Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Totes Ma Goats! Has It Been A Year Already?

Back in the 1950's, Bob & Sue Palmer purchased a beautiful piece of land located in the heart of the Mozarks - now better known as SweetWater Farm.  The Palmer family settled in at the homestead and paved the way for future generations to appreciate & nurture the vision of Bob & Sue Palmer.  Today, we are ever so grateful to Grandpa & Grandma Palmer and the whole Palmer family for giving us the opportunity to bring life back to the farm in hopes to revitalize Bob & Sue Palmer's vision of creating a home for future generations to come.

My 1st visit to SweetWater - Love at first sight (Nathan & SweetWater)
 So after one full year on the farm, let's see how Nate & I have done at becoming farmers & setting up new foundations for the future.    It is often easy to overlook how much we have accomplished when we have an ever growing list of things we still need to do. Now that I stop and look at our 1st year learning the ins & outs of farming, I have to say I am pretty proud of us!  It hasn't always been easy, but it has been worth every bump & bruise along the way. Of course there have been plenty of laughter and fun adventures too!

Can you guess which one is the farm fresh egg?
Well, truth be told, it all started with 13 chickens.  Most of which turned out to be roosters! Those silly chickens sure did teach us a lot in a short amount of time. I remember the first time we lost a baby bird, I was devastated.  I was adjusting to being part of a world where I was no longer so removed from life & death.  As our chicken population has grown (oh and how it has grown) I have been able accept the nature of life and loss on a farm.  Nate & I have been able to take comfort in the idea that we are now aware of the value of the food we eat.  It took a while to butcher our first set of roosters and it will never be an easy thing to do, but I know they had one heck of a life - Spoiled and loved. Each of the animals of this farm is appreciated for the role they play in helping it grow into a thriving homestead.  We never take lightly a loss; whether it be planned or unplanned.

We are grateful for each little life that crosses our paths.  (Of course you probably figured that out by the ridiculous number of animal pictures I have posted over the year).

Gratuitous Animal Photos For Your Viewing Pleasure

Well if you have 13 chickens, you most likely need a tractor. Huh, say what?  Actually a chicken tractor comes in handy, but forgive me I just had a "Give a Mouse a Cookie" moment.  Anyway, it became apparent to us early on that we needed to invest in hay equipment sooner than we had planned.  So thanks to Nate's many talents, we were able to find cheap used equipment.  Honestly,  I still marvel at how talented Nate is when it comes to bringing life back into those old rusty machines.  Anyone who knows him knows what I am talking about when I say he is one smart cookie!  Nate pulled apart each machine piece by piece and rebuilt them better than before.  I honestly think we could sell our $800.00 tractor back for almost 3 to 4 times as much after he fixed and improved it.  I think probably one of the coolest things I have noticed when we have visitors is how much we both have learned.  Both our farming lexicons have grown exponentially.  We can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about chickens, goats, ducks, gardening, different types of grass, hay equipment and so on.  Most of it we learned as we went, but neither of us is afraid to do a little homework on a topic, read up or ask someone with experience.

Lots of  "new" (used) equipment being prepped for this upcoming year.
So after one successful trial run in hay cutting this last fall, we are prepping the grounds for our first full fledged cutting.  Nate cut back the dead grass and it is now growing back healthy & strong.  We are excited to spend this hay season putting extra time & love into the fields.  We hope to till, aerate, and seed the land where needed in order to help it produce quality organic hay.  We understand that it will take a lot of work and may limit our production this year, but establishing a good foundation in the beginning will lead to many years of top quality hay to come.

In fact, as I write this Nate is out checking & greasing up all the equipment.  Every little extra preparation step you take on the farm not only can save you money, but make or break your success for the season.  So as the weather begins to warm, we are out prepping machines, soil, plants, shelters and so on in order to keep our busy season manageable and successful.  Of course, I make sure we still find time for fun!

Being Silly Billies
Mental Note - Need to remember to get pictures of all our visitors.
Speaking of fun, we have been so lucky to have lots of visitors this past year.  We love how supportive and interested our friends and family have been in what we have done so far.  It really motivates us to keep pushing along in order to make this a place for family and friends to visit.  We know there is still a lot of work to do, but we have learned to take it one project at a time.  Of course we love all the compliments and smiles we have received from our family & visitors, but we love to hear their ideas, suggestions, and questions too!  So thanks to the family and friends who visited us so far (Even those who could only visit via this blog). Plus Nate & I are excited about more visitors coming this year.  It is going to be great! (The chickens promise to keep the ticks away from the house if you don't mind wearing your muck boots).

Meet the Welcome Wagon!
Oh my, I barely touched the surface of what we accomplished this last year.  We built a 60 foot greenhouse, patched fences, cleared out dead trees, hatched our own chickens, improved our water system, started preparing our hydroponic/fish tanks for watering the greenhouse, fixed the ponds, haying & equipment of course, found great deals on equipment for the farm, started prepping for the sea crate house and equipment garage, improved temporary housing for various animals, & of course assisted in the birth of baby goats.

