The Mad Farmer’s Trip to Polyface Farms

For those who personally know the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy it may come as no surprise that this year the TSL Urban farm duo decided to take a trip to Polyface Farms owned and operated by Joel Salatin. For those who don’t know, or who tune out when the Mad Farmer starts talking about subjects that interest him (but perhaps not the listener), Joel Salatin is a pretty big deal in the world of regenerative farming. He is often a keynote speaker at Mother Earth News Fairs, a sought after guest on permaculture and farming podcasts, the author of multiple books, including, “Confessions of a Lunatic Farmer”, and “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal” (the Mad Farmer’s personal favorite) as well as a bunch of others. He offers a farm tour every other Saturday in the summer at his Shenandoah Valley farm.

Because Miss Mercy might be the most understanding and loving spouse on the planet, when the Mad Farmer came home from his day job (he is an IT professional at a very old and established bank in Kansas) and said “it’s time to get out of Kansas, let’s go see Joel’s farm”, she did not hit him with a rolling pin, have the Farmer declared insane and file for Power of Attorney or throw heavy objects at him, she said “that’s a great idea” (told you she wins”The Most Understanding Spouse award). For those not familiar with fore-mentioned award the first year it was awarded was when Joel Salatin said to his wife “Honey, let’s start a grass fed beef farm”.

So the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy started planning their trip to see what a working, regenerative, soil-building, farm looked like. By “planning” we mean that Miss Mercy looked online, saw that tours of the farm were offered every other Saturday in the Summer and the tickets were $20 per adult, asked the Mad Farmer if he wanted to do this, and, when told “yes”, booked tickets. That ticket purchase set in motion two things: One, the most spontaneous and loosely planned trip the Farmer and Miss Mercy had ever undertaken and, two, an instant increase in devotion and love for his spouse beyond what the Mad Farmer thought possible. That statement might seem either trivial or overly dramatic, depending on who is reading it but, for the Farmer, already really enjoying his marriage to his favorite partner and best friend, it was a kind of “Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day kind of moment”.

It is always a surprise to the Mad Farmer that, in God’s infinite mercy, He allows room in the human spirit and heart for growth beyond what you think is possible. When the Farmer’s first daughter was born the Farmer really thought “How could you love anyone more than this tiny child”? When the Farmer’s second daughter was born, he discovered the answer to the first question was “This is how you can love more. You don’t have less love for the first, your heart just grows to hold love for the second”.

When the Farmer met and married Miss Mercy, his heart grew some more. Miss Mercy has put up with a lot of wild goose chases, random quests and downright off-the-cuff projects from the Farmer. She puts on a smile, checks her common sense at the door and either follows the Farmer down the path, or puts bread crumbs on the path back to sanity so, when the Farmer comes to his senses, he has a trail to follow back to solid ground. When Miss Mercy got on board for the trip to Polyface, the Farmer’s heart grew, the Universe made a little more sense and a trail of bread crumbs sprang into existence.

Next: Planning and the Trip

Worm Farming

Yesterday the Mad Farmer Homestead became a vermicomposting homestead. In case you are not familiar with vermicomposting it basically is “worm farming”. Worms are placed in some kind of container, usually with varying types of worm bedding materials and then fed with kitchen scraps, shredded newsprint, all sorts of things really. Once the worms process the input materials they extrude output materials. In case that’s too vague they eat lots of stuff, process it, and then poop it out (I’m not a huge fan of the Oxford comma, but this post feels like it’s going to be peppered with them, so feel free to let me know how you feel about it).

If you know Miss Mercy at all you would know that she loves worms. Big worms, small worms, any worms at all really. Growing up her dad owned a bait shop and because at the time she was young Nike had not yet been accused of using child labor for personal gain, her dad would send her and her brother out after a rain storm to collect Night-crawlers to be sold at their bait shop. Oddly enough, from the Mad Farmers viewpoint, it is hard to reconcile her collecting worms to be used as fish food in her younger years and her current gentleness when planting in the garden and making sure no worms are harmed in the process. The Mad Farmer has plenty of childhood memories that don’t make much sense when taken in an isolated context. There is no accounting for which memories you look on fondly I guess and it’s really more background info at this point.

