Saturday, June 21, 2008
We'll try to have the circle drive open, and shady parking available, for both events. Entrance to the circle drive is from the main house drive, as normal. It just makes getting out easier if there are a lot of cars. Please always park so as not to block the driveway, so that other vehicles can still get in and out. Thanks!
Friday, June 20, 2008
I had just posted the last entry, when Luna started barking furiously, and I heard the unmistakeable screaming of a chicken in dire distress. I jumped into shoes, grabbed a light, and ran to the chicken coop. The desperate screeching and squawking continued unabated.
Normally (yes, this is a "normal" "everyday" experience in some seasons, I'm afraid...and around the full moon it's usually worse...) the squawking would have moved across the field as the fox or coyote ran off with its bounty, or it would have stopped with the bird's demise. But this time the squawking just went on and on, from the coop.
As I approached the coop, I could see that several birds were in the outer pen, acting agitated. All the sheep and the guardian llama were gathered close outside the chicken pen, watching. Eventually I got to where I could see into the coop. A chicken was screaming and beating its wings frantically, upside down, near the roost.
WHAT THE ?!?
Somehow the poor bird had gotten ONE toe caught in a wire lining the wall of the coop, about 3 feet off the ground, and was hanging very unhappily by that toe. I quickly cradled her body, taking the weight off while I worked the toe loose. She flapped away into the yard, apparently unharmed.
How DID this come to be?
I ran the light around the coop, looking for clues. A shadow in a nest box rated a second look...no, not a shadow but a skunk, huddled in a lower nest, staring back at me without blinking. He was so motionless, I thought I might be able to run back to the house for the camera. I laid the light on the floor, to encourage him to stay put. When I moved the light to floor, the hens all panicked and flew at the walls of the coop. Evidently the skunk had scared them in a similar fashion, resulting in the stuck bird.
Mr. Skunk was still there when I returned with the camera, as still as a statue. He remained motionless while I boldly crawled under the roost to get a close picture. I actually was holding the camera about 2 feet from the nest box for the above photo, and he never moved.
It was very late. I was tired. I decided to just go to bed and let Nature take its course. The skunk could choose either chicken food or chicken for dinner. I mean really, what was I going to do about it? Pick the skunk out of the nest box and throw him over the fence, and say "Bad skunk, go home now!?"
The chickens were all fine in the morning.
When J. and E. came for the livestock seminar on Thursday, they expressed concern about our potato planting activities. They had come Wednesday while I was at work, to plant a few more beds of potatoes in between the recently-planted tomato rows. "What's up with the southwest block in the southwest quadrant? Did YOU plant there, and forget to write it down on the bed map?" J. asked.
"No," I replied, puzzled. "I'm very careful to write things down...and I haven't planted any potatoes this week. What makes you think I did?" (The bed maps are our only record of what's planted where, so we keep careful track. The maps also include information about planting dates, varieties, sources, soil management, etc.)
"It looked like someone had dug all along the row, just like when we plant potatoes through the mulch. But nothing's marked on the map."
I thought for a bit. "Maybe the skunk?" I replied. I'd noticed skunk diggings in several of the mulched blocks. They like to look for grubs under the mulch.
"But they're in perfectly straight lines, right down the marked rows!" We all puzzled over that for awhile. Why would the skunk dig in straight lines?
Then I realized that was a block where we'd put very rich sheep pen waste only along the planting bed area, and mulched the paths between the beds with "unsheeped" old hay. Evidently the grubs were in the manurey sheep mulch, and not in the plain hay, and the skunk knew it. We all got a laugh!
All in all, I have a soft spot for skunks...have had, most of my life. Among other things, I like the looks of black and white animals...one glance around the farm gives you a clue about that!
When I was little Mom read us "Jimmy Skunk books" as bed-time stories, over and over again (M., does this surprise you?). There were many wonderful animal characters in Thorton Burgess's nature stories, but Jimmy Skunk was my favorite by far. Thorton Burgess really knew his animals, and in personifying them he vividly portrayed the natural animal's temperaments as a key part of the stories. (Sadly, his books have fallen out of favor, because his animal characters also portrayed racist and political stereotypes of his times.) Pushing the camera into the chicken coop skunk's face was thinkable mainly because Jimmy Skunk made it very clear when I was little that skunks are slow to anger, and would just as soon walk away from an argument. Treated with respect, they show an indifferent, detached, benign tolerance of just about anything. I have even brushed agianst them in nest boxes, gathering eggs in the dark, in the past!