 How much did I miss on that list?  Probably more than I realize, but now it is time for the future.

We have lots of ambitious goals this year and I bet we will surprise ourselves at how much we get done.  So once we sit and plan some of this with the family, expect to hear about a pole barn for the hay/equipment, plans for a barn for our critters, the sea crate house and work space, plans for a family lodge, abundance of vegetables from our greenhouse & outside garden (hopefully we can grow our own feed for the animals), more trees and bushes planted along the creek, in the orchard and various places where they are needed, incorporating solar & wind energy onto the farm, running a waterline to the house, fun projects like goat milk soap, goat cheese, homemade toothpaste & deodorant (already did one of those)...

whoa..I get excited and a little overwhelmed thinking about it all...but we are a good team so I have faith we will do a pretty decent job this year too!

So far we are off to a great start.  The first warm day, we did a dance of joy for having survived the winter. Then we got back to work. Having started seeds indoors from our Heirloom seed collection, we were ready to start prepping the garden and greenhouse.  Nate tilled the garden area and I let the chickens do the tilling, aerating and fertilizing of the greenhouse.  Once I finally kicked the chickens out, I started planting.  I have half of the plants in the greenhouse planted and should be done in the next day or two.  Nate has one more tilling of the garden area and we have a rock throwing date in our future.  Then we string some electric fence through the old fence. We need to keep those naughty goats out of the garden. I expect there will be a few unwelcome breaches in the future, but every win for the goats and chickens is a learning experience for us.  (I am pretty sure Nate will groan and possibly cuss when he reads that line - haha).  Once the fence is ready, we have some planting to do.  Oh and my smart Nathan already has the irrigation lines set up and watering system more or less ready to go.  Plus we just might be cutting hay in the next month! Woohoo!  I cannot wait to try out the new hay wagon.  As you can see, we are already on the ground and running for this year. It feels good to be outside and getting our hands dirty again.

I cannot end this post without talking about how lucky we have been to start developing great relationships with our neighbors.  As we finally settled in and got our footing, we were able to start turning our gaze away from the farm for a bit.  We are so happy to report how supportive our neighbors have been.  I cannot tell you how helpful it is to have a good local support system when living on a farm.  We have been able to share ideas, equipment, our time, animals, and produce in order to help each other out.  We have been able to sneak away from our daily chores and have fun playing games, discussing ideas, plans, life beyond the farm. So many thanks to our wonderful neighbors.

I am starting to get funny stares from the SweetWater locals...so I better wrap up this post. Apparently, I have been reminded I have chores I need to be taking care of this evening.

SweetWater locals settling in for the night.

Having heard many wonderful stories about Grandpa & Grandma Palmer, I think they would be and are pretty happy with SweetWater today. When I think about Grandpa "Bob" Palmer looking down on SweetWater, I think about my own dad, who I lost 2 years ago yesterday.  I am pretty sure they are both up there smiling at our hard work and dedication this past year.  I know they would have their sleeves rolled up and helping us if they could.  We are pretty lucky to have such supportive grandparents, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, and friends.  Thanks for joining us so far on this journey.  We hope that you continue to follow our adventures in this next coming year.

 Thanks for visiting us on the farm! 

Always Nate, Lily & Our Critter Crewwww.oursweetwaterfarm.com 
SweetWater Diaries 
GoFundMe - Solar Kit

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Our Backs Thank You...Now Could You Bring A Little Sunshine Our Way

This post is dedicated to all of you!!!  
Nate & I want to thank you for all your support.  

Our New "Used" Hay Stack Liner Purchased With Your Help - Many Thanks!

We are happy to report our first GoFundMe campaign for bail baskets was a success!  Thanks to Nate's ever vigilant research skills we were able to find a used Stack Liner for $2000.00.  This is 1/4 the cost of our GoFundMe goal request which means that even though we did not reach our original goal we were able to find a better deal and use the donations toward a little more than 1/4 the cost of the Stack Liner.  That is AMAZING!!!  Thanks to you, Nate and I will not have to haul by hand over 2000 bales of hay this next hay cutting.  We are very excited because the Stack Liner saves us even more work than the bale baskets because it collects, stacks and neatly places the hay.  I will be adding lots of pictures of it in action once the hay season begins.

With one success to share with you, we are on to our next goal and we would love and appreciate your help! One of our earliest plans for the farm was to incorporate alternative energy resources - solar panels & wind turbines. Now that we have successfully prepared for the upcoming hay season and have a field full of equipment eagerly waiting to begin cutting, we can focus our energies back to energy! That being said, we have set up a new GoFundMe Page in hopes that we will be able to purchase a Solar Power Kit and help make SweetWater Farm just a little bit greener!  

