Sep 242009

Wow! Things are really spinning around here! It’s been so long since the last update there has been a tremendous amount of things take place. I haven’t done very well keeping track of everything with notes, but that may be a good thing as this update would otherwise be a full length novel! As it is, I’m posting it in several "chapters."

Our recent CSA shares have been filled with gorgeous colors. Several crops are producing well right now as the weather has cooled off and we’ve had some rain.

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We now have garlic available for purchase! There were a few varieties that did not produce enough to sell this year, but there were several others that did! Here are the varieties available: Polish White, Kazakhstan, Purple Glazer, Lorz Italian and a limited amount of Music. Garlic is $10.00 per pound.

Basil has a very time-sensitive harvest time period and it’s at the prime now! However you enjoy preserving basil, whether freezing pesto, dehydrating or using some other preservation techniques it’s time to take advantage of this window of opportunity! I’ve discounted the one pound and over price until September 29th or until we are sold out. Basil is: $2.50 for 4 oz., $4.50 for 8 oz. or $6.00 for 1 lb. or more.

Jalapeno peppers are: $2.00 per lb.

Fresh, tender okra is now available. If you enjoy dehydrating, pickling or freezing okra we have plenty at this time! $2.25 per lb., $2.00 per lb. for 5-9 lbs., $1.75 per lb. for 10-19 lbs. or $1.50 per lb. for over 20 lbs.

With a few partially sunny days the arugula has been growing well and there is some available now! $1.00 per 4 oz. or $3.50 per lb.

Please place your preorder by noon the day before you plan to pick up your produce so we can have your order ready for you. Regular pick up times are Saturday 9-11 am. and Tuesday 5-7 pm. but we are happy to work with your schedule if you are unable to come within the regular pick up times. All produce is available on a first come first served basis.

A couple things to keep in mind. If you are interested in purchasing pastured pork before we have it available, John Crisp’s apprentice, Alice has some hogs that will be ready by mid to late October. These hogs have been running on pasture and supplemented with a custom ground grain ration. They’ve had no antibiotics or growth hormones. John said that their first batch of hogs have already received many complements from well pleased customers saying it’s the best pork they’ve ever tasted!

To reserve your whole or half hog Alice needs a $100 deposit. Rail weights should run 160-175 and it’s $3.00 per lb. rail weight. Depending on the amount of cured meat you request, processing will be approximately $125 for a whole hog. If you have further questions send an e-mail to John Crisp of Shepherd’s Valley at

Also, pre orders for Black Angus beef are coming up before you know it! Beef pre orders are due by November 15th and the balance will be due in April/May before picking up your beef. There is more information on our website.

Jena was mowing hay on Monday, June 29th (shortly after I’d sent the last farm update) and heard a little bit of an "extra" noise rattling and banging down in the transmission of the Ford tractor. She mowed a little longer and decided to shift down in order to mow in a little tighter corner of the field we were haying in… The Ford wouldn’t shift out of fourth gear! Uh oh! All we could do was shut the tractor down and unhook the mower. Thankfully we could shift the Hi/Low into neutral which allowed the tractor to free wheel. That evening Dad and Jena pulled the Ford back up to the house with the Kubota and then pushed it into the garage with the Kubota’s loader bucket.

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We started taking the tractor apart and soon found that one of the bearings had flown to pieces down in the bottom of the transmission. Of course it couldn’t have been one of the easier-to-get-to bearings! Oh well…the Mitchell family needs a little adventure now and again I guess.

Our first evening of taking the tractor apart we didn’t get very far as we needed the house jack to prop up part of the tractor and couldn’t find it… We knew that at one time we’d used the jack under our house, but didn’t think it was there any longer. I finally got desperate enough to go check and see if we were remembering wrong. After hunting all around under the new part of the house I couldn’t find it anywhere and decided to peak in the old part just incase. Looking under the old part of the house through the crawl space hole that’s between the two houses I smelled a little propane. Crawling back out I got some soapy water in a squirt bottle and clambered back under. Sure enough, one of the fittings that’s between the two houses was leaking.

