Keepin' Up with LIG
Monday
Apr302012

A lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous

In order to grow stuff, you have to have water.  We have a very small pond on our farm, but it is it not adequate for irrigation, so our only option was to drill an irrigation well.  We started the process in the most logical way, we thought, by calling up a well drilling guy.  Michael got in touch with Kevin, the well-drilling guy, and asked him about coming out to consult with us about a well.  He asked if we had a permit for the well. We didn’t, so I called the county and asked for an application for a well permit.  The nice lady asked me our address.  I told her that we don’t have an address.  Our farm is just a field, and no house will be built there for quite some time.  In an effort to clear things up, I told her where our farm is located (“It’s right on Batten Farm Road across from the red brick house.”).  As it turns out, it’s not quite enough to let the county people simply know the directions to your farm.  You have to have an actual address.  She kindly informed me that the 911 operator is the person to contact to get an address.  Who knew?!?  I got in touch with the 911 operator, and our field now has an address.  We applied for an irrigation well, but before it could be approved, a county inspector had to come out and take a look.  His visit was very anticlimactic (I’m not sure what we were expecting), as he simply asked where we wanted the well, spray painted an orange circle with a “W” inside of it (which we can only assume stands for “well”), and stuck a pink flag in the ground to mark the spot.  With the approved well permit in hand, we got back in touch with Kevin.  During this second conversation, he asked Michael if we had electricity on the farm.  Electricity??  Oh yeah, I guess the pump has to be powered somehow.  At this point, we both were feeling very embarrassed.  I must say, that in spite of our obvious lack of knowledge at every level, every single person we talked to was incredibly helpful and kind.  

When you need electricity, you call the power company, right?  So, that’s what we did.  A fellow from Progress Energy came out to the farm.  We were nervous about this visit, because we had heard stories of the high cost of having to run electric lines.  As it turns out, we had a bit of luck, and he told us that he could run a service line out to the pump for free since there was a transformer directly across the street.  Yay!!  He then asked us if we had arranged for an electrician to set the electrical pole.  Again, we were confused.  I mean, isn’t setting electrical poles what the power company does?  Evidently not.  We remembered that the father-in-law of a neighbor (who has also been incredibly generous and helpful to us since we moved here) is an electrician.  We called him up, and in a few days we had ourselves a brand new electrical pole, and he even put in an outlet for us.  When the well guy came back out, he remarked about what a great job the electrician did in setting the pole.  He shook the pole back and forth, and it didn’t move a bit.  The well drilling rig came out last week, and we were delighted when they hit 60 gallons per minute at 160 feet, a veritable geyser in the world of irrigation.

So, where are we now with the well?  Well, we don’t have water yet.  Kevin gave us some options for a pump:  expensive, more expensive, and super expensive.  We took the middle option.  It’s in and waiting to be installed.  Also, Progress Energy let us know that the transformer is located on the property of our across-the-street neighbor (the guy who lives in the brick house), and they have to get permission to get an easement in order to run the service line out to the pole.    I wondered, can’t we just walk across the street and ask him, but evidently it requires official paperwork.  That was two weeks ago.  Meanwhile, we have potatoes and onions in the ground, 50 sweet potato slips to be planted this week, and several hundred tomato plants outgrowing their soil blocks and waiting to be planted.  Presently, we are carrying water over to the farm in a big water tote in the back of the pickup and watering with water cans.  We can make-do for a little while with this method, but it is very inefficient and won’t suffice once it starts to get hot (which apparently starts tomorrow, with several days predicted to be in the upper 80s and 90s).  When Michael and I decided to start farming, we new that we had a steep learning curve ahead of us, and this experience has only served to confirm that.  But, we are learning, and we are making-do.  I think there’s something to be said for having to make-do.  Let’s just hope that we don’t have to make-do for too much longer.

Good night folks,

Caroline & Michael

Thursday
Apr122012

Local Farmers, National Spotlight!

Today, our friends and fellow farmers Chad and Jodi Ray of Ray Family Farms in Bunn, NC were recognized as "Champions of Change" at the White House for their commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship across their business ventures.  You can read more about it all here.  Congratulations, Chad and Jodi!  It couldn't be more deserved!

If you're in the Raleigh area, do yourself a favor and visit their farm and buy some of their delicious meats.  Check them out at the Ray Family Farms website.

Take care,

Michael

Thursday
Apr052012

The Spring Bustle

First, I apologize for the lack of updates over the last month or two.  It turns out that moving, working full-time, and starting a farm make for a busy life.  There are many, many exciting things happening in the LIG world at the moment and here are reports on a few of them:


- After a long and harrowing saga, our seeds are growing!  Two and a half weeks ago, we planted 600 tomato, pepper, eggplant, and flower seeds.  We planted the seeds in soil blocks, an alternative to the usual molded plastic cells that you see seedlings in.  You make soil blocks using a mix with a slightly different composition than most seed-starting mixes.  You get the mix quite wet, use a handy-dandy soil blocking tool to press the blocks out, drop the seeds in the little hole, and carry on. 