Please visit our new GoFundMe page (http://www.gofundme.com/6v4a0g)to read more about our plan, goal, and find out how you can donate.  We have even added a little incentive for those of you who are interested in donating.  

Please remember any donation is a big help to us. The donations we received for our last GoFundMe request helped contribute to a large portion of the costs. Please feel free to share our page with friends and family. We love sharing our experiences on the farm with friends, family, and even your friends & family too!

Speaking of friends & family, we have been fortunate to have many visit this past year and all of them have been amazed at all the hard work and progress we have made. Many of them are planning their next trip back to the farm because they loved their time enjoying the natural beauty of Sweetwater and escaping the hustle & bustle of the cooperate world. Hopefully, this solar project will help enhance their next visit by providing them with those ever needed creature comforts, but without all those pesky "footprints" we leave behind. 

Not only will your donations help support our goal of creating a sustainable farm, but it will help make a little impact on conserving and protecting the world around us.

Thanks for your support & no matter the donation amount you can give, we appreciate it.

Always Nate, Lily & Our Critter Crew
SweetWater Diaries 

GoFundMe - Solar Kit

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Arctic Blast vs. SweetWater Farm

As Nate and I have settled into farm life we have begun to establish our routines, chores, and projects to be completed for the coming year.  Fortunately, Nate and I are pretty organized and like to lay our plans out before we get started.  Funny thing about “planning” on a farm is it is better to call it a “wish list” and sometimes just “a wishful thinking” list.  Soon your list is full of different tasks that need to be completed and if you are lucky you can pick which one you would like to focus on for the day.  Realistically, you do what needs to be done as dictated by the weather, animals, broken equipment, or whatever else heaven & nature throws at you at the moment.

…Which brings me to this “Arctic Blast” business we have been having recently.   Upcoming plans of building the sea crate house, pole barn for hay, & barn for animals have been blasted a few notches down on the list.  Instead, I have been running around winterizing & re-winterizing chicken coops, lugging hot water to frozen over buckets, scooping up eggs before they freeze, tending to frost bit chicken combs, chilled animals and making sure pregnant goatie mommas have enough to eat.  Nate has been at war with frozen pipes, heat tape, broken water pumps, fixing a fussy Ford truck, getting firewood, keeping the fire stoked, building a birthing shed for our very pregnant goats and installing heat lights in the coops.  We have had a few lucky warm days and have been able to sneak in some of our planned items on our to-do lists, but we are coming to terms with the fact that during the winter our list should be written in pencil. 


We go with “Nate’s Plan” for next winter…

Sailing to Mexico!

Are there any takers on babysitting some goats & chickens next winter?
Thanks for visiting us on the farm! Be sure to check out our next blog about gifts, visiting, & the dreaded butchering day.

Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Farmer's Work Is Never Done

We sold all our 500 bales of hay! This what we have left which we are saving for our critters.

A farmer’s work is never done,
All day long, thru dusk from dawn.
His back is sore, his hands are rough,
There never is quite time enough.

In spring he plows and tills the field,
Hoping for the biggest yield.
Makes neat rows, through aching heels,
Strings the nets and pounds in steel.

Warmer weather time to plant,
No more frost he prays and chants.
The soil is rich, his will is strong,
Together these two form a bond.

Summer brings a frantic drought,
Carry water, do not stand and shout.
The zucchini blooms but so do weeds,
Our farmer protects every seed.

Falls cool breeze brings cooler weather,
Many hands are quick to gather.
Pick and dig, peel and shuck,
Before it spoils, quick to pluck.

Even winter brings no sleep,
Time to plan and tend the sheep.
A farmer’s work is never done,
All day long, through dusk from dawn.


As I finally steal some time to sit down and write this blog, I am thinking about the goat fence I need to finish, the pullet brooder I need to set up for baby chicks, vet visits for kittens and puppy, hen lights, humidity levels in the incubator, owl protection plans, goat birthing supplies, greenhouse harvesting and the list goes on and on. I can only imagine the long "to do" list in Nate's head right now.  The farmer's work is never done, but every crop we pluck, chick we hatch, bale we sell makes it worthwhile.  There is something to be said about creating with your own hands and being able to provide for yourself. This is what we set out to do on SweetWater and we now are finally seeing all our hard work starting to come together.  As I said, it is hard constant work, but absolutely worth it -blisters and all. 

Speaking of hard work, I cannot go one step further in this blog without mentioning that we sold all our first batch of hay!!!! WOOHOO!!!  Big praises to Nate for bringing life back to all the used tractor and hay equipment. We were hesitant to even bale the one section that we did, but we are glad we did because it was such a great learning process.

