Friday, February 12, 2016

February in the Garden and the "Second Life"

February is a strange month for weather here in Texas. Most years it is cold and dreary (at least in my memory) with the occasional warm day fluke. This year has been so very mild that I've got some serious gardening fever, but I know better. So, what do you do in the February garden?

In the greenhouse you can start: Basil, Swiss Chard, Cucumbers, Melons, and Squash. Of course you need to tend to the little seedlings you've already sprouted. Oddly enough I've been more concerned with avoiding cooking the little babies than keeping them warm (which is what you would expect from February). 

Outside, you better have your potato and onion beds prepped and ready, because they go in the ground on Valentine's Day....that is unless it is pouring rain or we are getting some deep freeze that day. With that said, I don't know that I've ever missed my Valentine's Day planting. That is just when you do it. 

The other thing you can do in February (especially when you are having fabulous weather) is to build new beds which brings me to the idea of the "Second Life." Now our farm is pretty productive and we tend to have plenty of milk, cheese, and yogurt. We also have plenty of veggies and even some fruits, but the thing we produce the most of...."waste" and compost. 

Let's just start with that lovely milk I just get milk we feed bagged feed (from the lovely folks at Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill). The feed comes in 50 lb. bags that are made entirely of paper (Yay, Coyote Creek!). We go through around 80 bags of feed a year...that's 80 empty bags. This time of year we hoard some to use as clean pads for obey-gooey just-borned kids, but that still leaves a lot of bags. We don't like waste around here so we've found a second life for those bags.

Coyote Creek Feed Bags heading to the garden.
 We do most of our gardening in raised beds and every year we have to grow a little. We use those paper feed sacks to line the bottoms of the raised bed frames. This serves to kill the grass underneath without adding anything nasty to our growing space.
We also find ourselves with lots of little piles of deadfall in the winter. Some of that makes its way into the house for kindling, some gets left in a pile awaiting the yearly renting of the chipper which turns it into mulch, but some of it goes into the bottoms of the raised beds for drainage and for slow composting. (Look up Hugelkultur).

Pecan Tree Deadfall
For whatever reason, I find the using of all the "waste" materials very gratifying. I love it that I am using something that would otherwise have to be disposed of. I'm not one of those Zero Waste Fanatics and although I just called them fanatics I do respect them...It cannot be easy to live that lifestyle. I'm a little more realistic, because I'm pretty sure I can't run this farm without creating some waste...okay, a LOT of waste. My job then is to use it up, turn something into nothing, redefine my waste and I'm getting pretty good at it.

Raised bed lined with cardboard boxes.
Rather than cart our "waste" to the recycling center (which is a pain in the ass) we try to use as much of it as we can. The above bed is lined with plain cardboard with all the labels and tape pulled off. Remember it's job is just to kill the grass below and this works great too.
Hugelkultur style: feed sacks on bottom, sticks next.
Once the sticks are in the bottom I clean the stalls in the barn and bring out load after load after load of "waste"...both hay and poop. That lovely milk comes from some very messy and subsequently wasteful goats. They drop half of every mouthful of hay on the floor and then (thank goodness) they don't eat it off the floor. Sometimes folks with animals complain about the wasted hay or the volume of poop, but I would never complain about either of's just mulch and compost to me. Those whiners just need to start gardening and give their "waste" a Second Life.
Sacks, Sticks, Hay and Poop

Once I've filled all the beds, I then begin spreading the hay/poop from the barn in beds that are not raised using what I now know is the Ruth Stout Method. For me, "it was the holy shit (no pun intended) there is too much of this...what do I do now?" method. You might say this method is for lazy people, but I'm definitely not lazy. Mostly I'm desperate...desperate to clean the barn and not just make piles of composting materials that will have to be moved again and again. I figured out this deep mulch method after a couple of years of moving the same compost two, three, maybe even four times. Now, I dump it where I would eventually like to plant. It is a slow process, but it yields beautiful results.
Jen's Lazy Method
The picture above was mulched last year. In the picture, I'm just beginning to add another layer of mulch because what you see mid-photo is soil, weedless, lovely soil ready for planting and I. DID. NOTHING. Nothing at all except dump my "waste" and spread it out a bit.

A couple of days ago I cleaned the milkers' barn and moved about 25 loads of beautiful future compost, thus giving their "waste" a Second Life. It helps me to define it as a Second Life. It reminds me that we and the gardens and the animals are connected in inextricable ways. I care for the goats, whose milk nourishes me, whose "waste" nourishes our gardens and feeds us and them. This farm is one big lovely circle and we try to keep all the elements in the loop. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Keeping all the Balls in the Air: January 2016

With a new year upon us I decided to try a few things to stay more organized, waste less (time and food and energy), and keep better records. It almost sounds like I made a Resolution to get organized, waste less, and keep better records, but really I'm not making any resolutions this year. Really, I swear; resolutions never stick. 

Instead, I did the whole "choose a word" thing for this for me (Authentic) and one for the farm (Simplify). Last year's farm motto was "Work Smarter, Not Harder" so I feel like I'm just continuing 2016 on the foundation I laid last year with my attempts to simplify (and organize) things further. 

If you have more than one job and wear many hats like I do, then you know that keeping all the balls in the air is crazy-hard sometimes. Seriously, it is NOT easy. I only work two days away from the farm, but even on those days I have to do the farm chores too. Some days I juggle like a Master Level Ninja Clown....some days I am just a clown. I have to have routines to get it all done.

