Hello, all! It has been a while since I have posted a blog. About six weeks ago, I went back to school to earn a doctoral degree, so I have been quite busy trying to balance this new challenge in my life. I am on winter break now for a couple of weeks, so I have some free time to write a new blog!
Just before I started the program, Roy and I went to the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Conference in Denver. It was a new experience for me and I had a lot of questions for Roy as we were taking the 2 ½ hour drive to Denver. What is convention like? Who will be there? What are we going to do? How should I dress? I just did not know what to expect. I mean, what do I know about being a farmer and what can I bring to the table? Roy told me to just go with the flow and everything would be fine which made me feel a little better. Well, we finally got to the convention center for the two day event and looking back, we had an amazing time there. I am so glad we went and I am looking forward to many of the future events with the organization. We learned a lot of new things, met a lot of interesting people, and got to participate in some new experiences.
I found the first day to be the most interesting. There were a few speakers talking about their areas of expertise which were any number of topics such as cover crops, aquaponics, and how the school system is integrating local foods into their menus and the importance of doing so. I found Dr. Raj Khosla to be the most interesting. He was talking about adopting precision agriculture practices and technology to the farm. He is a professor at Colorado State University and was a dynamic speaker so I was captivated with what he had to say. Good thing Roy was there to fill in the blanks for me, though, because although there was a lot of content that I understood, I still had a few questions once he was finished speaking.
Once the speakers were finished, we were able to meet with them to do a little bit of networking. We made a lot of good contacts with several different businesses which is good for the future of the farm. In the past, it has been discussed to grow the farm with more land, but it was decided that we would do more with the land we have. These contacts that we made are so important to the future of Pfz Farms and there will be more about that in the future. Afterwards, we were invited to dinner at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club with the county officers of the Farmers Union chapters from across the region, Roy is the policy officer for the Phillips/Sedgwick county chapter. We sat at a table with a mushroom farmer from Steamboat Springs, a couple that are CSA farmers from the Western Slope, a very pregnant greenhouse farmer from Denver and an organic wheat farmer from Rifle. We had a great time learning about our new friends and we had a lot of laughs.
The next day there were more speakers, but more interesting was the session where we spoke about policy. The process of how this session was conducted was so interesting to me. Roy had done this before so he knew that this was going to be a focus during the convention, so he had a lot to bring to the table. He was up at the microphone often to give his input on the current policy of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Each time anyone was up at the mic, they would have to introduce themselves and state the chapter they represent. Possibly the funniest line of the weekend was after he had been up at the mic for the 9th or 10th time, introduced himself, and said “Roy Pfaltzgraff, Phillips/Sedgwick County, and if you don’t know that by now, you’re not paying attention.” Everyone erupted in laughter. They found it hilarious, as did I. He made quite an impression on everyone because when it came time to vote for national policy representatives, he was one of the 12 people elected to go to National Farmers Union Convention in Kansas City, Missouri in March. I was very proud of him and I admire his passion and devotion to his vocation. He is a true inspiration to me, not just during the convention, but every day.
Later, we went to the Harvest Moon Gala. Everyone got dressed up after business was finished to have dinner, drinks, play games, and participate in a silent and live auction. We had a few items in both auctions including; eggs for a year, four brother chickens, a couple of gift baskets of wheat flour, peas, and pea flour, and a quilt – all of which sold to help out the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union Foundation. The foundation supports the educational programs of the Farmer’s Union. We had a great time with our new friends, watching people play the games, and we had a good meal, too!
All in all, it was a great experience. I learned a lot and we made a lot of great connections to help move forward with the mission and vision of Pfz Farms. It was another step towards learning more about farming as I transition from City Girl to Country Gal! Till next time … I hope you all have an amazing 2018. I know I will.
I don’t think I had ever told Roy this, but when he told me he had guineas on the farm, I only knew of one kind of guinea – the guinea pig. All I could imagine was a bunch of guinea pigs running around the farm which seemed kind of silly and odd to me so I had to Google it; after all, guineas were not part of the typical farm animal repertoire. I never heard of Old MacDonald having a guinea on the farm and there certainly were no guineas hanging out in the barn with Charlotte and Wilbur in the book Charlotte’s Web. After consulting with Google, I found out that guineas were really weird looking birds that were loud and seemed kind of dumb. I wasn't sure about these birds, but I was interested to learn of the allure of the guinea.
When we pulled up to the farm for the first time, I saw all of the guineas rushing to the car in a group as if they were the welcoming committee. Or perhaps they ran over sounding their alarm and wondering who this new person was and why she was there. The volume level of guineas is a point of contention with many people who have owned guineas and believe me when I say they are loud! They are a built in alarm system on the farm so we always know when something is going on. Their squawking volume never bothered me much because they have a certain innocent charm about them that makes me smile.
