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Apr 2015

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Refrigerator root cellar step 1...dig

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

How to help chicks during hatching

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

Square foot gardening rebuttal

Apr 2014

A year ago this week:

Transplanting week

Five reasons to save seeds

IBC rainwater collection

Best time to propagate sweet potatoes

Apr 2013

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Goats mowing the lawn

The great thing about only having 2.5 goats is that it's possible to use our tiny herd to mow the lawn in areas where more goats would cause more trouble. As you can see, our grass is starting to green up in the sunniest part of the yard, even though the pastures around our starplate coop are still nearly entirely winter brown. Usually, Mark pulls out the power mower around this time of year to cut back the newly growing grass, but I decided to take another stab at tethering our goats to see how much mowing they would do for us.

The answer? Our goats at least cut back some of the tallest weeds, although they definitely don't leave the result looking like a mown lawn. Good thing we don't care what our grass looks like!

Goat nanny

When I last tried tethered, Artemesia didn't really need to be tied since she was more interested in clinging to Abigail's side than getting into trouble. Now, both does require tethering, and I plan their lines so they can barely meet in the middle. This way Abigail doesn't get terrified of having her herd-mate out of sight, but the two animals also can't get tangled in each others' tether ropes. I still don't leave our herd unsupervised since there's just too muchGoat kid grazing that could go wrong with tethering goats, but the ropes do mean that I can walk over to the wringer washer and do a load of laundry while our goats chow down.

As a side note, you can see in the picture above that Artemesia is a true nanny goat in both senses of the term. Our doeling is nearly always willing to let our buckling graze right beside her, training the kid to eat the good stuff and eschew the bad stuff. When Lamb Chop follows me to the house (100 feet away) then starts crying because I closed the door in his face, it's Artemesia rather than the kid's mother who bawls her upset at having the buckling so far away. Abigail is content to chew and chew and chew and chew --- she knows someone else will mind her kid.

Goat udder

Of course, Abigail has other things on her mind --- like making milk! We're still only getting about 1.25 cups of milk per day, despite shutting Lamb Chop away from his mother overnight. I'm pretty sure our doe holds back quite a bit of milk for her kid in the morning because she's got to be feeding him a whole lot more than a cup of milk per day. After all, Lamb Chop is still only nibbling at solid food, but he's managing to put on nearly a pound a day in weight gain. I'll be very curious to see what milk production is like once our kid is weaned to entirely eating dry food.

White buckling

The downside of Lamb Chop growing so fast is that I can tell tethering is going to become problematic in the near future. I tried to tie our buckling along with his herdmates, but he bounces and runs so fast that I was afraid he would break his little neck. Oh well --- even though it seems like there's a huge amount of grass and rye to mow down at the edges of the garden, at the rate Abigail is going, we'll have to move the herd out beyond our core perimeter by the end of the week.

Goats grazing near garden

One thing I've noticed is how very malleable our goats are, making them the easiest animals I've ever had the pleasure of training. Abigail and Artemesia both know they're not allowed to eat kale, strawberries, and other garden goodies. Of course, knowing that only means that when I walk our goats on a leash beside garden plants, the does don't reach out and nab a snack. Turn my back, and there wouldn't be any kale left, so I'm careful to tether where anything I love is well out of reach. Abigail is right at the end of her rope in the photo above.


Finally, I wanted to mention Artemesia's newly scruffy fur, which I suspect is due to some combination of shedding her winter underfur, having a huge buckling crawl all over her back on a regular basis, and me running low on kelp. Since the supplier I ordered from took a few weeks to ship, I had to take away our free-choice kelp to ensure that our lactating doe could continue to get enough of the mineral supplement on her daily ration. Of course, there are minerals of a non-biological nature available to our goats all the time, but neither doe will touch the stuff. In fact, when I made the mistake of trying to trick Abigail into eating some extra minerals by pouring the powder on top of her morning ration, she tipped the whole bowl over to get those minerals out! Good thing more kelp arrived in the mail Monday so that Artemesia can get back to her usual shiny self.

Posted Wed Apr 1 07:31:57 2015 Tags:
top part of IBC tank where two different gutter pipes converge

Our mushroom tower IBC rain barrel has two gutter sources converging on a tee.

We used galvanized wire to secure the extreme bend to the IBC frame.

Posted Tue Mar 31 15:55:09 2015 Tags:
Pruned apple tree

When I was waiting for warmer weather before pruning this winter, one of our readers suggested marking which limbs I wanted to cut to save time later. The suggestion made me realize how far I've come in my perennial-pruning education. Just five or six years ago, I would have done precisely that, but now my eye chooses the next cut in the time it takes for me to reach the wood with my pruning shears --- no more agonizing over choice of direction or lost wood.

Apple tree two years agoThat said, I did spend a minute or two agonizing before cutting the entire top out of this apple tree. But when it last fruited, two years ago, the tree was shorter and we still would have had to pull out a ladder to get to the top fruits. The height meant I didn't thin blooms at the top of the tree, and the resulting apples hit the ground before they were harvested. Quality was much lower for the tree-top fruits than for the apples I was able to baby lower on the tree.

So I lopped off quite a bit of wood this year, leaving a weakly upward-pointing scaffold that I hope will prevent the tree from sending up scads of watersprouts to replace the central leader I removed. Barring late freezes (which means tree fruit is a 50/50 chance around here if everything else is going well), we should get another good harvest from this Virginia Beauty. At the moment, I agree with
our extension agent in thinking that this variety is the tastiest heirloom apple around. But I haven't tasted the other 35 varieties we have in the ground yet!

Posted Tue Mar 31 07:25:40 2015 Tags:
IBC water tower scissor jack

We used a scissor jack to secure the front part of our new mushroom tower.

