archives for 04/2015
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.
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 much
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.
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.
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.
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.
tie out stakes are good
for tethering goats.
Did you ever wonder
whether you have a healthy microorganism population in your soil?
There's a simple way to check. Assuming you haven't tilled up the ground
since last year's garden, you can go out at this time of year and look for stems of fall broccoli.
We planted some new baby
apple trees from last
week's grafting workshop today.
"My second cookbook
is almost ready to go," I told Mark at lunch on Thursday. "But I'm
going to have to ask Daddy to take some photos of my asparagus recipe
since the spears won't pop up here for a few more weeks. Good thing he
lives further south and already has scads of asparagus to play with."
This is the time of year we
prune the high
density apple trees.
A club I once attended
had a saying, "If we hold an event twice in a row, then it becomes a
tradition." With a goat, this is even more true.
it's not quite the season for daily gorging yet. Over the course of
three short days, our goat herd mowed down all of the high rye areas in
our yard, and now there are just patches of newly growing grasses and
clover for them to eat. I guess our girls will have to make do with
half-full bellies for another week or two until the grass catches up
with the overwintering grains. (Or they'll have to resort to eating hay.
As a side note, I was
considering starting to milk Abigail out in the evenings after our milk
production nearly doubled one day this week to a pint during our morning
milking. But when I got our doe on the milking stand that evening, I
discovered that her udders were much emptier than I've ever seen them.
In other words, I'm now confident that Abigail holds back about half of
her morning milk for the little rascal, which means she's likely
producing at least a quart a day (even though she only gives us a cup).
Maybe that one high-production day she just forgot to hold back Lamb
Chop's milk, or he hadn't drunk her quite as dry the night before?
Either way, as I watch Abigail's kid eat a little more grass every day, I
dream of the milk production once he's weaned.
We drilled a hole at the top of our IBC rain barrel for an overflow elbow connection.
Mark has wanted a zipline
to run from our parking area to our core homestead for years, both as a
way of moving people and of moving stuff. Over and over, I explained
the reasons I didn't think it would work:
However, I've been
wondering lately if a different cable-related scheme might be the way to
expedite hauling while the floodplain is sodden and our eventual driveway upgrade
is slow in coming. Glad of any line-based solution, Mark was quick to
remind me that we really only need to span the worst of the swamp, which
would be a smaller distance and would require cutting fewer trees out
of the way.
A zipline might be dicey
for hauling supplies, but what about a circular line designed like a
hefty pulley clothesline? One person would stand at point A loading
buckets onto the line, then someone else would pull the line at point B
and unload the buckets.
Artemesia has claimed ownership of the new goat tire toy and likes pushing Lamb Chop off every chance she gets.
began as a joke, turned into an inspiration for aspiring homesteaders,
and now --- in its expanded second edition --- the ebook contains dozens
of pages of additional hands-on information to help turn that
inspiration into a reality.
For those of you concerned about the safety of Mark's jack-support hack --- don't worry, he's going to beef up the tower some more.
"You know, we only have
the tank plumbed to a small section of the roof," Mark reminded me.
True, but surely a 50-square-foot section of roof was enough to fill up
an IBC tank in short order? Time for a little math! 275 gallons of
capacity equals 63,525 cubic inches. Divide that by the 7,200 square
inches of roof area we have plumbed to the tank...and it would require
nearly 9 inches of rainfall to fill 'er up.
Anna was feeling the need to exercise her inner girl scout today.
I've been holding off on my willow-building experiment because I couldn't quite decide whether our native black willow (Salix nigra)
was too tree-like (eventual height 33 to 98 feet) to keep small in the
format of a living sculpture. Then, while out hunting cattail spears for
lunch, I stumbled across a stand of what are probably planted purple
willows (Salix purpurea) and decided that this smaller (up to 15 feet), introduced species would be easier to keep within bounds.
It's good that I found
the willow stand when I did because the bushes were already blooming and
a few leaves were even popping out on the most advanced branches. For
my experiment, I chose young branches, cut off any blooming tops,
snipped the wood down to about eighteen inches, then whittled each base
into a point. Willow cuttings ready to go into the ground!
Back home, I prepared the
ground by laying down chicken-feed bags, cut open, which will act as a
weed barrier. (This is important --- it's hard for even a willow to grow
roots and get established if it has to compete with weeds.) Next, I
used a rebar to punch holes through the paper and about eight inches
into the earth, then I pushed my willow cuttings into the holes.
