archives for 09/2015
Another Monday, another big harvest push.
This week, my primary goal was to completely clear out the main butternut patch to make way for planting an oat cover crop.
To that end, I harvested every squash, whether it was ready or not. The
few that were still greenish will go to the goats in the near future, so they won't be wasted.
Speaking of goat
concentrates, I also harvested my experimental field corn planting. I
put in a couple of rows of Nothstine Dent corn this spring mostly
because our goats enjoy sweet corn leaves so much. We can only consume
so much sweet corn, but I figured a bit of field corn could either feed
the goats (if I lower my standards), the chickens, or family members who
consume grain. We'll see who these new ears go to and whether the
not-quite-so-sugary leaves are as much like goat candy as those of sweet
Finally, in unrelated Monday news, Mama Song Sparrow's third hatch
is now underway! Two babies grace her hidden nest, deep in the
raspberry canes, and both are so tiny they have to be sparrows instead
of cowbirds. Here's hoping she has better luck raising her own species
this time around.
It's always handy when
delving into a bee hive to spend a couple of minutes beforehand thinking
through your goals for the operation. This time around, my plan was
simple --- I wanted to check on the state of our two hives' honey stores
to determine how much sugar water (if any) they need to stock up for the winter.
The mother hive is shown
on the left in the first photo in this post, and you can see the
hardware is a weird Langstroth-Warre mixture. As long-term readers know,
I've been trying to convert this colony from Warre to Langstroth boxes all summer, but the queen seems to want to stay up in the Warre box. The top photo in this conglomeration shows that Warre attic --- still disappointingly full of brood.
I didn't take as many
photos of the daughter hive since it's much harder to pull out Warre
frames and look inside. Like the mother hive, this colony has four
boxes, and here all of the comb is drawn. But the daughter's attic is
pretty much empty and so is the basement, so the bees are primarily
working in the middle two boxes (just like in the mother hive). Based on
weight, I'd say this colony might survive without feeding, but if I can
track down my second feeder lid I'll probably put these girls back on
the dole too.
My quick tarp
protection lasted a whopping 4 days.
My dirty little secret is
that I'm a workaholic...until you leave me alone on the farm. Then I
have a tendency to curl up with a book and a cat and not emerge for
Of course, once I'm outside, the wonder of nature always sucks me in. Tuesday, I was clearing off the butternut beds in preparation for planting oats.
The weeds had grown high in the aisles and the remaining butternut
vines turned this zone into a wild area, so I wasn't entirely surprised
to find a box turtle happily hanging out amid the greenery (along with
seven overlooked squash).
Next door, the broilers
were already hard at work dismantling my earlier planting of oats at the
feet of failing tomato vines. Mark and I put the brooder in this area
because I assumed tiny chicks wouldn't be able to scratch up the plants
before their roots became fully established. Apparently I was wrong! At only
one week old, the Red Rangers
are already prime scratchers, so I may have to write off some of the
cover crops in this zone. Oh well --- no huge loss since we'll get to
eat the meat.
"You're not paying attention to me," complained Huckleberry. "This is boring. I'm going to take a nap."
Our goat-jumping problem all started when Abigail informed me that late August grass was far too wet for morning tethering.
So, in my neverending quest to produce the world's most spoiled herd of two, I conceded to our queen's demand.
So Abigail and Artemesia
were left in their paddock with only last winter's old hay in their
manger plus sub-par weeds in the pasture. No wonder they wanted to climb
the hay mountain and harvest this year's sweet, dried grasses in the
warm, dry comfort of their coop.
Anyway, with the manger
empty, I filled its cavernous depths with 2015 hay that our girls
appeared to be so enamored with. Then I opened the door so our goats
could explore their new breakfast bar.
Sigh. It looks like I need to have a chat with our bad doeling and see what makes her tick next. Good thing she's so cute....
We got our roofing tin in
Johnson City at 10 bucks per sheet.
Three new fall colors showed up on our farm this week. Red peppers...
...yellow soybean leaves...
...and green of baby kale. Yum!
We picked up another load of hay since the goats decided to not eat the old hay.
Our Red Rangers
are very industrious. At less than two weeks old, they're already
foraging widely, and I caught one eating a cricket larger than his head.
That afternoon, I caught
the predator in action. Not a rat at all, but a sharp-shinned hawk. Too
bad our watch cats aren't quite enough to scare the raptor away. Time to
put on our thinking caps again before our broiler population becomes
any more depleted.
It took 2.5 ratchet straps to secure both 2x4s for the ATV load extension.
"What will you do with the soybeans?"
We had a fun time exploring the Russell County fair today.
