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archives for 04/2016

Pear flower homestead

It feels odd to wait so long to prune, until the pears are blooming and the apple buds are showing their first signs of pink. But the late approach actually makes the work easier since you can see exactly what each twig is going to do. You just have to be careful not to knock off tender flower buds while you work.

High-density apple flower

Our fruit trees came through the winter unscathed this year, partly because we ripped out the tender peaches last spring and partly because this past winter just wasn't as harsh. The real test of fruiting, of course, will come during Dogwood and Blackberry Winters, when lows may drop beneath the flowers' critical temperatures. I've resolved to cover what I can, but it's hard to imagine protecting whole trees!

Posted Fri Apr 1 07:28:27 2016 Tags:
floor of new woodshed is made from treated 2x4's

We used old pallets for our first woodshed floor and they did not last long.

The new floor is made from treated 2x4's secured to each side wall.

Posted Fri Apr 1 14:39:34 2016 Tags:
Early homestead map

I was geekily excited this week to discover that Google updated their satellite photos of our area. Now I have a third aerial photo to add to our string of farm baby pics! The oldest one, above, dates from soon after we moved in.

Farm in fall 2011

This one is from fall 2011 (courtesy of Bing).

Google map

And here's our current one that I would date to fall 2015. You can see that we're slowly streamlining our front garden (near the bottom of the photo above) and had recently planted garlic in those non-patchwork beds.

Thanks for the gift of perspective, Google!

Posted Sat Apr 2 07:28:28 2016 Tags:
fixing goat fence

We had a minor goat break out this morning.

No real damage....Abigail is pretty good at finding our weak spots in the fence.

Posted Sat Apr 2 14:22:14 2016 Tags:
Frost protecting apple blooms

Spring freezes always make me wish I could just send up a dome to enclose our entire core homestead. Since Mark hasn't yet invented such a device, I'm stuck choosing which plants to protect with the materials we have on hand.

Apple critical temperatures

This year, we're trying something new to me but that my mother has used to good result in years past --- plastic dog-food bags. (Yes, some of my bags started with chicken feed or cover-crop seeds inside them, but you know what I'm talking about.)

Protecting tree flowers

The bags are a little tricky to pull over tree limbs without knocking flower buds off, and I opted to tie each one partway closed in hopes the wind won't catch inside and yank yet more plant parts free. But I have high hopes that the still-air pocket created will protect blooms from the upcoming freezes and that the bag will still be breathable enough that it will be okay to leave them on for the solid week of cold we've got ahead.

High-density apples

As you can see, I only covered a small subset of my apple limbs. Partly that's because I ran out of bags and partly that's because I want a control just in case the bags make matters worse rather than better. Stay tuned for results....in June.

Posted Sun Apr 3 07:23:47 2016 Tags:
sweet potato starting

The first half of April is a good time to start sweet potatoes in some wet sand.

Posted Sun Apr 3 15:29:53 2016 Tags:
Early strawberry blooms

After frost-protecting apple branches, my eye next turned to the smaller garden plants. Despite recent warmth tempting me to set out tender seedlings, most of the garden is still pretty cold hardy. Lettuce, kale, peas, arugula --- all will likely coast along just fine on the soil's residual heat. Broccoli and onions have been under row covers since I set them out just in case. But what about the strawberries?

Most of our plants have their bloom buds only barely visible, but plants of the ultra-early variety I pushed ahead with a quick hoop are starting to bloom. And a blackened center of one flower proves that the quick hoop alone wasn't enough to protect that bloom from even our recent semi-mild freezes.

Row cover under a quick hoop

So how about an extra row cover under that quick hoop?

The real trick here will be remembering to disinter the plants during warm spells within our cold week. After all, flowers won't turn into fruits if they're not pollinated.

Posted Mon Apr 4 07:01:08 2016 Tags:
step repair with new steps

We replaced our troubled back steps with treated step stringers and 2x10 planks.

Total cost was just under 40 dollars.
 

Posted Mon Apr 4 15:38:56 2016 Tags:
Goat ball

Eighteen months after buying our first goats, we're gearing up to swap out half our herd. Abigail is going to the butcher in three weeks to be replaced by one of Artemesia's as-yet-unborn kids. So this seems like as good a time as any to write one of those "if I'd know then what I know now" posts to help anyone planning to follow along in our footsteps.

