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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ask Annie

Some of you have asked questions, here on the blog, on Facebook or via email.

I'll open it up to any questions you might have.  No question to big or small!
You could ask a question like "How do you keep your kids clean living on a farm?"

Or, "How do your kids get along so well?"

Or, "Do you ever take nude pictures?"

Or, "How do you style your son's hair?"

Really, you can ask me anything!

Except maybe what the floor looks like under my kitchen table...that's even worse than naked chickens.

So, if you've got a question, feel free to leave it in the comments.  You don't have to use your real name, I take pseudonyms or anonymous names.  
Or you can email it to me via morningjoyfarm {at} hotmail {dot} com

Ask away!!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thank goodness for friends and the internet

As you know, I've been in Michigan this week at a Carbon, Energy and Climate conference.  I've heard a LOT of research.  I've even seen "organic" research plots.  I've worked with land grant university and extension staff all week.  Today we had to discuss our take-aways from the conference.

I don't think they want to hear mine.

Here's my take-away:  Land grant universities and associated extension staff are not doing any meaningful organic research.  The VERY limited so-called organic research done at a few of these institutions will not benefit organic producers because they do not farm that way.  Nor is the university based, linear, reductionist approach appropriate for organic research.  Any organic production is a systems approach, a holistic approach and that can't be studied in parts.

The words "sustainable" and "organic" have been pilfered and abused.  Many land grant universities have used these words to get funding for research.  And then doing research that isn't of value to sustainable or organic producers.

My hopes were raised when I heard that there was organic research being done.  Finally, we would have data driven experts to help us!

Those hopes have been dashed, but all is certainly not lost!

We shall continue on as a network of organic and truly sustainable farmers who share and learn from each other.  We shall continue with field tours, both those that are planned and those unplanned.  We shall continue to meet to share best practices and suggestions for better management.  We shall continue crop selection and development as farmers have done for millenia.  We shall continue to post information, ideas, problems and possibilities online for others to share in.  We shall continue to look to nature to understand 'how now shall we farm'.  We shall continue to nurture, steward and build the soil, feed our neighbors and save the world.

Thank goodness for friends....and the internet.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Quit Screwing Around and Do It!

I spent the day in research presentations this morning and field presentations this afternoon.  I did soil tests, seeded cover crop trials, measured plant stands per acre and carbon dioxide emissions from corn plants.

For most of the day, I heard polite data and suggestions for possible farming techniques.  To be honest, I almost fell asleep a couple of times.  There was a distinct lack of passion in the room.

Then came Dr. Dwayne Beck from the Dakota Lakes Research Center near Pierre, SD.  His passionate and no-nonsense presentation was inspiring!  He wasn't afraid to speak his mind, rather than hide behind a bar graph.  And I quote, "We need to stop screwing around with conservation tillage, that's an oxymoron.  There is no such think as conservation tillage.  You can't manage an ecosystem that's been tilled.  It's a catastrophic event!"  Ahhhh, refreshing!

Whether you agree or disagree, you have to admire his moxie and his passion.

He has done some amazing work with zero-till and cover crops.  His research farm hasn't been tilled in 22 years, they haven't used insecticide in 14 years and have many fields that do not use herbicides.

There has been lots of discussion and sharing of numbers (oh the numbers!) but precious little discussion on actual practice.  I love people who walk their talk.  It's very easy to say, "The projections say blah, blah, blah."  When you don't actually have to put any seed in the ground, when your livelihood doesn't doesn't depend on your guess-timation.  But those who 'quit screwing around and do it' have my unending respect.

Go forth, quit screwing around and do it!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bad Science

This week I'm at a Carbon, Energy and Climate conference in Michigan.  At this conference, there is a lot of research presented.  Lots of numbers.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a numbers gal.  If I have to pick, I like qualitative research over quantitative any day.

But as a scientist (a biologist with a minor in geology), I've done research (geologic research on global climate change) and had to write research papers.  I know the importance of a good study, of accuracy, of comparison.