I wonder how different
county fairs were two hundred years ago. Were random passersby like me
left wondering how they judged the hay and decided that
bale was better than this one --- did they put it to the goat test? Did
folks walking through the barnyard exhibit wish that the goats had
instead been on leashes walking through the crowd the way they obviously
to be? Did milkmaids never get to ride the ferris wheel because the
carnival portion of the fair doesn't open until after supper, awfully
close to milking time?
My two female ducks (no
specific breed, barnyard duck . . . may have some runner) started
setting; the second time this season. This past spring every single egg
they set on was infertile. When they became broody again, I researched
the Muscovy drake/’normal’ duck breed cross a bit more. I learned that
in natural breeding settings, these only have a 20-30% fertility rate.
No wonder the spring eggs were all infertile! I ordered a dozen
ducklings from a hatchery, for delivery the week the broody ducks would
be hatching, if any of their eggs were fertile. I had grand plans of
foster ducklings and happy foster mother ducks.
I set the ducklings up in a
pen directly on a bed in the greenhouse. I placed small bits of plywood
and cardboard all around the pen to limit drafts. Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks mentions that in mild weather, a low insulated area can be used by the ducklings to keep warm utilizing their own body heat.
I used remnants of 2x4’s for sides, against a cardboard draft guard as
the back, and open on the front. It is only 3 2x4’s high, so about 5
inches high. I cut 4 pieces of cardboard to layer on top, as insulation.
It is dark and I’ve had to herd the ducklings in a few times, so they
can get used to it. They
actually haven’t really used it at all. That is meant to be a place to
get warm during the day, when the sun goes behind the clouds. They have
enjoyed climbing on top of it though. So far the ducklings haven’t shown
any real signs of being chilly during the main part of the day between
the draft guards and the protection and extra warmth of the greenhouse.
The ducklings go under the
kettle grill and between the bricks when charcoal is burning in the
charcoal starter, set within the grill. It is very easy to light and
heats up fairly quickly. I am sleeping within the greenhouse (the
weather is quite beautiful and I want to be near, in case the ducklings
need me while I’m working out the kinks). I set my alarm for about 3
hours. At times, there are still a few coals, and I only need to add
more charcoal. Often the charcoal is out though. The ducklings are still
doing well though and there is significant heat built up in the bricks
the grill is setting on to tide them over until I get more charcoal
going. I would like to get to up the 8 hours that my off-grid
compatriots in Africa get. I’m going to try to rig a longer charcoal
starter type of tool from 6” stove pipe.
A cool August slowed down a lot of heat-lovers, like the sweet peppers shown above. But they're starting to roll in now, better late than never! Last year, I chopped our sweet peppers into
small pieces and froze them in ziplock bags, which made for easy
seasoning-dashes in winter dishes. I'm glad to be able to repeat the
preservation trick this year. One pint down, as many as we can fit in
before the frost still to go!
Meanwhile, our porch
dining table has been halfway taken over by my seed-saving station.
Since I'm a far-too-speedy eater, I like having a stockpile of beans to
shell or hazelnuts to husk to keep my hands busy while Mark finishes his
meals at a more normal pace. Last week, I was shelling beans for
planting from our Masai bushes, and this week I harvested another half gallon or so of scarlet runner bean pods from our shade vines, along with the last of the year's mung bean
pods, both for eating. The field corn is being husked too since I
learned the hard way that, even on drying racks, corn in the husk will
mold instead of dry in our humid climate.
Since I ended last week's harvest update
with a Song Sparrow photo, I thought I'd snap a shot this week too.
What a difference eight days make! I have a feeling these chickies will
have left the nest and learned to fly before I regale you with a harvest
post once again.
Our goats got out today.
This is going to be a
disjointed post because this is a disjointed time of year. I tend to
have ten items on my morning to-do list each day, which keeps me
stimulated and the homestead healthy. It doesn't make for a very
cohesive story, though.
In the garden, oats
are coming up here, there, and everywhere. For the first time, I made
my way through an entire fifty-pound bag before oat-planting season
ended. Since our goats adore this fall cover crop, Mark's going to get
me another bag, and we'll see how much of it we can find room to plant
in the next week before the season shifts into rye time.
One new spot where I'll
be able to plant oats is in the sweet potato plots since the huge tubers
have been disinterred from their raised beds. The potato in my hand is
probably the largest one we've ever grown, clocking in just shy of three
pounds. The nibbled potatoes on the left will go to Abigail, who enjoys
the tubers even if she's not so keen on the vines.
I might have gone a
little overboard on our second-to-last sweet-corn planting this year.
