Yesterday was cloudy and very cool, and last night was cold, enough to merit building the first fire of the season. It gave me a chance to try out the wood blocks we purchased for this year’s firewood. Bottom line: these things are wonderful. They are much denser than your usual lumber, I think; in any case, they burn much longer and easier than last year’s traditional firewood logs.
Just before going to bed I filled the firebox with wood blocks (about two-thirds full, though, since I haven’t found the gloves I need for arranging wood tightly in the firebox) and left it. When I came down about eight hours later, there was still a nice bed of coals; I piled some wood on top and had a hot fire going in minutes. I’m thinking that except on the coldest nights it’ll probably be sufficient to get up an hour or so early, stoke the fire, then doze for an hour in front of it before waking the rest of the family to a warm downstairs.
Crunch time is over for now. We got the last of the garlic planted Thursday morning, just before a new wave of rain moved it. That felt especially good, because the ground was already pretty wet from rain earlier in the week; boots and kneepads got pretty muddy as we moved down the rows.
Jerome also planted garlic, though not nearly as much as us. A few times a year a friend who teaches at a private school in Cincinnati brings down a group of kids to help with work around Jerome’s farm. He had some of them plant garlic, not popping cloves but simply planting the heads whole; later he will go back to thin them to three or four plants per spot. This was two weeks ago, and his plants have already made an appearance, four or five inches high.
This inspired me to go back and replant a few spots in our beds, maybe twelve or sixteen, using whole heads (soon, haven’t done it yet). I’ve read that a neglect but quite good version of garlic is what is called “green garlic,” taking an immature plant and using it sort of like a scallion. I’m thinking that you could plant a whole Spanish Roja head, get eight or ten plants going in one spot, then harvest them before the heads of the plants start crowding.
We put the garlic in raised beds that were five feet off center, maybe 2.5 to 3 feet plantable surface. The garlic was planted four across, spaced about 8″ apart, then 8″ apart down the bed; eight beds 100 feet long each. We laid two strips of drip irrigation tape down each bed, between pairs of plants. Then we covered the beds with 5 foot wide black plastic, weighted down with dirt along the edges.
Initially we set up the drip irrigation tape as a single system, but when we tested it the water didn’t make it quite to the ends of the farthest rows. So we will go back in the spring and break it into two systems, watering four beds at a time. With drip tape this is simply a matter of splicing and connecting using scissors and fifty-cent connectors.
Mulch is a valuable commodity around here. Last year we used sorghum pumice to grow our potatoes in, and also to mulch the paths between the sweet potato beds (the only place we used black plastic last year). It worked great, and will make for some rich ground next time around. We also use a good amount of wood-shaving bedding in the chicken coop, and will need more when we get a cow.
Although the sorghum pumice works great, it isn’t practical for us. It’s one thing to fetch it from a mile away, as Jerome does (and he has fetched a lot this year—mountains of it stretch along the road by his fields, topped with a forest of mushrooms). But for us it’s seventeen miles away, and we can only haul a pickup truck’s worth at a time.
So we decided to invest in a chipper/shredder attachment for our BCS walk behind tractor. I called Joel at EarthTools to see if he had any in stock, and it turned out that he had just received a used one that he would sell for 60% the price of a new one. Chris and I drove up to Joel’s place yesterday, admired the new 50×100 pole barn warehouse he is building, got a demonstration of the chipper/shredder, and brought it home. Chris has already been out shredding brush and fallen branches, of which there is no shortage around here.
One difference between sorghum pumice and wood mulch is that the former is high in nitrogen, while the latter is very high in carbon. A high-carbon, low-nitrogen material will lock up whatever nitrogen is around it. That makes it good for things like animal bedding, where it absorbs the nitrogen from the manure. And good for mulching areas to keep down weeds, since the wood steals nitrogen from the weeds and keeps them from growing.
But it is not so good for mixing directly into garden soil, for exactly the same reason. So the plan right now is to mulch the paths with wood mulch, but rake up the mulch and composting it rather than tilling it directly into the ground. Another possibility, I suppose, would be to find a cheap source of nitrogen (grass clippings, blood meal) and mix it with the mulch before tilling it under. Further research and experimentation required.
Last night Chris and I attended the biweekly Bible study that the Old Regular Baptist church puts on. This is an unusual thing for an ORB church, which traditionally is very much against anything that smacks of Sunday school. In fact, the other churches in the association began asking pointed questions when they heard about it. But the elders here were able to justify it to the satisfaction of the others.
Their main reason for holding the study, I think, is that it allows for informal interaction with the elders in the context of a teaching. Women are not required to remain silent, for one thing. And the teaching doesn’t come in the form of a sermon.
It was also an opportunity for me and Chris to spend time with the church, members and non-members, in a more social context. I’m surprised that I still don’t know a lot of the names or relationships, but since there is usually very little time for socializing (except for the monthly potluck, which poses its own technical obstacles to socializing) I only pick up such information in bits and pieces. Last night I heard people talk I hadn’t heard talk before, and heard stories that helped me piece together the relationships.
The church is primarily composed of three extended families, Slones, Murrells, and Ellises. They have known each other for many years, longer than they have been attending church together. The kids in the church are primarily their kids, and some of the older ones have married (one Ellis-Slone pairing, one Ellis-Murrell pairing). The three fathers (Mike Slone, Roger Murrell, Jimmy Ellis) are the three church elders. Mike is the long-time ORB, and his father and mother also attend.
I don’t know if we will attend the study on a regular basis (even every other Friday is starting to taste like a little too much involvement outside the home, with the weekly Sunday evening meetings, the Saturday evening/Sunday morning/Sunday evening meetings once a month, and the occasional trip out of town to visit other churches. But we wanted to go to this one because it was at Jimmy and Marty Ellis’s house, and Jimmy and Marty know cows, and we’re actively seeking a milk cow right now.
The study began at 7pm and lasted less than an hour. After a bit of socializing the Slones left, since it was past their younger children’s bedtime. Chris and I stuck around, and the conversation quickly turned to cows. For close to two hours we talked cows; well, they talked cows while Chris and I listened. None of it was boring to us, but only because it is a live issue with us. Ellises, Murrells, and Slones all have a long history of involvement with cows (like lots of folks around here), which yielded a lot of funny and informative stories.
Most important, Jimmy Ellis has offered to do what he can to find us a Jersey locally. He knew of one that had been offered to him in January, and he thought it
still might be available; only three of the four quarters are working, but that would be enough for us and we would definitely appreciate the reduced price that comes with it (in January the asking price was $650).
Although we don’t have a cow yet, we did take a first step in that direction, ordering a portable milker. Earlier this year I looked around and was dismayed at what I thought were pretty high prices for new ones. Then I stumbled across a recommendation (don’t remember where) for a guy in Louisiana who sold reconditioned portable milkers at a fair price. It cost us just under $600 with shipping. It isn’t shiny, but looks to be all there and works fine (as far as we can tell without attaching it to a cow).
If we find a cow soon, then we’ll have to scramble to arrange for the rest of what it takes to keep a cow—portable fencing, milking shed, hay, etc. But sometimes it is better to scramble for what you need than to buy in advance what you might need.