Farm at the End of the Rainbow (January 2023)
After I wrote the entry 'The Down-side to Living on a Farm' I came across some images that I captured in September 2021. They reminded me of good things about living on our farm. As someone who expects the worst and hopes for the best, it is gifts like these that keep me here. So I thought it only fair that I share what I love about living here:
- I work where I live. The hubby (now that he is self-employed) also works were he lives when he isn't travelling for his business.
- The amazing variety of birds and birdsong.
- I've even come to recognize the call of a specific dove and I actively listen for it every Spring.
- I can tell the difference between some of the other bird calls and name those birds.
- The Mockingbirds keep me entertained with everything from hawk/eagle screams to ringtones.
- Common Barn Swallows have made their home in our garage; multiple generations now. Their flights are so acrobatic and intriguing. They greet us and it is amazing to see them snagging meals from the insects disturbed by the riding mower as I mow (they swooop around me and come so close I'm amazed they don't run into me). They help control the mosquito and moth populations (to name just a couple of insects they eat).
- Migratory geese that let us know when either warm weather or cold weather is coming depending on their direction.
- Wild turkeys foraging alone or in flocks.
- There are bald eagles, owls, hawks, turkey vultures, crows that all come to share in the bounty of voles, mice, reptiles and other food sources.
- Some many fascinating creatures either live on the acreage or are just passing through.
- Gray Tree Frogs with amazing suckers on their feet. Bullfrogs in the ponds. Other frogs in the ponds that make such joyous noise to attract partners as soon as the weather turns warm. The slithery things that I don't enjoy but appreciate that they are beneficial to maintaining the ecosystem. Turtles... from box to snapping and others I can't identify. Little bitty crabs. Insects of every shape and size.
- Deer, coyotes, foxes, moles, skunks, oppossums, raccoons and I'm sure there are others that I am not seeing because I'm busy sleeping.
- The vistas of clouds! I love clouds! The house at the top of the ridge with the open pastures and fencelines with trees/bushes create the perfect environment for photographing clouds and the changes of seasons.
- The sky, when clear, is dark enough to see so many stars (even being so close to the metropolitan area).
I'm sure I've missed things. I'm sure there are things other people love about rural life that I don't even think about. I do know that every person that visits us here cannot stop saying how beautiful, peaceful, and nurturing it is.
Since a picture says a thousand words, I'll just leave off with some of my favorite images taken on the farm over the last 15 years.
Storms and Rural Electric Service (June 2021)
One of the things that you should be aware of when you move to a rural area is the order in which electrical outages are addressed. Contact your electricity supplier to get the accurate information for where you live (or are moving to) because the policies/practices may be different from our supplier.
Unless you are 'off-grid,' you will be buying electricity from whichever business/organization is awarded the contract for your area. This is not a product that you can choose from among a variety of suppliers. Our supplier is West Central Electric Coop and we have not been displeased with their service. I had hoped being a cooperative business they would be more open to renewable energy sources and other ecological/economical practices; but so far they have not. Of course, I have been wanting to either go 'off-grid' or use 'net-metering' for our electricity for a long time and that has not happened to date. (But, I digress.)
The order that West Central uses is: power is restored to the largest number of people/businesses first and once they have power, the next largest number, and so on down the line. This makes sense, of course. What it means for those of us living out on in the middle of nowhere is that the trunks that service us also service fewer and fewer accounts. Therefore, we are likely to be pretty far down the list when it comes to getting power restored after a big outage that affects a large area.
We have been VERY lucky since we moved here in 2008. One of my wish-list items has been a battery-powered generator to protect at least the freezers and refrigerators so we don't lose any food during an outage. That item never seemed to be within our budget and I worried (one of those gnawing just under the surface worries that you don't notice until it is brought to your attention). When we changed from LPG (liquid propane gas) to geothermal (run on electricity), my worry increased and I wished we could have installed a back-up system at the same time, but that was not an option. (Gratefully, we also created a well insulated structure that retains heat/cooling very well.)
The electricity does go out from time to time. When it does, we simply phone the telephone number provided by West Central and use the system to report our outage. The person (or lately, automated voice) tells us how many people are without power in our area and when they anticipate having power restored. We simply keep the doors to the refrigerators and freezers closed so they stay cold for as long as possible. Usually the electricity comes back on in a couple of hours, there have been one or two times that it was six (6) to eight (8) hours. We call the number every so often to see if the numbers/time frame has changed. We have been lucky.
When we moved my folks out of their house and into assisted living (2017), my Dad's gasoline generator was no longer needed by them and the hubby and I offered to 'adopt' it, LOL. A gasoline generator is better than no generator ONLY if you use it correctly. (I still prefer a battery back-up system.) The local news is full of horror stories about people using gasoline generators inside the house because they off-gas (make everyone sick or even die), explode, or otherwise cause fires.
