't have a clue about plows and coulters. One said he'd look into to it but we never heard from him again. The next step was for Dan to try to make one.

Homemade coulter, made of a 10" saw blade & two grinding wheels. 

The grinding wheels add strength & keep the saw blade from bending.

Another problem he had was that the tractor isn't heavy enough to plow our tough ground. It needed more weight in the front. Again, these weren't available to he added his own.

These are the challenges of older, no longer manufactured equipment. Dan is definitely going to try to fix it but we still question what the best option is. I've researched no-till for field crops but learned that a tractor is still used, just with different implements, things like seed drills and seeding discs, which were not made for our walk-behind tractor.

Even if The Beast can be fixed it will eventually break down again, and once again we'll struggle with parts we can't get. Every time this happens it creates a tension between work to be done and the time required to fix the equipment. On top of that it is heavy and takes strength to control.

A small farm tractor still seems like the best option for us, especially as we get older and need better work-smarter-not-harder options, especially ones that will enable us to conserve strength and energy. On top of that, a four-wheel tractor is a better candidate for converting to wood gas than the two-wheel one.

 The question now is can we find one that runs and we can afford? Can we find the attachments? Ours has never been a big agricultural area so most farm tractors around here are only used with belly mowers or bush hogs.

I suppose we'll just have to wait and see. Do stay tuned.

May 24, 2015

In & Around The Garden

The bad news is that we have not gotten a good rainfall in over a month. Between that and temperatures in the low 90s, many things in the garden are suffering. I just can't seem to keep everything watered well, which is a concern. Anyway, here's what's happening in and around my garden.

I only planted two rows of peas. I planted turnips too but they were a no
show. I won't have a huge harvest but we'll have some good seasonal eating.

Kale is doing well. 

So is my lettuce and multiplier onions. Radishes
have mostly been harvested with a few left to go to seed.

Beets! This is the first time in several years the deer haven't wiped
out my beets. Also broccoli here, although it hasn't flowered yet.

My chicory volunteers every year. I love the blue blossoms and the
goats love the greens. Garlic in the background is near harvest time.

Green beans planted up in double rows. I planted cucumbers between the
double rows but with no rain they haven't sprouted, but weeds are growing .

This is the first time in a long time that I've mulched with straw, but we had all those bales from our make do pig digs so I've been using them.

Volunteer dill transplanted into the cabbage row. I started
the cabbage plants early but they have been slow to grow.

I planted 4 rows of popcorn but hardly any has had a chance to sprout. The
rows are filled with volunteer marigolds and amaranth. I leave the marigolds
and pull the amaranth. The roots are thrown into the compost while stalks
and leaves are chopped and dehydrated for the goats' winter mineral mix.

I leave other "weeds" as well. This is a row of heartsease.
It has medicinal value and makes a good ground cover.

It appears that only about half of
my sweet potatoes have survived.

Elder is beginning to bloom

A few red raspberries

A baby Gala apple. Do you see how lop-sided it is? I learned from Anna
Hess's The Naturally Bug-Free Garden (highly recommended) this is a
symptom of poor pollination. Our bees arrived too late to help this year's
apple crop, but will help correct will all fruit pollination in the future.

That's my garden report for the end of May. Hoping and praying for rain soon. How about you?

May 21, 2015

Polly's Piggy Pregnancy Pointer

Waldo and Polly

It's been a long time since I've done a pig post, over two months. I had hoped to have some good news for you by now, namely that we either had baby pigs or we had baby pigs on the way.

Polly. Pregnant?

The problem is that I've not seen any breeding behavior whatsoever.

According to Walter at Sugar Mountain, a pregnancy is detectable in a sow by the hind end of her female anatomy. If it points up, she is pregnant. If not, then she isn't. What happens as the piglets grow in the womb, the weight pulls the uterus down so that her genitalia is pulled up.

Polly's does not point up, although it not longer points down like it did a week ago. So maybe?

Polly will be one year old at the beginning of June and according to Walter that's an average age for first farrowing. Until then, all we can do is wait.

May 19, 2015

The Saddest Thing

It was 5:42 AM and I was standing at the customer service door of the post office, waiting for someone to bring me my baby chicks. Through the door there was a bench against the wall, with a box on the floor next to it. Inside the box was a wadded up American flag.

My mind flashed back to Girl Scouts. Our troop worked together to earn a merit badge on the American Flag. We learned its history and rich symbolism. We learned flag etiquette and protocol. The culmination of the project was a flag burning ceremony, so that we could learn the proper way to discard our nation's flag. It was a solemn ritual which could not help but evoke emotion in each girl's heart.

By the time I got to university, flag burning was an all too common means of protest against the government's policies and politics. When you think about it, really, it's more than just a protest, it's a blatant symbol of disrespect. It sends the message that if one disagrees with someone else, then the appropriate response is to disrespect them.

We live in a day and age when it is stated that respect must be earned. I'm amazed that few folks see the circular reasoning in which this results. Person A requires that Person B earn their respect. Until then, A treats B rudely. Person B requires the same thing - that A earn their respect. But A is treating them disrespectfully, so B reciprocates in kind. In the end, no one ever earns anyone's respect and the result is a society of rude, self-centered, disrespectful folk. I would propose that respect is the proper and logical manner in which to treat all people and all things. It is TRUST which must be earned.

I realize that it takes some amount of self-respect to treat all others respectfully. Instead, popular psychology addresses self-esteem, which appears to build itself on the principle of equality. I had a friend who grew up in California. She said that they did not believe in using the terms "sir" and "ma'am" because were terms that hearkened back to slavery. She said there were other ways to teach respect. I always wondered what that meant because every time she came over her kids got into things they shouldn't, and usually ended up breaking or destroying something.

Contrast that to Coach Ken Carter. (Have you seen the movie? It's based on a real life basketball coach starring Samuel L. Jackson as Coach Carter. Highly recommended). He requires all members of his teams to address not only himself, but one another, as "sir" because, he says, it is a sign of respect, and he requires all his players to respect one another. I would propose that if each person on this planet automatically showed respect for one another, there would be no need for so call self-esteem training. Why? Because respect cannot be taken, it can only be given.

Folks cite many reasons (economics, industrialization, the environment, etc.) as to why our modern way of life is doomed to fail. Others disagree, claiming that science, technology, and our evolving universal consciousness will save us. What's that got to do with a flag? After all, a nation's flag is just a colorful piece of cloth; it is neither holy nor sacred of itself. But as a symbol of that nation and that people, it has value greater than gold. How they treat that symbol is a reflection of what they think of themselves. To see that flag lying neglected and crumpled in that box spoke great symbolic words to me. I could not help but ask, what hope can there be for a nation that does not respect itself?