We took our Black
Birch spile out today.
I'm extremely picky about
transplanting weather at this time of year. Sure, I prefer to pick an
overcast day with rain on the horizon, but I also aim for a day when
there will be no frosts for at least a week. The cabbage I set out a few
weeks ago and the broccoli and onions I transplanted Monday can all
handle light freezes once they're established but transplant stress +
freeze = unhappy seedlings. Thus waiting until the perfect day comes around, even if it doesn't match the planting date on my calendar.
We finally found someone
local with a medium dump truck to deliver some gravel.
Every year, I treat
myself to $100 worth of perennials. This is my big splurge so I squash
my usual skinflint tendencies and allow myself to be experimental. As a
result of my whims, maybe a third of the perennials bought during these
splurges perish and I learn that almonds are beloved by Japanese beetles and get a lot of diseases to boot (making them unworthy of babying on our farm) and that honeyberries taste more like sour blackberries than honey. On the other hand, I also discover that Bocking 4 comfrey is indeed the very tastiest variety from a livestock point of view and that Caroline red raspberries are both delicious and extremely prolific.
My main grafting episode, though, involved pears. We've decided to add a couple of rows of high-density pear trees
since our high-density apple trees are growing so well...and since the
high-density system makes it much more feasible for me to try out a
large number of varieties in a small space. I mostly aimed for disease-resistant pears, but
I added in some other varieties as well when swappers offered types I'd
never heard of. If all of my grafts take, Moonglow, Leona, Hosui,
Warren, Blake's Pride, Potomac, Honey Sweet, Shinko, Maxine, and Carl's
Favorite will be joining the ranks of our farmyard pomes. I'll be sure
to tell you how the trees fare and the fruits taste...by 2022 at the
I've discovered a small piece of duct tape helps to keep the Chopper One spring pin from working loose.
We'd get a lot more honey if we fed our bees more. But I try to use sugar water as a last resort, only feeding when the bees wouldn't have enough stores to survive without the helping hand.
And also time to take
apart the hive to get rid of that mouse nest. From my aborted photo, I'd
assumed that I really needed to get into the bottom box to deal with
the mouse, but it turns out that I could have just lifted up the whole
hive the way you do when you nadir
and cleaned off the bottom board that way. Because the mouse hadn't
damaged any of the comb in the bottom box at all, as I discovered when I
broke warre rules and took the hive apart.
We had a fun afternoon celebrating Joey's birthday.
extreme winter cold nips the peach bloom buds before they can even
start to swell, spring feels very slow in coming. But I think we're only
running about three or four days behind last year,
based on the emergence date of the first nanking cherry flower (April
9) and pear blossom (April 10). That sets us perhaps two weeks behind
some much warmer springs...which might mean our tree flowers will
sidestep the freezes of dogwood and blackberry winters.
This is the time of year
when it's so hard not to count your fruits before they set. My rule of
thumb with perennials flowering for the first time is that they won't
keep their developing flowers all the way to fruition unless there are
dozens of blooms present. That means the crazy Kidd's Orange Red apple
tree, who appears to have a clump of bloom buds despite having only been
grafted this time last year, has almost no chance of setting fruit. But
the Seckel pear, with dozens of flower buds in evidence even though the
tree hadn't bloomed before, might just make my day sometime this fall.
course, there's enough going on in the vegetable garden right now that I
really shouldn't be wasting time drooling over fruit-tree flowers. We
enjoyed our first spring salad Thursday and raab is finally popping up with its broccoli-like cooking opportunities. To celebrate, the second cookbook in my Farmstead Feast series will go live tomorrow and will be free for one day only. Be sure to check back and download your copy!
It only took about 1/4 of a tube of silicone to seal our IBC overflow elbow.
of all, I owe a huge thank-you to everyone who read and reviewed my
first cookbook so quickly! Your kind words then make it cost effective
now to list the second book in the series free for one day only. So nab Farmstead Feast: Spring
while it's hot...and if you have a minute to write a review after
you're done reading, then chances are I'll give you the next book in the
series free too.
We've been thinking about
solving our driveway problem with a farm monorail.
Monday was a day of firsts for 2015. First pass of the lawn mower through the garden...
...first blooming strawberry (which would have been more photogenic if I'd snapped the shot before the lawn mower dusted the plant with grass clippings)...
...first day I trusted the long-range forecast enough to put our tomatoes and basil outside in the cold frame
(you sure can tell the difference between the plants that were right up
against the window and those who had to cope with less light inside)...