They are certainly amusing to me as well. Not one day goes by that I don’t see them running across the farm chasing each other. One will be showing their place in the pecking order while the other is seen running away for dear life. They can be aggressive and can be considered bullies. I've also seen them chase the hens and I've seen them pull feathers out of the roosters’ tails. It is amusing to watch the dynamic between the chickens and the guineas but at the end of the day they all seem to figure out how to get along. Kind of like brothers and sisters, fighting one minute and tolerating each other the next.
I've read that they are stupid animals as well. I don’t like that word, but at first I did believe that they were intellectually challenged. But as time went on and having the opportunity to observe them, they seem that they are not as bad as what I have read. I have come to believe that they do actually have quite a bit of intelligence. I've actually watched them as they try to solve a problem – successfully! I think the problem is that they are not fully domesticated birds and their instincts take over; telling them that they need to wander around to find food even though there is plenty of food in the immediate vicinity of our farm. And in doing so, they look lost and get into trouble sometimes.
We've lost a few guineas because they decided to cross the road and did not pay attention. They are so observant when it comes to predators and strangers on the farm, but don’t consider a vehicle zooming by as a threat. They love to roam and are curious explorers, but that can be a dangerous excursion. If only they would learn to look both ways before crossing the road, I think they would be just fine.
Ooh – and the keets! Little baby guineas are called keets and they are the most adorable things on the planet! Guineas are not very good mothers and I am not sure if this is because they like to hide their eggs and then forget where they put them or if they just have such a small attention span that they cannot sit on their eggs long enough to ensure they are viable. I have a suspicion that it is both. Regardless, Roy and I have taken the eggs and put them in an incubator to ensure the keets survive. We have been successful in hatching dozens of keets and found each one of them happy homes.
I asked Roy one day if it was weird that I love the birds so much and he said that it is part of what he loves about me. My enthusiasm for the birds and every other part of the farm is apparently endearing which is something that no one back home could begin to comprehend. I am glad that I have a partner in life that understands me and my love for these birds. I didn't really think I could love them as much as I do, after all, they were funny looking, loud, and goofy birds – but I fell hard for these birds. It might sound strange, but I can’t get enough of the guineas and I can’t imagine my life without them.
Oh. My. Gosh. I did it again. I drove another very expensive piece of farm equipment.
It was time to harvest millet a couple of weeks ago to bring it to the grain elevator. One afternoon, I decided to ride along to spend a little time with Roy as he had been gone all day working in the fields. I got to the field and Roy was in the process of moving the truck to the other side of the field. He asked that I follow him in the combine. What? Drive the combine – all by myself? Didn't he see the anxiety ridden version of me when driving the tractor a few months back? And that was with Roy in the tractor with me! Is he sure he trusts me to drive the combine? Since my last “adventure” in the tractor, I was tentative because I lacked confidence in myself, but agreed because it would be a big help, not to mention it would save a lot of time … and if he trusted me, maybe I should trust myself.
Okay, here we go. I took a deep breath and got a brief lesson on how to make the combine accelerate, decelerate, and my personal favorite - stop! Accelerating to the top speed of 6 mph and I have to say that I felt pretty good about driving the combine. That is until I decided to push my comfort zone a little further to drive the combine while operating the pickup header in the front of the machine. Just like driving the tractor, there was a lot going on. I had to learn when to raise and lower the header to be able to navigate the uneven ground. It all looked the same to me so I was glad to have Roy by my side for my maiden voyage in the combine. He was able to tell me when to raise and lower the header so I didn't ruin the crop or the equipment. But that was not all I had to do. When the combine was full, I had to line up next to the truck and move the unloader over the truck bed to unload the millet. That was an adventure in itself. Again, I was glad Roy was there to help me with that.
All of the dust that kicked up when loading the truck with all of the millet we just gathered made my allergies go crazy! When we made a trip to the grain elevator the next day, my allergies were even worse. Back in Chicago, I had allergies growing up but as I got older I sort of grew out of having allergy attacks. I guess my system got used to the pollens and other allergens in the Chicagoland area well enough that my body was no longer reacting to them as I did as a kid. Now in Colorado, my body has to get used to a bunch of different allergens. Luckily there is a solution without having to take allergy medicine as I am not a fan of taking pills – local honey. I am glad that we have honey bees, so I can eat the honey to help with acclimate my body to the new local allergens. It certainly is a delicious alternative to allergy medicine because consuming local honey helps develop immunity to local pollen. It is similar to how allergy shots work. When exposed to allergens in smaller doses, your body builds up immunity to those allergens. So, these bees better hurry up and make a bunch of honey. I need them more than they will ever know.
