Springtime! (and catching up, since we’re blogging slackers)

Howdy!

We’re the worst bloggers ever. You’ve probably noticed, as you haven’t heard from us in months. Sorry ‘bout that.

Anyway, here’s the scoop. I’ll work backwards.

It’s finally getting springy around here. Well, we hope it is. That is we hope that it will stick. Exactly two weeks ago, it was in the 70s here, and I even wore flip-flops that afternoon to feel the lovely breeze on my pale winter-whiney toes. It made them happy. Then that night it got cool and didn’t get genuinely lovely again until today (now yesterday), which was glorious. Today was also the day that my daffodils finally bloomed! Also today, we took Nelson, our ponybeast, who’s gotten to be one seriously shaggy dude, out for his first real ride since the blizzards. Yesterday, he got a pedi. Nelson, that is.

Matt riding nelson between the box truck and the tractor, which has the silage wagon attached.

Matt riding nelson between the box truck and the tractor, which has the silage wagon attached.

Our first major blizzard came and dropped twenty-something inches of DENSE, wet snow! Then we lost power, which was neat. And we’d begun brooding chickens already by then (early this year, since we sold out of our frozen stash faster than we’d anticipated), but thankfully, Matt had, just weeks before converted the brooder heat to propane, instead of electric lamps, so no harm done—no one froze! We did miss the running water, though, both in the house and barns

LOTS of snow this winter.

LOTS of snow this winter.

We were lucky, and got electricity back within a day or so, though. Lots of folks in our area were out of power for several days. Which reminds me, that I should impart this clever tip: a neighbor and farmer friend suggested that we fill the bathtub if we’re expecting a big storm or blizzard. Says he does, and though we’d never thought to do it before this storm, we’ve vowed to do it going forward, seeing how out of luck we were without water. Shortly thereafter, as the most recent storm approached, we got to enact our vow, plus we extrapolated and also filled jars and pitchers for drinking water. We never lost power this time, but if we had, we’d have been set!

Did I mention we got a LOT of snow?

Did I mention we got a LOT of snow?

Since we got so much snow, Matt had to get creative to get chores done. The first morning, when we’d gotten over a foot overnight, Matt literally skied down to the silage pile, and he didn’t do it to be goofy—it was out of near necessity. The snow was so deep and heavy, you could barely walk in it, and trying to do chores would’ve been murder, so the skis kept him on top of the snow and made the trek more manageable, and even a little fun. Though, he was pretty bummed when he got down to the pile, finally got the loader started, and it promptly ran out of fuel. He had to ski back up the hill, grab a can of fuel, ski back down, and was finally able to load the wagon.

Chore skiing

Chore skiing

Later that same week, once there had been some nice sunny days and an icy crust had formed on the top of the snow, Matt, Berry, Minnie (Berry’s beagle mother), and I had an arctic outing on property. Matt skied, I hiked, and Berry shouted at him. (She’s not a fan of skis, we learned. She’s also not a fan of bicycles or horse and buggy combos, and neither is Minnie, so it’s always a treat for the Mennonites who go by our house. We have to literally call off the dogs and apologize. Fortunately, the mild-mannered Mennonites don’t seem too worried about it, and she’d never hurt them, of course, but she launches a verbal attack each time.

For anyone who’s worried, yes, our porch survived. In fact, our porch was a champ, and has been a fine venue from which to feed and watch the birds, which is my new favorite thing.

Our porch standing proudly despite the snows

Our porch standing proudly despite the snows

 

Feeding the birds from our porch.

Feeding the birds from our porch.

Anyway, the snows, while somewhat inconvenient have been an absolute gift! As you may remember, our area suffered from a crippling drought last year—the worst our county has seen in 30 years, so this was a VERY welcome bit of moisture. And what’s great about snow vs. the same amount of rain is that it sticks around longer and, as it melts, actually absorbs more effectively into the soil than rain does (rain tends to run off, meaning we don’t really get the same sort of benefit out of it). So we’ve learned that if, heaven forbid, we experience such wicked drought again, we should perform snow jigs in conjunction with our rain dances.

In related news, Matt found an updated map of the drought yesterday, and reported happily that it looks like we’re nearly recovered now!