Question 1: Do I buy a goat with horns or without horns?

Answer then: Either is fine. Horns are natural and beautiful.

Answer now: Hornless. Horned goats break apart your infrastructure and beat up on their herdmates. Abigail is on the gentle side and has never seriously harmed Artemesia, but it's better not to risk it.

Goat butts

Question 2: Do I buy a cheap goat or pay the crazy prices breeders ask for a purebreed?

Answer then: I'll try one of each, but I'm not sold on purebreeds being worth the cash.

Answer now: My sample size is awfully small, but we definitely got what we paid for with each of our goats. Cheap Abigail is headstrong and makes trouble. Expensive Artemesia is the most malleable animal I've ever worked with --- yes, including Lucy. Maybe we got lucky, or maybe purebreeds really are the way to go. We'll see how the sweetness carries through to the second generation.

Posted Tue Apr 5 07:17:25 2016 Tags:
Rooted willow cuttings

A year ago, I rooted these willow cuttings by the simple method of poking the dormant sticks into the ground in a damp spot. I semi-mulched them with a couple of sheets of cardboard...then I ignored them for the next twelve months.

A few of the cuttings perished. The biggest danger to baby willows is apparently the lawnmower, closely followed by dropping large mushroom logs on top of their tender shoots. Goats nibbled on the leaves too, but that didn't seem to be as much of a problem.

Now the best-looking cuttings are blooming and all of the survivors are staring to leaf out. I snipped all of the side branches so the bushes can start focusing on upward growth. Soon we'll be in the training stage where I can start weaving my living-tree sculpture!

Posted Wed Apr 6 07:44:09 2016 Tags:
woodshed failure explained

I had to re-do one of the new woodshed lattice walls today.

The problem was not enough overlap. I was trying to spread it too thin.

Posted Wed Apr 6 15:12:40 2016 Tags:
Fenced chickens

We put our main flock back on pasture today. Even though they have the whole woods to roam through in winter and early spring, the grass truly is greener on the pasture side of the fence.

Chickens outdoorsWhy? Good management. We kept poultry out of these areas while the plants were just starting to break dormancy, so grass and clover had time to get their feet under them before being pecked to death.

To maintain that healthy state, we'll rotate our flock into a new pasture in a week and continue through all four pastures before returning to this first location after nearly a month of rest. With the exception of extreme summer droughts, that should keep the flock happy and healthy all year.

Want the long version of this short explanation? My book Pasture Basics walks you through setting up rotational pasture systems for your flock that will keep your grass green and your chickens happy. Good luck!

Posted Thu Apr 7 07:58:12 2016 Tags:

The Ultimate Guide to SoilDid you miss my introductory 99-cent offer when Personality Tests for Your Soil first came out in January? Then you're in luck --- I've marked the ebook down to 67% off for the next few days so you can nab a copy. Here are the links:

In other soil-book news, the print book (which contains the entire, four-ebook series) got a new look last month. I wasn't so sure about the brighter cover at first, but it's really grown on me and now I think it's a perfect fit for the easy-reading but sound-science tone of the text inside. Even more exciting, Skyhorse outsourced a German version to Mobiwell Verlag, so those of you who sprechen Deutsch will soon be able to snag a copy at your local bookstore. I'm excited to be reaching more international readers!

Already have a copy of Personality Tests for Your Soil? Maybe you'd be willing to leave a review or tell a friend about the sale. That social proof is enormously valuable and your kind words make it possible for me to experiment and share my results for free here on the blog as well as in my books. Thanks in advance for anything you feel you can do!

Posted Fri Apr 8 07:39:05 2016 Tags:
Anna and Walter putting up straw bales

We got 40 bales of straw this morning for Spring and Summer garden mulching.

Walter runs the Punkin Patch Farm, which is a nice field trip option if you are a school teacher in the area looking for a wholesome farm to take your class to.

