Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Christmas Posting

Status of Farmhands

Mike graduated from Chassell High School in June. Per his request, we had no shindig. Some family came to witness the event (probably to make sure it was true). He worked for Michigan Tech’s Slowing Ash Mortality project this summer and learned a lot about identifying trees and doing field work, plus he got to collect some bugs to boot! He also worked on a gypsy-moth research project, which included raising young and tethering females to trees with dental floss to trap males. All of this experience solidified his ambition to become an entomologist. He plans to get an entomology degree at Michigan State but for now he is a biology student at Michigan Tech, with intentions to transfer to MSU prior to his junior year.

Genny is in the middle of her senior year at Michigan Tech and will graduate with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering in this spring. She joined Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Institute for Global Leadership as a first-year student and participated in her service-learning project in Ghana this past summer. She really enjoyed her 5-week trip and brought back pictures, stories, and Ghanaian recipes.

She also got engaged, upon her return, to her beau of almost 4 years, Karl Romanowicz IV. Despite the impression of a numerical lineage and the hard-to-spell/pronounce last name, Karl is an avid outdoorsman and very studious student (yeah, John checked). So far he has been a very helpful (and cheap) farmhand. They are going to be married June 16th, here in Chassell. We couldn’t be happier.

Lynn parlayed her remaining-term-appointment to the Chassell School Board into a full-fledged elected position. This was quite an accomplishment considering the spousal baggage she lugs around. Even though she has enough farm responsibilities to employ 4 people (more if they work like John), she fills many parts of days volunteering at Little Brothers—Friends of the Elderly and some afternoons and evenings here and there for the county fair and 4-H. If you are interested, her wine-making hobby produces faster than it can be consumed. She makes/knits/sews all kinds of practical things that can serve as an excuse to visit and yet feel productive.

John continues his efforts to support his hunting and fishing habits. While he gets out a lot for ducks and deer, he has very little but credit card statements and outdoor sporting paraphernalia to show for it. Yet, he takes the lead role in livestock rearing (at least at the beginning and end) to make sure the freezer is full. His professional work fosters interactions with many great students and colleagues, both in terms of their intellect and quality of their person. We especially enjoy their sharing in our farm and cabin facilities.

Farm Status

We increased the farm area by 50% this past year, purchasing a 10-acre parcel adjacent to the Northern boundary. The new property was an old piece of this farm and came equipped with a 1974 mobile home and dilapidated shed and neglected pasture, so it pretty much fit in with the existing facilities. Although we were not purposely looking to increase the acreage, we wanted to improve the chances that this property would continue its agricultural bent, so we scooped it up. We were able to find some folks who could use the trailer. The shed is wintering our honey bees, and the pasture was grazed most of the summer by our llamas and sheep.

We planted a pumpkin patch, growing about 300 pumpkins on half as many plants. Raised some sweet corn and pole beans, experimenting on whether we might add to the availability of produce. Both the corn and pumpkins did great. The pumpkins were sold as a fundraiser for a local charity. The corn was harvested and given away to families and friends. We might raise corn for U-pick to go along with next year’s blueberry crop. The blueberry crop was average this year, about 5500 lbs harvested. It seemed worse because it was half of what we harvested in 2010 and we had to open 2 weeks later due to the cold start to the summer. The apple crop was amazing, and it was a great cider year.

We raised 3 pigs and 5 lambs. We have about 6 chickens for eggs and 2 (heritage-breed) bourbon turkeys. Perpetually we have 2 llamas and the 2 dogs. John continues his ineffective attempts to regain the pastures from quack grass using mechanical means. Progress is slow but in the right direction.


We are evermore grateful each year for the agricultural diversions as we expand our experiences here on the farm. The different seasons bring changing flora and fauna, sounds and smells, and people and activities. The sounds evolve as the livestock inventory change and matures and the wild animal visits adapt to the seasonal norms. Daily we hear farm-turkey gobbles (shock gobbles at any loud noise) and sheep baaing complaints about having to eat hay instead of green grass. The llamas snort and “hum” at each other and at the sheep as they jockey for access to food bowls. Just a month ago the turkeys were limited to “purring” and clucks and the rooster was still only able to muster adolescent crackling attempts to crow. Red squirrels bark daily at Libby, who attempts to stare them down and use doggie ESP to get them to fall from their safe perches. We sometimes hear coyote yips in the summer evenings and wolves howl later in the fall. All summer long the morning sun and evening twilight are confirmed by the calls of sandhill cranes flying between fields used for feeding and marshes for roosting. The apple tree blossoms are followed by the delicate and bell-shaped blueberry blossoms. At the peak, in the best years, the berry bushes will “buzz” with pollinators. Pollination is the sweetest of sounds to a berry farmer.

We are becoming increasingly familiar with the early-summer sounds of tractors preparing fields and planting corn, strawberry plants and cover crops in the neighbors’ fields. June and July are the months for cutting and baling hay. Haying season at the neighbors’ is followed at our farm with the sounds of people picking blueberries. Blueberry picking is conducive to conversations. The opening days are mostly filled with discussions about the crop abundance. As the season wears on and the crop thins out, it can seem that the picking is just an excuse for many to get outside. The sounds of field corn and oats being harvested in the fall seem desperate as the days shorten.

We also are privy to many amazing sights. While installing electric fence in June, John was startled by a fawn when it ran out from its hiding place after Lynn turned on the fence prematurely. This same fawn was stepped over by a llama, twice, without moving, but John’s “electrical” shriek made it head for the hills. On the eve before the berry-season opener, John and a friend encountered a bear in the back patch. A short golf-cart chase ensued (cart chased bear). Deer can be seen most evenings in the summer. The aforementioned cranes are spotted regularly.

Although we cherish all these things, we cherish most the visits of friends and family. We enjoy the cart rides around the farm with kids as much as showing families the llamas and sheep. Watching children pick berries and sweet corn brings as much joy as seeing them scratch the pigs (with our patented "pig scratchers"). We are grateful to those who visit to help around the farm and provide planting, tractor, equipment, and livestock advice. The advice and guidance is most welcome and appreciated. We are lucky to have so many family and friends who help us here: parking/customer assistance during berry season, cutting trees, splitting and stacking wood and cutting logs into lumber, fixing our apple press or snowplow, re-covering our greenhouse, helping to get the tractor unstuck or tow a car to the garage, guiding our attempts to rear honey bees, and treating sick livestock. But most of all, we are glad to those who visit so that we can enjoy each others company for an evening around the fire ring or a weekend in between legs of travel. We hope for more to visit and for those who have, to visit more often and/or longer.

Our wish for all of you is the peace that we enjoy.

Trying to get the pose.
Karl, our tired picture taker.