Category Archives: Farm

Rocking My farm

This summer I took up a new hobby. I write for a living and you would think that would be sufficient left-brain activity to balance my right-brain analytical self. But no, technical writing involves zero creativity and 100% analysis of language. So I desperately needed to find something creative to do, especially since I’m semi-retired and have a lot of spare time. The problem is, I am not particularly creative. I can’t draw; I tried coloring books and quickly got bored; I painted enough ceramic coffee mugs to last me a lifetime; and my eyesight doesn’t support handcrafts like embroidery. Plus, I have absolutely no use for anything that I might create (other than the four coffee mugs I painted). I do not support dust-collectors.

My local library often has interesting workshops, and I attended one on rock painting. It had an immediate appeal because I have an unlimited supply of rocks for my canvasses, and I figured that I could toss my completed masterpieces back into the flowerbeds where I would be freshly surprised by their loveliness. In searching for ideas of what to paint on rocks (remember, I am NOT creative and thus have limited original ideas), I discovered dot mandalas. Oh. My. Goodness. Experienced dotters produce exquisite work, but honestly, even newbies’ rocks look good. Dot mandalas don’t require a lot of artistic skill, but they do require a good eye for geometric symmetry and a sense of color balance. I have both of those skills.

So I have been dotting away in my spare time and have found my zen. I had great fun purchasing 100+ small bottles of brightly colored acrylic paint and some inexpensive dotting tools. Here are some of the things that kept me busy this summer:

First I experimented using surplus ceramic tiles that I had on hand (God forbid, I wouldn’t want to mess up one of my expensive field rocks!). First tile on the left had blobby dots, but the symmetry wasn’t too bad. Second one on the right had better (but not perfect) dots, but I could have done a better job defining some kind of geometric pattern. But I liked the colors in both.

That went well, so I dared some rock art, on the left. Then I braved a little non-mandala art inspired by designs I found online. It was a lot of fun. Next week I will coat the rocks in resin and toss them out into the garden where they hopefully will age well and make me smile as I walk by.

Why is this important? You are never too old to try something new. But you don’t find passion; it finds you.

mulberriesOne of the best things about June on my farm is mulberries. I have an ancient mulberry tree; I have picked its fruit since I was old enough to walk. But up until a few years ago, the joys of this tree were limited to the few short weeks where the goal was to stuff as many handfuls of the sweet purple berries into my mouth as possible every time I walked by the tree. A couple years ago I started eating the fruit every morning atop my granola and kefir. Serious yumm!

Mulberries are an odd fruit. They are so mildly flavored that they are overpowered in most dishes. They don’t make a particularly good jelly and I would despair having to pick enough of them to make 5 gallons of wine. I have a recipe for a nice mulberry and rhubarb pie, but the main role of the mulberry is to sweeten the rhubarb. One doesn’t bite into this pie and exclaim “Mulberries!”

A couple years ago I tried dehydrating them. After all, dehydrated strawberries and blueberries are good when ground into a coarse meal and added to cereal or ice cream. Not so with mulberries. They dehydrate into dried little balls of tastelessness. Even the chickens weren’t even sure what to do with them.

This year I’ve discovered the joy of fruit smoothies. A little yogurt, some whey or kefir, and a cup of mango or bananas make a flavorful lunch. Then it occurred to me to try mulberries. Oh. My. Goodness! Such a delight.

So now I am freezing about 7 cups of mulberries every evening (the only sensible time to pick in 99°F heat). I’ll be able to enjoy mulberries for many months of fall and winter. With no purple fingers!

STC_0056I couldn‘t figure out which of my four garage cats had learned how to pry the lid off of the cat food bin. So I purchased an inexpensive trail camera to allow me to see what was going on in the garage during the night. When I fed the cats this morning and saw the cat food bin lid on the floor, I couldn’t wait to check what photos the little camera had taken.

Imagine my surprise when the photos revealed that my garage has been repeatedly invaded by THREE raccoons! My poor cats–I’m surprised they haven’t run away from home. (Oh wait, the heated cat houses and full feed bowls are good motivation for not running away from home.) But geez the neighborhood sure has gone downhill.

Meanwhile, my attempts to trap the previously unknown culprit(s) failed miserably. Every morning, the trap was sprung and the bait gobbled down. I have no idea what I’m going to do now, except keep the garage doors shut at night. That means that any garage kitties that haven’t come in by 10PM will be stuck outside until morning. With cold winter temps just around the corner, that will be a concern.

Baby Henny Pennys Sure Grow Fast!



My order of day-old chicks arrived last Tuesday. They were little bundles of fluff. They still are, but at the ripe old age of 6 days, they have all sprouted wing feathers and today their little tail feathers are popping out.

Wine-Bottling Day!

