A long overdue update. Automating chickens, vertical gardening, and fishies.

Looking at the time stamp, it’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since I posted.  We’ve accomplished quite a bit since my last post, despite back problems, and then shoulder surgery this past fall.  We’ve been very fortunate, our setbacks have been small and the support of friends and family has been more than enough to overcome all of them.

Before getting to our next phase, I wanted to give a quick run down of all that we’ve got accomplished over the past year or so.

Most importantly – we got all our necessary fencing done.  I’ve come to the conclusion that fencing is like learning – you’re never really finished while you’re still breathing.  Still, the girls have their pasture and the boys have theirs.  We have penning and feeding area’s for both, as well as a nursery pen for the babies in the spring.  Most of the fencing has gone through all four seasons at least once, and it’s still straight and tight so I’m feeling pretty good about the work.

We built a chicken coop!  I’ve never built any free standing structure before and it was an adventure.  Basically built it pole barn style, with fancy little nesting boxes that you can get to from the outside via a raccoon-proof flap.  That little bit was the trickiest part of the construction and Liz doesn’t even use the external access!!!  Still it’s not all a wash, I’m a better carpenter for having done it.  The saving grace is that Liz picked the colors and did almost all of the painting – so it looks really nice, despite my best attempts at making it look like a shack.    I’ll have post coming up shortly on just this chicken coop.  Automating it is my current unfinished project, it’s really cool, and I’m doing it using this sensor board.  Major thanks to Roman for all his help, and I still owe him some code I wrote but never cleaned up.  I’ll be doing a detailed post on this with code samples a description of the build out shortly.

Liz and I are not carnivores so we didn’t entirely forget about plants the past year.  We built 2 4×8 raised beds that we do square-foot and vertical gardening in.  This is not for the farm really, it’s mostly for our enjoyment and personal nutrition.  It’s kept our thumbs green as we get ready for commercial growing.  I’d post pictures, but at the end of December, it’s just a few dead okra stalks.  We also built an asparagus and strawberry bed, but it’ll be a few years before that’s really producing.  We had an asparagus bed back in NJ, and all I can say is that asparagus does not like Texas nearly as much as we do!

Which brings me to our next phase.  Right now we’ve birthed goats, with more on the way.  We’re getting enough eggs to eat and even sell a dozen or two every week.  We even have a nice little garden.  It’s starting to feel like a real micro farm.  But it’s still just a hobby farm, and the losses aren’t just on paper.  It took a lot longer to get to the aquaponics and greenhouses that I think are the only scalable and commercially viable setups for our little farm.

Sadly those tanks from my early post have been re-purposed for rain water capture.  Shoulder surgery in October made fabricating a system myself a pretty bad option.  After a bunch of research, endless phone-calls to tech support etc, I settled on a pre-built offering from http://aquaponicssource.com/.  There will be another detailed follow up on this topic, probably in January when we finish putting it up after the holidays.  For right now, I can’t say enough good things about the folks over at Aquaponics Source.  They were patient with my questions, very flexible and totally awesome to work with.  If you’re looking for a pre-built ready to grow aquaponics system I really recommend you check them out.

Just like the aquaponics, a hoop house ended up being a buy and assemble deal with my shoulder still being a bit useless.  A big thank you to David Chiles who came out and helped with setting up the pylons and assembling the hoop house.  He even brought the beer!!!  At least he let us feed him.  He even dug the trench for the electric run, which is no fun in Texas soil.  So thanks again brother.  Liz already did a post on our assembly, so I don’t have to!

It’s been a good year.  I try very hard not to bring God or Government into the business or the blog.  Yet, I feel very blessed.  This year has been filled with setbacks from the minor, our refrigerator dying, to the major, my shoulder surgery with complications of major nerve damage I still haven’t recovered from.  Still we pushed forward, and every step backward was followed by friends, family and just plain dumb luck to help us take three steps forward.  With any luck, by this time next year FunkNFresh products will be at a store, farmers market or restaurant for you to enjoy.

 

The Next Big Thing

It’s starting to get busy around here!  I hope to soon update you all on the goats and our newest additions, chickens!! For right now though my head is underwater.  Fishy, fishy water.  Our latest project on the farm is setting up an aquaponics system (more on that in a bit).  We spent this past weekend setting up a greenhouse that will provide shelter for the system.  It is a 10X20 temporary hoop house with plastic sheeting for winter and a sunshade for summer.  This will provide shade and airflow during the deep heat of our Texas summers, and warmth and protection during the few freezing days of winter.  The greenhouse will allow us to expand our growing season to almost year round.

To set up the greenhouse we first measured out the spacing for the base of the aquaponics tanks.  Then we needed to dig holes to fit square pavers, back-filling with sand to ensure level footing.  This was by far the harder job of the day and took a couple hours.  Finally, we set up the frame of the greenhouse under supervision of the goats, of course!

Not the most flattering angle for Pickles, hopefully there are babies in there!

Our system is being delivered this week but will have to sit and wait until after the holidays to be set up.  In the meantime here is a little info about aquaponics and the company we purchased our system from.

So, what the heck is aquaponics?  Here is my short answer:  Aquaponics is a combination of Hydroponics and Aquaculture. Hydroponics is a method for growing plants without soil, using only water and added nutrients.  Aquaculture is the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants in controlled environments.  These two concepts are combined to create a system where aquatic animals and food crops grow symbiotically.  Basically, there is a big tank that holds fish, catfish in our case, and a bed for growing plants.  As roots develop, the fish water is oxygenated and as the fish poop, the plants are fed nutrients.  This is a very basic description but I am sure AK will chime in shortly with way more information.

We have been working closely with a company out of Boulder,CO

They have an amazing team who helped us pick a system that would work best for our needs.  The best news is that they will be flying out early in the year to install our system in return for filming it for their own website!  We are very excited to work with this company and get our system up and growing.

 

Fencing Work in Progress

Here is a small gallery of the penning area, and our lovely drainage ditch while I wait for the rock I need to finish it out.

 

Fresh Cream Peas with Greens and Cornbread

Cream peas are a type of field pea.  I have learned since moving here they are a southern delight.  My family always ate Black-eyed peas on New Year’s day, I have since come to realize that it was a good, cheap, source of protein that could be had during winter because they are so abundant in this area.  I have become obsessed with purple hull peas which closely resemble black-eyed peas and, cream peas.  The dish is super simple and truly nourishing and healthful….ish.

*If you don’t have access to fresh peas (beans) then you will want to use canned or soaked and cooked peas for this recipe.

Wine Pairing: Dry Rose or Sauvingnon Blanc.  The drier and more acidic aspects of these wines will cut through the unguent richness of the dish.  I like Cupcake Sauvingon or Dry Rose for an inexpensive daily approach to wine.

cream_peas

 

  • 1 lb. fresh cream peas or hull peas
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin or minced
  • 4 strips of peppered bacon or 3 oz salt pork, sliced or minced
  • 1 quart chicken bone broth or boxed stock
  • 1 bunch kale, curly, lacinato, oak leaf, whatever you love. Collards or mustard would work as well
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

Heat a heavy bottomed dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add your pork product.  Cook until the fat is rendered and the pork is starting to get crispy.  Add the garlic and cook briefly until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute.  Add your beans and stock to the pot.  Add salt and pepper to taste and the bay leaf.  Bring to the boil and cover. Reduce heat to a mild simmer.  Cook for 2ish hours, if the liquid begins to reduce too much, add water 1/2 cup at a time.  After about two hours, you should have a reduced liquid but it should resemble a thicker soup.  Chop your greens and toss them into the mix.  Cover and cook about 20 more minutes.  Taste for salt, always add more pepper.  Done and done.

I will admit now that I have given you this delicious and super easy recipe, I use cornbread mix.  I have really liked the gluten free mix from Bob’s Red Mill.  I always add a can of creamed corn and an extra egg. I also like to brush the cornbread with melted butter when it has about 10 minutes left to cook. Always cook it in a cast iron skillet (if you want optimal flavor).

My favorite way to eat this is to crush up my slice of cornbread into a large bowl and ladle the beans and greens over top.  Maybe add a few dashes of hot sauce, stick your nose in that bowl, and shovel in that deliciousness. Enjoy!

 

 

Bringing Home Baby(s)

We have just completed our first week (and a few days) of being goat owners.  Has it really just been a week?  Wow, it feels so much longer.  It has been a week of laughter, fear, joy, and tears.  And this is just the start of our adventure.

We chose to go with a dwarf variety of goat for so many reasons but the main one being that they are adorable!!! Our plan for the goat factor on the farm is to produce dairy so we chose Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats. They are known to be easy to handle and their milk is said to be sweeter than a large goat. Being new to goats and new to dairying, we thought it would be a good idea to start small.

The first few days were a struggle to get the kids to take a bottle.  They had never had one and had no idea that the weird tall animals shoving gross plastic things in their mouths were actually offering warm, delicious nourishment. Our doeling caught on quickly and soon she was sucking down the ozs as if it was the last bottle on Earth. Our buckling on the other hand was leaving me terrified and in tears. He would not take that bottle. The Hubinator would have to crouch over him and brace him in his arms while I pried open his little mouth, shoved in the nipple, and clamped my hands around his face. It was horrible. He was barely taking an ounce. One lunch time feeding I just sat in the pen and sobbed because I could feel his little ribs and backbone but could not make him understand that I was giving him what he wanted. In desperation I skipped the next feeding hoping that he would be ravenous. It wasn’t as magical as I had hoped but between the two of us we did get a whole 4 ounces in him. The next morning I tentatively made up their bottles and went out to the pen. I fed our doeling first figuring I would have another struggle with the little man. All of the sudden, here he was, jumping on his sister’s back and trying to grab the nipple out of her mouth. I picked up his bottle and he latched right on and sucked down the whole thing as if he had been doing it all along!!! I then cried tears of joy. The moral of this story?  Keep at it, they are stubborn little buggers but they will get it and when they do get it, you better hold onto that bottle for dear life!

Let me introduce our little guys!

Jameson_introThis cutie pie is Jameson. He will be our one and only wether (more on that later) but as he is a twin we didn’t want to separate him from his sister so, he’s my little buddy.  Since we took him out of the car on day one I have been picking him up, cuddling him, petting him, and generally trying to bond with him. This has made him easy to handle and a very sweet little guy.

Pickles_intro3This little milk gurgler is Pickles.  She is a silly, kick up her heels kinda girl.  She has been a strong drinker since day two (day one was a little off for both) and the Hubinator has taken her on as his baby girl.  She hasn’t been cuddled as much because hubs is just not much of a cuddler but, I have been picking her up and playing with her feets and generally getting her used to being handled.

These two kids are the first of our herd and having them has already taught me so much. I feel a bit like a new mom and worry every night when I put them in their shelter. I worry every morning when I let them out. I worry if I am outside and don’t catch a glimpse of them after a few minutes. I am excited to see them becoming more agile, I feel pride and sorrow when I let them out in the morning and I swear they grew some over night. I am guessing some of this is how new moms feel, never having human kids of my own. I know it will get easier as we add more to the herd and have a little practice but right now it is a bit overwhelming.

Today marks another milestone in our goats lives.  We are taking them to the vet to have their first round of vaccinations and hopefully learn how to give them vaccinations ourselves.  Goat farmers are a self sufficient bunch, farmers in general are, and we can’t be running off to the vet every time someone needs a vaccination.  Especially when we begin breeding our does.  We are also having my little man wethered or castrated.  We do not plan to use him as a buck for our herd and like I said, we did not want to separate him from his sister.  So “off with his nuts”, not to be crass.  I am fearful because I do not want him to be in pain but I know it is the best thing for him and everyone will be much happier this way.  Speaking of, it is about that time.  Fingers crossed that momma doesn’t cry and I will fill you all in on the gory details next time!