I tell you that to tell you this...

My blood pressure is high today.  Very high.

I spent the afternoon on field tours, looking at research plots and fields.  One study in particular has my blood boiling.  This trial compared corn, soybeans and wheat rotations comparing conventional production, minimum input production, no-till production and organic production.  This trial also used cover crops. This trial has been going for 15 years.  They are using cover crops of red clover, rye and oilseed radish, planted in monoculture.  The purpose of this long-term study was to determine the yield and organic matter data of these different production systems.

Here are my issues:

  • In many organic systems, perennial crops such as alfalfa or grasses are used in crop rotations for several years.  This allows soil biology to regenerate and thrive as in a no-till environment.  In the 15 years of this trial, no perennial rotations were used.  Tillage was the main tool, at times the only tool, used for weed management.  What about rotary hoes, roller crimpers, flaming, or harrows?  All of these techniques minimize soil disturbance and would preserve the valuable soil structure.
  • Cover crops were used as monocultures.  Many organic farmers plant mixes of cover crops to increase biomass both above and below the soil surface.  Different crops provide, scavenge, or use different nutrients in the system.
Finally, and most importantly,

  • The conventionally farmed fields/plots were treated with synthetic fertilizer.  The organic fields/plots were not amended in any way.  No animal manures, no compost.  When questioned on this production practice, the research staff responded "We wanted to see how the organic responded on its own with no outside inputs."
OK, when you learn how to structure a comparative research study, one of the most important parts is that you have to have data to compare.  And that data has to be gathered from comparable systems.  These systems are anything but comparable.  It's not even apples to oranges.  It's apples to rocks.  Organic production is a system.  It is a sophisticated balance of systems that work together.  It is NOT conventional production with the absence of synthetic chemicals.  As Hubby said when I was ranting to him, "Well, they should take the crutches out from the conventional system and see how long it will last."  But of course they wouldn't do that because no conventional farmer would farm that way.  Well, I've got news for you, no organic farmer farms THAT way!

The piece of research that gave me hope was that the no-till plots and the organic plots both showed increases in organic matter throughout this time.  Even with mismanagement, their version of organic is still building soil!

As we were leaving the plots and walking to the wagon, one of the extension agents said, "If I was an organic farmer, I'd be pissed.  That doesn't sound like any organic farm that I know."  I almost hugged him!  

I AM pissed.  This is the kind of shoddy research that will  hit the headlines in a year or two and tout "This Proves That Organic Can't Feed The World!"  And when it does, I will agree.  Your version of organic production isn't organic at all, it's starvation.  It will determine how long the soil can continue to produce in the absence of a whole systems approach to organic farming.  But it will not determine the production capacity of organic production.  

My blood pressure may be high, but so is my resolve to question and urge good science practices.  And apparently, teach land-grant university researchers about organic production...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Monday night I made an impromptu visit to the home of my parents' best friends.  This couple have known me my entire life.  I grew up in their home, playing in their yard, boating on their lake, laughing with their kids.  This family IS my family.

As we laughed and shared together, my heart was filled in a way it hasn't been for a over a year.

What is it about family?  Whoever those people are that we call "family"...

F - FUN - The family that laughs together loves each other.  When my parents would get together with their two couple friends, the kids would have to go into the dining room and ask them to hold down their laughter so we could watch our movie.  They laughed and laughed and fun was had by all.

A - ALWAYS THERE - Families are there for each other.  To celebrate the good times, to grieve the bad times.  This couple held us when Dad died, cooked for us, came to check on me while I've been cleaning out the farm, and will be there to help with the sale.

M - MAKING TIME - Families make time for each other.  My parents played cards with their friends often.  Celebrated birthdays, end-of-school days and other fun times by going out for a Coke or supper. They even hosted and were willing accomplices in a surprise anniversary party for my parents.