My first (and pretty much last) childhood stuffed animal was a skunk. Mom sewed it out of velveteen for me for Christmas when I was about 5. I loved that skunk! Alas, it was left at a picnic area while travelling between California and Tennesee, and the loss was not discovered until many hours down the road. Probably the greatest loss of my childhood was the loss of that beloved velveteen skunk.
But now I've got the real thing. And he may be even cuter.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Here is something I am planning to do towards making explicit the 'new model' I have been building--DEVELOPING--at the farm for more than 12 years:
Sunday, June 22--the day after the Solstice--I will go out to the 'tabernacle' in the middle of the pasture at dawn, and at sunrise I will begin to mindfully read aloud the names of all the beings who are part of the Community of Life at the farm. I am inviting others to join me in person for whatever span of time they are able throughout the morning--to take turns reading and/or add names I may have forgotten--or to join me in spirit by praying for this Community of Life sometime during that time.
I have no idea how long the reading will take. It will begin with reading a list of scientific and common names of species that were keyed out by a naturalist friend in 2000--at that time, he definitively identified more than 450 species that had established themselves at Pinwheel Farm without intentional human agency, and we have added many since. Then there are ones we know only by 'farm names'--the 'green, curly earth worms' and 'fairy parasol mushrooms', and things we know only by broad category--slime molds, insects smaller than 1/4' long, etc. Then there are all the species we've deliberately planted here, and all the livestock and their parasites and disease organisms. Family members, friends, housemates, volunteers, visitors, customers, suppliers. Far-away supporters who know the farm through my writing. The elements, both chemical and weather. The machines and tools that we use, that come to life in our hands as we learn to know them. Everything that is woven into the web of life here.
I will read these names to let all these beings know that they are recognized, welcomed, and respected as equals in God's creation at the farm...a way of balancing the negation of these beings by the engineers who declare this to be 'undeveloped,' uninhabited land. To let these beings know that changes are coming, so they have time to prepare. To read to them the letter I received from the City. To ask them to share with me, in whatever way they can, their wisdom and ideas for the challenges that we will face together. I do not own this land, I only am its steward, and a spokesperson for its Community of Life: that has been my solemn understanding from the very beginning.
I will ground this reading with interspersed scripture readings, and invite those of other faiths or traditions to contribute as they wish.
I will keep these lists, and keep adding to them, and read them at each turning of the season (God willing), inviting all to share in those readings.
As I am able, I will post these lists online somewhere, to share them with others. If possible, I will have the reading recorded.
I would like to invite anyone who wishes to have their name read as part of the farm's Community of Life, please send me an email (email@example.com) and let me know. If you plan to attend in person, it would be nice to know ahead, but feel free to just drop by. The way out to the pasture will be made obvious in some manner.
Friday, June 13, 2008
A few days ago I emailed the City's legal staff to verify my understanding that they did not already have an easement through the farm that would have allowed them to blithely survey without permission to be there. The response was that they didn't know off the top of their head, they would have to look it up. Apparently that wasn't a high priority task.
Instead of bugging them about it (I do understand that bureaucrats are busy and their time is valuable to them), I took myself to the Register of Deeds office this afternoon to look for myself.
Probably many of you have never had occasion to do this. Perhaps you aren't even aware that you CAN. And if that is the case, you have no idea how willing and ready the good people there are to help you find the information you seek among their solemn shelves of giant volumes. Try it some rainy afternoon when you have a spare hour or two.
I learned about doing title searches when I worked at DPRA Incorporated in Manhattan, Kansas, a number of years ago. (I hope they missed any major damage by the tornado that struck very close to their offices last night. Mom and Dad's place, several miles away, was untouched. The building at KSU where Dad worked from the time I was in middle school until the time he retired was damaged.) I think that job, as strange as it seemed in context of my life before and after, was one of God's ways of preparing me for the work I am doing now, shepherding the farm through these governmental challenges.
This is how finding an easement or deed works:
You walk into the office, way up on the third floor, and people look up and move to greet you at the ancient marble counter. The sense of hush is far beyond what any modern library could imagine.