Let's see here are few things we learned in the process.  1.We must use stronger waterproof twine next time...oy we lost a few bales to cheap twine. 2. The clothes you wear while lifting bales are important.  Smooth long sleeved and fully covered clothes are best.  The seeds from Legend Lespedeza can be a real pain to get off fabric.  Plus I paid the price of wearing shorts one day with some hay rash and poison ivy. A mistake I will not make twice! 3. We will have to build the pole barn before our next big cutting.  Tarps worked fine to cover the 500 bales from the weather, but we definitely will need better storage come Spring. 4. We need help loading and unloading the bales.  Considering we only baled one small section of fields and that yielded about 500 bales...having to load and unload over 2000 bales with our own two hands is going to be quite a task!  So we did some research and found some bale baskets that would make loading 2000 bales easier.  If you can spare a dollar or two, you can donate to our bale basket wish list on our GoFundMe page http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4 .  Thank so much for the donations we have received so far!!! We have received over $300 on our GoFundMe page and some generous face to face donations from our friends and families.  THANK YOU SO MUCH!  Every dollar makes a big difference for us.

Besides the joy of our first successful haying, I loved how much fun we had selling the hay.  Although most of our sales came from our Craiglists' posting, we did load up the truck once and stand with signs and sell some out of a parking lot.  Fortunately, we finished haying just in time for Halloween and Fall decorating time, so our parking lot venture was a small success due to eager decorators.  Mostly I loved all the people we met when we sold the hay.  We made some new friends along the way - a cool young couple raising Alpacas, a kind Italian gentleman growing figs, some fun couples living off the grid and wanting to do some hay bale gardening, a nice family with the cutest little girl, who had a blast meeting all our critters, and of course I was super excited to come full circle dropping off our last load of hay at the house of our new friends who got this whole farm thing underway for us by selling us 13 silly chickens.  What a great surprise!!  I knew I remembered the address and when we pulled up I knew for sure that about 8 months prior we purchased our first farming endeavor at this house.  It was great fun catching up about the chickens and seeing how their farm has grown since we last saw them.  I love how life works sometimes.  We decided to go forward with baling despite some reservations and because we did our little farm's world opened up in great ways.

 Despite the success of our first hay venture, we decided not to do one last cutting.  Granted nature helped with that decision bringing us a surprise cold spell and frost.  We probably could have squeaked out one more cutting still, but we felt it is time better spent taking the lessons we learned from our first cut and prepping for our next cut in the Spring.  A little time spent prepping and fine tuning means a whole lot less headaches come Spring.  Winter is coming, the weather is changing and a farmer's work is never done.  We have plenty of other tasks we must do before the cold weather decides to come and sit for a while. I guess it all part of the circle of life on the farm.

A circle we have come to know very well these past two months.  It is amazing how much more in tune we have become with life and death on the farm.  Sure we both have experienced those moments when we were part of the regular workforce, but it is seems so much more constant living on the farm.  Although that sounds like a bad thing, there is something powerful about being able to embrace loss and rebirth in such a natural way.  Having lost my father a little over a year ago, I appreciate how much farm life has helped in the healing process - in all its brutal and pure honesty.

October brought loss to the farm.  We lost our sweet turkey tom, who would follow me around during feeding and sneak little bites out of the bucket.  The greedy owl tried to pluck him from the tree, but of course the owl couldn't hold the turkey's weight.  I found him on the ground the next morning during feeding. The guineas and mamma turkey were lost for a few days without him. It was sad.  We lost our egg bound guinea.  We did things only farmers would do to help her get the egg out, but she still struggled to walk. We nursed her until she could wattle around and put her back with the other guineas.  She did well for a few weeks and seemed very happy to be back with her flock.  In the end the Phoenix rooster did what I had trouble doing and culled her.  He pecked her head because she was weak and sickly.  I am happy she was able to be with her flock before she died quickly at the rooster's beak. A far better death than alone in a cage.  It was sad. Finally and perhaps the one that hit the heart the most was the loss of Xander, our beloved German Shepherd.  He was 14 years old and had been all over the US with me.  I thought I would have to put him down a year ago when I was living in NH, but SweetWater brought life back into his old bones.  He ran, swam, played and followed me all over the farm for another 8 months of his life.  It was probably his favorite place he has ever been and the best way to end his days.  Although he is still missed by all of us, I love that the last thing he was doing was running with his buddies and having a good ole time.  Sometimes our bodies just are not as young as our spirits.  So now he rests in a beautiful spot overlooking the creek and sweeping farm views.  Oh and he has the sweetest turkey tom to keep him company.

"Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides." ~ Lao Tzu 

Although death is a part of farm life, we have found that life has a way of overshadowing the loss.  November seems to have been a balm for our wounded hearts as we are now bursting at the seams with baby critters!  I call them demotivators because it is hard to get out of the house with all their cute little antics. Of course, new life translates to more work for the farmer.  Our work is never done and it does not hold to a schedule.