All in all, driving the combine was an okay experience. I am getting more comfortable with developing my farm equipment driving skills and pushing myself out of my comfort zone more each day. Roy said that all he has to do now is get me driving the semi-truck. Uh … gulp … nope … not going to happen … but that’s what I said about the tractor and the combine and look at me now. We will see how long it takes to get me driving any of the trucks!
I was driving by the sunflower field the other day and all of a sudden the sunflowers look so sad. They went from a cheery presence on the farm to flowers that look like they just lost their best friends. The heads of the flowers are so heavy that they droop down, preparing for the next phase in their life cycle. The petals have started to wilt and soon the flower will shrivel exposing the reason we've planted these beautiful flowers – the seeds!
When looking closer at the sunflowers, it was interesting to see that the seeds formed an interesting pattern. Roy mentioned that the pattern is called the Fibonacci Sequence or the Golden Ratio. As I write this week’s blog, I remember learning about this in a video from my childhood called Donald in Mathmagic Land where Donald Duck discovers the awe and wonder of mathematics in nature, art, and architecture with the simplest of terms. I loved watching that video and was eager to share it with my son when he was old enough to understand it and anyone else who would be willing to watch it. It surprises me, even to this day, that not many people are as enthusiastic about the video as I am. Maybe it makes me a math nerd and if I am, I am okay with it because the video still fascinates me 30 years after viewing it for the first time. Here is the link if you are interested in watching Donald in Mathmagic Land on YouTube (https://youtu.be/Fv4gWPurN9k). Let me know if you find it as intriguing as I do!
Anyway, back to the sunflowers and seed harvesting. Roy will be harvesting the seeds in late October or early November. We are harvesting the seeds to make sunflower oil and will also have some for bird seed. The seeds are a favorite snack for much of the local wildlife such as birds, mice, and deer so knowing the right time to harvest the seeds is important. If we harvest too soon, the seeds will have too much moisture in it and has the potential to rot. On the other hand, if we wait too long the animals will start harvesting the seeds for themselves and there will be nothing left for us!
So, even though the sunflowers look sad now, I know that we are going to be able to produce a lot of oil and seeds to provide to our community and the surrounding areas. We’ve gotten a lot of joy out of these sunflowers and look forward to when it is time to harvest and see all of our hard work pay off. So, be on the lookout for updates on the website and our Facebook page for when we start selling the sunflower oil and sunflower seeds!
At this point in the farming season Roy is doing a lot of spraying in the fields. I've recently learned the importance of spraying, especially in Northeast Colorado. While growing up, the only thing I sprayed was a massive amount of hairspray (Aquanet was the preferred brand, of course) for the desired high-haired look of the 80’s. I will try to dig up a picture so you can see how skilled I was at defying gravity when it came to my hair. Anyway, when Roy was telling me that he was going spraying, I was curious as to what that was, why it was done, and what the benefits were in sustainably growing quality crops on the farm.
Without getting too technical, I learned that spraying is mainly done to treat ground for weed control where there aren't any crops to prepare it for seeding. Occasionally, Roy will spray growing crops to control weeds and sometimes apply small amounts of fertilizer, but if he does a good job spraying prior to seeding, then there is not a lot of need for spraying later on while crops are growing. The alternative to spraying to kill weeds is to till the soil which means the soil is turned over and broken up. The problem is that it is not sustainable to till the soil in Northeast Colorado because we don't get enough moisture and tillage destroys soil structure. By spraying we are able to conserve moisture in the soil and the weeds are less likely to sprout because they don't get mixed in the soil. It also reduces erosion, water pollution, and also reduces fuel use significantly which all fits into our philosophy of sustainable farming.
The fun part is that I had an opportunity to drive the tractor and spray the wheat field a few months back. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. I didn't really know what I was doing and why, but I did it. I was tentative at first because I was in a piece of equipment that was attached to another piece of equipment both of which cost more money than all of the vehicles I have ever owed in my lifetime combined – talk about pressure for a city girl! What if I broke the equipment? What if I ran into something? What if I messed up the crops? And most importantly, what was I going to wear? I couldn't really wear the frilly top and high-heeled shoes that I brought with me. I mean, I was relatively new at this farming thing so I didn't really have the right wardrobe for all of this yet.