...and the first delicious taste of homegrown asparagus (which we promptly roasted).
garden excitement was punctuated by the sound of three tethered goats
chomping as quickly as they could through the new greenery. Well,
Artemesia tried to jump up in my wheelbarrow as I passed by, Lamb Chop
did his level best to tangle everyone up in his lead, and Abigail stood
guard against the terrifying sound of the lawn mower. But our herd did
some grazing too.
We collected enough water in
the IBC rain barrel to soak the mushroom logs.
Do you weed during rainy
days or stay inside where's it's dry? My answer depends on the season.
In March, no way am I weeding in rain that freezes my fingers and leaves
me shivering. But in April? When it's t-shirt weather and a gentle
shower makes dandelions pop out of the soil with a gentle tug? Sure,
I'll weed in the rain. Once your pants and shirt are fully soaked, you
don't even notice the water (and mud) anymore.
The real conundrum is
what to do with all that weedy biomass. I once read a novel that I was
thoroughly enjoying...until the author had her heroine weed the garden
and stuff the weeds into garbage bags to go out with the trash. I
stopped reading in horror. Sure, weeds have troubling seeds and the
perennials have roots that will start growing again under the right
conditions, but no way am I letting all that organic matter leave the
Artemesia likes to be the center of attention.
Ten weeks after its first cleaning, the goat bedding
had once again built up to the point where straw was overflowing the
cinderblocks on the downhill side of the coop. In early February, I used
the manure/straw/hay mixture in an experimental area, but this time
around I needed the biomass in the main garden. So I deposited the goat bedding around blueberries, gooseberries, currants,
a few apple trees, and on beds that will be planted with corn and
cucumbers in two weeks. Here's hoping weed seeds don't make me regret
this use (but you'll notice I only spread the bedding in areas where it
will be simple to kill mulch if necessary to keep sprouting grasses in
Speaking of apple trees, the first blossoms are opening on the earliest apple varieties. The tree shown above is primarily Virginia Beauty,
but I grafted a little bit of William's Pride onto one limb two years
ago. The graft union has nearly disappeared, but I can tell where one
variety stops and the other starts because the Virginia Beauty buds are
just barely unfurling while the William's Pride is in full bloom. Maybe
we'll get to taste both types of apples this fall?
This was also the week
when we shut our hens and ducks into the pasture for the growing season.
One of you mentioned in the comments a few weeks ago that you didn't
remember we still had chickens --- if you want to read more about our
poultry, be sure to check out our chicken blog where we give many more details about our feathered friends.
I'll end this disjointed post with a look up under the bee hive.
There's not much going on in the bottom box yet, but our colony is
working hard and will hopefully reach their basement level soon. We've
got another package shipping next week, so our apiary will be even more
abuzz in short order!
EcoGlow chick brooder we
love so much stopped working.
We're moving along to phase three of our bokashi experiment, with the Lactobacillus bokashi in the waiting phase, sealed away in its full bucket. This time around, we're using store-bought bokashi starter, and I have to admit that I have seen a different within the first two days of the experiment.
In the meantime, it was
the one-month-after-application mark for my control food scraps, which
had spent a month in an unsealed bucket with no microbial starter, then
were buried in a shallow trench in a very poor-soil area. According to
the bokashi literature, food scraps should have become compost by this
point if treated with bokashi starter during the bucket stage.
Un-bokashi food scraps, though, look very much like rotten food after
one month in the soil, with a few worms starting to move in but with the
outlines of the scraps well recognizable. The only really surprising
part about this phase of the experiment is that Lucy didn't dig up the
trench to eat the scraps --- I guess I chose a spot far enough out of
her usual stomping grounds.
This is a short bonus post to give you a quick cookbook update. I was surprised by the interest in the paper version of Farmstead Feast: Winter, so I decided to go ahead and put out the paperback version of Farmstead Feast: Spring
ASAP. Both books are still priced at the bargain-basement price of
$3.99 and are eligible for Amazon's free shipping, so nab a copy now
while they're cheap.
I built our 2nd goat pasture
gate frame today.
We usually like to hatch our own chicks, but due to dogs, ducks, and other dilemmas, we only have five hens at the moment. And when I tried to hatch the eggs of three of those hens (Red Stars)
last year, there seemed to be some sort of genetic problem that caused
the chicks to die in the shell, so we really only have two hens with
hatchable eggs at the moment. In the end, rather than saving eggs for
two weeks to fill the incubator, we bit the bullet and ordered 25
unsexed chicks from Cackle Hatchery.