All this recent precipitation means we’ve got stuff greening up like mad around here! The pasture where the turkeys were last year is positively glowing green, and the others aren’t far behind. Also, though we planted them very late in the season and weren’t sure they’d take, the shrubs and perennials in our porch garden and around the house seem to be coming back. Plus, as I mentioned, the daffodils are blooming, the hyacinths are nearly to that point, and the tulips are following suit. So, though it’s supposed to rain more and get a bit chilly again this weekend, I’m confident spring’s on it’s way. For real, this time.

Our porch garden coming back. Picture from a couple weeks ago. It's even happier looking now.

Our porch garden coming back. Picture from a couple weeks ago. It’s even happier looking now.

Before that, the big deal in these parts was the beam. “The beam” may not sound significant to you, dear reader, but it is exceptionally significant in our household. And that’s because the beam replaced what used to be two walls that divided our living room, dining room, and kitchen into three tiny, stupid rooms. Well the living room used to be an OK size, but the other two were genuinely stupid. So NOW they’re all one lovely (ish… there’s plenty more glamorizing to do, but this was a GIANT leap for wonky-farmhouse-kind) space, wherein I can be boiling tea or slicing veggies, in what used to be our tiny, sequestered kitchen box, without losing out on the action in the living room!

The beam!

The beam!

Matt and I had ordered lumber for the beam early last spring, but never got around to putting it in, so Matt’s older brother, who’s a timber frame pro and his charming and lovely wife, gave me a “we’re coming to do your beam” voucher for Christmas! And they did! And it’s amazing!

Also, we replaced our old two-story stove. What’s that? You’ve never heard of such a thing, you say? I’m not shocked; it was a pain to use, and went extinct shortly after it’s own brilliant invention, I’m sure. Ours came with the house. Anyway, now we have a single story unit (my folks’ old stove), which has added to the openness the beam provided. The whole effect is the bees knees, so I’m looking very forward to preparing some delicious fresh meals there this summer!

Before all the blizzards, before the beam, and before we began raising chicks for the year, we were on our big winter (cause when else can farm folks get away?) Down South & Out West vacation. It was pretty great. We started in OKC, celebrating the holidays with Matt’s grandparents, followed Matt’s fabulous uncle and aunt to Austin for an amazing New Year’s Eve concert and sight-seeing, and then followed them to their home in Brownsville, TX, where they showed us all the coolest stuff in the area, took us to Mexico for a day, and sent us off along the rest of the Rio Grande. We camped in Big Bend National Park and learned that Texas has mountains (who knew??); soaked in a hot springs in Truth or Consequences, NM, where my bougainvillea froze in the car; visited Great Sand Dunes National Park; and finally biked, hiked, soaked, and skied with friends in Salida, CO. Also we ate on this vacation. Loads. Everywhere we went, in order to sample the local fare. We put a lot of miles on the ol’ Subaru too, but it was a pretty great trip, so the miles were well worth it.

Guess which city...

Guess which city…

Texas. Near Big bend. That's the Rio Grande.

Texas. Near Big bend. That’s the Rio Grande.

At Great Sand Dunes National Park

At Great Sand Dunes National Park

Near Salida, CO, on a hike with our pals, Benny and Tracey.

Near Salida, CO, on a hike with our pals, Benny and Tracey.

And since Matt’s very competent younger brother watched the place and looked after the cattle for us, we had nothing to worry about while we were gone. Though I did think a lot about Berry and Minnie, who stayed in MO, and whom I missed dearly.

Before our vacation was the holidays, and for us that means Christmas tree season. The Home Grown Trees (Matt’s family’s really, really good pal and partner in the business—actually the same fellow who married the two of us—grows the trees in Northern Michigan, where we used to live) tree lot is something Matt’s family has been doing, and enjoying immensely, for years. This year’s lot went great at the new location, and we’re already looking forward to next year.

At the Home Grown Trees Christmas tree lot. Matt and his brothers and dad, Benny, from Michigan, and the short one's our nephew.

At the Home Grown Trees Christmas tree lot. Matt and his brothers and dad, Benny, from Michigan, and the short one’s our nephew.

Aside from Christmas tree season, the holidays were also the holidays, and our holiday celebrations were exactly lovely and precisely delicious. We have really wonderful families

Before that was Buttonwood Farm’s very own turkey season. The turkeys this year were hilarious, and loved their grassy roaming zone. We had a good variety of sizes for our customers, and just the quality we’d hoped for. We had about half of them processed for Thanksgiving in St. Louis, and the other half processed a week later and frozen as whole, ground, legs, drumsticks, breasts, wings, necks, and backs. It was a heck of a project, but we were proud of the result. It made all our (mainly Matt’s) hard work seem worth the effort.