They escort you to a very impressively modern computer nearby, type in your name, and thus are able to find the Township, Range, and Section of your property's legal description. Of course, you could bring this with you (from your property tax statement or a mortgage), but they will be happy to look it up for you.
Then you are escorted to The Room. It appears to be a vault. The walls are lined with shelves of dark, worn volumes. There are cryptic labels on the shelves. Your guide refers to the scrap of paper she jotted down your legal description information on, draws out a volume, and opens it on a large table in the middle of the room.
The pages in the volume are small, about 5" x 10", and form tabs along the outer edge. They are bound to the book with rings, perhaps a dozen of them, so that new pages may be added as the decades slowly march through the turning-over of property. How easily she turns to the series of pages for your Township, Range and Section.
And here you begin. In this case, since we were concerned with easements, of which there would be few, we just started in 1912 (or so) and scanned down the column that indicated a code for the type of recording. E for easement, M for mortgage, D for Deed, various other arcane descriptors. For a title search, you would look for your name to appear about the date you bought the poperty, and note who you bought it from. Then you would look backwards in time to find when that person bought the property.
We found no easements recorded for the farm. I lingered a few minutes to note important names and dates in the farm's life: Dale Black, whom we purchased it from (11/16/95), had purchase it from a Taul Hibbard in 1950. We could find no record of it coming into Taul's hands...but some transfers of property are not recorded, if it is inherited for example. Or that deed may reside at the Jefferson County Courthouse, dating from before the Douglas County line was moved north of the river course. Niggling curiousity that might be answered by a reading of the deed transfers we did identify, but not enough to spend the time reading them, white letters on black background, on the microfiche.
"Well," I sighed a relieved sigh. So at least they don't already own an easement that I'm not aware of."
"Um, actually there could be easements that we don't have records of here," the nice lady informed me. The fellow at the microfiche reader seemed to perk up his ears a bit.
A cold feeling washed through me. We had done quite careful research into this land before purchasing it, exactly to prevent such an occurrence as this. Had we missed something major that could undo years of planning and hard work?
"Yes, the County Public Works may have Road Right of Ways that aren't recorded here."
"Where are they recorded?"
"Public Works would know. Here's the name of the guy you can call."
"Would my Title Insurance Company have known about this? How do people know where to look for all the easements?" I asked, bewildered.
The nice lady turned to the fellow at the microfiche, who was now following our conversation quite intently even as his hands nimbly handled the file reader. "You're with a Title Insurance Company," she said. "Do you have access to the Public Works files?"
"No," he replied. "They aren't a part of the public record. That's why every document has that wording on it about "subject to easements."
You think you own your land. The Register of Deeds thinks you own your land. The Title Insurance company thinks you own your land. But no one is really sure whether there is some other party that has rights to your land that you do not. Just keep that in mind when you're making plans...someone else might be making plans, too.
I called the County Public Works guy she referred me to, expecting layers of bureaucracy and frustrations. "You're just leaving the Courthouse?" (The marvel of cell phones!) "Why don't you just run over and we'll have a look."
I did. He did. We found nothing. Just to be sure, we went in search of another fellow with a faster computer and checked somewhere else. Everyone was very nice, that ready-to-go-home-but-we-have-half-an-hour-to-kill kind of nice on a day when probably there hadn't been many other visitors. They delighted in printing me out a copy of the aerial of the farm area with all the property lines in clear blue.
Interesting. Very interesting. Go do your homework! If you own property, it would behoove you to know who else is entitled to use it without your permission. If you are purchasing property, by all means wring as much information as you can (in a friendly and respectful way) from the various government agencies. Because you may actually turn up information that the Title Insurance Company can't.
Put that on my gratitude list: Of all the challenges I DO have on this farm, I DON'T have elephants...or moose or bears, like my farmer friend in British Columbia who called out of the blue this evening for a nice long chat. Her computer is kaput so she had no idea all this was going on here.
It was good, at the meeting, to sit quietly and listen to my neighbors voice some of the same questions I have about the project. I know that I am not alone.
During the meeting, the presenter kept suggesting that we break up into small groups to address specific landowner questions. The crowd didn't seem to want that, and it pretty much didn't happen. We want to hear what the City says to our neighbors. We're like that in North Lawrence. We mind our own business on most little things, but when push comes to shove we mind each other's business just as well as any self-respecting small town! Lawrence, "proper"--Lawrence south of the river--may be becoming a big city, but North Lawrence is very slow to lose its collective identity of not REALLY belonging to the city. At one time the Douglas County line followed the Kansas River, and the town of North Lawrence was a separate municipality affiliated with Jefferson, not Douglas County.