My Dad's generator was second hand to him (acquired after the panic of Y2K) and had a leak. Leaking gasoline is dangerous (see the above paragraph). The first thing the hubby had to do was empty the tank and inspect the tank and hoses etc. hoping to find an obvious leaking point. There was nothing obvious. So he persevered (because what is the use of having a generator if you can't use it... and I would not use it until it was safe) and eventually replaced enough things, sealed enough things, etc. that the generator no longer leaks.
The hubby started using the generator when he needed electricity out in a field, for the apiary, etc. and got very comfortable with its operation and knowing how long the tank of gas would last. He had also been figuring out how he would use the generator for the house should that become necessary.
In June 2021 there was a BIG STORM. The winds came out of the east (unusual for June since the winds are primarily from the southwest) and just blasted through! We lost power and so did a lot of people in the area. We made our phone call and this time the automated service didn't give a time frame... "we are working on it." Never a good sign. After a couple of hours and another call with the same "we are working on it" message, the hubby decided to use the generator. We keep a few 5-gal tanks of gasoline in the garage (for mowers/the tractor) so we had fuel to get us started.
Here is the generator. It's not very big and won't power an entire house. It has the ability to provide power through two (2) separate extension cords.
The extension cords must be rated for heavy use/outdoor use.
The exhaust from the gasoline engine comes out that pipe on the right side so you want to be sure there are no air intakes to the house near it. There are specifications for clearance all the way around, above and below it.
It has wheels on one end to make it eaiser to move. And you want to make sure you don't set it in such a manner that it can roll away. The hubby put lumber under the solid feet to keep it from sinking into the ground.
For our purposes, the location below the ground floor bathroom was best because the stairs to the basement are right outside that bathroom and the kitchen is to the left (south) of that bathroom.
One extension cord goes down to the basement and a heavy duty multiple outlet is plugged into it; the freezers and refrigerator are plugged into the multiple outlet.
The other extension cord goes into the kitchen to a second heavy duty multiple outlet where the refrigerator is plugged in and there is room to recharge the cell phones/tablet/laptops.
The cords go through the window which has to be left open a little because of that. Towels are stuffed in the opening to keep fumes, bugs, and other critters out.
The hubby set a timer/alarm on his phone to coincide with how long it took to use up the tank of gasoline so he could refill it and be sure it didn't run dry -- that is one way that fires start.
We used the generator for a full day and on the second day when I called to find out the status of service being restored, I was able to speak to a person who told me they were working on large areas, but there were no outages around us. We seemed to be the only ones on our road without power.
Uh oh, that is bad news... the whole one person isn't important when there are lots of people without power issue.
I figured we better plan on eating more take-out and getting more fuel for the generator.
But, low and behold, a little while later we looked out and saw that there was an electric service truck in the driveway and two (2) guys looking at the pole with the transformer. From there, the wires go underground to our meter (you can see the meter in the image of the extension cords going into the house).
I went out and asked the nice men if everyone had power restored since I wasn't expecting them until that happened.
It seems that after talking with the person on the phone, they issued a repair order for us right away because ours being the only house on that line without power meant it should be an easy fix. Fingers crossed.
The guys looked at our transformer (it was fine), they used binaculars to see the connections around the transformer and discovered the 'breaker' had been triggered. It is situated between the tranformer and the wire going underground. Basically (and this is over simplified I'm sure), the loop had popped off the hook leaving us without electricity.
They use a LONG pole to reattach the breaker and it is insulated because as soon as the loop touches the hook, the line is LIVE.
I'm not sure if you can also see that he is wearing special gloves while maneuvering that pole.
Here is a close-up of the 'breaker' with the extension pole reaching up to it while he reattaches things. It's that little rocket looking thing on the right side of the big pole (the transformer is on the left side/behind the big pole) with the tiny wires making a triangle shape.
It's not easy to photograph and definitely not easy to see, but I was not really oversimplifying like I thought...
He truly did replace the loop over the hook.
Once they figured out what was wrong, it literally took them 10 minutes to restore our power.
We were able to plug everything back into the electricity that comes through the meter and return the generator to the garage.
I would still like to go 'off-grid' as much as possible and install a battery back-up system to power the entire house in case of emergency. But in the meantime my message to you is: get a generator, the appropriate extension cords, use it correctly, plan ahead, and don't be afraid to be a 'squeeky wheel' and talk to the people at your electricity supplier.
The Down-side to Living on a Farm (January 2023)
In the pursuit of honesty and transparency (and, let’s face it, I really need to vent); I think anyone considering moving out to the ‘country’ (translation: farming land) should have access to information about the down-side of that move.