Next up is to re-direct the gutter and design a misting system for the logs.

Posted Mon Mar 30 16:00:34 2015 Tags:
Early spring blooms

Winter came back with a vengeance this past weekend. First, we had a light snow on Saturday morning, then Sunday morning dropped down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, the cold was short-lived and I doubt the fruit trees saw any new damage.

Frozen cold frame

I went ahead and moved all of the plants out of the cold frame just to be on the safe side, and that was probably a wise move even though the interior temperatures only barely dropped below freezing. Unfortunately, when I put the plants back out on a sunny but frigid Sunday morning, I didn't take into account the power of the sun. By 2 pm, most of the broccoli plants had baked with the lid closed even though outdoor temperatures were still in the low to mid 40s. I guess I'll be starting some more broccoli seeds and paying more attention to the cold-frame cover next time. Even if the air feels cold, if the sun is out, the lid should be open!

Baby cabbage plants

On the plus side, I thought I'd messed up the cabbage seedlings, but they seem to have weathered Dandelion Winter just fine. A week ago, the long-range forecast only showed one low of 31 on the horizon, so I went ahead and set out the cabbage into the garden...then instantly regretted it when the weather report shifted dramatically. I covered the plants with row-cover fabric, crossed my fingers, and was thrilled to see that they seem to have come through the cold unscathed! So I guess we'll have early cabbage this year, and late broccoli.

Posted Mon Mar 30 07:37:59 2015 Tags:
mini mushroom log

The mini mushroom log experiment is showing signs of shitake growth.

We plugged them about 5 weeks ago.

Posted Sun Mar 29 14:05:47 2015 Tags:
Oilseed radish flower bed

Last fall, I sent out seeds of some of my tried-and-true (along with a few experimental) cover crops to readers to see how the species fared in other soils and climates. My favorite result is shown above --- Aimee in Ohio planted oilseed radishes in beds that will be used to grow strawberries this year. She reported: "[The oilseed radishes] stayed crisp and green clear past Thanksgiving, which gave me a ready supply of greens and radishes for the guinea pigs. I'll admit it, I ate a few myself. Even though I am not a radish person, they weren't bad." Oilseed radishes also got good reviews from Missouri, although Charity in the Pacific Northwest preferred barley and white mustard in her garden.

Sogrhum-sudangrass hybrid seeds

What's coming up this spring? I splurged on several new varieties, which I plan to try out both within the garden and as cut-and-come-again mulch producers in the newly bare aisle soils in areas where I recently mounded up earth to create higher raised beds. I figured --- why let that bare ground turn into weedy lawn if it can do double-duty by producing biomass for the garden instead? (Of course, I may regret this choice when I have to wade through tall grasses to get to my tomato plants.)

New species on the planting agenda include:

  • Barley --- This may be the plant I've been looking for to fill the early-spring gap before weather warms enough to plant buckwheat. This grain is supposed to mature enough to flower and be mow-killed in just a little over two months. I wasn't terribly impressed when I tried barley as a fall cover crop in the past, but I have higher hopes for its performance in the spring garden.
  • Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids --- I'm trying two different varieties, which look very distinctive in the seed stage (pictured above). I figure this will be a good fit for my aisle experiment.
  • Pearl Millet --- This species should fill a niche similar to the sorghum-sudangrass.
  • Alfalfa --- In part, I'm growing this legume for the goats since I'm currently buying alfalfa pellets to boost our milking doe's protein intake and calcium levels. But I figured it would also be interesting to see how alfalfa fares as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop left in place for the entire summer.
Barley seeds

Want to join in the fun? I have room for a few more experimenters since some of last fall's gardeners dropped out. If you live in zones 3, 4, or 8, drop me an email at and we'll chat. Folks chosen will receive free seeds as long as you promise to share photos for my book and to report on your results!

Posted Sun Mar 29 07:42:18 2015 Tags:
using old tires for goat toy

We discovered today that a half buried tire makes an awesome goat toy.

Lamb Chop likes to jump from one to the other.

Posted Sat Mar 28 13:36:59 2015 Tags:
Birch syrup cookie bars

The different types of sugars in birch sap compared to maple sap make birch syrup a little trickier to boil down. It's imperative not to allow the developing syrup to get above 200 degrees Fahrenheit with birch sap unless you want the sugars to caramelize, darkening the color and impacting the flavor. In addition, it's a bit trickier to know when birch syrup is done since it doesn't get as thick as maple syrup, so you'll need to make your best guess, then weigh the finished product to determine how close you are to the optimal 11 pounds per gallon.

Boiling down birch syrupLuckily, our birch tree started running hard when the warm weather came around, and several days in a row of 1.75-gallon yields gave me enough condensed sap to try my hand at syrup making. I ended up with about a quarter of a cup of syrup from three gallons of sap, at a weight of 3.3 ounces for the final product, which means I actually cooked the liquid down a bit further than is optimal (even though the syrup still looked pretty runny, even when cool). This equates to about 192 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup, requiring half again as much boiling down as even the box-elder sap we experimented with last month and three times as much boiling as our sugar maple sap.

With a larger supply of syrup on hand, we were able to try out a more in-depth tasting, this time substituting birch syrup for the sorghum molasses in our favorite oatmeal cookie bar recipe. The result was delectable! I'll include the recipe in my upcoming ebook, Farmstead Feast: Spring, due out in March, but if you'd like some farm-friendly recipes while you wait, Farmstead Feast: Winter is still for sale for only 99 cents. Enjoy!

Posted Sat Mar 28 07:18:44 2015 Tags:
Lucy riding in the car

Lucy went on a trip today to visit our nice vet in the big city.

She got a clean bill of health and multiple compliments on her beauty.

Posted Fri Mar 27 17:38:35 2015 Tags:

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