A friend noted after the meeting that it appeared the City people very much wanted to address the farm as a "special" situation, one on one, away from the public meeting. It seemed as if there were issues and questions they didn't want to address publicly. However, they conceded to keep me in the public conversation, and agreed to let us have a copy of the attendee sign-in sheet so that we could report back to one another what we learn in our individual meetings with the City and engineers.
It seems as if they consider this alignment through the farm as pretty much a "done deal", though they are looking at other options. But along the way they must jump through many other hoops before committing to take my land...testing of soil and groundwater, an Environmental Impact Study, etc. I know from my work in developing our Conservation Reserve Program Riparian Buffer Strips (a.k.a. "CRP" or "Wilderness Area") that such detailed investigation can turn up surprises that change the best-laid plans. We had originally wanted to construct a wetland on the north part of the pasture, since it seemed to be wet a lot of the time anyway. Testing revealed that the soil would never hold water, no matter what we did to it...when it was wet, it was because the water table under the whole farm was that high! I was disappointed to not be able to have my own permanent "frog bog", but the qualities of highground water and excellent drainage ARE part of what makes it so valuable as crop land!
It was interesting to hear again and again the phrases "developed land" and "undeveloped land" be bandied about. Of course, by "undeveloped land" they meant no roads, buildings, utilities, or other "city" infrastructure. This is a way of thinking that I believe our culture must change if we are to feed and otherwise support ourself in a future of increasingly inadequate and more expensive fuel supplies.
Every inch of my 12+ acres is "developed", in my way of thinking. I have built fences, planted and managed pastures, planted trees to shelter the farm from city noise, light pollution, and buffeting winter winds. I am developing outstanding wildlife habitat that is home to thousands of different species from all kingdoms of life, many that we will never reasonably be able to include in a census. I have had a development plan for this farm since several years before I even bought the land: the original Pinwheel Farm was designed on paper as a final project in a KSU horticulture class.
Stay tuned for further "developments".....!
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Friends from Canada visited overnight. The 30-something mom and her daughter (same age as my granddaughter) made their second annual stop on their "Grand Tour" bus trip. Using the bus company's special 30-day pass, they travel at night, sleep on the bus (no hotel bills), spend the day (or overnight at a friend's or hostel) sightseeing, and then another night on the bus while they head for their next destination. In this way, they have seen FAR more of the U.S. that most citizens ever see. I really admire their stamina...esp. since the mom has mobility challenges and chronic pain. We met at a Canadian Quaker gathering while I was on sabbatical.
We have our first WWOOFer staying and working at the farm. It has been delightful! She fit right in with our household, and is a pleasant, self-starting, dependable worker on the farm, always willing to stop and attend to some little task that she notices needs done. We hope she'll come back in future years, since her current itinerary allows only a short stay. Another WWOOFer is scheduled for later this summer and fall. For those not familiar with WWOOF, it is an organization that helps connect farmers with people who want to volunteer on farms in exchange for room and board. Check out http://www.wwoofusa.org/index.html. A great way to travel (more to my taste than my friends' bus trek--I like to get to know a place and its people and critters and plants).
My daughter's 2 long-haired chihuahuas stayed at the farm for a few days....cute and SHRILL. Actually I was impressed with how quickly they settled in. I forgot to get pictures, though. Harper looks like a miniature of my older dog, Toss.
We've had rain upon rain, lots of wind and lightning, thankfully not much hail. It's a good thing we don't rely on mechanical tillage for our gardening. We've been hard at work muching our no-till beds for tomatoes and potatoes. As of today, we have about 180 plants in the ground. A crazy quilt of standard production hybrids, popular and obscure heirlooms, slicers, paste style, cherry tomatoes, you name it. Striped, red, orange, yellow, gold, purple, green. One thing they mostly share is they are indeterminate varieties. We plant them 2 feet apart with beds 10' apart (there is a non-tomato bed between each pair of tomato beds). This allows air circulation and access for picking. It looks silly at this stage...but experience proves that they WILL be 6' tall and 4' wide by the end of August.