Just ask our 12 brand new baby chicks, who decided that the best time to hatch was between 2 AM and 6 AM while my mom and Sam were visiting!  We knew they would be hatching on day 21ish, but we didn't know when.  Well Nate & I were awoken to bird chirping which is not that uncommon a sound in our household of 20 something grown chickens and game birds roaming the property. This time we were on alarm and we knew we had a brand new baby chick awaiting us in the incubator.  So the rush to get the little lady into the brooder under the heat lamp began.  I ended up having to stick some black socks in the small plastic tub in order to keep the first little girl company.  That worked for a bit until I decided to put a feather duster in the box.  The chick cuddled up to the feather duster and seemed to calm down quite a bit.  

I was desperately hoping we would have at least one more chick to keep her company. Quite honestly, I was convinced we wouldn't have any hatch because I put the eggs in upside down initially.  Fortunately for Backyardchickens.com and one of my many farming books, I came across the tidbit about how to place the eggs.  You would think there would be more specific instructions about that.  I guess I turned them over in time so I didn't ruin their air pocket.  Phew...this baby making can be stressful stuff.  Placing the eggs the right way, turning them, watching humidity & temperature...how on earth do the chickens do it without all the technology!?!?! Somehow we managed to hatch 12 out of 18 successfully. Of course I probably woke my poor mom up a million times as I trudged throughout the living room in the middle of the night moving newly hatched chicks to the brooder.  It got to the point where I would call out, "We have a black one. We have a yellow one.."  Even with the interruptions, we had a great time during the visit and I know they got a kick out of all the baby critter cuteness.  We had to make sure Sam didn't sneak Hercules (our new kitten) into his bag when they left because they hit it off so well.

So our 1st generation hatch was a success.  We love the fact that half of the chicks are black and our dominant rooster, Agatha, is black.  There is no doubt he has been busy! Of course we have to mention that with life is death though...we lost one who was positioned badly in the shell and too weak to hatch all the way.  Even with help, she did not make it in the end.  We had two that never made it to the hatching stage and three that were not fertilized. Overall, the whole process was just amazing, even with a few losses.  Now we have 12 little fluffy chicks living in our bathroom (well for a few more days and then they move to the garage) and making us laugh.

"Chicks living in the bathroom?" Well, with a cat and two playful kittens roaming the hallways, we could not leave the chicks unsupervised.  We don't have to willingly invite death to farm if we can help it.  So until they are about a week or so old the chicks will stay behind the closed doors of the bathroom.  Meanwhile, our brand new little tumbleweeds (kittens) are on the other side of the door participating in a never ending play session.

Here is the quick back story on why we ended up with our new kittens, Hercules & Hazel.  Edgar,our 14 year old cat and kingpin is in his retirement years.  The mice got word that the resident cat only hunts when he feels like it.  So the garage became a scene from a Disney movie with Simon doing his best at catching the mice. He is not quite as graceful about it though. So he also redecorated the garage while he was in hot pursuit.  With that, Nate said, "barn cats!"  A few weeks later we have two cute as can be fluff heads, who spend the majority of their day pouncing on our feet, wrestling with each other, and practicing mousing.  Of course, they are too little to be outdoors in this cold weather...so we just have to cuddle them inside for now.  Edgar is less than impressed by these two little minions invading his territory. Give it a month and I think we will see him playing with them too! (The whole time I have been writing this section of the blog Nate has been snuggling on them and laughing at their silliness).

 Oh, but we cannot escape the silliness by going outside because we have the prettiest little lady awaiting us with her sweet older brothers by her side. We had planned to wait until after Christmas to get another pup, but our pup had other plans.  We were on our way to get some more turkeys from this nice Vietnamese couple that sells us exotic and game birds.

We purchased our new turkeys, Polish (fluff heads) & Sebright chickens to add to our new Phoenix chickens in the truck when the woman mentioned they had Pyrenees puppies and did we want want one for free.  Our hearts sank a bit because Xander's loss was still so close.  We declined and went on our way with our new batch of birdies.  Well a day or two passed...Nate did some research on the Pyrenees and we just new she would be a great fit for the farm.  They were raised to protect livestock. Plus Simon needed a friend to help expend some of his energy.  Truman is a more low key buddy and Xander used to run with Simon.  The poor guy has been going stir crazy.  So we picked Ms. Ginger up 2 weeks later and she now rules the roost.  She is a smart little lady and is so sweet.  She can be stubborn, thus the name Ginger Snap, but that only means she will fit in well here.

Before I finish this post, I wanted to update you on more life we have been nurturing on the farm.  Our greenhouse has been blooming like crazy.  The temperature may be in the 50s or 60s outside, but usually holds a 90 degree temperature in the greenhouse.  We might use it as our personal sauna during the chilly temperatures.  We have some big plans for installing a water system that involves fish (Tilapia), but I will elaborate on that in our next update.

 I'll have to mention the new toys we found or heard about on Craigslist in my next post too.

Here I have been talking about new baby critters and I almost forgot to mention we may have a new baby goatie on the way.  We think Brigitta is going to be a momita sometime in December!!  So I am reading up on birthing babies.  A farmer's work is never done. We will keep you posted on this exciting news!!!  (A big thanks to Mica for being so helpful as I learn how to raise goats!!!)  Nate & I have been so lucky to have so much support from our new and old friends and of course our families.  We hope you enjoy our updates!  Thanks for dropping by and catching up with us.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  We know we have a lot to be thankful for during our first year as farmers!