I - INSPIRATION - Families inspire one another.  By providing examples of love, kindness, and friendship.  By living those examples every day, by sharing them with others.  The truth of the matter is that real inspiration is not found at stadium-filled worship events with polished speakers, it is found in the quiet moments of servant leadership.

L - LOYALTY - Families are loyal to each other.  When their son got married two years ago, I told Hubby that we WOULD be at that wedding.  He's not a fan of weddings and asked why I was making go to this particular one.  I said, "Because I have known him longer than my own sister.  He's my other brother.  And there are pictures of us together in the tub as babies!"  And, my friends, if there are baby-tub pictures, there is loyalty.

Y - YES - Families say "yes".  They say yes to going to a movie, to come over for dinner, for their kids to spend the night, to be a pallbearer, to carry boxes.  Even when it would be easier to say no, families say yes.  Yes to blessing each other, yes to serving each other in love, and yes to all the things that make life worth living.

And that's what my "family" is to me!
(With special love and affection for Steve, Avis, Travis and Robyn...)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The log in my eye

I've spent a lot of time dealing with my folks' stuff.  Which makes me think of my own stuff.

Like this stuff.  My craft closet.  I need to address that major mess.

 And my craft books, lots of them need to go.

In this room, I look in the mirror and I clearly see my own mess.

I've been so busy working on my parents' speck, I've neglected the log in my own eye.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

When you buy a mom a laminator...

When you buy a mom a laminator,

She'll use it often.

Because that mom finds some pre-school curriculum ideas,  

Her teacher-brain kicks in and she starts to develop a plan.

And this plan consists of continuing to keep her children at home, where they've always been.

To learn together, just like they always have.

And then she'll get a letter saying that for $20 per day, her daughter could go to pre-school.

And then she'll turn to Hubby and say, "Do you know what I could do with $20 a day for pre-school?"

So that mom continues to read a lot to her kids, makes copies and learning games...and does lots of laminating.

And this former high school teacher is getting pretty excited about starting pre-school.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Potty Training

For the past two months, Kiddo2 has been without diapers.  Yes, we are using the toilet!  In fact, it has been over a week since we've had an accident of any kind.  I think I can safely say that he is potty trained.

Whew!  Two down, one to go.  And I'm looking at her with eager anticipation...

With the recent emphasis on using the toilet, this excitement has spilled over to our playtime.  I overheard bathroom instructions being given by both Kiddo1 and Kiddo2.  I had to investigate.

They were busy toilet training their beloved bunnies!

Now, if only they would teach their sister...

(This should be my last blurry photo, for I have a new camera!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit - It's tomato season!

It's tomato season!  These 50+ pounds I cooked down for just a simple sauce.  I'll use that sauce later this winter for my once-a-month meals and for canning homemade pork and beans.

Of course, no food preparation is done independently of small children.

Kiddo3 ran the crank for a while and then just watched the juice run out in complete fascination.  
(Kinda like her mom the first time I used a Victorio Food Mill!)

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to Milk a Goat

We've had goats for about four months now, we got them in May.  As I've told you before, there are a lot of myths surrounding goats, particularly goat milk.

Here's how we milk our goats:

First, prepare your goat milking equipment.  We do a homemade udder wash/teat dip that has to be made fresh for each milking.  We use two 1/2 paper towels to clean and a small dixie cup to dip.  Also in our basket is a goat brush and a hobble.

Our goats are pastured with our flerd and are moved every day to fresh grass.  That means that everyday I go to where the flerd is to fetch the lovely Suzanne.
Suzanne always comes to the corner.  She loves to milk!

Even though we have three goats, we only milk Suzanne.  Why?  Scarlet is dry (not giving milk right now) and Rosie is very busy caring for her twin boys.  We will pen them at night at some point and milk her just in the mornings, but that hasn't happened yet.

We snap on a leash and head for the milk stand.

Once on the milk stand, she's ready to eat.