Miss Mercy is a Master Gardener and is familiar with vermicomposting and, because the Mad Farmer has been researching Permaculture and ways to improve soil and plant productivity, the Homestead has been interested in vermicomposting for a while. The Mad Farmer’s sister, the Swamp Gardener, had gifted the Homestead with a commercially made worm bin. The unit stacks, has a spigot for collecting worm tea (nutrient rich liquid created by the worm byproducts) and multiple trays for allowing the migration of worms to new medium and the collections of worm castings (poop) for use in the garden. A princely gift that lacked two things: actual worms and the knowledge of how to work it (and possibly an overwhelming amount of other projects, but I guess that might be three).

Two years ago the Farmer created a structure at his homestead that he has dubbed the “Pub Shack”. A picture of the structure is the featured image on the TinySustainableLife blog. The Pub Shack has a garden shed on one end, a Key West themed bar/entertainment space in the middle section and a small deck on the far end. In the bar space there is a refrigerator made of a converted chest freezer. The only reason this comes into play is that one day the compressor on the freezer failed. The Mad Farmer had watched multiple YouTube videos on converted freezers to vermicomposting bins so of course the homemade freezer conversion was more appealing to the Farmers “tinkering” nature than the fully functional worm bin that had been gifted to the Homestead.

So fast forward, the Mad Farmer has watched videos, done online research, looked at books, and converted the freezer to a worm composting bin, filled with growth medium, kitchen scraps and set up for success. Squash, carrots and other edibles started growing in the bin, sowed by the introduction of kitchen scraps, but so far no worms. Then, because Miss Mercy has contacts everywhere there are Master Gardeners, worms became available. You might have heard the expression “When the Student is ready, the Master will appear”. The Mad Farmer equates it with “If you Build it They will Come”. Either way, a Master Gardener who was ready to pass on their worms overheard Miss Mercy discussing the project and, suddenly, hundreds of red wigglers appeared at the Homestead.

The worms are currently learning the layout of their new home. The Homestead is excited to have access to worm tea and highly nutritive worm castings. Miss Mercy has been super excited and overly concerned for their well-being. The Mad Farmer is hoping he has better success on his first foray into vermicomposting than he did with beekeeping (you can see why Miss Mercy might be overly concerned). How will it work out? How will worm farming enhance the Homestead? What happens next week on the same Bat Channel? Stay tuned to find out…

P.S. If you are a worm farmer yourself, we would love to hear about your experiences. Just leave us a comment.

Homestead Maintenance

A while back the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy were planning on having some dear friends over to the Homestead. It was going to be the first time in a year that we were all able to be getting together after a very trying time for our friends. The day before we thought they would be able to come over we lost all water pressure in our kitchen sink. Not an ideal event when you are planning on cooking a turkey, making side dishes and would like to be able to wash up, clean vegetables and in general, use your kitchen.

So, the Mad Farmer did what any thrifty person would do, instead of calling a plumber at over-time rates for an after hours on-site visit, the Farmer got under the sink, turned the water off at the hot/cold taps and discovered that our hard water had corroded the taps to the point that you could not shut the water off locally. After a whole-house search and a quick call to the Mad Farmers brother, who originally owned and re-modeled the house, the main water shutoff was located and turned off, allowing the Mad Farmer to proceed.

The Mad Farmer would like to say he’s an expert plumber. The Mad Farmer would also like to say that he just won the Lottery, sadly, he can’t say either thing without it being untrue. The Farmer is a mediocre plumber. I understand the basics and have replaced toilets, sinks and made minor repairs. In this particular case after struggling to finally getting things loosened up and disconnected it was discovered that the hard water at the Homestead had created calcification and mineral deposits in the connecting pipes and pieces had broken off and clogged the faucet. Because it took the Mad Farmer a significant amount of time to get to the point where he knew what he was dealing with it was dark, and late.

