archives for 12/2015
After a cold first frost, the rest of our autumn turned out to be relatively mild. Comparing photos taken in the garden Monday to those taken a year ago
shows a huge difference. For example, we're still eating only slightly
damaged mustard in the open garden, while last year's mustard was too
frozen to enjoy by this point.
Similarly, our late
Brussels sprouts are bulking up dramatically, pushing me toward turning
this into a twice-weekly vegetable rather than a once-weekly treat.
Under the quick hoops, the lettuce is growing like crazy. Technically, we've been in what Elliot Coleman calls the Persephone Days
for over a week, but I've recently concluded that his analysis of what
causes winter greens to stop growing is too simplistic. For us, day
length is less important than average daily temperature, meaning that
our greens will keep right on growing as long as they get enough warm
weather to keep their roots thawed. And, right now, that's still very
much the case.
As one more data point in
our delightfully mild November, take a look at this rye, planted just
before Halloween. That's really too late to be seeding even this most
winter-hardy cover crop, but I figured I'd give it a shot anyway. And
the top matter is already taller in those late beds than it was in most
of our garden after an entire winter of growth last year.
It's getting on toward
that time of year when the world is wet and our goats don't want
to stand in damp grass even long enough to pick honeysuckle off the
fenceline. I prevailed upon our little herd to go outside long enough
Tuesday to let me take some pictures, but they mostly made trouble
instead of eating.
Abigail is completely dried off now, and I'm hoping she'll start packing on a bit of fat soon. After quitting milking cold turkey,
our doe's bag got bigger and bigger for about three days, although
Abigail mostly complained only during the first twenty-four hours and
before there was any real pressure at play. Like me, she's not a fan of
disrupted routines. By the end of the week, the milk was being
reabsorbed, and now her udder is about the size it was when we first
bought her. Drying off is officially a success.
Meanwhile, Artemesia looked a bit befuddled when we brought her back from her driveway date,
but she's since bounced back...except that she still smells strongly of
buck. Now I'm peering at her butt regularly once again, this time to
see if I can note signs of early pregnancy. I realized in the process that the changes I'd seen in her butt
this summer and fall were symptoms of increasing maturity and heat
rather than pregnancy. Perhaps in a few more years I'll be reading goat
pooches like a pro. In the meantime, I'll be listening for yelling
around my birthday, hoping Artemesia pokes along into pregnancy instead.
One thing we learned while processing our last deer was that a big butcher knife is far superior to a hack saw and allows for a smooth chopping action when you need to cut through a bone.
There are two schools of
thought on eking out summer and fall crops into the winter. School one
says that a homegrown tomato is better than a storebought tomato even
when picked green, and you might as well ration your storage vegetables
too so you have at least something fresh in February. I started out with this school of thought and managed to eat homegrown, raw tomatoes on Thanksgiving one year and carrots well into the spring. (Both tasted worse than store-bought near the end.)
Three inches of rain in
three days meant the creek rose enough to spill slightly over into the
floodplain. Mark had to skip his second-to-last class of the year, and
we mostly stayed indoors and rested up from Thanksgiving. Four people-filled days meant that it took me nearly that long to feel normal again.
Lots of walks always
helps to clear the head. I asked the goats if they'd like to come out
with me, and they eyed me from the door of their barn as if I were
crazy. So Lucy and I enjoyed wet-weather waterfalls and the scent of
sodden leaves on our own. Nothing makes me happier than wandering among
trees with no people in sight --- an introvert's paradise.
Managing firewood gets a
little easier for us every year.
"My wife and I have been dreaming about a simpler unplugged lifestyle for a long time. We are currently saving to buy 20-40 acres in the woods and to build a simple cabin so we can start on our journey. Our plans are to transition into it slowly and then sell our house and cut the ties to daily grind.
"Nevertheless, I have a lot of questions and concerns about paying the bills without a full time job. We have 5 kids ranging from 13 to 2 years old so stability and being able to provide is important. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty and we plan on raising goats, chickens, rabbits and bees. Plus gardening and canning as much as possible.
"I just assume that you guys are full time and if so, how do you do it? The feed for animals, property taxes, utilities, gas for the car? Any insight is greatly appreciated."
Did you enjoy Five Acres and a Dream? If so, you'll be glad to hear that Leigh Tate has a sequel out. Critter Tales details her experiments with chickens, goats, llamas, livestock guardian dogs, guinea fowl, farm cats, pigs, and honeybees.
How do you find the sunniest spot on the winter homestead?
Look for the napping dog.
More frequent deep
freezes are starting to nip back uncovered growth. Time to put some of
those extra garden greens to use before it's too late.
"If you need any help with that little problem, just let me know," Abigail says.
How about we start with the chickens first, hmmm, Abigail?
The herd instead got a
goat bouquet...or rather two bouquets since Abigail won't let her little
sister dine within a five-foot radius of her horns.
I pulled a little bit of
everything for our capricious buddies, but they were only interested in
the brussels sprouts tops and kale leaves. Perhaps the story would have
been different if they hadn't been gorging on butternut squash, sweet
potatoes, alfalfa pellets, hay, and fresh honeysuckle leaves earlier in
the day. But what can I say? Our goats live high on the hog and know
what they like. Swiss chard and frost-damaged lettuce are not it.
There's nothing like a sunny day to pull both me and Huckleberry out into the garden. He hunts voles while I continue broadforking and expanding the new bed in the mule garden. You can tell how long it's been since I got sidetracked from this project by the height of the rye in the foreground.
Mom kindly delivered a
carload of huge cardboard boxes a few weeks ago, and I used them all up
in short order. Next step --- moving dirt from shady beds to build up
this sunny zone.
A really wet year in 2014 proved that our current fertilization source --- composted horse manure
from a neighboring farm --- isn't sustainable. Yes, it's a waste
product at the source and makes our garden thrive, but if we can't get
the manure from point A to point B we're sunk. So one of my big goals
for 2015 was to to work on homegrown compost. To that end, I've been
gathering piles of weeds all summer, and now it's finally time to build a
I didn't take any photos
on day one, so just pretend what you see here is starting on the ground
instead of on the side of an already built compost pile. That said, the
first layer consists of partially composted summer weeds...
...onto which I sprinkled a thinner layer of bedding from the chicken coop to boost nitrogen levels...
...then I added a layer
of 2/3-composted weeds to inoculate microbes and other critters. After
many wheelbarrows of each ingredient and quite a few layers, I had a
huge pile of incipient fertility.
I wasn't done yet,
though. Since over half of the compostables had been under cover, the
pile needs a couple of rains before I'll cover it up and let it cook.
During that time, I'll also pour on as much urine as we can come up with
to help the compost heat up enough to kill weed seeds. I'm not counting
on that effect, but it sure would be nice. Finally, if I get cabin
fever in February, I may turn the edges into the center to ensure
This spring's graftees didn't grow as vigorously as in year's past. I think the issue was mostly that their row
was a bit too shady, but the deer-nibbling session in midsummer didn't
help either. Still, I suspect they'll do fine now that I've moved them
to more secure and sunnier spots.
Kayla and I transplanted eleven little apples Wednesday, mulching just around the bases of the trees then planting rye
in between. It's way too late in the year for even that winter-friendly
cover crop, but it's been such a mild season I figured I'd give it a
shot anyway. If the rye gets overwhelmed by weeds, I'll just kill mulch
in the spring and start over.
Phase one of our homegrown fertility campaign is the garden/kitchen/chicken compost pile. But that isn't nearly enough to make it through the year. Enter phase two: the goat compost pile.
Now, this isn't really as
big a deal as I assumed it was at this time last year. After putting
uncomposted goat manure on the garden all summer, I realized that it
really wasn't any weedier than the composted horse manure we'd been
using to date. But I've still decided to earmark the goat manure for
large-seeded crops like squash and corn that can easily be protected
from weeds using newspaper and straw kill mulches between plants.
While turning the older
compost to incorporate it with the new, I discovered quite a few dry
patches like the one shown to the left in the photo above. I'd assumed I
needed to cover up the piles after about an inch of rain fell on them
to prevent leaching of nutrients, but it seems like I should have
allowed for at least twice that much rainfall pre-covering. Now that the
manure is in an even bigger pile, I probably should leave it out for a
solid month then take a look inside and see how well it's hydrating
before pulling out the tarps.
Tulip-tree firewood dries out in just five months and lights like a charm.
It also burns fast. Next year, we'll have to track down a harder wood for that last log in the stove on winter nights.
"Have some oats," I coaxed my grumpy goat.
Last winter, we had decades of banked honeysuckle to pull off trees and barns and fencelines. But, unfortunately, we're just about out already.
The outside world thinks it's spring. There are chickweed and speedwell and even a few dandelion flowers open. The wood frogs started calling in the woods (although they haven't moved to the puddles yet). And Kayla informed me her hydrangea bush got so confused it leafed out.
Our tractor trio gets along just fine despite being birds of a different feather.
for 30 butternut seeds. It sounded like a lot when I'd been saving my
own seeds for years and could likely refresh my supply at the dollar
store for under a buck. But I decided to splurge and try out a hybrid
butternut --- Metro F1 --- this year...and I was blown away.
We recently upgraded to a
Canon T3i to give our blog videos a cinema look.
"Alas, my mushroom logs apparently are not going to do anything. We plugged them early this year, set them in a shady spot under a tree, and waited. And waited. Nothing so far." --- Deb
The big thing I figured out with this video is how the auto focus feature seems to correct too often and is barely acceptable when your subject is moving.
I went through a
seamstress stage in late high school and early college. But lately I
haven't sewn much. After all, most Americans are so obsessed with fashion
that I can get an entire wardrobe for about $10 used and then wear it for a year or so until the knees fall out of my pants.
Anna shares tips on how awesome our brussels sprouts yield was this year.
I finished cleaning out the 2014 humanure this week. In the process, the metal that was covering one side of the 2015 bin fell away and revealed this:
The finding was even more thrilling than this morning's excitement --- watching heat rise off my biggest compost pile. (Yes, I do get quite a kick out of the simple things in life.) Can you tell what's going on?
Mark and I make the
perfect couple; I break things. He fixes things. Sometimes I even buy
things pre-broken to ensure my sweet husband has enough to do.
We celebrated Anna's birthday today by making Christmas cookies in Bristol.
One of the problems with
goats in the winter is mud. Even if you pick a very well-drained spot
for them, they'll tend to hang out at the gate closest to human
activity. The result is trampled up mud, like this.
Our caprine companions
deal with the issue by finding stumps to stand on, which keeps their
hooves dry but still leaves me feeling like a slacker goatkeeper. So
Mark finished off the gate he'd been adding to pasture two so we could rotate the girls over.
I'd like to say we'd stockpiled winter forage
for the goats to enjoy in this new pasture, but we're not to that point
yet. Abigail ate the few honeysuckle leaves she'd missed during her
previous occupation, then the girls went back to the barn to dine on
hay. At least they won't have to walk through mud for a few weeks now.
This Bell 12 volt compressor helped us to air up our low truck
tire long enough to get to a local tire shop for repairs.
A cookie-decorating party
has been my favorite birthday so far. While the events are fresh in my
mind, I thought I'd sum up what I learned in case you want to replicate
the cheap, fun entertainment.
4. Less is more in the decoration department.
Think like a cartoonist and focus on just a few key areas --- the mane
of a lion, the whiskers of a cat, the hooves of a horse. (And don't
smudge your cat with flour like I did!)
5. Plan ahead with waxed paper and tins to pack away the finished cookies.
The icing needs to dry for a few minutes first on a plate, but then
they can be stacked carefully in the tin. These make great edible gifts.
It's amazing what a different twelve days can make to a compost pile.
I suspect the chicken manure was largely responsible for the fast
heating and the equally fast slumping in this case. No matter what the
cause, by the time our most recent cold spell hit, the pile was no
longer breathing out visible hot air and it had also lost about a third
of its bulk. Time to regroup a little bit.
I didn't exactly turn the
pile. Instead, I forked up some of the outer perimeter that had sunk
down to below critical mass for composting. Now the pile is about as
tall as it was before once again, but it's more pyramidal and
considerably smaller in total volume. I'll be curious to see if it heats
up again or just slow cooks for the rest of the winter.
When I was taking a picture
last week for an update
to our chicken tractor hens I forgot to reset a bucket that was
blocking a gap where the ground was uneven and they escaped to plunder
the mulch in our garden.
Winter Solstice! Or, for those of you who celebrate Christmas,
Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa or the Festival of the Radishes, please
accept my apologies for my holiday wishes being premature or belated.
Abigail says: "Winter holidays are about feasting. Give me more honeysuckle!"
Artemesia says: "Winter holidays are about fun. If it's more than a foot tall, I want to stand on top of it. You try!"
From our farm to yours
--- may your year ahead be healthy, happy, and full of inspiration.
Don't get pulled in too many different directions and do remember to
savor the moment. It's all uphill from here!
Focusing on one film class
this past semester was so fun and stimulating that I decided to sign up
for another film class for the Winter term.
My sister and I were
discussing New Year's resolutions the other day. Unlike most people, I
like to think of them as goals rather than resolutions and I prefer to
immediately set up action steps to make them a reality. Still, the start
of a new calendar year does seem like a good time to mull over the
In 2014 and 2015, my goal
was to take one work day off per month just for fun. No, it doesn't
count if I'm going to the dentist or planning Thanksgiving. There might
be fun involved in both those activities, but neither one works to
counter my workaholic tendencies. Instead, the free day has to be
devoted to exploring a park or just swallowing a good book --- pure
unvarnished pleasure with no obligatory springs attached. I failed at
this goal in 2014, but did so well this year that I was no longer
sliding my free day off into the very end of the month just to say I did
Having achieved my goal
at last, I'm now ready to move on to a new resolution. So in 2016 my
goal is to add another just-for-fun day per month, but this one will be
devoted to long hikes like the one I enjoyed this fall. Now I'm off to
research medium-distance trails within easy driving distance and plan
out next year's fun!
Mark and I just got back from watching The Force Awakens with our movie-star neighbor.
I'm pretty sure Mark's going to need to digest the film for the next
several hours, so you get a glib Anna post rather than a thoughtful Mark
This winter has thus-far
been as abnormally mild as last winter was abnormally cold. Usually, our
grass is entirely dormant by now, but new growth keeps popping up to
our goats' delight. And we're barely delving into the quick-hoops greens
yet since there's still masses of kale and brussels sprouts to eat in
the main garden. Our firewood supply is also in particularly good shape since it looks like we're only going to use half as much wood as I'd
alloted for December despite lighting the stove whenever Huckleberry
complains about the interior temperature dropping below 62.
Anna gave me a tough choice
to make today.
We've been doing some
heavy visiting in the last week. I enjoy the time with friends and
family, but each trip off farm makes simple afternoons at home feel that
much more enticing. With our social agenda finally cleared, we spent
Christmas Eve emulating Strider --- relaxing.
I thought you might enjoy
some random shots from a simple, non-work day. Here's the goats'
breakfast --- alfalfa pellets, mangels, and butternut squash.
And part of our lunch ---
brussels sprouts. With big sprouts like the ones we've been getting
this year, they roast better if cut in half (or even in quarters).
And a dandelion in full bloom to trick us into thinking it's spring.
Some classmates of mine made
short film using the Super 8 format.
How can you tell if your
goat is in heat? If you've got a buck around, she'll suddenly be
interested in him. But even without a buck, heat signs are pretty
obvious once you know your individual animals.
Abigail's in heat, she stands outside even when it's damp (despite
hating water). And she yells even though she's usually nearly silent,
emitting long, bleating moans that sound like she's dying. I can only
assume she thinks she'll manage to call a buck into her pasture if she
yells loud enough.