It was an interesting proposition getting to the leaking fitting with only a small crack between the two houses. There wasn’t even much room for the wrenches. Dad finally took a fitting apart outside so I could pull the line back to the crawl space hole where I could take the leaky fitting off and tape the threads. Taping the threads did the trick and stopped the leak.

Guess where I ended up finding the house jack that started the whole ordeal? In the big hoop house where I left it! Oh well, glad we found the gas leak before it caused a problem.

Each evening throughout the next week was spent taking the Ford apart. Thankfully Dad had a three-day weekend for the 4th of July so we could work on it a little more. I was trying to keep the garden afloat at the same time, so couldn’t always help Dad, but did as much as I could while Jena helped some too. We had to stretch the tractor out and take it apart in three big main pieces. The front section was part clutch and mostly engine, its middle section was the other part of the clutch assembly and the transmission while the back part contained the hydraulic system and rear wheels.

All the covers, fuel tank, steering column etc. had to come off before we could split the tractor apart and we had to construct stands to help support the large cast iron frame. Dad did most of the prep work getting the stands ready while I was in the garden.

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Believe it or not the steering wheel was one of the trickiest parts to get off. It had somehow gotten stuck on and it took a lot of time to pry it off. The final solution was a lot of PB Blaster (similar to WD-40) a wheel puller that didn’t want to stay on, some wiggling and lots of praying that this crazy thing would give up and come off!

There was plenty of grease, dirt and especially a black powder from the clutch, coating everything until we got down to the sealed transmission which was full of transmission oil that needed drained.

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After the main pieces of the tractor were split apart, came the real fun…taking the transmission apart down to where the problem bearing was. We literally had the transmission in as many pieces as it could be in by the time we got down to where we needed to. There were also a couple of gears that had been chipped up from the bearing’s pieces flying around so we had to order new ones.

I about got shaky legged when I called the tractor dealerships and they said the counter shaft gear was $1060 and the reverse idler gear was going to be $500! Thankfully, even though it took a lot of time, many phone calls and Dad looking a lot of things up on the internet we found the same gears for $370 and $60 respectively. Whew! The clutch was also worn and since everything was torn apart any way we decided to replace it too.

A tractor’s fuel injectors are supposed to be rebuilt every so often as well and since it had been twenty years since they’d been rebuilt (way overdue) we boxed them up and mailed them off to be rebuilt.

By the time we had all the parts we needed it was just under three weeks since the tractor broke down. One of the hold ups was the tractor dealer in Bartlesville and I had a misunderstanding about which bearing I needed and we had to make two trips down (an hour drive) before we could start. It was a special order bearing as well (you aren’t supposed to break transmission bearings ya know!) so each bearing (the wrong and correct one) took a couple days each to come in.

At reassembly time the process of getting all the shaft splines lined up and fit back together was a real challenge and took quite a bit of time. It’s a high precision job to get everything lined back up JUST RIGHT so the shafts can slide together.

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Whew! We were very thankful to have the Ford back together. Now, the next problem is that currently we can’t get the engine started! It was running pretty well before all the transmission problems, but now we have to tinker with it for quite awhile before we finally get it started. It will run pretty good for 5-15 seconds and then lugs down hard and dies kaput! After going back and forth with a friend at church that works at a tractor dealership he thinks it could be something like a broken piston ring or scored bore… Without actually looking at the tractor it’s hard for him to troubleshoot it though.

Dad just recently made time to take up the challenge and has taken the head off the tractor, which means all the covers, fuel tank, steering wheel radiator etc. had to be taken apart as well. At this time Dad hasn’t been able to see any problems in the bores or pistons, but he can’t turn them either… We’ll need to take the pistons etc apart and see what we find…

To be continued in Chapter Two!

Farmer Josh

Jun 302009

Greetings from a well watered farm at long last!