Thanks for visiting us on the farm!

Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew

*Remember to donate on our GoFundMe page (http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4) if you like what we are doing and can spare a few bucks.   

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Help Our Farm & Save Our Backs

Hello family, friends, & supporters,  (DONATE HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4)

We are posting this because we need your help. Read on to see how you can help. We have been working hard over the past few months here on SweetWater to develop a sustainable farm. Our hope is to create a place that family and friends will want to visit and be part of as the farm grows. We have accomplished a lot so far by reusing, recycling, and searching for free or low cost options to build items such as a greenhouse, chicken coops, goat pens, and rebuilding hay equipment. We love finding ways to accomplishing our goals that require a little "do it yourself" and "thinking outside the box" methods, but sometimes we realize we could use some help.

After finishing our first hay cutting we realized we need your help. We opted to only bale a small section of the property in order to test the used equipment that Nate had fixed and rebuilt. In the end,the two of us collected and unloaded over 500 bales of hay by hand in about two days. Normally, we would bale all the fields; which would give around a total of 2000 small square bales (approx 50-60lbs each). That is a lot of lifting for two people!!!

How can you help? Nate and I have researched options and found one of the cheaper, but effective hay helpers known as a bale basket. This basket is attached to the back of the baler and the hay drops directly into the basket. No need to lift and load it from the fields by hand. Ideally, we would like to buy two so that we could switch them out as we are baling. This would allow one of us to continue baling; while the other unloaded the full basket. Brand new, one bale basket would cost about $4000 including transport costs. So our goal is for two bale baskets would be $8000. Of course we would be grateful to acquire one (new or used), but since haying is very weather dependent the faster we can bale and load the more likely we are to get quality hay. (DONATE HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4)

In order to grow this farm and continue our goal of sustainable living is largely dependent on funds received from hay sales. We want to use the money from the hay to put back into this beautiful farm. Your donations will help support that goal and also save our backs & shoulders. Plus, you will save us a few hay rashes at that too!

Thanks for your support & no matter the donation amount you can give, we appreciate it.

Visit GoFundMe or click link to DONATE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4

Always Nate, Lily & Our Critter Crew
SweetWater Diaries

How the bale basket works:

Click Here to see bale basket in action in this YouTube Video.

DONATE HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4

Monday, September 16, 2013

SweetWater's Going Green

Welcome back to SweetWater! We have been busy working away the past few weeks and have a lot to share.  Not only are we cutting hay, but we built an impressive greenhouse that will hopefully keep us growing well into the winter months.  All in all, the greenhouse is 65 feet long and 16 feet wide. So we have plenty of room to really expand our produce.  I am happy to say that we found a place that sells heirloom seeds which means that most of our plants will produce viable seeds.  Nate and I would personally prefer to avoid GMO foods like the infamous "Big M."  Most of their products are designed to only grow for one planting and the seeds are useless.  We might have a few naughty plants in there, but overall we should have a good amount of heirloom varieties growing.

When we started this project, I was thinking we would grab a few PVC pipes, some plastic, and create a basic structure to keep those critters & bugs out of the garden.  Happily, Nate felt it was worth the time away from working on the tractor to build a more permanent structure.  Now we have a greenhouse that should weather the elements and put up a good fight against the invading goats, chickens, & dogs.

Even though we had to invest about $1000 toward the materials and a week of our time to build the greenhouse, we saved ourselves thousands of dollars by doing it ourselves. Our final product would most likely cost about $6000.00 to buy and have constructed for us.  So in the end the money and the time were totally worth it.  Plus if we get a few good crops that we can cook, freeze, can, and supplement animal feed then we will have earned our money back in no time.

Nate constantly amazes me with his ideas. Even though I often scratch my head in the beginning stages of projects trying to understand his plans, he always seems to make these amazing cost effective structures that really work. Let's just look at the greenhouse to see what I am talking about.

The Construction Phase:

We already had the raised beds and Topsy Turvy Planters constructed using free pallets & A-frames we found on Craigslist.  We brought up fresh soil and sand from around the creek.  This allowed us to save money on support posts, rebar, PVC pipes, ventilation fans and greenhouse grade plastic.  Once we were done putting down the soil, Nate cut the rebar and drilled it through treated 4x4s using an electric drill contraption he made. The drill pounded the rebar into the ground; which saved Nate's arms from having to manually pound the rebar into the ground.  Besides making it easier, it also made the job go by super fast.  Meanwhile, I got to play on the chop saw, cut the PVC pipes, and glue them together in order to span the width of the greenhouse. Nate continued to frame the door, fan windows, and back wall.  I stuck the pipes on the rebar creating an arc over the greenhouse. Then I screwed the pipes to the top of the 4x4 roof beams running lengthwise.  Nate added some more soil along the inside wall so I could grow more plants on the ground and then we were on to the final stages of the greenhouse.