One of the things you might not know about living in a farm/rural area is how vulnerable you (and your farm) are to what other farmers do to make their living from farming. There is a pervasive fantasy that farming is idyllic, that living on acreage among farmers is bucolic, and dare I say 'pastoral'?
We usually see farming portrayed by images of guys in overalls sitting on an open-to-the-air tractor enjoying the sun, sweating a bit, enjoying the feel of the breeze as they pull a plow or harrow or other implement around the flat to gently rolling fields with the sound of birds and a soft hum of an engine. Families having picnics in front of a red barn with a clean tractor connected to a hay wagon, everyone clean and happy.
What you don’t see is the wind whipping the loose dirt up into the air (unless you have seen images of the Dust Bowl) and the farmer actually inside an enclosed cab on a huge monster of a tractor (run on diesel fuel that sends black plumes into the air) where they still have to wear ear protection because the motor makes such a high decibel of sound that it can damage hearing and be heard from a mile away (more depending on the direction of the wind). The wind also carrying the gravel dust from the road as the people in the heavy machinery (and even pick-up trucks and cars) kick it up as they drive as fast as they can along the way.
What you don’t see is people in hazardous materials suits and respirators filling the tanks with herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers and/or other chemicals that are toxic in concentrated quantities; nor the licenses required to handle those chemicals.
What you don’t smell is the anhydrous ammonia being spread on the field during the late fall or early spring as fertilizer; the scent being carried to your nose on even low wind-days.
What you don’t hear is the continuous sound of the remotely controlled monster of a tractor that has been filled with fuel and programmed to follow a path all by itself, day and night, to spread fertilizer or herbicide or whatever chemical is appropriate at that moment; only stopping when it runs out of something to send a notification to the farmer to come out and refill/attend to it.
What you don’t see is the damage to the adjacent road because the (often sloping and either poorly terraced or not terraced at all) row cropped field funnels gallons upon gallons of rainwater to undercut it where the water exits that field by way of a ravine caused because the ground is unable to absorb any more of that water. You don’t see the chemicals leached out of the soil being carried by that water all the way to the stream (and then the river).
What you don’t experience is the sound of gunfire during every type of hunting season, shooting practice, celebration (and just for the fun of it); or the experience of neighboring hunters shooting into your land where your livestock is.
What you don’t see and/or smell is the smoke from the burning of mounds of trees and tree debris that has been bowled over by heavy equipment to clear an area for pasture or row crops.
What you don’t experience are the infestations of insects attracted by the mono-culture row crop when those insects decide that your plants are fair game; the escape of rodents and reptiles to your ‘oasis of rural paradise.’
What you don’t experience are the sight and sound of people flying aircraft, fast and low, over fields adjacent to your land while releasing chemicals requested by the farmer of those fields; those loud aircraft flying over your land to turn to make another pass; and those chemicals carried by the wind onto your land. (Not to mention the harassment by the crop duster’s friends buzzing your house simply because you contacted the crop duster to find out what the chemical was.)
What you don't experience is the allergies aggravated by the pollen of row crops and the residue during harvest that is kicked into the air. Not to mention the allergies from clover and grass grown for hay and flowering trees in the summer, and, and, and...
Just like the idyllic examples don’t happen all the time; the bad stuff doesn’t all occur at the same time, all the time.
I can’t tell you how to deal with all of these things. I do know ‘farm-rage’ is not an effective way to deal with anything. (Although a bit of righteous anger, well directed, with knowledge of the law has been helpful in my experience.) Letting people walk all over you is a bad idea as well. That old adage “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” is imperative when dealing with farm-folk. A ‘city-slicker’ looking down on a ‘hay-seed’ is BAD (and vice versa). Traditional farming (and by that I mean since World War II, using chemicals, etc.) is its own culture and it’s not a good idea to attack someone’s culture even if you think it is bad for them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to stop the traditional farming culture from attacking the sustainable farming folk (this is primarily because they think even the presence of a sustainable farm is a direct attack on their culture).
I’ve shared with you throughout this website how I have dealt with being a sustainable farmer situated in a traditional farming community/area. The long and short of it boils down to this: you will never be anything but an outsider even if people come to accept that you are not out to destroy their livelihood. If you study up and learn to communicate the way the people around you communicate, you will be tolerated and maybe even liked. This will be easier if you are male, married to a female, and have kids to help bring you into the community from that perspective. It will also be easier if you share the same religious beliefs/go to the local church. (In case you were wondering, I am female, married to a male, and we do not have any children. We do not do the church thing, I suppose you could say nature is our church and we don’t see a need for dogma of any kind to know how to be good people. The say I get by when invited to attend a someone's church is to truthfully tell them both the hubby and I were raised Catholic and are no longer practicing. That seems to satisfy and stop further discussion.)
