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Archive for the ‘HOMEGROWN Life Column’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Raised Beds versus Rows

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREEN-150x150There are many types of vegetable gardens out there, from the traditional rows – one plant wide row with walkways in between – to raised beds (and wide beds) – to more natural, loose organic gardens. I try to stay away from rows because they are much less space efficient than the other two types. With rows, you end up devoting a lot more land to walkways, which isn’t a good use of space if you’re trying to maximize your harvest. They do make harvesting easier and are better suited for using equipment, which is why some people still use them.


At our old house we used raised beds, which have many benefits. You can lay hardware cloth (metal mesh) and weedblock under them to keep out gophers, voles, and weeds. They are the perfect solution for problem soils, whether you’re dealing with heavy clay or lead contamination (use filter fabric underneath to keep soil from migrating into the bed.) They can be used on slopes as terraced beds, just make sure you have proper supports to hold the weight of the soil.

garden 6-26-07

Organic, loose garden beds are a personal preference for many people. Lines are not straight and the plants are not organized into rows. I do really enjoy the looks of these types of gardens because they are productive while also being very aesthetically pleasing. There is usually more mixing of plants since rows are being utilized, which can be very beneficial in regards to companion planting and confusing pests.


We currently use wide beds. Raised beds are cost prohibitive at our scale and rows don’t produce enough. A 4′ wide bed can produce 4 times more produce than a row of the same square footage. Plants are closer together (no walkways in between) which means less weeding when the plants get larger and shade the soil.

Of course what you choose to go with is totally up to you because it really is personal preference. As much as I love the organic flowing look, I’m just too OCD to try it.


Rachel-Dog-Island-Farm1Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!


HOMEGROWN Life: A Trip to Remember

Thursday, July 9th, 2015


Vacation is something that I have a hard time coming to terms with, something that creates a great deal of confusion.

I recently returned from a road and camping trip that began here in West Missouri and ended up visiting my wife’s sister’s family in the Puget Sound of Washington. It was in most ways awe-inspiring and life-changing. I suppose in some ways it was depressing. Whatever it was, in the end, I’m still working out. But let me say a few things regarding the perspective of a place-based farmer that cares about the complicated nature of balance between people trying to feed ourselves while leaving room for the non-human creatures with whom we share the surface of our ever-evolving home.


I haven’t had a bona fide vacation since the summer of 2011 (a trip with my family and parents to Yellowstone National Park), so this was a big deal. This is not really a complaint, more of a data point. My wife and two sons and I had been saving pennies and quarters and random dollars in a “trip jar” for about two years so we could make the trip happen. We pitched our tent and made most of our own food, traveling light though covering many miles.

As an overview, we saw the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Mesa Verde National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Crater Lake National Park, the Oregon Dunes, and more. My wife, my hero, planned most of it and made the trip possible. If there’s an award out there for someone who inspires and takes care of what the family needs to ease tensions and feed the soul some nature-based nourishment, please let me know. I’d like to nominate her.

Anyway, back to the trip itself. Traveling through a dryer-than-seems-possible place to practice agriculture always provides interesting fodder for the farmer-minded. Colorado and Utah and Nevada, though mountainous, were full of agricultural activity. There were crops and cattle and sheep, seemingly larger than life attempts to make hay to last what have to be long and brutal mountain winters.

Mostly, I was shocked by Mesa Verde and the history of humans inhabiting and making a living in the cliff dwellings that dot the region. Before we visited, I had assumed wrongly that the agricultural practices would have occurred in the bottoms near creeks or streams. Instead, the farmers lived in the cliffs and climbed directly up to the blufftops (the “Mesa”) to tend their crops. They dryland farmed using innovative practices that certainly conserved water and directed it to the corn, beans, and squash the farm families depended on. This in an environment where trees can’t survive, other than some scrubby cedars and shrubs with limited height. To be honest, it was the desert. And while farming has long-occurred in the desert, it always boggles my Midwest/Upland Southern mind.


Couple that shock at lack of moisture with an “infrastructure” of vertical rock-climbing to go too and from the field, and it becomes obvious why we humans can collaborate and figure out how to occupy any ecological niche within the planet. We’ve got a toolbox, including farming, that helps us to engineer ways to make a living in almost any climate. While it might be a tenuous and fragile living (subject to changes in rainfall patterns and climate), we humans can figure out a diversity of strategies for hammering out communities. I say it again: Amazing, mind-blowing, inspiring, etc.

Now I’m back home, experiencing historical June/July rains and flooding. I’m still trying to sort out the details of how the travels have reinvigorated and changed me. Had to get back to work, write grants, sheer sheep, sort cattle. And all I can think about is how blessed we are to live in a society where we value special places enough to preserve them as shrines to visit.

So get out there, fellow citizens. Pitch your tents somewhere interesting. Look at the stars, smell the air somewhere. Watch the fireflies. Visit the places our ancestors have set aside for us to enjoy. We helped to invent the National Park system a few generations ago, and we need to keep them as sacred and protected places. They are our own domestic temples of inspiration. Farmer or non-farmer, country person or city person, get out there and see something new. It might change your life. If nothing else, it might confuse you in a very positive way.


HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.


HOMEGROWN Life: A Rough Kidding Season (or How Trouble Always Comes in Threes)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENWe knew the morning of April 12th that Kahlua was going to give us kids by the end of the day. Her ligaments were gone, her udder was filling and she was getting restless. She showed all the typical signs of imminent labor. We kept an eye on her throughout the morning while we did our usual spring chores – prepping and planting garden beds, harvesting artichokes, feeding animals.