The barn command center.

Some time last year I added the chalkboard to the barn. Occasionally someone else does the chores without me there to boss them around, but all the feeding info was in my head. It occurred to me that if I ever got knocked on the head and couldn't do the chores or boss someone around we might find ourselves in trouble. The board immediately came in handy, until we realized that I never updated it when I changed rations. Oops! I rectified that problem and the board is now current and correct and anyone could come in and feed my girls. So a couple of weeks ago I went one step further and I added the dry erase board. This assigns chores to specific days to remind me, or point someone else in the right direction if I'm not there to give orders. So far, things are going pretty smoothly using this system.

One page of the bullet journal.
 Someone (hrmm, hrmm) pointed out that I had not done a very good job of keeping my farm records this year and I almost always screw up the monthly budget by forgetting to add something, so I needed a better way to manage all the papers, receipts, info, and numbers that bombard me all day long.

I googled around and happened upon the idea of a bullet journal and I started immediately. OH MY, you are going to laugh at me when I say this, but this freakin' thing has changed my life! I actually think this Bullet Journal thing might be a cult, but I DO. NOT. CARE. This is awesome. Since today is February 1st I can go on record as saying that this works for me. I've made a few adjustments, but WOW...I kept records for a full 31 days. Accurate, complete records. That's never happened before. NEVER.

So, true to form I'm not doing it exactly like the traditional bullet journal, but this way is working for me. Pictured to the left is the daily column system I'm using. I decided up front what I wanted to keep track of....some is business and some is just fun.

Each day I fill in my "template" which includes: What I'm reading; what I'm watching; what's going on on the farm; how many eggs, how much milk; who milked; what's happening in the garden/greenhouse; the weather; what I'm doing that day; What we are eating that day; money spent; blog post ideas. That might seems like a cumbersome list; however, it is so NOT.

The column prompts are all abbreviated and look like this: R. W. F. Eggs. Milk. Garden. WX. Do. Food, $$, Blog. Same thing every day and so much easier keeping everything in one place.

Each day (or couple of days) I stick in a post-it list of things to do on those days. I mark them off, then record them under the Do category. Instant record keeping and my counters and desk are no longer littered with To Do Lists that we lost or abandoned. One list. I used to feel like nothing was ever getting done because I had 3 or 4 or 5 lists running at once. Now, I feel like I've gotten better at juggling all the things that have to happen in a week. Of course, I've employed a few other sneaky tricks to keep myself on track that didn't come from the bullet journal. Each week I label each of the seven days as either: Work (2), Farm/Garden (2), Sew (2), or Housekeeping/Laundry (1). I use a post-it note to make these days mobile and, if the weather is nice I might switch a farm/garden day for the sewing day. Or if something pops up that needs priority I just swap the post-its. I haven't felt like I was giving all my time to one thing...ahhhh, balance.

 Under the $$ category, I put all the receipts, rounded up, but I also added a page for recording farm receipts and mileage. Again, ALL IN ONE PLACE. I've been a little bit of a Spendy Sue lately and I've been tracking the days that I don't spend anything. Alas, I could do better, but I coded each expenditure as household, personal, crafts, books, or farm. So, sometimes when I'm spending money I'm not actually being naughty and I can tell at a glance what my habits are; which brings me to the Habit Tracker.

Habit tracker.
The Habit Tracker includes quite a bit of legit info, but it also serves as an accountability partner. For example, I would really like to get back to a daily yoga practice...sadly, I only marked three days this month....but next month I can do better. Visually motivating, huh?

I'm tracking a lot of very different things here, and it is cool to see the whole month at a glance. Besides yoga, I am trying to get a walk in each day...this month: 13. I milked 22 days (but was in the barn all 31 days of the month for morning chores). I worked 32 hours at my teaching job. The chickens laid 67 eggs. I did 23 loads of laundry, but only hung 4 on the line. See? Cool, huh?

Besides the daily bullet list and the habit tracker. I included a page at the beginning with goals for that month with little check off boxes to tick off when I accomplish something. I divided my monthly goals into several categories: Garden; Farm; Creative Business; Personal; and Blog. I didn't accomplish every item on the list, but I'm happy with what I did accomplish. I got every thing done that had a specific date, i.e. all the seed starting for this year's garden was done on time (probably for the first time ever).

The beautiful thing about the bullet journal (at least for me) is the idea of "migration". This means that things that don't get checked off this month, just migrate to the next month. I love pressure. I have also been applying the migration technique to the daily To Do sure does make the list less daunting.

Since my bullet journal has a Food category, I'll tell you too that labeling the outside of the freezer is the BEST thing I ever did to help us avoid food waste and stay organized.
Freezer Inventory.
Mom and I have discussed more than once the shared perception we have of our preserved food. 
There is this window of time when you don't allow your to dip into the reserves because it is "for winter," but then winter comes and you're still running to the store each week.

So, after we talked about this a couple of times I challenged myself to cook from the pantry, freezer, and garden. Without this nerdy organizing method I would have NO idea what was in the freezer and it is working really well. Part of the information I included in my bullet journal is the recipes I'm using during this time and perhaps I'll share that in another post.

Well, that's the January recap though it appears to be a major plug for bullet journaling and maybe it is. I'm gushing over this technique. I feel calm and balanced and in control. I know what has to get done: I have time to do it, but if I don't it can just "migrate" to the next page. There is freedom in that and sanity and less call for juggling and more time for Me and Us.