falling into winter

It’s been a bumpy autumn, but things seem to be slowing down. On the one hand, I am a summer person, and I adore the heat, long days and warm nights. On the other hand, this summer was very, very busy, and we overextended ourselves pretty badly trying to do too much. I was relieved when the cold weather finally hit and the garden could be concluded for the year, and the last of the summer interns left. We’ve had huge housefulls of people volunteering through WWOOF all summer — which has been mostly wonderful, both in terms of meeting and getting to know great people, and in terms of getting loads of work done, on the wall and around the farm — but there’s no denying it places a strain on us to host people, and especially to host more than 2-3 at a time. To do so continuously from April through October was simply too much.

But wow, we got something like 250 feet of our 300 foot wall completely built. We several bits of mopping up left to do — the apse area on the North wall needs to be built, and as it worked out, only the smallest, central apse will go in there, with the two other curves being vertical walls that we’ll build earthbag benches into the base of. We need to finish the gap at the start of the East wall where it connects to the gate; the gap where the mailbox needs to be framed in, and two gaps further south where we are finishing the sunflower insets that will become part of the external mosaic. There’s also about 15-20 feet of wall, including the last two sound-barrier apses (mirroring the north-end ones that face Isleta), to build. We’re hoping to make significant process on the east wall mopping up tasks on Saturday, and to finish that last little stretch of wall at Sunday’s work party. Even though the projected high for Sunday is supposed to be 50 degrees, *sigh*. Another month and i’ll think that 50 is pretty good, i know. i just have to spend part of every autumn lamenting the loss of summer.

The garden — our experimental CSA this year proved itself to be an experiment. We have decided that we’re not ready to go this route , and instead, we’re going to do our best to feed our family next year, and if we have surplus, we’ll offer on-farm produce sales on weekends, like Ironwood Farm does. If you want to be notified of farm sales, let us know and we’ll add you to the email list.

Jenny took on a heroic amount of canning this year — apricots from Johnny’s Garden, apples from our friend Bob Sunde, plums from Chris at Ironwood, tomatoes, and beans from our garden, cucumbers from Hannah’s. We lost most of the squash to squash bugs again, and are simply going to skip it next year, grow a few plants at Caer Aisling and let the squash bugs die out before we try again. Wretched little creatures; the chickens won’t eat them. Diatomaceaous earth works, but it kills spiders and other beneficials as impartially as it kills squash bugs & grasshoppers, so i don’t like to use it too much. Neem oil only works for about five minutes, near as I can tell. Though it does help with the grasshoppers. We were picking squash bugs off by hand every night for several weeks, but they finally got ahead of us, even so.

The corn also didn’t do as well this year as last, i think because of the variety we chose. I wasn’t able to get Seeds of Change Inca Rainbow corn in any real quantity, so I picked a Navajo red corn from Seed Savers Exchange instead, and while the stalks grew a good 12′ tall, there were fewer ears, and they weren’t as large as the previous year, and didn’t taste as good fresh. We dried what we got, and it’s very pretty, but we’ll go back to the Inca Rainbow next year.

Sunberries, on the other hand, have gone from being a fun experiment to being an invasive species. Anybody want some sunberry seeds? I have a few billion, and I guarantee I’ll be giving away unwanted sunberry volunteers next spring. They’re tasty and hardy, but slightly laborious to pick, being about the size of a currant. They’re a solanum, in the tomato family, but the fruit is sweet. We dried several jars-full, for use through the winter in soups, pressure-cooker dishes, and on cereal. The turkeys like them, which helped towards the end of summer when we could not possibly keep up with the overflow.

We planted fall crops this year, but most of them got eaten by insects or birds while they were less than an inch tall, and I didn’t have the time or energy to be out there dealing with the matter until much too late. I am discovering that I’m not a four-season gardener; I want a break. I want the cold weather to give me a reprieve. Perhaps when I can reduce my hours at my day job and give them to the garden instead, this will improve. As things stand this year, we have a few chard plants that made it, a lot of onions, and I did get the garlic into the ground for next summer. I planted more chard, radishes, beets & kale, and if any of them come up early next year, I’ll count that a success.

We’re going to all hand-tilling this year; no more tractor! I’m glad the soil is finally friable enough to be turned with a broad-fork, shovel or pitchfork instead of requiring mechanical tillage. The heavy machinery requires pulling out the whole drip system infrastructure — we need not do that this year, though we do need to dismantle the T-tape. We also had system pressure problems in the far south west end of the garden all summer, so we’re going to a two zone system this spring, with separate spigots, mainlines, and timers. That should solve for that. We know exactly where the limits are now, at least.

what else? life on the farm has largely been about the garden & the wall this summer. we processed a batch of chickens in July, and another last month, so now we’re down to our overwintering flock, about 25 hens. We still have 40 turkeys percolating away (i swear they percolate) in their pen, or loose in the barnyard, but all but 6 of them are slated to meet their destiny on the 20th-21st. We have pre-reserved 30 birds, and will process four for our own use over the coming year. We also discovered too late that the mechanical plucker we usually use on a farm-share with two other farms had been double-booked for that weekend, so we are now building our own, all of a sudden. Ultimately, this will be good, because we’ll simply have the machine on hand. And maybe we can modify it so that it can be either electric or bicycle-powered. (if you’re not familiar with poultry-plucking technology, or remember what a pain it is to do it by hand and would like to know of a better way, click here.) Of course right now the need to have this thing done in two weeks means we’re scrambling. As usual.

My next project after turkey processing is to add a layer of insulation to the yurt. I have finally decided that the R-10 radiant SolarGuard is not enough. The yurt doesn’t block out enough sound (thank you, barky-dog), and it doesn’t keep its heat well enough. So last week, I took myself up to Selle Supply and brought home a truckload of insulation — R-12.5 rigid polyiso foam for the yurt roof, R-19 cotton batt for the walls. I’m considering returning hte polyiso sheets and using cotton batt instead, but the roof doesn’t have room for the R-19 batt, which is 5″ thick, and if i did that, i’d gain probable ease of installation (maybe? — need to call Matt and brainstorm this one), and better sound-proofing, which matters a bit, but lose my radiant insulation R-value, because i can’t make a space between the existing solarguard and anything i put over it, and i’m unwilling to remove it to put something under, or go at it from the interior (god, what a nightmare that would be). I have two weeks to figure out the final plan.

I also got some R-13 cotton batt for the trailer walls, which (after being covered by an RV-cover) should help solve the same two problems in that structure, which our winter intern, Ryan, is staying in. I got enough R-13 cotton batt insulation to add a layer to the north wall of Jenny’s room, which pours cold air in all winter, through where the gap from a previous window was covered up but not insulated. I plan to spend all of Thanksgiving weekend playing with insulation, and possibly much of the following weekend as well.

all in all, i’m glad to have my focus back on the farm — it’s been external for a couple months now, as events pulled me away a bit. i’m ready to pull in for the winter, and hiberate. a good book by the fire, in a well insulated yurt, with the remains of the wall project for outdoor fun. :) we’re going to be plastering that thing until spring. that’s okay, because we’ll have it built. it’s there to be plastered. and sculpted, and ornamented with mosaic. after the building comes the fun part.