Australorps are currently my favorite all-around chicken
for our farm --- they're only okay layers, but they're meaty enough to
make it worthwhile to eat the males as broilers and the birds are heavy
enough that they don't usually fly fences and get into trouble in the
garden. But I couldn't resist trying out four other breeds as well:
Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Buff Orpington, and Dominique. I
have a feeling the Rhode Islands and Orpingtons might end up being
tractored hens due to flying fences (the former) and being too
people-centric (the latter), but only time will tell. Hopefully next
year we'll be back on track with a quality flock who will allow me to
raise all of our meat chickens and eggs for the year.
I've been wanting to
write about my milking adventures for a while, but I never seem to
manage to bring the camera during my morning chores. Plus, it's dim up
in the starplate coop on cloudy mornings (which seems to be most of them
lately), and our milking routine doesn't go as smoothly when a
cameraman is present. So you'll have to settle for these shots of our
little herd grazing in the woods while I write about milking.
As I've mentioned before, I opted to buy an electric milking machine
because my carpal tunnel syndrome can barely handle the amount of
garden weeding I do --- adding milking on top of that sounded like a
recipe for disaster. Of course, it was an added benefit that the milking
machine does the work for me, making it less problematic that I don't
know how to milk a goat.
I'd had one lesson years ago about how to milk a goat and had read books
on the subject, but I'll be honest --- it's taken me about a month to
finally feel proficient with the process. Since I'd read that it's
actually more hygienic not to
wash the udder, I instead massage that area to stimulate milk letdown,
and I've recently begun to be able to tell by feel whether or not
there's any milk in the teat to squirt out. This is what gave me a tough
time at first --- I was trying to squeeze out milk that wasn't there!
Plus, I was being a little too gentle, imagining what it would feel like
if someone squeezed that sensitive part of my anatomy. Watching Lamb
Chop head butt his mother in the udder, though, reminded me that goats
are more rough and tumble than humans, and Abigail responded well to my
firm but gentle touch.
Six weeks into Abigail's
lactation, we're still only getting about 8 to 10 ounces of milk per
day. This is up a little bit since I started tricking Abigail by milking
out one teat, then the other, then returning to the first for another
round, but Abigail is clearly holding back milk for
her kid. I'm guessing that Lamb Chop is consuming maybe a quart of milk
per day, although he's finally eating a lot more solid food as well and
should be old enough to wean (if Abigail feels like it) in two more
We get our saw dust
from a local lumber cutter a few 5 gallon buckets at a time.
I'm going to talk about a
lot of dead plants in this post, so here's a cute shot of Lamb Chop as
preemptive mitigation. Feel free to scroll back up here if you start to
I used to think that late spring freezes
were the primary bane of fruit-growers in our region, but this past
winter taught me otherwise. With a low of -22 Fahrenheit, which is more
typical of zone 4 than zone 6, all of our peach trees not only lost
their bloom buds midwinter...they also lost most of their branches. Each
tree has a couple of dozen leaves finally coming out of winter-bare
limbs, and once I'm confident that all living buds have sprouted, I'll
prune the trees way back to start their lives nearly over. At last, I'm
beginning to understand why so few people in our region try to grow
peach trees --- the stone fruits aren't really reliably hardy here in
the mountains, despite being supposedly able to handle weather up
through zone 5.
Similarly, this is the
second or third winter when nearly all of our blackberries have been
killed back to the ground, and a few of our black raspberries were
similarly affected for the first time this year as well. Once again,
blackberries and black raspberries are only hardy to zone 5, while red
raspberries and strawberries (both of which came through this winter
unscathed) are hardy to zone 3. Climate change seems to be reliably
introducing an element of unreliable extremes to our winters, so I think
it's safe to say that we're better off focusing on fruits like plums
and red raspberries that can handle bouts of extreme cold rather than
depending on species that are turning out to be undependable in our
region. (Good thing red raspberries and strawberries are Mark's and my
favorite berries, respectively.)
can't be sure, but I feel like even some of our apple bloom buds were
affected by the winter's extreme cold, even though the species is
supposed to be hardy to zone 3. The tree that gets more winter sun is
loaded with flowers, but the high-density planting closer to our
north-facing hillside has opened far fewer flowers than the number of
bloom buds this winter seemed to suggest.