The Finishing Touches & Final Product:

To finish the greenhouse we had to drape the 6 mil UV protected greenhouse plastic over the arced pipes.  Of course this is when our perfectly clear skies decided we needed a few gusts of wind.  So we had to secure the sides down quickly.  We sandwiched the plastic between the 4x4 ground supports and treated 2x4s.  Nate closed off the two ends with boards which also secured the plastic on the front and back.  He designed a swinging door using our scrap pieces, installed front and back fans, and added temperature controlled vents on each end.  Finally, we realized that due to the size of the greenhouse we needed to install an attic exhaust vent in the middle of the structure.  This part was tricky, but fun.  I lifted Nate in the bucket of the Case tractor and very carefully moved him over the roof of the greenhouse.  Definitely a good way to learn how to operate the bucket controls.  One mistake and I would have destroyed some pricey greenhouse plastic.  Fortunately, the exhaust vent mission was a success.

Nate and I both added some final touches to complete the greenhouse.  He ran electrical lines through so we could run the fans and added a thermostat that automatically turns the fans on and off depending on the temperature.  Meanwhile, I got to have some fun playing with paint.  Besides painting the front and back of the greenhouse, I painted a door sign on some scrap wood and made these fun little stone vegetable markers.

Nate and I are pretty proud of the final product.  Oh and Nate is going to install a drip system from a rain water collection tank we are going to set up.  That will help save us some trips to fill up our house water tank and give me more time to weed, prune, and babysit the attention seeking critters. Silly goaties! As of now, I just finished planting seeds yesterday. I already have some seeds sprouting. I am excited because I have a bunch of vegetables and herbs I have never used before.  This means we will get to try out new recipes down the road.  Of course now we have farm fresh eggs from our chickens and therefore lots of new options for our omelets! 

Before I sign off, I have to share with you our Topsy Turvy Mania.  Our neighbor mentioned she liked using Topsy Turvies for growing her tomatoes.  Nate and I happened to find some Topsy Turvies for about $1 at Big Lots so we scooped up a bunch and gave them a try.  We have been pretty impressed so far.  Although they are marketed for mainly tomatoes, we took the majority of our last crop out of the beds and transferred them over to the Topsy Turvies.  A lot of the crops are doing better than they did in the bed!!  So as of now we are Topsy Turvy converts.  We will keep you posted on how they hold out through the next crop.

Life is always busy here on SweetWater and we are happy that you are sharing our adventures with us.  We hope to keep the farm thriving and growing as grandpa & grandma Palmer had envisioned years ago.  I know some of our friends and family have wanted to help us in our goal to develop a sustainable working farm.  I just added a donate button to the blog and website.  Of course we would welcome the donations and would use them towards maintaining and creating a sustainable farm. We also welcome suggestions and ideas.  I am always up for gardening tips and do it yourself projects.  So if your donations come in ideas, tips, and suggestions, we would love that too!

Wondering about some of our upcoming sustainable living projects? Here are just a few projects on our horizon: incorporate alternative energy sources (solar, wind, & water) to the farm, and develop innovative ways to use the hay bales (hay bale gardening & hay insulated barns/buildings). 

Well, first we have to get this hay cutting thing under our belts then we will be off on the next project. Next time I will fill you in on the hay cutting process.  I can't wait!!!

Thanks for visiting us on the farm!

Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew

Friday, August 30, 2013

Free Range Days Are Here On SweetWater!

Welp, I may have fallen behind on the blog, but we have made a lot of great steps forward on the farm. So Today I thought I would take a moment to try to catch you up a bit about life on SweetWater.

A month or so ago we were wishing for rain & now we are grateful for clear skies.  In fact just a few weeks ago, we could have just stepped out the door and gone for a little swim in the lower hay field (although it would have been a pretty mucky swim).  The constant heavy rain had caused the creek to burst over its banks and flood the fields.  According to our neighbor, who came to check and make sure we didn't float away, it was the highest he had seen it in 60 years.  Nate and I woke up early and at my nervous critter momma request, we went to check on the goats to make sure that the creek hadn't flooded their pen.  As we were walking over, the rain slowed down and sadly we watched at least 4 beautiful trees uproot and get carried downstream.  As their roots lifted from the earth, the sound they made was almost like they were crying in pain. We now have a few new gaps along the creek.  Nate and I hope to remedy that in the near future by planting some vines, bushes, and trees. If all goes well we will help firm up the river bank, protect the trees, and maintain the integrity of the creek. 