A less obvious sign (but
pretty striking in Abigail) is lack of an appetite. In the photo above,
you can see her less dominant herd mate sneaking Abigail's breakfast.
Usually, poor Artemesia would have been butted off the milking stand by
now. But when Abigail's in heat, she's far more interested in yelling
If you're looking to
breed your goat, you'll want to mark each heat on your calendar so you
know when to expect the next one. Goat heats are usually about three
weeks apart, and once your goat goes into heat you have anywhere from 6
hours to 3 days to get her bred.
Since Artemesia has now gone four weeks since her last heat, we're relatively sure her driveway date stuck and she's pregnant. So mark your calendar for late April --- hopefully she'll pop out at least one girl!
We froze parts of the deer Anna killed
last month that we didn't want to process but thought Lucy would
Mark came down with a cinnamon-bun craving
this year. And after he brought home cans of dough a couple of times, I
told him I was pretty sure I could make something better from scratch.
You'll need to start
about five hours before you want to eat since cinnamon buns are
basically a sweetened yeast bread. For the dough, mix:
If you're using
rapid-rise yeast, you don't need to proof the leavening. Instead, just
pour all of the ingredients into a bowl, put the bread-hook attachment
onto your mixer, and mix at medium speed for a few minutes until the
dough is fully combined. (Or you can knead by hand until you get the
Once the dough's ready, mix up the filling:
Flour a clean surface and
roll out your dough until it's about as big as you see in the picture
above. You want it to be a rectangle rather than a square, but the exact
dimensions are up to you. A bigger rectangle will mean your rolls have
more layers but a smaller thickness of cinnamon-sugar in between each
Brush the melted butter
onto the dough, leaving about an inch on each long side uncovered. The
unbuttered regions will stick together better so your cinnamon rolls
won't unravel as they rise and bake.
cinnamon-sugar mixture on top of the butter as evenly as you can. Then
roll up the dough to make one long cylinder. Using a sharp knife, cut
the roll into sixteen equal pieces. (This is easiest done by cutting the
roll in half, then each half in half, then each quarter into quarters.)
Butter a 9x13 dish or two
8-inch round cake pans. Place the cinnamon rolls in the pan relatively
close together so they'll merge as they rise. Then set the dish(es) in a
warm place to rise again for another two hours (or more or less
depending on the temperature of your kitchen).
Stir the icing until it forms a thick batter.
As soon as the buns come
out of the oven, drizzle the icing over the hot rolls. I simply get a
spoonful of icing and let it drip over the edge of the utensil to make
lines across the buns. (Sometimes I mess up and make blobs, but Mark
doesn't seem to care.)
We've got carrots for the
goats and apples for Anna in the refrigerator
The sun came out to join the summer weather. A perfect day for laundry.
I started using a clotheline
tightener on our hanging heated bucket waterer.
We went hunting chicken of the woods mushrooms this weekend on the off chance the huge log we found in September would have put out another flush in this warm, wet weather. But it seems chicken of the woods is much more seasonal than the oysters we've been picking in our own woods.
Among the latter species,
I've been noticing that one stump just past the edge of our core
homestead has a much darker cap than the usual wild type, more like one
of the varieties we plugged into logs from purchased spawn several years
ago. I wonder if we're introducing new fungal strains to the local
woods, and what impact that will have on the ecosystem? The effect on
our dinner plates is definitely positive.
This might be our first Winter where we carry over enough firewood to have two sheds full by next Winter.
Another year, another pair of waterproof boots
to be replaced. And each time, I start out with firm plans to make my
new footware last longer. I'll only wear them in the muddiest parts of
the farm, I promise. I'll definitely steer clear of briars and will wear
the leaky pair instead if water isn't going to rise higher than my
One of our readers wrote in a few weeks ago to ask about fertilizing a non-bearing fruit tree. The truth is that if you did a good job building your soil's organic-matter levels early on
in the tree's life, it might not need to be fed at all until it sets
fruit. Instead, you can get away with mulching well to keep down weed
competition while also making sure you're only drawing on the
organic-matter interest rather than using up the capital.
Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.