Some of the earlier plantings consisted of old seed that didn't sprout well, so I filled in a pretty big area when the new seed came in the mail. But now I'm stuffing bags of sweet corn in every nook and cranny of our larger chest freezer, trying to decide if we need to plug in the smaller spillover freezer just for the sake of corn.
I really know better than letting 2.5-week-old chicks out of their brooder on a rainy day. But our Red Rangers are so industrious, and they run back into the brooder every night on their own, so I figured they were smart enough to come in out of the rain.
There comes a time in the
life of every garden when the head gardener is just so overloaded with
produce that she has to make tough decisions. The tomatoes --- yes,
we'll preserve every ounce of those. But maybe that huge basket of okra
and sweet corn would be better off visiting another household?
I figured if I sweetened
the pot with some fresh carrots and peppers and hazelnuts and scarlet
runner beans and zinnias, Mom wouldn't realize I was just trying to
foist off my unwanted children on her.
In exchange, my kind
mother filled the back seat of our car with found cardboard. One man's
trash is definitely this woman's treasure! Thanks, Mom! Seems like a pretty fair trade.
Okra yields have been high this Fall.
Sometimes I enjoy our
goats' company so much that I forget to write (or even think) about our
production goals. But I figured I owed you (and them) some goat geekery.
Six weeks ago, I shared Abigail's lactation chart to date.
I couldn't seem to find my original spreadsheet, so I used a lazy
approach to update it --- the thinner line shows her August and early
September milk production figures.
On another note, after talking it over with Mark, I realized that we don't really have
to breed both Artemesia and Abigail this fall. After all, milking one
goat is quite enough for my carpal tunnel and for our bellies, and our
farm isn't operating close enough to the poverty line that the resulting
lack of efficiency will be a problem. So we're focusing on getting
Artemesia knocked up this fall and giving Abigail a year of
Okay, that's enough geekery. Back to your usual round of cute-goat photos in subsequent posts.
We converted our hallway closet into a butternut squash storage unit.
Mark spent $9 on another 25 pounds of oat seeds...because the first 50 pounds just weren't quite enough for me.
And then, long-suffering
husband that he is, he obliged me by weedeating some experimental beds
to use up the seeds I couldn't find room for in the garden. This patch
was pure weeds this spring, then I solarized
it for a month or so in the summer. As you can see, partial-shade
conditions and the power of perennial weeds meant that some plants
sprang back up from the roots despite the cooking time. I'm hopeful that
scattering oat seeds and weedeating to the ground just before a rain
will mean the cover crops sprout and make a goat-fodder patch. Then
perhaps we can fold this area into garden production next year. Or,
worst-case scenario, we just wasted a buck of oat seeds and will have to
start from scratch here if the experiment fails.
Just in case, we prepared
for a potential early freeze by bringing in all of our storage
vegetables off the porch. Some were ready to enter their final storage
locations, while others need another couple of weeks curing on the rack.
(And, since someone asked last week and I forgot to reply to their
comment --- if you're curious about how to cure and store vegetables
that don't require fancy preservation, you can read everything I know in
Weekend Homesteader: October.)
Next we covered up our
pepper plants (the only summer crop that hasn't already reached quota in
the preservation department) and settled in to wait for the Monday low.
Okay, I say I'm
relieved...but I'm actually just about ready for the gardening season to
wind down. But it's worth a bit more pushing at this time of year to
grow organic matter rather than weeds in fallow garden beds. So my tired
wheelbarrow will get back to work for a few more weeks, and then we'll
both enjoy our much deserved winter rest.
This is the first year we're
using Christmas lights as a supplemental
Our front garden used to
be my favorite growing spot. It began with B+ soil, while the rest of
our core homestead was closer to a D. But, over time, I improved the
soil everywhere else...which allowed the front garden's inherent flaws
to shine through. First of all, there's the wacky layout, with lots of
little beds dug before I knew any better. Then there's the fact that
this area turns into permafrost in the winter and even in the summer
only the very center of the front garden counts as full sun. Which is
all a long way of saying --- the front garden is now my least favorite
gardening spot, so it tends to get neglected. Time for a hard reboot!
First step --- a close
mow of the aisles so we can see what we're working with. Next step ---
trick Kayla into coming over to help me move dirt. Here's hoping she
doesn't read this post before she heads out the door or she might just
call in sick....
The first step in my front-garden renovation involved
de-compacting the cross aisles. I've tried to simply kill mulch these
spots in the past and then plant into the bare ground. But after being
walked on for nearly a decade, the soil is too compacted to turn
directly into vegetable-garden soil the quick and easy way. So I pulled
out the broadfork and gave a few of the cross-aisles some much-needed aeration.