Well… the title and greetings may be a little deceiving as so many things have happened since the last update! The farm was well watered three weeks ago or so when I first started trying to get this update together. Sorry that it’s been so long! Everything has been so hectic I’ve tried snatching a minute here and there to work on it, but had not been able to finish it till now. Each time I got a chance to work on the update part of the information was outdated so it was necessary to change it!

My! It was getting awfully dry as we hadn’t had any rain to speak of until a Tuesday night (more on that later in the update) a few weeks back. I wish I would have kept better track because we had even missed some of the other rains that folks around us had gotten and everything was getting extremely dry.

While we had one great week of rain once it started again, the clouds have since shut off the spigot and have just given us dribbles now and again. Once again everything is becoming quite dry as the temperatures soared up around 100 plus or minus for practically all last week until finally, Saturday night it cooled a little. It’s been cooking people, animals, soil and plants alike! During the hottest days it felt like the percentage humidity just about matched the 100 degree temperatures as well. What’s made the humidity worse is the couple of days that it sprinkled just enough to dampen the top layer of dust. A few of those scorching days there wasn’t much of a breeze so working outside wasn’t the most enjoyable. Amazing how much better the ten degree drop to the lower 90’s felt after the cool front moved in Saturday evening!

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It seems as though the pace just keeps picking up instead of slowing down! We have given several farm tours this past month in addition to the regular tours given to CSA members and customers during the CSA pickup times. One even included the Independence Garden Club. The draft horses are always popular with shareholders and other guests.

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I’ve been installing as much of the drip irrigation system as possible while hand watering everything I could that doesn’t have irrigation yet. Most of the crops seem to stay in a holding pattern during our droughts not growing much while trying to retain as much moisture as possible. Due to that fact among others, we skipped a few CSA pick ups for the first time this season. Overall we estimate that we harvested approximately 85 bushels of produce out of the two hoop houses alone this spring!

Before the rain, it was so dry I couldn’t break up some extremely hard clods where I wanted to plant a succession planting of corn. Since none of the equipment handles the clods very well I hand dug the furrows with a highwheel walking plow, hand planted the seed and used a rake to cover 1,600 row feet of corn. None of the seed came up until we received some rain and even then I was amazed it came up through those hard clods.

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The weather has been very interesting and before last week’s heat wave several fronts came through. Some days multiple fronts came through in one day although not many of them brought rain. However, Tuesday, the 9th, we had a large storm system move in that brought hard gusts of wind, very small hail (we’re very thankful it didn’t hail much) and 4-1/2″ of rain. While we didn’t time it exactly we are estimating it dumped that 4-1/2″ within 1-1/2 to 2 hours! The ground was so dry it took a bit for the water to fill all the cracks, but it finally did and we had some quick hard run off. Another blessing to the hard rain was it pulverized some of the extremely hard clods I’d been unable to break up out in the garden and brought up that last planting of corn.

The strawberry season is over now. G-Jean picked the majority of strawberries this season while I worked “on other things that she can’t do” (that’s her favorite saying to me) Mom managed to catch me picking strawberries this time.

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Everything combined has really kept us hopping and while it’s sad in some ways it’s also kind of a relief for the strawberry season to be over. Picking strawberries three to four times per week then sorting, culling and packaging them takes quite a bit of time, but my they sure were delicious! Thank you to everyone who helped us use the beautiful strawberry harvest the Lord gave us this year! We harvested well over 100 quarts of strawberries!!! Yum yum!

My “cousin” Danny and “Aunt” Donna from McAllen Texas came for a visit earlier this month and I told Danny he could keep however many strawberries he could find. The last count I had before they left was seven quarts he’d picked! I was very proud of him for sticking with it and harvesting that many! While not true blood kin (unless you trace it back to Noah) Donna has been a good friend of Mom’s for many years and Jena and I have always called her Aunt Donna. Donna has been bringing Danny out to the farm almost every year since he was a baby and it’s been fun watching him grow up through the years.

Danny helping Mary Fritzemeier and me string out T-tape irrigation for the strawberries and raspberries.