So, we’re at Home Depot, about 1/2 hour before the store closes, deciding on a new faucet. God Bless America. There are countries in the world where there is still not access to clean, potable, running water. In America you can need to replace a part of your personal infrastructure (your homestead) you can hop into your fossil fuel burning conveyance (your car) and mosey on down to your local home improvement store. Where there were a bewildering number of choices at 9:00 pm on a work night. After a discussion on various features that we would never use we finally decided not to get the faucet that you wave at and it would tell you the time and instead went with one that basic functions, like on and off, but also had the intriguing “bell shield” technology that would create an impenetrable outside “bell” of water that would prevent food particles from devastatingly flying into unrestricted corners of your sink while washing your plate off – cool right?

So, two hours later, with the water at the homestead shut off, the Farmer knew (because he has been married to her for eight years) Miss Mercy would be much happier in the morning if she had coffee and and a shower. The Mad Farmer finally had the new faucet and hoses installed and SUCCESS – water in the kitchen sink of a pressure they had not seen the purchase of the Homestead. It was 11 pm at night and the Farmer was tired, but proud. Resting comfortably on his pillow knowing he had excelled at a mediocre job in 2-3 times the time it would have taken a professional. In hindsight everything takes at least 2-3 times longer and based on experience where “Everything’s a Project” he should have know it would be.

Fast forward six weeks. Water pressure in the kitchen is worse than when the Farmer replaced the faucet. Fearing that he had overpaid for a faucet, the Farmer scheduled an appointment with the Department of Making Sad About Your Water to come check his pressure. After several scheduling mishaps he finally was told by an employee of the Department that his water pressure was outstanding and way better then the employee’s water pressure at his homestead. The Farmer groaned. This meant a trip under the sink. Learning a lesson from the original problem he turned off the Homestead water first. Under the sink, unscrewing connections, small space, not pleasant, the Farmer could not find a problem, probably because he was a mediocre plumber. Finally, the actual way to unscrew his new hi-tech nozzle was discovered. And, what did he see?

The brand new nozzle was completely clogged with small bits of rubberized particles. It was weird looking. Clearly a problem. Fortunately there was small wire screen preventing said particles from clogging the nozzle. The Farmer wonders if the screen was in place because the faucet manufacturers knew this was a potential problem but failed to disclose it to unsuspecting consumers or if it was just far-sighted design on their part to prevent problems – no way to actually know, just it was there. After dislodging said particles, water pressure in the kitchen miraculously returned to previously exciting levels.

The moral dear readers, is that if you have a Homestead, there are always going to be surprises and sometimes the simplest explanation is covered by Occam’s Razor. What surprises have you had at your homestead? Were the fixes simple or complex?

Technology and the Microwave

About three months ago the light bulb in our under-the-counter microwave in the kitchen burned out. No big deal, just put in a new bulb, right? Well, when the Mad Farmer removed the old burnt out bulb the entire bulb housing came out of the microwave with it. Because the Mad Farmer is just human and occasionally makes mistakes he attempted to just re-insert the bulb housing back into the Microwave without unplugging it first – you can probably see what is coming….

Cue a spark, a flash, a pop, a circuit breaker tripped and a very startled Mad Farmer. After resetting the circuit breaker the outlet tested fine but the microwave was still non-functional. After a quick search of the inter-webs for a repair manual for our particular brand and model of microwave (aren’t the inter-webs amazing?) and after a little time with a circuit tester it was determined that our microwave was kaput. The Mad Farmer was briefly upset for being a Dufus of the 1st degree for not unplugging the microwave. Then came the awkward discussion with Miss Mercy about destroying our microwave (by accident, but definitely not functioning) and what we should do – repair the one we had or get another.

Much to the Mad Farmer’s surprise Miss Mercy went way outside the box and suggested we not replace the unit, at least not right away. The wise wife suggested that we try an experiment and see what it was like living without a device that re-heated or cooked our food with super-excited molecules and could make people sterile if there was not proper shielding in place. The Mad Farmer was open to that suggestion so we decided to give it a try. Right away we noticed two immediate issues: the Mad Farmer started really missing the light for cooking provided over the stove (the actual initial trigger for the entire process) and we both missed the clock/timer function that allowed us to easily discern the time and, optionally, allow timing of dinner preparations.

Eventually we discovered the other downside to not owning a working microwave – you can’t instantly reheat food. Turns out somethings reheat in a cast iron skillet very well, somethings reheat in the oven really well, somethings reheat in a pan on the stove very well. Somethings don’t reheat well at all no matter what method you use. Interestingly this started to change what we decided to cook and eat. Miss Mercy dislikes left-overs for multiple days in a row (unless it’s tacos – that seems to be okay) so we started to try and select meals that are easily reheated as leftovers or not have leftovers. It is interesting how we started to adjust what we cooked and how we cooked to start to take in account how leftovers impacted our future meals, mostly lunch.

The Mad Farmer started reflecting on his history and realized that he could not really remember leftovers growing up. We probably had leftovers, but I don’t think it was very often. We had a family of five, Mom, Dad, two boys and one girl. Breakfast was usually cereal, either hot or cold (Malt-o-Meal was the best), Lunch was often sandwiches, Dinner was the big meal of the day and it was usually on the table at 5:30 pm. If we were having hamburgers I’m pretty sure there were five made. I remember a lot of casseroles so either they were appropriately sized or I’m sure they were reheated in the oven.

My dad was born on a farm and grew up with farm food, hot, lots of it, but not a ton of variety. My country Grandpa had two freezers in the barn, one for beef, one for pork. Grandma raised chickens. Typically we were sent to the barn freezer and told to bring something back. Didn’t matter what, they raised their own animals so eventually everything was eaten. Might be burgers one night, steaks another, chops another and so on. The Mad Farmer’s homestead is a little more adventurous when it comes to food and we’ve been trying to reduce the carbohydrate intake, so we don’t eat a lot of sandwiches or bread. Typically we start the day with Porridge or eggs. Lunch is usually salad (or should be), sometimes leftovers and dinner tends to be either home cooked or leftovers.

The point to this trip down memory lane is that growing up, at least until I was a teenager, no one had microwaves. My city grandparents bought the first microwave we had ever seen. It’s amazing how pervasive the technology has become since the initial introduction. Office breakrooms used to sometimes have a “toaster oven”, rarely, but sometimes they might have an actual stove. Most people tended to bring sack lunches. Now every place you go has a microwave available. We also have vastly increased incidences of cancer and other diseases that did not seem to be around when I was growing up. Maybe those things are showing up because we’ve knocked back all the things that used to get us before cancer. My personal theory is that it coincides with the introduction of highly processed foods and massive amounts of corn sugar (clearly a post for another day).

So to sum up, Miss Mercy and I decided to not replace the microwave. When we removed it we did install a super-cool motion sensitive LED under-the-counter light that has six different color settings so that the Mad Farmer can see what he’s cooking. We are learning to re-heat things the old fashioned way – using a cast iron skillet, pots and pans on the stovetop or in the oven. So far it’s working out okay. It does require a little more planning and slightly more time but that’s not always a bad thing. The upside is the food does tend to taste better. If you’ve never had toast in a cast iron skillet you should really try it – once we did we got rid of our toaster.

What’s your experience? Would you consider giving up your microwave? How much would that impact your life? We’d be interested in hearing others thoughts.

Homestead Progress

One of the on-going discussions that Miss Mercy and I have is about progress on the homestead. Sometimes it seems that nothing is going right, things we planted last year have died or are failing to thrive, all of the bird feeders we put up are full because a hawk moved into the neighborhood and has eaten or scared off all the birds. The first year I attempted to keep bees I was generously gifted two hives, equipment and about 60,000 bees. I was desperately attempting to learn how to keep them alive, attending meetings of the Kansas Bee Keeper Association , reading books and then suddenly, small hive beetles! I understand that small hive beetles are a natural part of the world, I understand that they only do what they do because they must – but I dislike small hive beetles with the same passion that I dislike squirrels.

The slow progress we seem to be making seems overwhelming at times. Sometimes we sit on the deck and discuss the lack of progress. The interesting thing that we discovered while discussing our lack of progress was that we were discussing it on our deck. Five years ago when we moved in to the Mad Farmer homestead there were two decks. One deck was what we called the “Fire Deck”, that was an existing deck in one corner of the yard that had been created to facilitate “fire pitting”. The second deck was a smaller deck that extended off the back of the house. The Deck that Miss Mercy and I were sitting on, drinking our morning coffee, discussing the lack of progress on the homestead was a deck extension we built three years ago about 22 feet by 17 feet of deck extension that wrapped around the house. The same year the Mad Farmer built his lovely bride a Pergola on the old portion of the deck. We are literally sitting on an example of progress.

When we bought the property it had many trees, it had weird bushes in strange places, the earthworm activity was good but lots of bare soil. Five years later we now have four decks, The Main Deck, The Deck Deck, The Fire Deck and the Dock Deck (actually this build is in progress). We have a scenic pond, a partially completed decorative pond (waiting until the rains pass and we can finish it). We have removed the dead trees, the scrub trees and weird vegetation in the easements. We have the Pub Shack and the Hugel mounds. We are clearing space for a Green House and Miss Mercy’s Flower garden is starting to bloom – the Hollyhocks are amazing! When you look at pictures from when we moved in until now the changes are actually amazing. Miss Mercy has dug a lot of post holes. Your humble Mad Farmer has moved a lot of wood chips and dirt. We have a plan on where we want to go. We’re working on it. I’m not sure who initiated the phrase “Every step in right direction is a progress”.

Every movement forward is in the right direction. As long as it’s forward, it’s progress. Life is like that – every moment is either forward or backwards, always pick forward and you are moving in the right direction.

The Spring of Rain

I’m sure most folks follow the weather to some extent, even if it’s as minimal as noticing if it’s raining or cold or hot or whatever while walking to their car or looking out a window. Here in Kansas we have a saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes, it’ll change” and typically that is what seems to happen. Except this Spring Kansas has decided to make up for whatever drought-like conditions we have had over the last 10-20 years and go ahead and get us all the water we need for the next several years. The only problem with that is that most folks have not adjusted their homesteads to handle that much water all at once, including your humble Mad Farmer.

Several years ago when I first heard about Permaculture I started reading everything I could find and started listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos and reading blogs. There are some truly great resources available now, Scott Mann’s Permaculture Podcast, Diego Footer’s Permaculture Voices, Paul “The Duke of Permaculture” Wheaton at Permies.com, Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast, Rob & Michelle Avis of Verge Permaculture and of course, Geoff Lawton, the appointed heir of Father of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, as well as many, many more. Once you get into the actual design stage of Permaculture my biggest take away is storing and using energy – more specifically water.

Successful Permaculture design, and for that matter, any site design needs to account for water: how much, where it comes from, what you will do with it, how it can be stored and ultimately, directed back into your site or off site in the best way possible. We’ve been at the current homestead for just over five years. When you make changes slowly over time it’s difficult to see what has changed. We have been taking pictures along the way and it’s startling what the property looked like five years ago and how much we have actually accomplished in that time. Some of the changes have been a deliberate attempt to shape our landscape, some of the changes have been made for convenience and lifestyle and some have been just flat out experimental “Hey, let’s see what happens if we do this”.

The farther I move along the Permaculture path and work on deliberate design the more I understand there is always more to refine and tweak and re-design. It turns out that because life is an ever-changing system there are always variables you can only attempt to plan for. Maybe it’s 10 inches of rain in two or three days, maybe it’s a scorching hot summer or a bitter cold winter. Plan resilience into your systems, remember that “One is None, Two is One and Three is Better” when working on your designs and systems and remember that almost everything has multiple uses and inputs and outputs, almost nothing in nature is a single straight line. Observe, research and plan and good luck with your variables.

TSL Homestead and Air Conditioning

So here in Kansas the seasons can turn pretty rapidly. Last year we went from freezing cold straight into 90 plus degree days (we’re still Fahrenheit here in the U.S. in case you are keeping track) and it was a very strange gardening year. Really didn’t have much of a Spring at all and it showed. Tomatoes struggled, they are the Divas of the garden anyway, and everything else needed regular watering or it scorched. The Cucumber beetles and Squash Vine Borers ate everything else that wasn’t protected. Overall, not a year you look back fondly on if you’re a Mad Farmer.

This year it was cold, Winter had snow more like I remembered from my childhood, more years ago than I care to discuss, and Spring was definitely coming in like a lion. Lots and lots of storms, Tornadoes in Missouri and lots of wet and chill. For all the folks out there screaming “See!!!! Climate Stuff!!!!!” there is a scientific explanation for at least part of it. The Mad Farmer is not on the anti-climate change wagon, I’m sure that people have some impact on their environment, both good and bad. I’m also not a “climate denier” whatever that is. Climate is weather and environment – good or bad, it’s climate – I guess you can “deny” it if you want but I don’t think climate cares. Personally my feeling is, if we caused it, we can probably fix it but we better make dang sure what we are fixing or it could be worse.

Anyway, the science stuff that explains a bit of it is that according to what I’ve read* there is El Nino and La Nina, basically wind systems that pass over the Pacific Ocean. Depending on which way they go they have a different effect on climate. Every few years they switch as Primary and Secondary systems and whichever is the Primary system impacts where tornadoes and storms appear. When La Nina is strongest Tornado alley shifts South and East, causing more storms and tornadoes in places like Missouri and Louisiana, where there typically aren’t as many and reducing those types of events in the Northern parts of the U.S. where they tend to be more usual.

Anyway, this post is not a climate change discussion but the weather does have an impact here in Kansas. It had been cold and wet for most of late Winter and early Spring and there was very short period, maybe three days, where the temperatures got up into the 80’s. Your humble Mad Farmer really doesn’t mind those kind of temps for the most part, he was born on the first day of Summer, but Miss Mercy is a different story. The Mad Farmer is cold when the temperature is below 80 degrees Fahrenheit and Miss Mercy is hot when it’s over 80 degrees. We’ve had many a discussion about where we might be comfortable together but all we’ve determined so far is it probably won’t be California – all other options are still in negotiation, including Kansas.

So, to make a long story longer, which is the Farmer way, the furnace filter was changed and we tried to start the Air Conditioning to prevent the upstairs bedroom from being overly warm. We got a limited amount of cold air coming out of the registers, not enough to effectively cool anything. At this point I’m really wishing we lived in a WOFATI (check it out here https://permies.com/t/wofati ), but we don’t so I contacted my brother, Jack of All Trades, and asked him for the number of the HVAC Wizard. We had the HVAC Wizard repair the furnace at our previous homestead and, like all wizards, he is mysterious and his ways are not the ways of mortals but he is effective and reasonable is his pursuit of coin.