Matt with his flock, looking proud.

Matt with his flock, looking proud.

Perfect timing on this one! Caught her mid-shout.

Perfect timing on this one! Caught her mid-shout.

Also rewarding is that this year we got a sliver of limelight when one of the local TV stations did a blurb about how best to do a Thanksgiving turkey. It was a demonstration by one of the chefs we work with, who used one of our turkeys, and was kind enough to say so, promoting our methods!

Anyway, it’s always a bummer to see the turkeys go, because they’re so curious and entertaining. Some of this year’s most memorable turkey moments were when our toddler nephew would visit and run among (and amok with) the turkeys. They’d just chase (though that sounds aggressive, and they weren’t) him around all over, until he ran back into a flock of them flailing, after which the whole process would repeat itself. I should really post a video, ‘cause my words just aren’t doing the scene justice… We’ll see if I can figure that out. Anyway, it was incredibly funny and adorable.

Matt caught a turkey for our nephew to pet. He looks suspicious.

Matt caught a turkey for our nephew to pet. He doesn’t seem to be getting good reviews.

They're so inquisitive.

They’re so inquisitive.

Also during our turkey season, Berry, our mascot and the world’s finest beagle-mutt got sick. Spoiler alert, she’s great now, so no worries, but she was in really, really dire shape. She had Ehrlichiosis from a tick (though she’s always been on tick preventative), and it was awful. It’s not an illness you hear about, but it’s sorta like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever—another Rickettsia bacteria. Apparently, it’s pretty common in our area and in St. Louis, and in case I wasn’t clear, it’s awful. It can hide out in your pup for a long time and then attack brutally (Berry even had seizures!), but thankfully, treatment is simple and works very quickly! Anyway, just something to be conscious of, dear readers. Ticks are a big deal. So is Berry.

That got a little glum… Sorry ‘bout that.

Berry has SO recovered!

Berry has SO recovered!

On a WAY lighter note, as I mentioned our porch survived the blizzards as well as the fall and summer, and we loved every moment on it. Already this year, we’ve grilled a couple times, and have had coffee/tea and a few brisk lunches on our porch. Today’s lunch out there wasn’t even all that brisk. The porch is still not quite finished; we have yet to paint it an add trim and railings, for instance. Need to apply the gutters too, but it’s a mostly functional space, and we enjoy sitting out there, admiring the garden, and watching our cattle grazing across the road.

The box truck also survived the year! And best of all, it’s got new tread and tires (thanks to Matt’s very, very generous cousin), so Matt’s fallen in love with it all over again. He says it drives WAY better, and he’s convinced it sits higher. On a side note, we’ve learned that with its new tread and better traction, it can pull out the tractor when it’s stuck, his other truck, the neighbor’s snowed-in vehicles, etc. A very handy tool, indeed. We’re talking about painting our logo, etc. on the sides of the box, but Matt’s campaigning that we should really have a picture of him on there, instead—one with a cheesy, overly enthusiastic smile and thumbs-up, holding a chicken.

chickens on pasture

chickens on pasture

As for what else is new or in the works this year, we’re looking at expanding further, meaning we’ll do a few more birds, probably build a new brooder space, specifically for the turkeys, and that we have more cattle this year too.

In fact, right now we have double the cattle we thought we would, since we have yet to sell last season’s herd, because the drought set back the whole process. It threw off the prices of grain, and devastated grass and the amount of weight cattle were gaining from it, thereby negatively affecting cattle prices and how big our cattle were. Shockingly, that was NOT a recipe for success, so we didn’t sell them last fall like we’d planned to. We kept them, fed them hay and silage, and Matt plans to sell them in the next several weeks.

The new calves, meanwhile, are crazy cute. And, though neither set (old or new) is grown adults, these fellas are much smaller than the first batch, which reminds us that last year’s calves, who started about the same size, really have come a long way under our tutelage.

Curious and adorable new calves.

Curious and adorable new calves.

Both teams of calves get a bit of silage each day. Matt starts calling them a bit before he heads out to feed them, so they’re all ready and waiting at the gate, and then it’s pretty stinkin’ cute to see all of them chasing after Matt on the tractor with the big wagon. Many actually walk along and eat as he’s driving, their faces shoved into the moving silage stack.

Mouths watering, waiting for Matt and his silage wagon.

Mouths watering, waiting for Matt and his silage wagon.