The other reason simply
kill mulching cross aisles failed for me is because I'd already shoveled
all of the topsoil out of those areas to apply to the garden beds. So,
after laying down a layer of cardboard to block the weeds, I remedied
that problem by bringing soil from garden areas I was deleting and
applying it to the cross aisles. The photos above show four small beds
that were merged into one long bed running the other direction to
expedite mowing --- it really is much simpler if all of your beds are
parallel to each other. This area is a bit too shady for vegetable
gardening, so I'll plant some high-density apples here and hope they get
enough sun to thrive.
We added another layer of
tarp protection to our mountain
The harvest frenzy
is finally starting to wind down. We've been using the extra time to
kill off our old chickens and ducks and start getting the garden in
order for the winter. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that I'm
still adding more items to our to-do list every day than I remove,
The only relatively large
harvest we made this week was sorghum. I'm mostly just playing around
with grains at the moment, but have to admit that sorghum is a keeper.
The heads are easy to cut free, they dry on our curing racks without
molding, and then the goats eat the seeds right off the stems during the
winter when I think they deserve a special treat. In the meantime, the
sorghum stalks (well, leaves really) are superior even to sweet-corn
stalks as morning goat fodder. Finally, our sorghum grew better than our
field corn in the waterlogged, clayey soil where I stuck it, figuring
an experimental crop didn't deserve better. I think next year we'll
delete the field corn and stick to sorghum as our primary goat grain.
Abigail likes to eat the new leaves that have freshly fallen to the ground.
Robert Kourik recently sent me a review copy of his newest book, Understanding Roots,
and I highly recommend it...for about 30% of our readers. Those of you
who love my geekiest posts, who aren't afraid of numbers, and who are
willing to read critically (Jake, I'm looking at you) will find Understanding Roots
both intriguing and thought-provoking. On the other hand, readers who
come here for the pretty pictures and whose eyes glaze over when I start
rambling on at length should probably skip this one.
Trying to do something with goats wanting your attention is more difficult...... but they make up for it with the fun they add.
I decided to go for it and cut back to once-a-day milking. After all, the days are getting shorter all the time, and I'd really rather not end up milking in the dark.
The first night, I felt so strange, not having a goat to milk. And production did drop, from 22.6 ounces per day to 18.3 ounces per day (a 19% reduction).
"Are we done talking about milk yet?" Artemesia asks. "Can't we go play?"
Our Kale yield is above average this year and ready to be sweetened up by the future cold temperatures.
I've been really enjoying our immersion blender.
Not only does the tool allow me to cut up the skins of tomatoes in a
flash, it also purees the batter for a butternut pie extremely well.
Soak up the sunlight
while you can --- solar luminosity is fading fast! And don't forget to
mark your calendars for a super lunar eclipse this coming Sunday. The
moon will begin to be blocked by the earth at 8:40 pm EST, with the full
blackout lasting from 10:11 pm to 11:23 pm. Since the moon will also be
at its closest approach to the earth during this particular eclipse,
the orb will appear 14% larger than usual. Here's hoping there are no
clouds to block the view!
Today we hauled and banked our first 135 gallons of horse manure for the year.
This is such a blissful
time of year. It's not too hot; it's not too cold. The huge summer
preservation push is mostly over (although I've still got a few things
left to pack away, like these peppers, recently blanched and fated for
the freezer); the fall crops are starting to come in. And even though
the garden needs some weeding still, I'm starting to feel like my work
is making a difference rather than just pacing along on the summer
Meanwhile, the oats
I planted over the last six weeks are getting big enough that I'm
starting to let our goats eat the largest plants even though there's
still plenty of greenery elsewhere. The early feeding isn't really
spoiling our herd, nor is it being wasteful. Instead, I know from
experience that if I let this fall cover crop flower, the plants will
perish faster when the cold weather hits. By grazing the oldest
plantings now, our herd will set the cover crop back into vegetative
mode so the goats can graze the same ground once again after winter
I owe you some photos of the front garden renovations
I'm still in the middle of, but you'll have to wait on those. Instead,
here are some of the carrots I harvested to clear out beds so I could
shovel dirt around and create one long row. I took the time to rinse off
each root so I could easily sort the imperfect goat carrots out of the
perfect human carrots. The picture above is the latter --- all straight
and spotless, perfect for winter cooking.
If I make it sound like
it's all work and no play around here...you'd know I was lying.
Sometimes, the goats suck me out into the woods two times a day instead
of just one, in fact. So maybe our hooved friends aren't the only farm
residents who are spoiled in late September.