The Mad Farmer was hoping that the HVAC Wizard would be able to perform his magic before the Summer heat of Kansas began in earnest. Sadly, it was not to be. The HVAC Wizard was plying his trade magicking the Heating systems that are the “HV” portion of his trade. Eventually, after several weeks of chill temperatures and lots of rain, the weather in Kansas finally decided to give Spring a miss and go straight on into Summer. At that point it became more urgent to contact the HVAC Wizard so through the magic of “texting” the Mad Farmer was able to gain an audience with the Wizard. The Wizard was able to fit a visit to the Farmer homestead into his busy schedule and just like that, he appeared.

Just like Merlin, the HVAC Wizards coming and goings are mysterious. He reminds this farmer of the long ago Shaolin Monk, Kane, wandering the earth and fixing HVAC problems instead of fixing the problems of individual villagers. However, I digress. The Wizard appeared and within moments had diagnosed the issue, acquired replacement items from his traveling warehouse (sometimes referred to as “a truck”) and repaired the Air Conditioning system, accepted a reasonable amount of coin in exchange for his labors and was on his was his way.

The Mad Farmer learned three important lessons from this experience. First, there is a component on the homestead unit called the starter kit. This is an important component that allows your Air Conditioner to actually start, it is a good thing when this works correctly. The second thing learned is that you should always hose off the exterior AC unit to prevent build up of dirt and anything that might impede air flow. The more air that can get past the cooling “fins” on the unit to the interior cooling core the more efficient your unit will operate. The third thing I learned is that buying inexpensive filters and changing them more often will save more coin than buying more expensive filters and changing them less often.

The ultimate take away is that if you don’t have the skills to resolve an issue yourself, it’s good to know who to contact to and that you trust that person. The homestead could have contacted a more commercial wizard and probably had a fine resolution, but it is satisfying to do business with local contractors that you have built a relationship with over time. The other take away is that when Miss Mercy can sleep easily at night, the Homestead runs more smoothly. A Happy Spouse makes a Happy House.

*Disclaimer: The Mad Farmer is not a weather expert and does not play one on the interwebs.

Squirrel Warfare

So because Miss Mercy loves the Mad Farmer (I have it on good authority this is true) and because she has access to the local Master Gardener library she came home today with a present for me – she checked out a book called “Outwitting Squirrels” for me.

The full title is “Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Bird-feeder by Squirrels” by Bill Adler, Jr. The cover blurb reads as follows:

“Birdloving Americans face a common enemy: the squirrel. This fast, crafty, incredibly greedy creature casts our pleasures to the wind, brings his buddies to lunch, and pillages our birdfeeders before our very eyes.

Here, at last, is the answer. OUTWITTING SQUIRRELS is a defense manual for besieged feeders of birds. Spooker poles, Perrier bottles, baffled fishing line, Vaseline, water bombs, cayenne pepper, and Nixalite – author Bill Adler, Jr. has tried them all (well, nearly all). In addition he rates popular birdfeeders, discusses specialty seed, profiles the enemy, and regales the reader with squirrel adventures and mis-adventures, many of them his own”.

So from this we learn two things: One, Bill Adler, Jr. appears to be a man after my own heart, tilting at the squirrel windmill – hopefully with some success. Second, this book is about keeping squirrels away from your birdfeeders. I am hopeful that some of the techniques will be useful in keeping the little buggers away from my vegetables, but time will tell. I am sure that if you have the slightest interest in the subject at all that the ongoing fight between MadFarmer and cunning rodent will continue and at the very least provide some slight amusement dear reader.

Here is to hoping all your squirrel battles are resolved in your favor…

Squirrels

The Mad Farmer lives in the Midwest, Kansas specifically, and the current bane of my existence are the squirrels in our yard. Where we live we have red squirrels. Slightly Northeast of us there are grey squirrels, maybe they are nicer, I hope so. Sadly the red squirrels are not nice.