 Because our goats are exclusively grass fed, they receive a portion of alfalfa pellets while they are milked.  As quick as Suzanne milks, she eats less than a cup at a milking.

Then we move to the business end of the goat.  I brush my hands down her flanks for two reasons:  to let her know I'm back there and to brush off any loose hair, grass, etc. so that it doesn't fall in the milk.

I take one of the 1/2 paper towels and wet it in the udder wash/teat dip solution.

And I thoroughly wash her udder and teats.  You can be a bit vigorous as this action helps to stimulate her to let down her milk.
Our goats are extremely clean.  If I were to need to wash her more than one paper towels worth, I would have to use a new paper towel.  Once you put a paper towel in the udder wash, you can't put it back in again.

Then we dry, also very thoroughly.  As the saying goes, "Germs can't walk, but they can swim!"  We want her to be very dry before we begin to milk.

Next we strip one squirt from each of her teats to clear the milk canals of any residual bacteria.  This milk does NOT go into the milk pail.

After all of that, now we can get down to business...actually milking the goat!
I milk from the rear, kind of a European style.  Most Americans milk from the side.  I find that awkward for two reasons.  First, Nubian goats are a large breed and I'm no small breeder so room on the milk stand is at a premium.  Second, I don't have to bend or reach awkwardly to milk.  

I've never, ever had a goat pee or poop on me or the milk pail.  None of our goats are kick-y, so the bucket is safe at the rear.  (Actually, when I start to milk, Suzanne will step her legs outward and the pail fits right under her udder.)  If we did have a kick-y goat, we would use the hobble.
See how full her udder is?  You'll want to remember that image to compare later.

The actual milking technique is quite different from the stripping motion of cow milking.  The best way I can describe it is a rolling of the fingers into a fist.
Squeeze the top of the teat between your thumb and forefinger...

Then squeeze your middle finger...

Then the fourth finger...

And finally, your pinkie finger.
 Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Some people recommend alternating your right and left hands.  Others milk them at the same time.  It depends on you and your goat's preference.  I do both in the span of a milking.  I start with alternating and then as she begins to slow down, I'll go to "power milking" with both hands at the same time.

You'll keep milking until the udder is flaccid and no more milk comes from the teats.

See the difference?

There will be some foam on top, but that's about 1.3 quarts!

We cover our milk right away to prevent anything falling in.

 Now we take our little cup and fill it with the udder wash/teat dip.

We dip each teat completely in the cup.  Why do we do this?  The milk canals in the teat are open to release the milk.  Those canals will remain open for about 30 minutes after milking and we want to prevent bacteria from moving up the canals and into her udder.

Once in the house, we strain the milk immediately through a stainless steel and paper filter.
Into quart jars, I prefer wide-mouthed.

 Delicious creamy goodness!

Then it's time to sanitize.

It takes me longer to sanitize from milking than to actually milk!

But I'm absolutely strict about proper sanitation when it comes to milk.

We use plastic lids on the jars of milk to prevent any off-flavors from metal rings and lids.  

Cool your milk immediately.  We want that milk to taste fresh and delicious!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Frumpy Farmwife Gets A Pedicare

If you have been reading here for any length of time, you'll notice a distinct lack of posts on fashion, shoes, fall trends, make-up, hair tips and other girl-y topics.

There's a good reason for that.  I don't do those things.  Not at all.  I am an embarrassment to my sister, who does all those things very well.

Of course, one might have seen this coming from early on.  My sister, who is 18 months younger, had to teach me how to play with dolls.  I didn't acknowledge their existence.

There have been occasions where I've had moments in the fashion sun, usually motivated and assisted by a friend or my sister, but they fizzled out very quickly.  I got fake nails once, but I don't garden well with fake nails.

When it comes to fashion, I make an attempt to be cool.  But I pretty much fail miserably.  I have friends who shop at thrift stores and pull together the most amazing outfits.  Not me.  I went to college in the grunge faze.  My friend Meg was trendy and cute and oh-so-fashionable in her flannel.  I looked like a homeless logger.  My fashion sense has not improved with age.  I've taken to referring to myself as "The Frumpy Farmwife".

