I apologize for not blogging in the last few months. They have been some of the most hectic of my life. We’ve had some good days and one very dark day. My last post was on Feb 24th, and just 2 weeks after that we finally had the happy day for which we’ve been waiting: Meaux had her baby. Introducing Geauxdilox. (like Goldilocks, but in the appropriate Cajun spelling). Geaux, for short.
I’m hoping to upload a video soon of the happy event. We have plenty of footage during labor, and plenty of sweet bonding moments after the delivery, but we seem to have gotten distracted during delivery and forgotten to video it. Pity, as I had to put my limited bovine midwifery skills to the test and pull.
We’ve also added to ram lambs to the flock, in hopes of having some newborn rams on the farm next spring. And we added some chicks as part of a 4-H project. The tomatoes are coming off by the bucket full. Stupice, that wonderful cold tolerant tomato from Czechoslovakia, is bearing the heat quite well this year and being prolific. We’ve branched out into a cucumbers and melons, as well as some wife-appeasing flowers.
All that tempers the loss we felt on April 27th, when we found my beloved Jersey cow Meaux dead. She had been sick for a few weeks, but we were hopeful that she was getting better. I went out to see her that Sunday morning and found her laying there by the hay. I have to admit that I never expected to grieve for any animal the way I did for her. I cried that entire day, and as I think back to it now, I can still feel the shock and hurt of finding her. Anytime an animal like that dies, the self recrimination never fully goes away: what could I have done better? Could I have prevented it? Is this my fault? I’ll never know. The vet couldn’t give us any one thing that was wrong with her, just a few things that, on their own weren’t life threatening.
We have her calf, and she is the spitting image of Meaux. She’s also got her stubborn streak, and her curious nature. She’s wandered onto the back porch several times. She’s also too clever, having thwarted our every attempt to wean her off her adopted momma, Deaux.
I’m planning a “Meaux-morial” video soon but for now I’ll end with this. I had absolutely no idea that my life could be enriched so much by owning that Jersey. I’d encourage everyone to go buy one. Even if you never milk her, she’ll pay you back. For $150 you can buy all the electric fence you need to keep her, and you’ll never have to mow again. It seemed so foreign to us at first, owning a cow. We felt like everyone looked at us funny when we told them what we’d done. But it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Last week we saw both a success and a failure down in the high tunnel. Due to the demands of my job, and the late sunrise, I generally can’t get down to check on my plants more than a few times a week. I’ve farmed that job out to my boys (I know, I know…”He who would pun would pick a pocket” – Master and Commander).
So it was with great joy that I made a “discovery” last week, one that I perhaps could have made much earlier had I the time to see my plants during daylight hours. Namely, that I have some green tomatoes on the vine, mostly fully grown and ready to ripen:
Of course I also made another discovery, one that was not accompanied with as much joy. Namely, that my hot water tube had failed in a spectacular and unexpected way:
Ah the joys of farming…you never know what you’re gonna get. (yes, yes…that one’s from Forrest Gump, I know…)
Today I went outside with Nick (son #2) to shoot some videos of the tomatoes and the cow. The tomato videos went well (I’ll upload them tomorrow). The cow video started well, then we got noticed by the other animals.
I was hoping to show just how full Meaux’s bag has gotten, and how we don’t think she’ll make it 3 more weeks to her due date. Then the horse wanted in the shot….and the lambs wanted whatever was in Nick’s pockets.
Life on the farm is never dull, and at times it can really make you smile…unless you’re a very pregnant Jersey heifer!
Last year my Dad bought me a copy of Angus Buchan’s book “A Farmer’s Year”. It’s a devotional book from a farmer’s perspective. Today’s entry references 2 verses.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2
1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— 2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
I have learned so much this past year about growing tomatoes. But more than that, I’ve learned more about what it means to follow Christ daily…though more often than not the lesson comes from my failures, not my successes. I’ve learned how important is it to sit down with my family each morning for breakfast, prayer and Bible reading. And each day that I neglect that job is a day that ends up going off the rails. My boys are important. My wife is important. My tomatoes, ultimately, are not important. But I’ve learned there that they are more important than other things, like watching football.
Each day that I put my priorities in the right order is a day that I succeed. Each day that I don’t is a day that I fail. Though sometimes a day’s success is measured by how little I accomplish in this world, and a day’s failure can be measured in how much I accomplish. Do I spend my entire Saturday in the greenhouse working? 8 hours of planting and tending may be a productive day, but if my boys keep asking me to throw the football with them, and I ignore them in favor of productivity, than that day is a failure. I may plant 100 tomatoes, but it’s still a day of failure.
I’m still learning. I suppose we all are until the day we go Home. Recently I learned a lesson about letting go of control, trusting and letting others help. And yes, I learned the hard way. That lesson cost me 60 tomato plants.
But from the mush of those 60 plants God has seen fit to revive 9.
They’re leggy, short on leaves and just plain ugly. They were once lush, green and beautiful…as testament to my horticultural prowess. And there in lay the problem, I think.
In the book of Judges, God gave Gideon the task of defeating the Midianite army, described as being as “numerous as locusts” and their camels were “without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude”. (Judges 7:12). Gideon started with 32,000, which was paltry compared to the Midianite army. Yet God told Gideon he had too many men, that if Gideon won the Israelites would take the credit. So God whittled them down to 300. No one on earth would ever credit 300 men with winning that battle on their own. And that’s the reason God did it. When they won (and won in the amazing manner described) God got the glory, and proved to Israel and the world that He was their protector and provider.