We have been busy the past few weeks fixing and planning for the coming weeks.  As you have probably inferred from the title of this blog, our little crew has earned some more freedom.  As much as I wanted to keep them protected from the big bad world of hawks, owls, wild dogs, and bad beasties...it was time to let them leave the coop (pun intended). So our oldest group, the chickens, were the first to earn a little extra freedom during the day.  It took about an hour or so before they were out of the coop and exploring their new fine dining choices.  Obviously they loved it!  I was a bit concerned about the dogs, but Nate had done a good job of teaching the dogs the chickens are off limits.  Plus Agatha, our dominant rooster, has developed a bit of an attitude since the baby birds moved next door to the chicken coop.  So I don't think the dogs want to get pecked on the head.  Trust me the dogs have more to worry about now since the goats are all free ranging too and Captain finds it appropriate to give them a head butt from time to time.

Of course there are many benefits to free ranging the animals besides all the amusing antics of the critters.  The animals are happier and healthier with the freedom.  It helps cut down on feed and maintenance of the coop/pen.  It helps with fertilizing the land (and cars/ doorway/ garage).  One of the biggest benefit so far is the decrease of grasshoppers and ticks around the house.  That being said it also has some draw backs too.  I am constantly having to "baby sit" and make sure everyone is getting along.  The big chickens like to pick on the baby birds.  The goats like to sneak in the garage and get into the grain.  Everybody likes to get in the garden. Looks like our green house project just got bumped up on the list.  More on that in my next post. 

One of my friends posted an article about her 2 1/2 year old daughter going through stages of disequilibrium and equilibrium.  I think those stages apply to free ranging on the farm too (plus lots of other real life scenarios as well).  The first day everything seemed copacetic, but by day two we were definitely in the early stages of disequilibrium.  Chickens were pecking Guinea hens on the heads, goats were climbing on tractor parts, dogs were barking at goats and everyone was in the garden (I repeated this because it seems to be a reoccurring trend).  I am pretty sure Nate and I both had a moment envisioning goat and chicken dinners to help ease the chaos.  Thank goodness we could put all the critters away with a little bribery of feed. 

Over the last few weeks, we have lost a Guinea and a pheasant to an owl, our dominant rooster, Agatha, has pecked me pretty hard in legs twice because he was in a panic about being fed first, I've had a turkey jump in my arms, a chicken jump on my back, and you guessed it goats in the garden.  I have to tell you, that is just part of the process.  This past week Nate and I are starting to feel the equilibrium set in again.  The goats are venturing into the fields more, the chickens are leaving the baby birds alone, the baby birds have learned to roost in the trees by the house (away from the owls), and the dogs enjoy herding (chasing) the various critter friends.  The garden still gets an unwelcome visitor every so often, but Nate and I found a way to make it more difficult for the critters to eat too much while we get the green house finished. (Again, more on that in my next post). 

Now we can just sit back and laugh at their antics again.  I must say it is pretty amusing to see the goats playing king of the hill on the trailer, a chicken walk by the front door, or a billy goat sneak in the house every so often.  I expect we will encounter some more growing pains, but that just part of farming. Sometimes you just have to figure it out as you go.

Speaking of keeping equilibrium, I will have to cut this post short because I have to feed and put the critters to bed soon.  Trust me a regular schedule makes all the difference in the world.  They may not have clocks and watches, but those critters definitely have a concept of time.  If I am late on my feeding schedule, they will let me know.

Before I end this post, I wanted to mention how excited Nate and I have been to have some visitors lately.  I have to give a big thanks to my brother for all his help when he came out to visit.  While Nate's shoulder was out of commission, Todd helped put up the fence and set up the second coop for the baby birds.  The baby birds were happy to be able to spread their wings and move about more.  Plus it gave our nosey big chickens a reason to hem and haw about their new neighbors.  It was a great visit and we look forward to him visiting again. 

Also a big thanks goes out to Uncle David for delivering Grandma Sue's love seat.  It came just in time for my brother's visit; which meant we were able to offer him a comfortable place to sit and rest after a hard days work.  The couch is the perfect size for the bunk house and we are grateful to Grandma Sue and family for thinking of us.  We wished Uncle David could of have stayed longer, but we were glad he could share in some of the progress we have made since his last visit. 

Nate and I are excited because we have had a lot of friends and family express interest in coming and visiting us on SweetWater.  We hope that they will be able to find some free time in their schedules and drop on by the farm.  We love that others have been able to sense how much fun we have been having here on the farm and want to share that with us. The gate is always open for family and friends.  If you are in the area or want to take a trip to visit us as the farm grows, please feel free to drop us a line.  We could always use an extra hand, if you are willing, or just come on over and enjoy the scenery for a few days.

I hear a rooster crowing outside, a turkey chirping, and a goat crying...so I better get going.  Check back soon because I still have so much to share.  Nate is days away from our first hay cutting, the tractor is almost better than new, I have been playing mad scientist (natural scientist) in the kitchen, we are in the process of building our first green house, & Nate and I have gone Topsy Turvy crazy!!!

Thanks for visiting us on the farm! Have a great Labor Day weekend! 
Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew