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I've moved!

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I've moved!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Click on the image for find more Thanksgiving poems

The Pumpkin
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored;
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before;
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye,
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin, - our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books campaign: The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. The goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on the Eco-Libris website.

I learned of the campaign fairly late in the signup period, but managed to find a book that piqued my interest. The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff-and Making a Profit ($23.07 Paperback), by Richard Wiswall, was provided by Chelsea Green Publishing for this review. This is large format paperback, 184 pages, printed on chlorine-free, recycled paper and includes a companion CD-ROM with four spreadsheets and a doc file, all of which worked fine in the Open Office included on my netbook. A Kindle edition is available ($18.46), but I would not recommend it, even on the DX - the worksheets can be a bit of a strain to read even on paper and may be impossible as tables on the Kindle, plus you don't get the companion CD.

Most books on organic farming/gardening approach the subject from the gardening viewpoint. This book, however, introduces the organic farmer to several of the concepts needed to run a farm as a successful business, starting with the principle that profit is not evil (including a chapter on how to plan for a retirement where you don't have to keep working the farm until you die or sell off the farm to afford it). There are worksheets to help determine which crops are making money (after expenses which include more than just materials) as well as track payroll taxes (although I'd suggest considering a program like Quickbooks to handle that part of the business). The worksheets are pretty involved and some of the print is quite small on the page, but each one is included in one of the spreadsheets on the companion CD. The book may not make the actual gardening any easier (or find you reliable laborers), but it should assist in deciding which crops to grow and which markets to attend (if it costs you more to get ready for a market than you sell, you're better off not harvesting the crops at all). With a bit of hard work, good weather and proper planning, you might even get to the income level he discusses in the first chapter, bringing in after-expense profits in the six figures (at which point you might want an accountant rather than a do-it-yourself book for tax planning).

All-in-all, I felt it was a pretty good introduction for someone with an organic gardening background that wants to make it as a commercial farmer. The chapter on production efficiencies uses all organic methods, but doesn't avoid machinery that will be needed for larger operations, while chapters on calculating expenses and costs include hidden costs, marketing and CSAs, as well as special considerations if your spouse is also working on the farm. Most other books on the business of farming have an overwhelming focus on chemical rather than mechanical controls and wholesaling of commodity crops, rather than selling to smaller markets or direct to the customer.

Book Description
Contrary to popular belief, a good living can be made on an organic farm. What's required is farming smarter, not harder.

In The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook, Richard Wiswall shares advice on how to make your vegetable production more efficient, better manage your employees and finances, and turn a profit. From his twenty-seven years of experience at Cate Farm in Vermont, Wiswall knows firsthand the joys of starting and operating an organic farm-as well as the challenges of making a living from one. Farming offers fundamental satisfaction from producing food, working outdoors, being one's own boss, and working intimately with nature. But, unfortunately, many farmers avoid learning about the business end of farming; because of this, they often work harder than they need to, or quit farming altogether because of frustrating-and often avoidable-losses.

In this comprehensive business kit, Wiswall covers:

* Step-by-step procedures to make your crop production more efficient
* Advice on managing employees, farm operations, and office systems
* Novel marketing strategies
* What to do with your profits: business spending, investing, and planning for retirement

A companion CD offers valuable business tools, including easy-to-use spreadsheets for projecting cash flow, a payroll calculator, comprehensive crop budgets for twenty-four different crops, and tax planners.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beekeeping - Learn How to Keep Bees Successfully

When browsing the new releases at Amazon, I ran across this one for the Kindle: Beekeeping - Learn How to Keep Bees Successfully ($4.95). Unfortunately, this is one of those free books that keeps being posted around the internet as if it were written by the person posting it and with a misleading picture that implies it is a large hardback book, being distributed in ebook form.. This posting bmakes what looks like it's eleventh appearance in the Kindle store (the cheapest is $1.99).

Book Description
Here's everything and more that you'll learn with this 45 page guide:

Getting Started in Beekeeping
Clothing and Equipment Needed
How to Handle Bees
Acquiring Bees
Queen Management Techniques
Raising Queen Bees
Using Nectar and Pollen Substitutes
Keeping Bees in a Suburban Area
About Bacterial, Viruses and Fungal Diseases
About Varroa Mites and Tracheal Mites
The Small Hive Beetle
About Nosema
About the Disappearing Bees
Bee Stings and how to avoid them!
The Processing of Honey and the Equipment used for Honey Processing
Resources and References

I don't know about you, but that seems pretty ambitious for a 45 page book, even if this weren't a freebie being passed off as a comprehensive guide. If you want to pick it up in the Kindle store, be sure to check the formatting carefully. I'd be prepared to send an email off to Amazon Customer Service, as well, asking for a refund -- there are many more books out there on beekeeping that are both more comprehensive and written by true experts in either honeybee research or beekeeping, for not a lot more money (especially if calculated on a per-page cost).