We Got Goats!

We have some big news, folks!  One of the farms we have been waitlisted on for goats, gave us a call yesterday.  She had a few surprise births over the weekend and now has a set of male/female twins and a buckling that are available for adoption.  Well after the initial “Oh Shizz, this is really happening” reaction, we gathered ourselves and came up with a few questions to ask before saying yes.  Questions were answered and deposits were made.  We pick up our new kids, our first goats, next week.   AAAGGGHHHH, yes, this IS really happening.  Excitement and fear settle in.  My husband at one point said to me “Hun, smile.  Remember, this is a good thing”!  Oh right, I’d forgotten briefly.

Now it’s time to kick things into high gear.  We have been slowly piecing together our penning area, thinking we had plenty of time, and have moved the proposed spot three times.  This past weekend we built the feeding pen, a 10X10X6 dog run.  Boy howdy, let me tell you! Chain link is not fun to work with in 98 degree heat. However the problem solver in me really enjoyed getting the kinks out.  A couple hours and some stiffened claw hands later, it was built.

Wrong spot but at least it is built!
Wrong spot but at least its up!

 

Not only did we get our first goats yesterday, luckily, our shed was delivered as well.  We plan on using an Arrow 10X8 galvanized storage shed.  Down the line we will install sleeping shelves but for the moment, we will spread a thick layer of straw on the floor.  We also plan on using some pallets to partition off sections, you know, for “privacy”.

arrow_shedI had plans to finish unpacking the upstairs this week however, that is going to have to wait.  I will be spending the next week running around to farm and ranch stores collecting everything we need for these kids.  Oh yeah and,  Husband and I will be putting up many many yards of fencing this weekend.  Our farm life begins!

My First Unfinished Project

I think we're going to need a bigger truck.
I think we’re going to need a bigger truck.

We’d been at the new house farm for about a month and it was time to start building things.  My 3d-printer is still in the garage, my oscilloscope and half of my electronics tools are still in some mystery unlabeled box.  Although I do know where my auto-bbq is.  Of course it’s 105 degrees outside right now, so I don’t really want to spend 16 hours smoking a pig shoulder.  Quite frankly, right now we don’t really need fancy 3d printed parts, or motion sensors. (I’m sure later on I’ll have plenty of need for a coyote perimeter sensors, powered by an arduino, scavenged op amps and lots of electrical tape when I run out of solder)  Did I mention we have road runners on the property too?  I’ve watched enough cartoons to know that road runner will beat the coyotes every single time.

My parents had graciously bought us a small greenhouse kit which we’ve slated to be our first small aquaponics setup.  It’s going to be a while before it’s fully operational.  Actually it’s going to be a while before it’s even partially operational, but I won’t let that stop us.  So on Saturday we started to put together the greenhouse.  The instructions said it would take 2 people about 8 hours, and they weren’t kidding.  Despite a rather large number and variety of parts, putting it together wasn’t too bad.  The only hard part was lining up the triangular panels where the walls meet the roof on the front and back.  I think Liz and I will need marriage counseling after that part of the assembly 🙂

Being in software for a living, I sometimes forget that if you start off in the wrong order, you can’t just go back and re-write some stuff.  Here is the point where we realized the “fish tanks” are not going to make it through the doors:

20150822_115322

But at this point, everything was out of the box, like aluminum pick up sticks.  We weren’t picking up the fish tanks till the next day, and besides I needed to at least bury the sump tank, so we pressed on ahead.  I’m not sure if we’ll just pick the greenhouse up and lift it over our tanks later, or maybe partially disassemble it.  But we’ll make it work somehow.  Anyway, we pressed onwards and finished building the greenhouse.  It felt good to have our first structure on the land we built ourselves.  There are many more to come, and most of them won’t come with a kit.

Look we're growing boxes!
Look we’re growing boxes!