Sunday, June 21, 2015

Rock Growing

         Folks often ask me what I grow on my farm. “Rocks,” is my standard reply. If I could make money off them, I’d be one of the richest women in the world. They’re all over my 28 acres, including my woods. But the best yield comes from my pastures. 
An early-morning harvest
       I grow all shapes and sizes: big rocks, small rocks, boulders and pebbles. Don’t try to tell me they don’t really grow here. I know they do, because every time it rains, I harvest a new crop. 
      Rocks are the perfect commodity. Unlike wheat, soybeans, cotton and other row crops, they require very little work, at least until harvest time. They don’t have to be planted, watered or fertilized. They’re perennials, coming back year after year, and they’re an all-weather crop, because they pop up in every season. They are impervious to insects, never get parched from heat and they never mold.       Admittedly, picking them can be a pain. So far as I know, there is no such thing as a rock combine. But that’s a minor problem when you consider the money to be made.
The Campfire Collection
Perhaps I could get an agricultural subsidy from the government, like those wealthy folks who collect checks when they never set foot on a farm and don’t need the taxpayer-funded assistance. According to an Environmental Working Group report, these include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, children of the founder of Walmart, Senator Chuck Grassley, TV magnate Ted Turner, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. Boy, what ranks I would join.
Boulders make a bold landscaping statement.
Better yet, I could collect a check for the rocks I don’t grow. Farmers get paid for not growing certain crops when the market is glutted. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2007 and 2011 Uncle Sam (meaning U.S. taxpayers) paid some $3 million to 2,300 farms where no crop of any sort was grown. That could be a problem, though, because I can’t seem to control the proliferation of my rocks. They grow willy-nilly, like weeds.
I could be like the father of Major Major, a character in Catch 22, a novel by Joseph Heller. Major makes a good living not growing alfalfa. “The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce,” the book says. Like the fictional Mr. Major, I’d be able to spring out of bed at the crack of noon each day, “just to make certain that the chores would not get done.” Sounds like a plan our government is sure to back.
I could sell the ones I did grow to garden shops, nurseries and big-box retailers like Lowe’s. I could sell rocks over the internet, on or eBay, so I’d have little overhead, or better yet, have a "U-pick-'em" farm. I could rent a booth at a flea market or crafts festival if I felt really enterprising, and I could advertise them on a television infomercial. “Just $50 for a 25-pound bag of assorted rocks and pebbles. We’ll even pay the shipping. But wait, there’s more. Call within the next 10 minutes, and we’ll double the offer. That’s right, you’ll get two 50-pound bags of mixed rocks for the price of one. Just pay shipping for the extra bag. But hurry, this is a limited-time offer.”
With my luck, though, China would be able to produce rocks even cheaper than I could. They’d ship them to Walmart, and people would buy them by the bushel, even if they were inferior to my American-made varieties. I’d be right back where I started, with 28 acres of rocks that are good for nothing but filling up sink holes.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Critter Containment

Jazzy & Mallory graze in the front pasture.
A year or so ago, I had the underground sensor to my gate opener dismantled because my critters kept tripping it. Believe me, there's no fun in answering a 6:30 a.m. phone call from your local sheriff's deputy saying, "Mrs Miller, I'm at your gate, and your horses are out."
Even with the sensor dismantled, the llamas got out last winter when a contractor came in one morning and, not seeing them, drove up my hill without pausing to let the gates close behind him. Apparently, they were lying in wait among the trees, because I got a phone call from a neighbor whose daughter spotted them at the church down the road.
So, a few weeks ago I had two signs made at a local sign shop. Each says, in red lettering the color of a geranium, "Critters Roaming: Remain at gates until they close behind you." I’ve been hanging them on the gates when the llamas were out, one sign facing inside, one outside, so folks could see them when they were entering or leaving. 
Waiting for the gates to close became burdensome last week when my daughter and her family were camping out here before closing on their new home. So my grandsons and I made a trip to the nearest Tractor Supply store and purchased two dozen plastic fence posts. I already had plenty of plastic webbing left over from the temporary fence I had put up several years ago to divide my back pasture into two sections. The posts have little "feet" near the bottom that you step on to push them into the ground, but I figured they might need a little hammer help. Friday, Gabe, Mati and I loaded the posts, webbing and a hammer into the UTV, and set out to build our enclosure. It worked like a charm.
       Saturday morning, I wanted to put the llamas in the back pasture and let the horses enjoy different scenery. After Gabe and his parents left, Mati and I drove the UTV to the barn for llama halters and feed, then headed to the front pasture. We got a halter on Beeper, the daughter llama, but Rio, the mama llama, would have no part of it. So we started leading Beeper up the hill, figuring Rio would follow. 
I had forgotten that llamas can be as recalcitrant as donkeys. What should have been a five-minute trip took half an hour, with Rio wandering off into the woods and Beeper stubbornly stopping every few feet in protest. About 20 feet from the gate through which I was trying to herd these animals, she decided she had had enough, and lay down. 
      I took off the lead rope, then concentrated on getting mama llama through the gate. Beeper got up, went on in, but her mama just didn't want to be confined. So I said, "To heck with her," and locked the gate. Meanwhile, I put halters on my horses and led them down to the front, with Mati trudging along behind as fast as his three-year-old legs would permit. Once inside the new "compound," the horses ran from one side to the other, checking out their boundaries and bucking in delight, then waded into the pond. They splashed water all over themselves, and Jazzy actually lay down and rolled in it. 
      When I returned from church Sunday I drove immediately to the barn, and almost ran over Rio because she was lying down in my drive about 100 feet from the gate. Her daughter kept calling to her in the high-pitched hum that earned her the name, "Beeper."  Finally, Rio went in, I fed both of them, and said a prayer of thanksgiving.
      Now my equine buddies won't knock over the bird feeders beside my house and come to my back porch begging for apples and carrots while roaming my property. I won't have to chase critters up and down the road again, either…maybe.