Moving silage in the snow.

Moving silage in the snow.

The snows made the feeding process very challenging. Matt’s tractor wouldn’t do the trick, so we had to borrow our neighbor’s steel-wheeled tractor. And thank heaven we did, or the calves would’ve been hungry. However, Matt’s learned that the Mennonite lifestyle (when it comes to steel tractor wheels, anyway) is not for him. So he’s in the market for a new (to him) tractor that will do the job. One with regular tires, if you please.

I mentioned the propane brooder heat improvement earlier, but Matt’s also been preparing for the summer heat out in the pasture. Of course, last year was especially brutal for our birds with the heat and drought, and surely most years won’t be so rough, but we’re improving our shade methods anyway. Matt’s just gotten several old hay wagons, and is preparing them to serve as new shelters, in addition to the shelters we had last year. We’ve also been discussing new, more efficient methods of watering the birds in the field, so stay tuned (I’ll try to make it a point to post again before December, but don’t bet the farm on it) for what we decide there.

You can kind of see the netting (last season's big chicken improvement) in the back of this shot. It keeps the birds contained, but more importantly, it keeps the bad guys out.

You can kind of see the netting (last season’s big chicken improvement) in the back of this shot. It keeps the birds contained, but more importantly, it keeps the bad guys out.

In other news, we’ve just yesterday been to visit our pals, the Zimmermans, the Mennonite family who grows the majority of the produce we sell, and they’re well on their way in terms of production this years. Their greenhouses are already up and at em, and the day we were there, they were planting candy onions in the field. So we’re very hopeful about this year’s produce.

As I’m writing this, it’s pouring outside. But it’s not an angry, oppressive rain. It’s a hopeful, friendly offering. And I’m choosing to think of it a bit like seed money—like an investment for the purpose of starting something great or doing something amazing. That’s how this year is going to be. I just know it.

I’m hoping hard about it, anyway.

So that’s that. We’ve covered a lot of ground, both literal and figurative, since my last post, and are looking so very forward to what this year will bring. We’ve got lots on our plates, but we seem to thrive that way.

Drought Pity Party…

Hello all,

We’ve been meaning to update the blog for a while now, and we have some cool stuff to share, but lots of the news is drought-related and not particularly uplifting. Sorry ‘bout that. If it’s any solace, we don’t like it either, so we’ll get it out of the way first. We promise we’ll follow this depressing stuff with an update on our porch, which is nearly roofed! And we’ll also introduce you, dear readers, to our latest acquisition, Nelson, Missouri’s stoutest pony. There’s more good news, too. Lots, in fact –just read our next post.

Also, since it’s really no secret that I (Eleanor, the missus) am the one doing the writing for this here blog, I’m gonna just call a spade a spade and speak in the first person. I. I. I. Me. Me. Me. There you have it. It’s less awkward this way.

Anyway, at the risk sounding like every weatherman and farmer in the Midwest, that fact remains that it’s been oppressively hot and dry here. The worst drought our county has seen in 30 years, in fact. The earth here is powder. Hot, sullen powder.

Where our lovely creek used to be.

This is all that’s left of the pond.

This spot is usually covered in several feet of water

… at least the frogs are happy

On a loosely related tangent, we recently biked a portion of the Katy Trail and were shocked to see huge cracks along the trail—sometimes 30 feet long, several feet deep, and a couppla inches wide at the tops! We could see where Katy Keepers (no idea what they’re actually called) had gone along and filled in some of the cracks, seemingly a safety precaution, but more had cropped up since their last visit. Was sort of unnerving, and was an unwelcome reminder of just how dry it is around here.

As it turns out, farming, while rewarding and lovely on many levels, is a profession that puts folks, even when they carefully plan every aspect and penny of a year’s business,  at the mercy of the weather. And that’s just exactly where we are.

We’re making it work, but we’re definitely whiney about it. It’s almost a laugh so you don’t cry sort of situation, some days. So we’ve been doing a lot of laughing.

Among other things, the drought and heat have meant we’ve had to be extremely vigilant with the poultry (we now have turkeys, too—a ton of ‘em!), especially those on pasture. We always have plenty of shade and water available to them, but still they crowd and pant. They eat only when it’s cool, so nights (not even evenings, as it’s been staying hot so late) and early mornings are their best times. They were a bit smaller during the hottest months, as a result, but not by too much. Fortunately, they’re still delicious and tender, just like they always have been.