Soil blocks not only save you the cost of the molded plastic cell trays, but they promote better root development through “air pruning.”  Rather than ending up with the plant’s roots winding themselves all around the plastic cell, they stop when they hit air.  This helps to reduce transplant stress.  And besides, they’re just fun to make.  So, after seeding all of our blocks, we left them in one of our sheds to germinate.  Two days later, we come home to find every single seed gone.  Almost none of the soil blocks were disturbed at all except for the missing seeds, suggesting that we unwittingly provided a buffet for some resident mice.  My only consolation was that 100 of the seeds were hot peppers, which hopefully led to painful mouse digestive issues.  Having fortunately lost only two days, we reseeded the flats and moved them into the safety of the dining room.

 

The next task was to build our small “caterpillar” tunnel greenhouse.  I first came upon this design in Eliot Coleman’s book Four Season Harvest and just recently saw a larger version in action at In Good Heart Farm in Garner.  It’s quite a simple and genius design.  

If you’re interested in building one or just curious, send an email and I’ll give you all of the information.  I might even make a special post about it soon.  Anyways, our seeds are now in the cozy confines of a 15” caterpillar tunnel.  The flowers popped up within days, most of the tomatoes are up, and the peppers and eggplant are starting to pop up as we speak.  We planted an “insurance” round of flats yesterday to account for any poor germination or surprise maladies that come up.  I can almost taste the Sungold tomatoes already!

- We have 49 chicks!  Last Thursday, we picked up a flock of day-old chicks, including Black Australorps, Ameracaunas, Marans, and sex link hybrids from Edina Hood of Hood Farms in Goldsboro. 

They’re currently housed in a shed in a small brooder I made out of spare lumber and a couple heat lamps.  The australorps, ameracaunas, and marans were all “straight run,” meaning that they cannot be sexed until they are older, so we have about a 50% chance of any of them being male or female.  The sex links are hybridized such that you can tell their sex by their color when they come out of the shell.  The females of the bunch will be our laying flock.  A few of the males will be kept around for performance of their “male duties” as we try our hand at chicken breeding next year.  Those that don’t make the cut will make for some delicious chicken pastry come fall.

 

- Last weekend, our friend Dane came down from Richmond and helped us with converting this old livestock trailer into a mobile chicken coop that we can move around the pasture in order to keep the chickens in fresh forage and distribute their wondrous poop evenly across the land.  It’s currently about 75% complete and we’ll post some pictures as soon as the conversion is complete.

 

- CONTEST!  This brings us to the contest for this post.  Our chicken coop on wheels needs a name.  They’re sometimes referred to generally as henmobiles or eggmobiles, but we demand a little more character than that.  Other good ideas, such as Freebird, are already taken.  We’ve been thus far unsuccessful at coming up with a name that meets the high standard we set for ourselves, so we’re opening it up for public comment.  Just include your suggestion in an email or a comment to this post.  Any idea that is approved by the LIG Critter and Equipment Nomenclature Committee with a two-thirds majority will be rewarded with a free dozen of LIG farm fresh eggs.

- I neglected to announce the winner of our previous contest.  The movie reference in the post was “Oh George, not the livestock!”, which is one of the many lines that I can quote from the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?”  There were many correct submissions.  The first official correct submission came from my brother, Andrew Lang.  However, he was kind enough to defer on the prize citing the “kin ineligibility clause.”  The first non-kin correct submission came from Katie Eakes.  Congratulations Katie and thanks to everyone who responded!

Take care,

Michael

Monday
Mar052012

Deeply Rooted

Saturday morning Michael and I ate breakfast at the local diner – the Backdoor Café.  It’s not actually named the Backdoor Café any longer, but is now named Martha’s Kountry Kitchen.  Our waitress (I don’t know if it was Martha or not) explained to us that they don’t have enough money now to change the outside sign.  While we were eating, Michael reminded me that the railroad right outside the diner was the railroad crossing where my great-great grandfather met his demise.  This tidbit took me aback.  I am not from Johnston County, and I have no immediate family living in Johnston County now.  However, it was striking to me yesterday, while eating my breakfast, just how deep my family roots are here.  My direct lineage traces back in the immediate area of our farm to 1783, 229 years ago.  My maternal grandfather, Calvin Wellons, grew up in Micro, and my Maternal Grandmother, Jean, grew up in Kenly.  Charles Wesley was my great-great grandfather.  He was the child of a fellow named Erastus (greatest name ever!). Charles was a farmer but was also known to be a great fisherman and was of the few who owned an A Model Ford. So, kinda like the first kid in your high school to turn 16, he was well liked.  Anyway, on the day of Charles’ death, he was driving down “downtown” Micro, and chatting with some of his fishing buddies who were sitting in front of the Fitzgerald Store (perhaps what is now Backdoor Café).  Inexplicably, he drove onto the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train.  As the newspaper article in the Smithfield Herald noted, “The Northbound Train No. 34 struck him, demolishing his car, while he miraculously escaped death.”  He was taken aboard the train and carried to the hospital in Rocky Mount and died the next day.  He was 70 years old.  As a side note, Charles was well known as an expert fiddler, and he played for many square dances in Johnston County.  He was also a noted maker of good cider and wine.  I think I would have liked to have known my great-great-grandfather, Charles.   