I got my first pedicure the night before I got married.  And it was awesome!  Hubby bought me another pedicure just before Kiddo1 was born.  (Always nice to have pretty toes in the stirrups...)  Kiddo2 came early, no time for a pedicure...shucks.  Kiddo3 was a scheduled c-section (thanks to Kiddo2) so right after I my delivery appointment was made, I made a pedicure appointment.

And that has been the sum total of the pedicures in my life.  Apparently, I only get pedicures for life-changing events.

This month is my favorite farmwife's birthday.  She and I are co-laborers, each slaving away on our own farms.  With husbands that are machinists...we've started a support group.  Between us we have seven kids, from 10 to 19 months.  And, being that it is the end of the summer season, we are tired.  Deep down tired.  So she told her husband that she wanted to have a spa day with me for her birthday.  There were no openings for massages, so we just booked pedicures.  But we booked the spa pedicures.

You do have to understand that I beat the heck out of my feet.  These are the shoes I usually wear while working on the farm.  (And I don't wear socks as long unless there is snow on the ground.)  
And I put a lot of miles on those shoes.  The other day we butchered chickens and I wore a pedometer just to see and I walked over 14,000 steps, and I stand and eviscerate the chickens.  (That's over 7 miles in just a routine day of farm work!)

 So my feet take a beating.  I try and keep some polish on them just to have something pretty to look at.
(You know you love those tan lines.  I've got some at my ankles as well!)

The bottoms of my feet take the worst of it.  I have a brush in my shower just to scrub the bottom of them clean!

When we were just married, Hubby and I were snuggling in bed and he rubbed his feet lovingly against mine.  He whispered in my ear, "Honey, you don't have to wear socks to bed."  And I whispered, "I'm not wearing socks."

Do you see what kind of shape my feet are in?

I slipped my feet into sandals I've had since 2004, (Yes, the Fumpy Farmwife needs new sandals as well...) and headed to town!

First, we went to lunch.  By ourselves.  It was glorious.  We didn't have to cut anyone's food, blow on it, wipe up anything or anyone.   See?  No sippy cups in sight!  And we didn't have to jump up to get things...they brought everything to us!  (I need to see about getting a waiter at home...)

And we even ordered dessert.  And we ate is all.  Because there are no calories for mamas when they are eating in a restaurant without their children.

Then we waddled over to the spa for our pedicures.

A whole hour of conversation with my favorite farmwife.  A whole hour of relaxing, massaging chair sitting.  (I haven't sat for a whole hour since March.)  A whole hour of having the most used and abused part of my body rubbed and oiled and scrubbed and pumiced and jack hammered.

I was a bit concerned that it would be a repeat of that scene from Dumb and Dumber...

You cannot know the joy of just sitting there and watching this.

My favorite farmwife chose a tame and pretty shade of pink.  I went for some striking color.

(I was telling my favorite farmwife that my sandals were very old, she thought for a minute "I've bought these before I got married.  And that was 18 years ago!")  For sure the Frumpy Farmwife and her favorite farmwife's next mission is shoe shopping.

Don't those moms and wives look so much more relaxed and rested?

I came home and showed off my new toes.

The kids were amazed.  Kiddo2 checks my toes every morning and says, "There's those blue toes again!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit - Watermelon

Yes, I know it's Wednesday.  But yesterday we butchered 74 chickens and I processed 6 pints of salsa and 7 quarts of tomato sauce.  So, there wasn't much time to blog about watermelon.

It's September.  And that means watermelon season.  Homegrown watermelon season.

And although we didn't grow these watermelon (thanks to the local deer population), our friends did!

Not only are they local watermelon, they are from seed bred and grown right here in North Dakota by our friends at Prairie Road Organic Farm.