Chickens at their waterer out in the field. Note the fancy new electric netting.

The turkeys are about five weeks old, and they’re growing like mad. They’re getting to the point where their cute factor is suffering, but we’ve still been finding their antics entertaining, now that they’re out on range, peeping and playing in the dust. In related news, it’s been hot enough, even in the shade of the brooder barn that we haven’t had to use heat lamps at all during the day. Did I mention it’s been hot?

The turkeys are super entertaining and curious. This one was scoping out the lambsquarter weed in front of her and taking a bite (peck?) every few seconds.

The pastures are suffering from the heat and drought too. Many farmers around us are selling their cattle because their pastures won’t support them. Heck, some farmers’ wells are drying up! Thankfully, we still have enough pasture due to the newly acquired acreage in front of the house. But our cattle are growing slower than we’d hoped, since the grass isn’t the thick, lush green it usually is. They seem happy enough, though, and Matt has them trained to come when he yells for them. Our toddler nephew yells for them too; it may just be the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.

Our pasture in August, looking as though it’s October, due to the drought

The drought is also responsible for decreased clover in the pastures, which has been noticeable in our beehives. Last summer was fairly dry too, and we managed a good honey crop, but this year’s drought is decidedly worse, and this year’s crop is looking dismal in comparison. However, we’ll still have honey, since we have more hives this year—just not as much as we’d expected.

Had to purchase bee food, since there’s very little pasture/clover for them to replenish their stores before winter.

Sounds like it’s too late, rain-wise, for corn crops around here, too. So much so, that farmers are talking about cutting crops for silage, instead of grain. Soy’s not looking great, either, though there’s still a chance it could turn around if we get some rain. All this has caused our grain/feed prices to skyrocket! We’re paying 35% more to feed the chickens and cattle than we were 3 ½  months ago! Ouch, right?!

The beans look pretty sad in spots…

Some of the beans around us look OK, though. We’re hoping to still get something out of ’em.

Anyway, since this has gotten lengthy, and I’m about to switch things up and get cheery with the good news around here, I’m gonna cut you loose on this post. Read on for the good stuff. This was depressing. Sorry.

Starting Summer…

It’s been plumb busy here!

We have more chicks and chickens than you can shake a stick at, and the projected number for this year keeps growing. We’ve mixed up our field method this year, and it’s helped a ton. Last year, we had many small pens we’d have to move each day. But this year, we’ve invested in lots of electric netting, which allows for bigger spaces and more grass for the birds to enjoy. It also means less nit-picky labor for us. We’ve also improved our watering methods, in an effort to streamline our process, while maintaining the quality of our product.

In the same vein, we’re especially excited about our new labels! Eleanor does graphic design and worked up the snazziest label chickenkind has ever encountered. We’re pretty proud of ’em. Also in an effort to streamline our ordering and delivering, we’re now packing birds in nice, new wax boxes, which are Matt’s new favorite thing–he’s obsessed.

And most exciting is our new chicken processor! He’s just a few miles from our house, and is state-inspected and full-service, meaning he takes care of everything–all we have to do is deliver chickens and then pick them up, beautifully packaged to our specifications. What we love most about this, is that processing doesn’t waste a day for Matt anymore! He gets up pretty early, but he can still come home and still get a full day’s work done. And there’s plenty to be done.

We just expanded our front yard too. The 40 acres across the street went on the market, and though at first, we weren’t interested, the longer it stared at us, the more interested Matt got, and the more sense it started to make. It came with an insulated barn with nice wooden stalls, and it will be a perfect brooder space, and a certain improvement on the current brooding space. Also, the acreage is nice–it has pasture, which we just had hayed, and a bit of woods, too.

It’s been dry here, particularly this May, which means pastures are growing slowly. It also means that there’s less clover blooming now, so our hives look good, but they’re not putting on as much honey as they would if we’d had more rain. That said, Matt harvested a tiny sample of honey a month or so ago, and it was delicious!

The local produce we’re getting this year looks great as ever! The tomatoes are the picture of perfection and have had really, genuinely good flavor. The asparagus has been tender and delicious, the cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash look and taste wonderful, and we’ve had some of the loveliest (and HUGEST) blackberries we’ve ever seen. And we’re looking forward to peppers and green beans coming available soon.

And for the cattle update, we did get calves–about 100 of ’em, and they’re getting meatier by the day, and look great. We’re feeling really great about them this year.