So, I rode around in the tractor for a bit with Roy as he showed me all of the things I needed to know to drive the tractor to spray the crops. Then it was my turn …
We switched seats and I took the wheel. It was easy to drive the tractor, but there was a lot going on. I had to pay attention to steering the tractor, the GPS, lowering and raising the booms on both sides, turning, and generally getting used to what I was trying to accomplish on the field. It wasn't so bad once I got the hang of it and I did not single-handedly destroy the equipment – phew! Then Roy asked me to drive down the road to another field. I was so nervous driving on the road because the steering is so loose it is hard to keep the tractor going straight not to mention the tractor was going so fast! I asked, “How do I slow this thing down; we are going so fast!” He said in an amused tone, “But honey, you are only going 20 miles per hour!” I tell you honestly, it felt as if we were going 50 miles per hour down that road! I guess I need to continue to practice driving the tractor to get comfortable with it, so hopefully Roy lets me have another go at it. We will see – but maybe I will wait until next year.
Hello, again! One of our crops that we have at the farm is sunflowers. It’s been a while since sunflowers have been grown on the farm, but this year we decided to bring them back to our crop rotation. I was excited to have sunflowers on the farm because I have not had the opportunity to see them in this capacity. Back in the suburbs of Chicago, there are not a lot of opportunities to admire the cheerful beauty of sunflowers. There are plenty of florists who sell sunflowers in the Chicagoland area, but you really don’t see fields of them in or near the city. In fact, I have never seen a field of sunflowers in person … ever! I have only seen pictures up until now, so this year will be my first year seeing a real field of sunflowers in bloom and I am thrilled to experience it with all of you!
Roy seeded the sunflowers in early June and they are just now starting to bloom as some of them are starting to open and show their petals. By next weekend, they will be in full bloom and we will be able to enjoy the mass of sunflowers in the field for a couple of weeks. After that, it is time for harvest of the seeds. We grow oil sunflowers so we will press the seeds for the oil that we will begin selling in the fall. But for now, we will focus on the blooming of these gorgeous flowers! You are more than welcome to visit Pfz Farms to check out the sunflowers and perhaps take a picture in the field of flowers and take a sunflower home as a souvenir. You can also check out our Facebook page for more sunflower updates. It will be a great experience – especially for me. I have had a lot of new experiences on the farm and this is just another experience that I know I am going to enjoy and I can’t wait for all of the sunflowers to be in full bloom.
When Roy and I first met, we were friends, nothing more. When getting to know each other, I told him I wanted a farm. He said, “I have a farm”. I said, “Well, I want to have chickens on my farm”. He said “I have chickens”. He asked why I wanted a farm with chickens and I couldn't really give an answer other than telling him that I just felt like I was meant to have a simpler life than I have right now. “Interesting”, he said. I wasn't looking for a relationship; I was fine having a farm of my own with my own chickens. But that is not how the story ends.
I lived in the suburbs of Chicago all of my life and ended up working for Corporate America. I was always on the go and always had something going on. Rush, rush, rush … go, go, go! - That was my life. My desire and longing for a simpler life evolved when I was 26 years old (16 years ago … yikes!). I wrote a list of things that I wanted out of life. The list was completely different from anything I have ever known. How is it that I wanted to have a simpler life on a farm when I don’t even know what that means? Will I really have a simpler life or will it be more complicated due to my inexperience? Will I like my life if I make these changes? Will I regret leaving behind everything I have worked so hard for my entire life? Since then, I had a son, a failed relationship, a high pressure job, and a happy life - but more complicated than ever.
Roy and I hit it off right away. Although we led very different lives, we had a lot in common. We had similar life goals and ideals. We eventually fell in love and became engaged. I have to say that all of those worries I had about living on a farm have vanished. I love being on the farm with our chickens, guineas, bees, and cats. I love having a full garden with delicious fruits and vegetables. I love going out to the fields of wheat, millet, peas, and sunflowers to see how they are coming along. I love learning how to drive a tractor (although my first lesson was a little scary for me, but we will talk about that another time).
Don’t get me wrong, I have had to make a lot of adjustments going from living in the city to living in the country. Changes like being woken up by a rooster rather than a blaring alarm, going outside to gather up food for my meal instead of getting it at the grocery store, leaving all of the doors and windows open at night to let in fresh air instead of locking up every opening to the house, and having a little more privacy instead of worrying about your nosy neighbors and what they think of you. These are just a few of the differences in my life of which I love every moment. I look forward to sharing our experiences of the farm with you whether it is a humorous life adjustment, a story about the animals, or an update on how harvest is coming along.
I made it here, I am living my dream, and I couldn't be happier. Roy and I hope you will enjoy reading about all of our adventures at Pfz Farms!