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Danny also harvested the first three varieties of garlic for me and then he and G-Jean bunched them. I had test pulled a few from one of the varieties and told Danny to go ahead and pull all that variety, but found out after he’d pulled all of it I’d not allowed it to mature quite enough… Oh well, live and learn. It is necessary to wait a while for a few of the other garlic varieties to finish maturing before we harvest them. We’re about half way through the garlic harvest.

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Garlic ready to bunch and hang.

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I forget from time to time that some folks who are fairly new to the farm updates and our family won’t know all the names I throw out and some of the stories behind them. For instance, my grandma, G-Jean (Imogene Mitchell) was so named by Jena (my sister) and me because when G-Jean and Granddad (my grandpa Mitchell) were foster parents, one of the young girls called G-Jean “MammaGene”. When one of the other foster daughters grew up, married and had kids, she liked the nick name so well that she taught her children to say GranaJean. Well, when Jena and I came along we shortened it to G-Jean.

Just to fill you in on our family; my Mom’s name is Deanna and Dad’s name is Steve. Mom’s folks whom Jena and I call Pappaw and Mammaw are Louis and Edna King who live in eastern Kentucky and visit us twice a year. Now that you’re filled in on the family history maybe you can piece all the names together a little easier in the updates!

Pappaw and Mammaw came for their summer visit a week ago. Here I’m giving them a garden tour.

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G-Jean has had A LOT of fun pulling carrots this year! While not as big and pretty as supermarket average carrots, these carrots are better for you, have a little more character in their variety of shapes and are just beautiful in their own right. These are the best carrots we’ve ever raised on this farm!

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Is this one or six?! He just grew a little funny!

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Attacked! We’ve been having many skirmishes all over the summer section of the garden. The fighting has been fierce and the stench has almost been over powering at times from all the gorilla activity killings. I’ve been the gorilla crawling along sometimes on my hands and knees other times just bending over killing all the squash bugs I can find. The cucumber and flea beetles are also a problem, but the gorilla hasn’t been in on enough training to attack the foe with much success of victory yet. A new method was needed to help control the out break of civilian bug activity so the top gorilla brought in some natural pyrethrin spray (derived from chrysanthemums) to help slow the pesky plant eaters.

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We also celebrated a once in a lifetime event recently. Mom and Dad’s 25th wedding anniversary was the 9th of June! There wasn’t a big “doin’s” but we did have the privilege of Mom’s maid of honor coming for a visit… Aunt Donna!!!

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My evener and single trees were ready for pick up from the blacksmith shop so we got those one evening after Dad got off work. We were getting ready to use them the other day, but I haven’t played with Belle and Blaze enough here lately so the girls weren’t ready to be harnessed up. Jena said she’d be willing to play with them some more to help me (and she enjoys playing with the horses anyway) to get them ready for the harness again. After one playing session Jena thought we could harness them up so within a couple of days we got Belle and Blaze all harnessed up and ready to go.

Jena’s good friend Leah was also helping Jena and I harness the horses up. When everything was set we decided to test drive them a little just to see how they were working together after not being harnessed for so long… I was glad I tried ground driving them a little as they acted very confused and I couldn’t get them to settle in and walk straight together! After playing with them and being unable to get anything to work (I was very thankful Jena and Leah were there to help keep things from getting out of hand) I asked Jena to go get a book and see how the lines needed to be adjusted. As Jena flipped through the book she came across something… I’d routed part of the driving lines wrong! Poor girls, no wonder they were so confused! When the line problem had been corrected they worked like pros!

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Dad and I had changed out some of the cultivator sweeps to extra wide ones and since it had been so long since Belle and Blaze have really worked consistently I decided to take it easy and toughen them back into it slow so they wouldn’t get sores and overheat. By the way, did I mention it’s been really humid and hot here lately?! Right now I just have a one horse cultivator, but with the wide sweeps and the horses not toughened in I hooked them both up and cultivated some of the wide rows. We seemed to have plenty of “horse power” up front! Jena was running the cultivator while I was driving the horses (I don’t have the simultaneous driving and cultivator operation figured out yet) and I had a few specific requests to “slow down a little please!” as the Belgians really were stepping out well.