In one block, we experimented with wheat as a fall cover crop, broadcast on a weedy fallow area that was garden a couple years ago. Where we got a good dense stand of wheat, we just mowed out the tomato beds and left the wheat to ripen in 7' x 23' bands in between. It is starting to turn color, with nice large heads! We'll harvest by hand, then mulch and plant in the wheat beds between the tomato rows. We have a small graingrinder that will allow us to make cracked wheat for cereal, or coarse flour. Other friends have better grinding equipment if we make this a habit.
Mowing around the tomato beds was an experimental thing. We "inherited" a BCS walk-behind tractor, with rototiller and sickle bar mower attachments, this winter, and have been experimenting to see how it fits into our production system. It mows wheat and tall weeds very well, turning a fallow area into a partly mulched garden in a matter of minutes. It also will cut through chainlink fence quite nicely. It does balk a bit at T-posts, though that was a stalemate--non-fatal damage to both post and mower.
We make sure the dogs are locked up in their pen before using the BCS mower.
In summary, we decided that the BCS is great for mowing large patches of tall stuff where we are certain there are no metal objects, and we don't have to be perfect. The Austrian Scythe proved to be the best tool for mowing out the narrow, precise beds for the tomatoes. So, we are working hard to be more deliberate about putting things away, and the farm is looking very much more organized and tidy than ever. This also makes things easier for our wonderful volunteers to find things.
The wheat was dense enough that we were able to mulch the tomato beds with it, after laying down a narrow band of very broken-down sheep pen waste as a "fertility mulch". This is an effort to "stretch" our waste hay mulch. A consequence of a very wet spring/early summer, combined with a late start and having the best mulch-hauling cart out of commission for awhile early in the season, is that the hay pack in the sheep pens had decomposed beyond the prime weed-control-mulching stage already. So we are making do and experimenting. Another experiment is using the new (gasoline) riding lawnmower to collect grass clippings from the yard and lanes and using those as mulch. This promises to be a great way of augmenting potato mulch as it gets scattered around during our rummaging for new potatoes.
Speaking of new potatoes, we rummaged out the very first tiny new potatoes from "Pink Wink" (the first variety we planted, one that isn't even sold in catalogs that we got as a substitute a couple years ago, and has ended up being a real favorite). The WWOOFER, the Growing Growers apprentice, and I all savored a "potato communion" when I boiled those few tubers this morning. MMMMMMM...THAT'S why we're doing all this hard work! It will be a few weeks before we have enough to take to market, but we know they're coming!
We are also using the BCS tiller for the first mechanical tillage we've done in years. Accepting the negative consequence of compacted soil structure, we're "stale bedding" a large (75' x 25') area near the garden where Sweet Annie (sweet, indeed, but invasive and not eaten by any farm animal) and Japanese Hop Vine (a.k.a. "vegetable barbed wire") were allowed to proliferate by the tenants a few years ago. We'll plant in there soon, now that we've killed 4 or 5 crops of seedlings, and then clean cultivate (no mulch, lots of hoeing) the rest of the season, in an attempt to kill as many weed seeds as we can and not produce any more.
I have mixed feelings about the new gas-powered equipment, but overall they are very helpful at this stage in the farm's life, and I'm very grateful for them and the dedicated friend who likes to run them.
Please attend this meeting if you are able. If not, please hold us in your thoughts and prayers.
Who should be concerned about this water line project and how it is planned to be built in the backyards of people who didn't get to vote for the people who decided that it should be in their backyards?
--Anyone who pays taxes in the City of Lawrence...this is how the City is spending them.
--Anyone who owns property near the City of Lawrence...your business or back yard may be next.
--Actually, anyone who owns property, period...just as a sobering reflection that you really don't have much control over "your" land, just the obligation to pay taxes on it until some government wants to use it.
--Especially, anyone who says "But they can't DO that" when you hear that the City's contractor trespassed to do surveying on my pasture, or that the City can use Eminent Domain to forcibly TAKE my land even though it's not in the City (yet).
Interestingly, the letter was addressed "Dear Lawrence Resident"--as though I am already a Lawrence resident. When I noticed this, a chill went down my spine. I do not want to EVER be a Lawrence Resident. I am a Douglas County resident. That is where I bought my land, and where I want my land to stay.