When we inoculated three mini-logs with shiitake mycelium in late February, my primary purpose was to deal with the winter doldrums. But I also wanted to experiment with a method Tradd Cotter suggested for propagating shiitake logs without lab conditions. If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that oyster mushroom spawn is pretty easy to expand on cardboard,
but shiitake spawn is more particular. Traditional shiitake farmers
simply lay new logs beneath older, fruiting logs and hoped some spores
would take, while modern farmers get their shiitake mycelium from a lab.
At the three-week mark, I
decided it was time for the moment of truth. Not expecting much, I
lifted off the top log...and the cardboard came along with it, proof
that the mycelium had run out of the wood and into the cardboard. So
far, so good --- but was there mycelium on the log below? Yes there was,
as you can see from the photo above!
It feels a bit decadent to be trying out this store-bought mulch paper,
even though the price per square foot is comparable to the cost of
straw. On the up side, unlike other manufactured sheet mulches, this
paper is reputed to be fully biodegradable, so we won't have the issue
that black plastic causes, where you're picking your "mulch" out of the
soil for years to come. On the down side, the paper won't add nearly as
much organic matter to the soil as straw would, water penetration may or
may not be an issue, and I'm not sure how the paper will fare once the
areas beneath the weights begin to rot away. That's why we're only
experimenting on a small scale.
Of course, cardboard
mulch is much preferable to any kind of paper, especially amid the
perennials. The tree row above hasn't been weeded yet this year, but
it's looking pretty good regardless due to cardboard laid down last
fall. In a perfect world, I'd add mulch on top of the cardboard, but
during this stopgap year, I've instead taken to weighing down the paper
product with bits of prunings and other debris --- just enough to keep
the mulch from blowing away in our non-windy climate. Cardboard is
midway in carry-ability between the paper mulch and straw, the sticking
point there usually being sourcing the waste product.
We finally hooked up the temporary electric fencing
as a way of leaving the goats alone in the garden unattended. Okay, so I
sat with the herd for an hour first while Lamb Chop learned that the
fence bites (this took four tries and he finally ended up lying in the
middle of the temporary pasture with a very glum look on his
face). And even after that, I checked in every five minutes just in
case. But both Artemesia and Abigail came from electric-fence-friendly
households and gave the netting a wide berth. No need to re-up any
When Daddy "lent" us this
electric fence system, he included a solar charger. I'm no sure if the
battery had died in his charger while it had been sitting in his shed
for a few years or what, but we had no luck getting the solar charger to
work. A new plug-in charger
won't let us fence the goats as far afield, but it worked like a charm
(even though Mark had to test the wire with his fingers since our fence tester apparently doesn't work either).
The electric fence will definitely have a niche in our goat-grazing campaign, but I have to admit that I find tethering
simpler to set up and easier to manage. Sure, Lamb Chop can't nurse
while he's tethered, and it would be tougher to tether goats in areas
with high weeds or brush, but for grazing little corners of our core
homestead, the tethers seem to be the way to go. After all, I don't
trust our girls alone in the garden even with an electric shock standing
between them and my cabbages, so I might as well just let them graze
while I weed and keep my blood pressure low.
We deleted 3 more peach trees and our thorn less Blackberries today.
Our next garden-experiment-that-I-may-live-to-regret is solarization. I'm trying all of these experiments for my upcoming soil book,
but this one was also spurred on by my fall oats cover crop not dying
as expected. I suspect the uncharacteristic overwintering ability of the
oats came about because I grazed it repeatedly in the fall, which kept
the plants at a vegetative state rather than ever getting close to
flowering. No matter why
the oats survived, I was left with a conundrum --- how to turn that
area back into plantable ground without tilling up the oats or lots of
Solarization might be the
answer. The idea is that you prepare your beds (in my case by letting
Abigail eat the oats as low as she could and then begging Mark come in
with the weedwhacker to finish off the job), then you stretch a piece of
clear plastic tight over the ground to bake what's left behind.
Solarization only works during the sunny part of the year and can take
anywhere from one to three months to kill weeds and pests in the earth.
Of course, the biologist in me says --- what's to prevent solarization
from killing all of the beneficial soil microorganisms too? And, since
the plastic dropcloths often used for solarization aren't UV-stabilized,
will we end up having to pick plastic out of our soil when the
greenhouse layer disintegrates in the garden?