100_1786Yesterday I bottled 120 bottles of wine from my 2012 harvest. Apple, peach, rhubarb (my favorite) and grape. I drink one glass of wine every night in the winter. In the summer, I drink one bottle of beer (which I also brew–won 2nd place in the Colorado State Fair one year). I am not a wine connoisseur; I make wine because I enjoy working with my farm’s produce and also because I can’t afford to buy the quantity of wine and beer that I drink (one glass a night adds up fast!). My wines are “cottage wines” made in 4-5 gallon batches in plastic buckets. Using glass carboys would be better, but it would cost a small fortune to buy 8-9 glass carboys, which is generally how many buckets I have going at a time. I like sweet wines, and although my goal is to produce lovely clear liquids, sometimes fruit wines are difficult to clarify. But they taste great!

Wine-bottling day is long and tedious100_1783. Most of the time is spent washing buckets and bottles. My kitchen is converted into an assembly line: wash two boxes of bottles and drain; fill each bottle from the bucket; cork the bottles, put the bottles in boxes; repeat.

Wine-making day, which occurs on the day of harvest a year or more before wine-bottling day, is also long and tedious. The fruit has to be juiced and each recipe sized to fit the quantity of juice that you end up with.

The effort of making my own wine pays off every night when I can sit back and enjoy (literally) the fruit of my labor.

Bird TV

Bullocks_Oriole1.optI didn’t get a thing done today because for hours this female Bullocks Oriole kept hurling herself at my office Windows and pecking at the glass. Occasionally the male would show up and she would run him off. She was obviously very agitated, and it amazed me that her behavior persisted for so long. Finally, I was so concerned about her hurting herself, I soaped the windows, hoping to eliminate the reflection that I assume she was seeing of herself and assuming was a rival Oriole. It helped a little; she settled for handing on the window screen fabric of the side windows that I could not soap. At least she couldn’t hurt herself on the screen.

Bullocks_Oriole2.optThe entertainment wasn’t all outside the window. Three of my six house cats spent their day frantically trying to catch this poor bird that was mere inches away from their noses but oh so far away on the other side of the glass.

My Farm Will Dry Up and Blow Away

Sheep in Green Irrigated Pastures

Sheep in Green Irrigated Pastures

Every once in awhile something happens and you know that life won’t be the same from that point on. Two weeks ago I received a letter from my well owner association informing me that I would not be allowed to pump any well water during the 2013-2014 irrigation year. So probably by May 1, my farm and its pastures will begin to die. The July 100+ degree heat will burn everything to a crisp, and my farm will be toast.

Let me explain, especially to those of you living in areas where rainfall and/or snow is plentiful. The southeastern corner of Colorado, where I live, is very arid. Our average annual precipitation (rain + snow) is 15 in. Last year (2012) we had 5 in. We are therefore in a horrible drought. I live in a area that has a river running through it, and rivers usually create farming communities along their banks because the water is close by and economical to divert to the fields for irrigation. So even though Pueblo is arid, our river allowed us to develop into a strong farming community.

The source of Pueblo’s water is the Arkansas River. It begins its journey in the nearby Collegiate mountain range and travels east to Kansas. Along its journey, some farmers pull out water via big, long ditches to irrigate their fields. Other farmers pump water from their wells, which tap into the underground reservoirs of water that feed the river. The plants use the water to grow. The net result is that people downstream get less water.

Kansas and Colorado have been fighting over water in the Arkansas River since 1902.  Kansas sued Colorado on the grounds that Colorado farmers had taken more than their fair share of water over the years and deprived Kansas farmers. Kansas won, and Colorado farmers had to stop using so much water and also pay back the water that they shorted Kansas on. That’s it in a nutshell.

Well owners along the Arkansas in Colorado were forced to join a well association, which was empowered to determine how much water a farmer could pump from his well every year, and to pay for every gallon of water pumped from his own well. The well associations must find sources of water that they can buy or lease to replace all of the water used by the farmers’ wells. They divert that water back to the river. That keeps Kansas happy.

In “good” years of normal rain and snowfall, everything goes along all right. But in bad years, like last year and this year, the well associations can’t find replacement water because there isn’t enough to go around. So this year, my well association essentially put a plug on my well.

Why is this important? I’ve worked hard for 10 years to get my pastures planted and the weeds under control. My sheep graze the pastures from April until the end of October when they go dormant. Without irrigation water, the grass in the pastures will die. Watching it die will be heartbreaking. If we get out of the drought in a year or so, I’m not sure if I’ll have the physical or financial resources to replant the grass. So this is probably one of those events that has life-changing consequences for me.

When I’m sucking thumb over how awful it will be to lose my pasture and to dry-lot my sheep on very expensive baled hay, I remind myself that I don’t depend on my pastures for my income. The fields around me are owned by farmers who DO depend on their land for income. Those farmers will probably be wiped out. This will have a huge impact on Pueblo’s economy because we are generally an agricultural community.

Winter Wildlife


I wish I had taken this photo, but I didn’t. Many years ago, a good neighbor looked down the road toward my farm and spotted this caravan of deer walking across my field. He snapped the photo and gifted me a copy just because he thought I’d enjoy it.

Why is this important? 1) That was the last good neighbor I had and sadly he moved away not long after taking the photo. 2) I had no idea that my farm lie in the middle of a deer freeway. 3) Some people can be in the right place at the right time AND have a camera.