So, I’m left now with 15 tomato plants out of about 75. I planted 15 of my beloved Stupice tomatoes, and through a series of mysterious events I’m now left with 6 in the ground down in the greenhouse. Add to that the 9 survivors of the “Great Tomatopocalype of 2013″ and my initial bounty has been whittled down to just enough to fill that one row. I was envisioning posting a self-congratulatory video on youtube of a greenhouse full of healthy tomatoes. Instead I have one row…one paltry row. 15 plants. Gee, what a great horticulturalist I am. Of course, that’s the issue. While I may cling to “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in times of trouble, I forget that “I can do nothing without Him” in times of plenty.
I thought myself a great grower of tomatoes, forgetting all the while that God invented the tomato. He’s the first and ultimate Gardener, and anything that I do, any success I have comes only from Him. I forgot that and paid the price.
But, God is God. He can bless those 15 plants and make them grow like kudzu and produce like zucchini…or not. I’ve learned (the hard way…nothing new there) that I am NOT in control, but that’s ok. I’d rather be in His will and giving honor to Him than go it alone (again). So yes, I’m starting the year with just 15 plants. But I can’t wait to see what God will do with those 15 plants. And you can be sure that I will let you all know the mighty work that He is doing in and through those 15 plants.
Until next time…
We were scheduled to leave for 2 days for a quick Christmas visit, and the weather was originally calling for 30 degree weather. I didn’t want to leave the tomatoes covered the entire time, as they would bake in the daytime. Nor did I think I could leave them uncovered at night. So I tried a compromise, which was to cover them with straw only, for both day and night.
The good news is that the Stupice tomatoes in the ground were mostly fine. I think I lost 2 of the 10. The bad news is that it went down to 19 degrees in the greenhouse, and the 3 plastic flats full of seedlings (about 50 to 60) that I had down there (to be acclimated…hah!) pretty much died…death through mushification was the official cause of death from the local B.E. (Botanical Examiner).
I was sick to my stomach for a few hours, until I stopped to think about what God was trying to teach my through this. It would be a shame to go through a trial and miss the lesson. So, I’m trying to listen to His plan in this. I know that He can do anything He wants here, from healing the mush, to blessing my survivors, to simply having me start over. I want to beat myself up, record a long list of “I should have done this or that” statements, and moan and whine. But what would be the point. I’m not the first farmer to suffer crop loss, and this won’t be the last time it happens to me.
Our God is the Author of Creation, and is the one who invented the tomato in the first place. He can make more out of 5 mushy plants that I ever could out of 60 healthy ones. So I’m going to move forward, eagerly expecting to see what He has in store.
I know this calm sounds completely unlike me, so here’s video evidence that I could keep this attitude going for at least 2 minutes.
I love tomatoes [shocking admission, I know]. I love eating them, but I especially love growing them. And to me, the most fun comes from growing them in the winter. Unnatural? Maybe. Difficult? You bet. If it were easy, everyone would do it. I’ve been banging my head away at this winter wall for 4 years now, and this year…THIS YEAR…this will be the year that I succeed! I’ve got my varieties tested out. I’ve narrowed down the list of working heat solutions through trial and error [mainly error]. I look at the last few winters not as failures, but simply as discovering new ways NOT to grow tomatoes. [like Edison and his light bulb...yeah...that's me...a modern day horticultural version of Thomas Edison]
So here I am again at the cusp of a new winter season. My seedlings are big and hardy, having stayed inside way longer than they should have. My heating system is surprisingly successful [ok...fess up. Who out there expected disaster to strike by now? I know I did]
My first batch of tomatoes is in. Now comes the hardest part…the waiting.
When the winter tomato season got underway, I had in mind 3 ideas that I wanted to try regarding how to keep my tomatoes warm. One of them you’ve seen…using a compost pile to heat water that’s piped under the row of tomatoes. The jury’s still out on that one, mainly due to the need to turn the pile to keep the temperature up. I think if I had two piles that I turned alternately, and could disconnect one and connect the other, it would work. But I don’t have that much extra irrigation tube right now.
One of the other ideas was similar, in that it uses hot water. I’ve been thinking of different ways that I could use hot water, and how to heat it up. Water is by far a better heat conduit than air, so heating water uses less electricity over time than does heating air. What I’ve needed all along was a way to evenly distribute that heat along a bed of tomatoes, under the row cover. After all, there’s no need to heat the whole greenhouse (high tunnel)…only that portion that’s immediately surrounding my tomatoes.
So the idea came to me of using coke bottles filled with water, painted black to absorb the heat during the day. I could lay them down along the tomatoes to give off some heat at night. Then that idea morphed into a long, continuous tube of water. Then last week I found a website dedicated to aquaculture (raising fish in large tanks) about how to make your own hot water heater cheaply. And this idea was born.
Now here’s where things go off the rails. I dreamed the idea up, sketched it out in my head, went and bought the parts, assembled, plugged it in…and it worked. No leaks. No electrical fires. No failures. It simply worked, just as I had hoped. To be honest I spent half a day in sheer bewilderment, and the other half waiting on something bad to happen. This has never happened before.
So, here for your viewing pleasure is a video showing this rare occurrence…I think this video has to rank up there with the shots of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
Just when I thought we couldn’t slip down the redneck ladder any further, our lamb Lexie proves me wrong. Not only does she convince our youngest son to let her in, but she walks around like she owns the place. And what do I do, you ask? Do I hasten her departure to the great outdoors? No, of course not. I video it.
I’ve been meaning to catch you all up on what’s been going on around the farm, so here’s a quick video showing one of the things I’ve done. I’ve been working for the past few months to get my greenhouse (high tunnel) ready for the coming winter, and for tomatoes. Part of that has been to reconfigure the tunnel itself, cutting back to half the space for growing, and changing the way I close it up. As of now, the front area is set aside for tomatoes, and the back area is set aside for animals. I’ll get you a photo/video of them, but for now, here’s how the front looks.
I’ll get a Back to Eden: Compost Heat update out later this week.
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