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Jena and I took out for John Crisp’s farm, Shepherd’s Valley of Americus Kansas, to pick up some livestock supplements and natural fertilizers. We were also going after two sows and a boar that one of his apprentices, Alice, was needing to sell. Dad and I have dreamed of having some of the heritage breed Large Black hogs, but they have always been way out of our price range. Alice was needing to get out of the business quickly and was willing to sell them for much less than they were worth… Thank you Alice for giving us a start! The boar is part Red Wattle (another heritage breed of hog) and his name is Spanky. Ethel and Lucy are the two sows. We also got a head start as we believe both sows are bred now and expecting a litter of piglets!

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(Deanna’s Note: I have to admit that hogs are not my favorite critter, so I didn’t think about the fact that I hadn’t taken any photos of the new hogs till I was proofreading this update. This photo was taken as it was about dusk… I’ll try to get better photos of the hogs sometime before the next update.)

I was very thankful the hog loading party went a lot better than I’d anticipated as there wasn’t any chute to run them through. With a little coaxing of a feed bucket and helpful nudges they loaded right up into the 16-foot utility trailer we had to haul them in.

On the way home we had more excitement than I’d planned on though as we had a rear truck tire give out on us going down a fairly narrow stretch of highway! Thankfully John’s other apprentice, Ben, was leading Jena and I back from Alice’s place which is beautifully situated back off the main roads and when he saw us pull over he turned around to see what the problem was. I didn’t just do the tire in half way… Did you know it’s a funny feeling to see your tire rolling by you after you finally come to a stop? The main tread of the tire was cut off of the sidewall which was still on the rim. It was a little squirmish trying to get stopped as the tire gave out, but thankfully Jena, I and the pigs were safe. We both were very appreciative to Ben for coming back and checking on us as he had a floor jack he allowed us to use instead of the scissor jack that Granddad’s truck has!

One well shredded tire coming right up!

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Mom’s turkey poults came in a couple weeks ago! Here they are enjoying a cube of hard boiled egg. Mom boils the eggs, blends them up in the food processor, freezes them in ice cube trays and feeds a few cubes at a time as a protein boost for the turkeys.

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After raising so many chickens for several years it’s always fun to have a few turkey poults each year. They are so funny to watch! The main purpose for us raising the turkeys this year is for grasshopper control in the garden. So far turkeys have been the most sure and quickest natural control we’ve found for grasshoppers.

Jena has been trimming for clients for some time now and it was fun to hear a story she told the other day. She’s been trimming a horse for some folks that had severely foundered. After trimming the first time or two she told the owners the hooves weren’t healing properly because of the rich grass diet. Per Jena’s instructions they pulled the horse off of the pasture and put her in a dry lot with hay. Jena has now trimmed the horse twice since then and this past time Jena said there was a huge difference in the hooves and she’s making great strides toward trimming it to be a healthy hoof!


Another side note of Jena’s accomplishments is on her natural horsemanship training. She and Leah have been going through the Parelli Natural horsemanship program which is basically a home study. They decided to have Leah’s brother video them playing with the horses and send it in for the Parelli faculty to assess where they were in the study course. They managed to get the video in for assessment for free just before the price shot up to $50 per video assessment!

There are 10 levels and the founder of the program, Pat, only considers himself to be a level 8. He can do some very amazing things with the horses. Each level is broken down into sections such as riding and online ground skills with the sections further subdivided into three parts such as “Level 1”, “Level 1+” and “Level 1++”. Jena has been studying the program longer than Leah so had a little head start, but they were hoping to score somewhere in the level one category. When Leah got her report back she’d scored Level 2 and Jena got a level 2++ on ground skills and the faculty noted she had some level three things coming along! Our family is proud!