By noon I decided to sit with her and soon noticed she had started having contractions. They weren’t close together so I knew I had a little bit of time. I called my friend, Brande, who has been present for all of our kiddings (it’s always great having another set of hands to help catch and clean kids), and Tom down to sit with me.

And then we waited. And waited some more. Her labor had stalled out. We were all getting restless. 8pm passed. 10pm passed. We were starting to get concerned. In the meantime I was texting goat breeder friends. Lynda at Foggy River Farm said that sometimes the stalled labor is due to a malpresented kid. Fantastic.


At 11pm Tom laid down on the ground to take a nap. Not 30 sec after covering his eyes with his hat Kahlua siddled up to him, laid down and started pushing. Well if that’s all we had to do we could have gotten this over a long time ago…

At first things seemed to be working until I saw a nose. Just a nose. Well that’s a slight problem. Yep, Lynda called it. A normal presentation is a kid in the dive position. Both legs out front with the head following. There were no legs. Just a head and Kahlua was pushing as hard as she could.

Progress seemed to be going very slow and there was no room to get a hand in. The best thing I could do was get the kid’s airway cleared so it could breathe in case the umbilical cord got pinched off and try to get that kid out carefully and quickly. I was finally able to get my hand in far enough to grab the kid and add some traction while Kahlua pushed. The next kid shot out with little problem. While being a pound larger the second kid was in the normal position and came out very easily.

Both kids are healthy and growing like weeds now. But that wasn’t the end, unfortunately. Kahlua started to go off feed. We were able to get her to eat using Fortified B injections, which can act as an appetite stimulant but by Wednesday she was yawning a lot which can signal pain. She didn’t have a fever yet so we held off on giving her antibiotics and just gave her some banamine. By Thursday, however, it was clear something was going on. She was grinding her teeth and now had a fever of 104.7 (normal is 102-103.5). A quick call to UC Davis and the vet was pretty sure we were dealing with metritis (uterine infection). The first antibiotic they recommended didn’t seem to be knocking back the metritis like it should have so another call the UC Davis and they had us switch. 7 days of treatment and she was back to her normal self.

We had just over 3 weeks before we were to expect the next two does to kid. We were only hoping that they would go smoothly. Unfortunately we were very wrong.

Tuesday morning, May 5th, it was clear Maggie was going into labor. She was unusually loud and obnoxious so I put her in the kidding stall and called Brande. Her labor seemed to be progressing a lot faster than Kahlua’s labor, but I noticed something concerning. Her discharge was an abnormal color – rusty brown and opaque. Not a good sign, but nothing I could do about it while waiting.


After just a few hours Maggie started pushing. The first kid came out quickly with little problem. The second kid shot out like a bullet in the dreaded breech-butt first position. This was exactly how Maggie was born. Made me glad she got her mom’s wide rump and that the kids were pretty small. Unfortunately, my fears were realized when the back feet of a dead kid emerged. Fortunately it came out easily but being the only doeling in the bunch made it even worse.

Because she had two bucklings we decided to just leave them with her for the time being. We were going to get them used to the bottle for when we took Maggie to shows or had milk test. Unfortunately we soon noticed that Maggie had a fishtail teat (looks like two teats fused together and has two working orifices), which is a disqualifying trait. I put her up for sale as a pet-only and within only a couple of hours she was reserved by the lady who bought her herdmate/paternal half sister, Trouble (now named Ranger).

Just one kidding left and they say that 90% of all kiddings go perfectly fine. The odds were in our favor. Except when they aren’t.


Friday, May 8th, Rainicorn went into labor. Like Kahlua’s it seemed to take her sweet time. Not a particularly good sign but contractions were strong. When she finally laid down around 4pm to start pushing nothing seemed to be happening. The bubble showed up and ended up drenching me in birthing fluid but nothing was in it. There was a problem. Another problem. I gloved up, and lubed up and went in. There was the issue. 4 hooves and a head. There were two kids and they seemed pretty large, trying to come out at once. Fortunately there were three of us and we got to work. After a quick call to Sarah, at Castle Rock, we had Tom pick her back end up and pushed the rear legs of one of the kids back in as far as we could. After 20 min we realized we were going to have to take her to the vet. The one kid trying to come out correctly was too large.

The question was, which vet do we go to? UC Davis or Cotati Large Animal Hospital? We were half way between the two but being that it was Friday afternoon we decided to go to Cotati due to Highway 80 being gridlocked with everyone trying to get out of town.

An hour drive got us there to find 2 vets and 2 vet techs waiting for us. They also attempted to get the kids out vaginally but found it impossible so the only next option was an emergency C-section. Anesthesia is not without its risks in general, but that goes doubly so for goats. They aren’t known for handling it very well. It was incredibly nerve-wracking watching the surgery and just hoping everything would turn out fine.


The doctor ended up pulling out a single, very large buckling. The breeder’s worst nightmare is a first freshener with a single buckling. There weren’t two kids like we had thought. He was simply trying to come out with all four feet and his head. Things weren’t looking so great for him when he was laid down in the towel lined rubber bin. He wasn’t breathing at all but the second vet worked and worked on him. She didn’t give up and it’s what saved him. By the time Rainicorn woke up he was trying to stand and had a very good suck reflex. I definitely attribute her smooth and speedy recovery on having him with her.

Our kidding season is finally over after getting progressively worse – I’m just happy everyone is fine.


Rachel-Dog-Island-Farm1Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!