Mark always rolls his
eyes when I poke holes in techniques I haven't even tried, so I shrugged
and decided to give solarization a whirl. Worst-case scenario, we'll
have a biologically dead bed that I can perk back up with some
well-behaved cover crops and compost. Best-case scenario, we'll have a
bed ready to plant into in June with very little work on my part. Stay
tuned for more details as the experiment progresses!
Update: It works! Check out my ebook Small-Scale No-Till Gardening Basics for more information.
We scraped enough chicken
dirt from the used
pallet chicken coop to fill multiple wheel barrows.
accumulated so much book news that I have to take a break from my usual
garden geekery and goat obsession to share. I hope you don't mind this
Whoever suggested that
Abigail wouldn't be as able to hold back her milk if I handmilked rather
than using the machine was right. I wasn't able to test the hypothesis
until I got my milking technique down, though.
We tried adding Zestar to our
high density apple trees last year.
We're currently in the
middle of Dogwood Winter 2015, an annual event that seems to determine
whether or not we get fruit from our trees each year. In 2014, the
Dogwood Low was 25, which meant no fruit. The year before, the Dogwood
Low was 29, which meant good fruit production. This year, we dropped
down to 27 --- only time will tell which way the fruit teeter-totter
This is what our farm looks like
during Dogwood Winter. The white splotches are row-cover fabric laid
over potentially tender broccoli and blooming strawberries. The figs are
also still covered --- maybe I'll take off their tarps once the
beautiful, sunny weather returns.
Unlike the garden, our chicks are largely unfazed by the cold weather. Starting when they're a week old, I let the baby birds run out the door of their brooder
if the grass is dry, if no rain is in the forecast, and if I'm going to
be nearby. Their first day out, the chicks always wander out of sight
of the doorway and then get terrified that they're alone in the wide
world...meaning that I have to herd them back home. But by day three,
the baby chickens are largely self sufficient, picking their way through
the tall (to them) grasses in search of bugs.
In other news, the crazy
warm spell that preceded Dogwood Winter tempted germination of the
cucumbers and watermelons I plant under quick hoops at this time of year
to jumpstart the season. I was relieved to see that 27 degrees outside
was warm enough under the quick hoops not to nip the cucurbits' tender
leaves. So maybe we'll get early cucumbers again this year --- always a
treat when the spring harvests start to expand out into summer
Elsewhere in the garden, we're raking in the lettuce and asparagus
(best year ever for the latter!), and are watching our other spring
crops slowly grow and mature. Our carrots always require a meticulous
hand-weed at this time of year since they're so slow to germinate,
meaning that weeds have time to slip under their emerging canopy. That
task is on the agenda for the week to come. I'll be thinning the
seedlings too...except in the bed where I forgot to lay down my Huckleberry deterrent, with the result that the carrot seedlings were naturally thinned. Thanks, you ornery old cat....
Next door, a photo up under the hive
shows that a week or two of sugar water was enough to get the colony
growing like crazy. With the bees working down in the bottom box, it's
time to nadir on a new living space.
course, I couldn't wrap up this here-and-there post without a shot or
two of the goats, out enjoying a beautiful sunny day before the cold
weather hit. It's amazing how different Abigail looks now that she's
getting nearly as much grass as she can eat. Her hair seems to be more
shiny and her weight --- which was slowly drifting downward ever since
she popped out her kid --- has stabilized. I guess eating hay and eating
grass are as different as subsisting on canned soups versus gorging on
spring asparagus. The former will keep you alive, but the latter makes your whole outlook brighter....
Will the excess nutrients that ran off from our high forest-garden beds
and caused a minor algal bloom in the nearby depressions be harvestable
as tadpole manure once the water bodies dry up? Only time will tell....
I finished up our second goat
I found one big, beautiful morel Sunday in the exact same spot where Mark found one big, beautiful morel last year. We'd probably try harder to find these elusive mushrooms, but we both
think shiitakes beat morels in a taste test, hands down. As a result,
our total morel count for the last decade might come to five mushrooms
Why did we get a goat
muzzle for our little Lamb Chop?
Thanks to one of our kind readers, I'm trying yet another new biomass-producing crop this year --- Tithonia diversifolia.
This relative of the ornamental Mexican sunflower is a weed in tropical
areas but has also shown promise in improving soil conditions for
African farmers. Since we're definitely not tropical, the plant will
have to work hard to prove itself worthy of being babied over the winter
in the form of cuttings on our farm. Still, I have high hopes for the
species' potential as a cut-and-come-again mulch and goat-fodder plant.
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