Jena and Leah have taken Tally and Storm for rides/walks on our farm and some small hills a neighbor owns not far away and it about looked like they were moving out with all the equipment they took!

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Tally was having a good day so Jena decided she could really get up in the world… that’s Jena standing on Tally’s back at the top of the hill!

Jena and Leah have also been helping with vaulting (basically gymnastics on horse back) classes put on by Equine
Eagles in Independence and they took a one day clinic as well. Since then they put together a program and performed it at the Equine Eagles Festival!

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Unfortunately I was unable to attend Jena and Leah’s vaulting performance as I was at an auction that Saturday. There were several things I was interested in at the auction, but some items went beyond my price range. Most of the things I did get need to have some repair done to them… All we needed was another project!

Dad had a three day weekend recently! Dad has been working on the horse drawn mower pretty much by himself evenings and weekends and has been finding a lot of helpful tuning tips from Lynn Miller’s book on repairing sickle mowers. In fact, Dad has been finding so many things out about the sickle mowers that he decided to pull our old 9’ tractor drawn mower out again that we’d given up on, deciding it was “shot” and beyond repair, just to see if he could find out why it wouldn’t cut the last time we tried it. After looking it over we decided it was a wonder the poor thing had cut at all as long as it did! There seemed to be more wrong with it than right in the tuning department although nothing so serious that we couldn’t recalibrate it with our watch making tools, (a hacksaw – our cutting torch wasn’t repaired and boy have we been missing it!, welder, 36″ pipe wrench, some rock bars, 8 lb. sledge hammer and approximately a 12 lb. splitting maul, numerous 1/2″ drive sockets with long handled ratchets, punches and many other miscellaneous necessary tools). It seems like we always end up dragging out half the garage before we’re done fixing a project.

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By the end of Dad’s long weekend we were able to get the tractor sickle mower ready for a test run and the cutter bar finished up on the horse drawn mower. Dad and I have worked on the horse drawn mower a little more since then and have taken it on a couple of test drives. There is still some fine tuning we need to do. The tongue and tongue assembly still need to be replaced so we’ve been test driving it with the tractor and short tongue that came with it.

We cut a little hay last week, but lost several days due to mower and tractor problems. I hope we’ve about got everything lined out now except for the flat front tractor tire! One problem all started when I checked the hydraulic oil in the tractor and managed to drop the spout of the two piece funnel down the fill hole…sigh… By the time we got everything done related to that incident we had the hydraulic system cover apart twice and had to take the PTO shaft out to retrieve the funnel spout. Lost a day and a half of haying right there since Dad worked on it after he got home from work and then again on Saturday.

Mulching the tomatoes has become high priority to help conserve moisture, suppress weeds and get everything ready to cage them! Since I was unable to plant all the warm season crops in a timely manner due to all the mud slogging wet weather earlier they are running a little behind this year. It would be nice to have some of that mud again!

Feeding the tomato plants with a natural fertilizer while…

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…G-Jean hoes…

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I’ve been unrolling big round bales of hay between the tomato rows and discovered that our little baler sure
doesn’t make near as heavy a bale as some of these newer big round balers! I bought some mulching hay this past winter and my those things are heavy! I could start our own round bales unrolling by hand, but there’s no way I could start unrolling a few of the purchased round bales by myself. I decided to cheat a little though and got the Kubota and used the bucket to start rolling the bale down between the rows. After the first layer has come off I can generally hand unroll the remainder of the bale.

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Enjoy this breath of a little cooler temperatures!

Farmer Josh and the Mitchell Crew


Hay Report: So far we’ve put up about 104 bales of mixed grass hay during the hottest week of the year thus far. As the hay season progresses we’ll try to keep you updated!

Bloom Report:

Several colors of beautiful day lilies!

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Arizona Sun Blanket flower (gaillardia)

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Small pink roses.

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Calla Lilies

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There have been several colors of beautiful hollyhocks!

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Yellow yarrow (the wild yarrow is white)

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