I started off attending every workshop and informational event being provided in our region about implementing sustainable practices and was often the only woman-farmer there (the other females having come for the novelty of getting out of the house – I assume – with their husbands who were the farmers; even if the farm was in the woman’s name for business reasons). I was not respected as a farmer, but as a ‘little lady’ I was treated like they would treat a small child who didn’t know any better. The more I tried to convince people that I knew what I was talking about, the less people wanted to listen. At some point I would simply go, listen, and watch how those farmers interacted with each other, what questions they would ask, what kind of answers got their attention. Eventually, I learned how to chuckle knowingly (with everyone else) and only talk when someone asked me a question. I would preface my contributions with ‘woman speak’ (you know, those little self-deprecating intros that appease the male dominance issue and open their ears to your actual words) and then hold my temper when something I had said was said by someone acceptable and taken as an amazing suggestion/revelation.
If you can find a way to meet your neighbors and listen to them more than you talk ‘at’ them, you will find you have more in common than you thought and THEY will find the same to be true.
Also, people often like to live rurally because they like to be left alone, live independently. Conversely, rural communities are often very tight-knit, in each other’s business, ready to HELP (but not wanting to ask FOR help). If you can manage to contribute a bit more than you require assistance that seems to ease the outsider mentality a bit. Of course, consider that your contributions need to be on THEIR terms; otherwise, you are just ‘butting in.’
Again, this information is from my personal experiences in the place where I have set up my little sustainable farm. I have made some really good friends here. I have been surprised to find there are more like-minded people than I expected to find (and I really expected to find NONE). From a big-picture perspective, there is definitely a slow crawl toward more sustainable practices.
Best of luck to you. I hope your experiences are positive ones and my information turns out to be just plain wrong for you. (Wouldn’t that be lovely!)
Because of the Emerald Ash Borer (January 2023)
I suppose it was inevitable. In fact, it was predictable that the lovely shade trees lining the main driveway to the house would turn out to be Green Ash. For the longest time (we bought this place in 2008) I avoided finding out what species of tree they are. I'd look at tree ID websites and not really want to find them. But those plant ID apps have gotten more sophisticated and all it took in 2021 was a friend snapping a photo and uploading it via her phone to confirm, once and for all, that the trees are Green Ash.
We have been getting notifications from the Department of Agriculture, Extension Services, and other Agencies that the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer was being sighted closer and closer to our County for about the last 10 years. I really hoped we were located far enough from other Ash trees to escape the notice of the little critters. I still need to bring out a specialist to confirm what I suspect to be true... the die-off we are experiencing in those lovely trees are from the nasty little bugs.
Regardless, the trees are slowly dying which makes them a danger because they are close enough to the house to fall on it. Normally, I would not worry about a dying tree because it is food for lots of insects, birds, etc. as it dies. Not this time. It will probably be a few years before we really need to worry and have them cut down. (I do not look forward to THAT expense.)
Having shade trees on the west side of your house is really helpful to reduce the heat-gain from the hot, afternoon sun in the summer. And buying adult trees to replace the ones that will have to be cut down is really expensive. Therefore, I have decided to be pro-active and last year purchased seedlings from the Missouri Department of Conservation that I have started growing in another location of the farm that can be transplanted to replace the (eventually cut down) Green Ash trees.
I wanted native trees that would provide a food source for the wildlife and would also provide lovely shade and have a long livespan. I opted for Shellbark Hickory trees. Yes, that means there will be hickory nuts all over the ground and on the driveway. We will see an increase in squirrel activity and other wildlife that eat nuts. As I write this, it occurs to me that this might not have been my best idea. LOL. No worries though. I can always change my mind and plant those Shellbark Hickory trees somewhere else on the property.
Right now the seedlings are planted south of the house where a tree digger can easily get to them without worrying about other plants/structures.
There are ten (10) seedlings planted about 15 feet apart in two (2) rows.
I added extra protection (reused the trunk protectors that I used with the fruit trees before they outgrew them) over the winter and that seems to have kept the deer or other critters from nibbling on them.
This is what each one looks like up close.
Actually, this Spring two (2) of the seedlings sprouted different leaves than the others and then up and died over the summer. I'm guessing those were NOT Shellbark Hickory seedlings (at least I hope that is all it was).
So now I'm down to eight (8) seedlings.
Below you can see that they are located south of the yard and there are the red raspberry plants between them and the fence on the right side of the image about 1/2 of the way down from the top of the image.
Normally I water for a full year when I plant seedlings, but we were gone for a month and I forgot to ask our house-sitter to do that. Of course, we had drought conditions during the time and that continued into the Fall. Well, either they survive or they don't... I'll find out in the Spring.
If they survive and I don't decide to use them in place of the Green Ash trees, there are many good places to put them.