If you are new to beekeeping, though, or looking for an overview suitable (perhaps; I haven't read this one in detail) as an introduction for in a homeschool curriculum, you can do a google search on the pamphlet's title and download from one of the many sites offering a free DOC or PDF copy, such as this one HERE (this one is a DOC file and their signup also gives you 56 more "books" on gardening, which are similar introductory pamphlets). However, I would recommend that you not provide any of these sites with your real name and email address -- use a throw-away account (used for signing up for this type of thing and abandoned after a few months) or a mailinator.com address instead.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Garden Recap - April

I haven't made many posts here recently - the rain that settled in this summer put a huge damper on my gardening (but not on the weeds). Most of the fruit simply rotted away (from fungal infections, it looked like) after 3+ weeks of solid rain. One exception was the muscadines and the kiwi (which we don't get every year). The kiwi is finally ripe enough to eat (you must wait until they soften or they are so sour that they rival lemons), although they are not much to look at. No pictures of them today, but I'm going to include some pictures from the garden, from April of this year, before the weeds took over.

This is the eastern fenceline of the garden (we have deer, but not very persistent ones - the fence is too low for an area with heavy deep populations; our stay outside the garden and graze in the fields), which is covered with kiwi plants (4 females and one male) and closeups of my female Kolomikta kiwi (finally large enough to flower and start to get a bit of color and the Arguta female that actually has had fruit a few times, both in flower. I also have a fuzzy kiwi, which blooms each year, but has been unsuccesful in setting fruit. It turns out that my male blooms at too early a time and misses the females most years (it is also smaller and more frost damage prone, so doesn't flower at all some years). I do wish I'd set the plants farther apart - they are at 8 feet and I think 15-16 would have been better (and so would a taller fenceline, maybe 8' instead of 5'). However, as you can see they would make a great, edible privacy fence (although your neighbors might complain a bit about having to trim their side each year).

In this set of pictures, you can see the potatoes that are up (and the soaker hoses that I don't think we used all summer), the late, purple asparagus and the meal we had the next day, after digging up a few of those early potatoes. The thinner asparagus is an all green variety, which was billed as Super Male and although it is mostly male, it definitely isn't all male. The Purple variety also isn't all male, yet it makes a much larger and more tender spear (males supposedly are better, as they don't waste resources growing berries). Since we do have berries on the plants all summer, each spring I find more asparagus hiding out in the garden (and in the orchard, under the fence for the grapes, so I know birds love the berries). These baby plants do take a bit longer to grow (2-3 years longer than buying roots), but they are also entirely free. Sometimes they are purple, sometimes green - the strongest ones I usually move to the asparagus row to fill in bare spots and extend it's length.

As you can see, by mid-April, some of the younger asparagus has already started to grow out. Once the spears on a clump get smaller than a pencil in diameter, I let that clump grow and stengthen up for the next year. As a result, we seldom eat asparagus as small as that seen in stores and ours is a lot more tender, as well. Since the harvest often starts in early march, but the time it quits, I'm glad to see it gone and don't miss it during the rest of the year. By this time, we've also started harvesting rhubarb, as you can see from the dead leaves left as mulch from a previous picking. Rhubarb isn't the happiest of plants in our garden (or anywhere in the south) - the summers simply get too hot and it's been much too dry, of late (this year being an exception). I can't help with the heat, although it has been much cooler this year and the rhubarb has been thriving, but I can help with the dry. You'll see a utility sink a bit upslope, that I use to wash off produce before it heads indoors, which keeps most of the mud out of the house. I hook up a short hose to the drain and let the runoff seep into the rhubarb, effectively watering it each time I trim and rinse produce. Since I've done this, the rhubarb has went from a couple of shriveled leaves all summer to looking like a healthy plant (but still nowhere near the size you'll see wild in much wetter climates with colder winters, such as South Dakota or Minnesota. The last picture in the set is the greenhouse, now stripped of plastic and nearly ready for the spring/summer season. We'll have to replace the chicken wire at the bottom (nailed to the foundation boards), or the rabbits eat everything inside that survives the puppies playing in it (which would not be much, as the puppies play pretty roughly ... maybe next year they'll have grown up enough to allow in the garden when I'm working). The ribs and supports are just standard PVC used for plumbing - we were told it would not stand up to outdoor use and we have had one rib crack and need repair, but it's now been in place nearly 15 years and the main upkeep has been a new plastic covering each fall (a black walnut tree used to attack it each year, but we've now removed it, as it was also dropping nuts into the garden, plus the greenhouse would get too hot to grow anything in the summer if left covered, so we take down the covering each spring).