Two weeks ago we moved to Johnston County.   We moved to a house across a street and field from where our farm is located and where we will eventually build our home.  My grandparents bought the house where we are living in the 80s, but one mile down the road is the “homestead” where my grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great father lived.  To me, that is quite something.  Nowadays, it seems like nobody is actually “from” where they currently live.  I find it to be quite surreal, satisfying, and comfortable to be living in a place where so many of my ancestors made their home.  My grandmother tells me often that my grandfather (who died in 2006) would be so happy to know that one of his grandchildren is living on and farming his land.  I loved my grandfather very much, and it is crazy how much I still miss him and think about him.  My grandparents are/were amazing people, and I can only hope to emulate their morals, generosity, capabilities, and love that they demonstrated and gave of freely.  I feel my grandfather’s presence here, and it feels good.  

Monday
Feb132012

LIG Updates: Farm magic, guard donkeys, and more!

Greetings from LIG!

A few quick updates:

1.  Hikers on the Appalachian Trail have a special name for fortuitous events or instances of serendipity...a cold soda left by the trail on a 90 degree day, a generous ride into town from a complete stranger.  It's called "trail magic," and I'd like to document an instance of a similar occurence of something I'll call "farm magic."   As you can see in our picture on the "Our Story" page of the site, we have come to have a beautiful old Farmall Super A.  When considering equipment we would need to buy for our farm, we had whittled our options down to a walk behind 2-wheeled tractor (e.g., BCS) or a Farmall Super A, which was recommended to us as an ideal cultivating tractor.  As we were beginning our search in earnest, we discovered that Caroline's grandfather had a Super A that had been stashed away in her grandmother's garage for years.  Farm Magic, Exhibit A.  While driving in the area of our farmstead-to-be a while back, I passed an old repair shop about two miles from our house.  Behind the old repair shop was about a solid acre of old Farmall tractors, parts, and implements.  The sign on the old shop said "Closed," but two phone numbers were listed.  I called them both, left messages, and heard nothing for a week and a half.  Then, I got a call from a man who was the son of the repair shop owner, who had passed away last year.  It turns out that the man's father had worked for International Harvester (the company that produced Farmalls) and the son had serviced Farmalls from the time he was ten years old.  Farm Magic, Exhibit B.  The man was able to tell me to the detail everything that I needed to get the setup that I wanted for the Farmall for tillage and cultivation.  We met with him two weeks ago and now are an afternoon of work away from having 16 horsepower at our disposal to disc our fields, prepare the beds, and cultivate some weeds.  Some pictures of the Farmall toy store and the equipment we brought home:


 

2.  We’re getting ready to finalize the summer seed order.  On the list: green beans, drying beans, cucumbers, eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, melons, field peas, peanuts, peppers, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.  I’m looking forward to growing drying beans and peanuts for the first time.  These may not make it to market…they’re more of an experiment to see what we can do with them.  My goal is to be able to grow our own stash of drying beans for the year and enough peanuts to make my peanut butter for at least part of the year.  I’m a man who likes his peanut butter.  Also among the highlights that are already making me salivate thinking of their ripe summer delicousness are Anaheim chili peppers; red, white, and blue potatoes, and San Marzano tomatoes.

3.  We're struggling over how to go about establishing pasture.  A tall fescue/clover mix would be perfect for stockpiling forage into the winter, but allegedly doesn't perform as well in our area as bermuda.  Bermuda, however, is dormant for four months during the winter.  And then you have to worry about endophyte toxicity in the fescue.  A multi-forage cocktail sounds great, but what if half of it doesn't come up?

4.  "Oh George, not the livestock!" - Apparently, there is a pack of coyotes running rampant in our neck of the woods, in one instance killing multiple chickens and a fox that was about to kill the chickens himself.  One good thing that could come of this is that we may end up buying a guard donkey.  I will be a fair bit more satisfied with life come the day I have a guard donkey.