Last year we had even more squirrels in the yard but last fall we were able to remove a couple of nuisance trees from our front yard, a sweet gum and a pin oak. Sweet gum trees are are fast growing and horrible tree. The female trees shed seeds in the form of spiky balls of death that you don’t want to step on, are good for nothing I’m aware of and come out from underneath the mower at a high rate of speed and careen into innocent bystanders shins. Literally a tree no one misses. The pin oak had been struggling with some disease and had been sickly the entire time we have lived here. With those trees removed it really opened up the yard and allows a lot more light into the garden.

Why is the Mad Farmer droning on about trees? Who cares? What does this have to do with squirrels? Well, we had a lot more squirrels last year when we still had those trees and for the most part they left my garden alone. The occasional squirrel would dig up an area of the garden and bury a nut or seed but for the most part we lived in harmony. They would sit on the fence and tease my dog. My dog would pathetically attempt to chase them and fail miserably. For the most part it was live, and let live. But after the tree removal incident of 2018 the squirrels were angry. They appear to have resented the loss of habitat, or an escape route or whatever their reasons, they seem to be unhappy.

This year, they are really teasing the dog. They chatter at all hours. They chew limbs off our silver maple and attempt to drop them on my head. And they eat my vegetables! The last part is the really irritating part. I might be Mad but I’m not crazy and this year I started my tomato plants and cabbage and other plants early, under grow lights in our basement. Like you should if you want to start picking tomatoes in June in Kansas. Didn’t start them as early as I should have but did start them in March and had a reasonable crop of young plants ready for transplant after the frost danger had passed. We’ve had very wet and cold spring this year so it took a while before I was able to plant those starts.

Over the last two weeks we’ve had six inches of rain in five days. We’ve had a little bit of intermittent sun. Those plants were digging life. They were growing well. They were putting on height. Then the squirrels started eating everything. Last year, I had issues, squash bugs, heat stroke, sudden storms that flattened crops – lots of problems, but all natural. I hear what you’re saying “Squirrels are natural” – so is arsenic and the plague. But this year the squirrels are eating every single top off my new tomato plants. Eating the pepper plants I bought at the Master Gardener fundraising plant sale. Digging up and chewing my baby cabbage plants. Tearing up my garlic. At this point I am not loving squirrels.

I’m currently in negotiations with Miss Mercy about my squirrel control options. My preferred method of squirrel control she is not loving (it involves the possibility of “shooting your eye out”). I’m not a fan of chemical resolution methods. If anyone has any natural methods of repelling the small, fury, unwanted Uncles of the animal kingdom I’m open to suggestions. Looking forward to hearing options. Have a great day and may all your squirrels be someone else’s problem.

Friends

One of my oldest friends and his wife drove up from Texas to attend my daughters wedding. JB and I met in high school and have been fast friends ever since. I was best man at his wedding and he is the reason my mother to this day will not attend outdoor weddings (his was on the hottest day in May in Kansas – it might not have been a record but it certainly made an impression on my mother). He and his wife are coming up on their 36th Anniversary and are one of the strongest couples I know. They kindly made time today to drop by the Mad Farmer homestead on their way back to Texas via visiting relatives on the way.

JB and I are the kind of friends where you can start a conversation, take some time off and not see each other for a while and pick back up where we left off like no time had passed. I was startled to find out we hadn’t really talked in depth for a considerable amount of time, almost two years. In my mind it was always like we had just talked a few weeks ago. Two things came out of that realization – one, I’m blessed to have people like that in my life. People who aren’t always right in the middle of things but that you have a deep enough relationship that when important things come up, they are there for you, and you for them. The second thing that came out of that conversation was that I really need to do a better job of keeping up with people that are important to me. There are always things that get in the way, always things that distract but it is important to remember the people and relationships are important and should be nurtured.

I am very thankful for the people in my life that are truly friends. I have a lot of acquaintances but a relatively small circle of actual friends and that’s okay. Better to have one or two true friends than 100 that pay lip service to the concept but can’t be relied on. Make the most of your friendships, nurture them and be thankful for the true friends in your life