Posted Fri Apr 8 16:21:19 2016 Tags:
William King art

I keep telling Kayla she needs to become a travel agent. Every local attraction she hooks me up with is 100% fun and the William King Art Museum was no exception. I'd been there before, but there was something special about the company this time around. Mom, Kayla, baby D...plus Bigfoot, who turned his head to greet us at the door.

How the yellow jacket came to beMy favorite exhibit didn't really photograph well, unfortunately. Witches and Wild Things by Lillian Trettin consists of stunningly intricate and magical prints and collages that detail both real and imagined Native American/Appalachian folklore.

If you go (and I highly recommend it), you'll want to walk through this series twice. First, just look with your eyes --- the images are labeled only by number, so you can use your own imagination to guess what each one portrays. Then pick up the laminated key to learn what the artist intended each image to represent. The one shown here is "How the Yellowjacket Came to Be."

(Yes, I really did make my aged mother and a six-month-old baby go through the exhibit twice. They're never going anywhere with me again.)

As one final side note --- I asked at the desk before going in and they said I could take photos. I hope the artists don't mind! My notes aren't perfect, but I'm pretty sure the artists in the collage (clockwise from upper left) are: ???, Mark Cline (creator of Foamhenge), Susana Esrequis, and Delia Flores.

Posted Sat Apr 9 07:39:23 2016 Tags:
close up of snow on lettuce
A light dusting of snow this morning had a distinct parmesan look to it.
Posted Sat Apr 9 14:40:28 2016 Tags:
Thermometer hanging in woods

Photos don't lie. I've resorted to voodoo in an effort to get fruit-tree blossoms to bypass spring freezes.

Apple blossoms

I don't even want to talk about the hundreds of flowers on our now mature apple trees that are currently being nipped by this extreme version of dogwood winter. Maybe the few unopened buds like the ones shown in the upper right in this photo collage will make it through...but I doubt it. Unfortunately, the wind has just been too extreme to allow for much freeze protection and the forecast doesn't look good.

So I'm focusing on what I can change rather than on what I can't. The weather is beyond my ken, but location I can handle. To that end, I set out max-min thermometers in two locations that I think have the potential to bypass late spring freezes, or at least to mitigate them a bit.

Possible orchard location

Hanging thermometerOption one, shown above, would be my preference. This little knoll is just above our core homestead, so access is easy (minus the hill climbing). Old pines have been falling in this area for the last few years, so it wouldn't be quite so heart-wrenching to take down the forest to make way for fruit trees. And I can envision that mandatory deer fence butting up against a goat pasture fence since I dream of someday using most of this hillside to graze our herd.

On the downside, this knoll is even closer to the north-facing hillside that shades a large portion of our core homestead than we are. While that location sounds like it would slow down bud opening in the spring, in my experience being close to a north-facing hillside just means permafreeze causes less hardy fruit trees to perish in the dead of winter.

Ragwort by stream

Option two is a little further away from our core homestead, but is still an easy walk...across the creek and up the hill. This hillside is south-facing and an old logging road creates a Old logging roadterrace that has been collecting leaves and building humus for decades.

The main disadvantage of this site is the big, beautiful trees on the south side of the logging road. It would make me very sad to cut them down, so I'm hoping my thermometer results will make the pine knoll out to be a better choice than the logging road. Stay tuned for more data after I check the thermometers and see if either, both, or neither flew through last night's deep freeze unscathed.

Posted Sun Apr 10 07:01:31 2016 Tags:
mark Chick lit
Australorp chick


Eat, drink, sleep.

Life is simple when you're an australorp chick.
Posted Sun Apr 10 16:02:14 2016 Tags:
Young Brussels sprout

I stuck one of our baby brussels sprouts in the cold frame last fall, figuring it would produce for us later into the winter than the others. But instead, shade (I assume) stunted the youngster and it sat with four or five true leaves for months. I eventually wrote it off as a dud.

Imagine my surprise when spring arrived...and the dud started to grow! It's now looking like we might get May brussels sprouts from this little overwinterer --- the plant seems not to have matured enough in the fall to prompt it to flower this spring like you might have expected.

"Do that times ten next year," begged my brussels-sprout-loving husband.

Posted Mon Apr 11 07:08:47 2016 Tags:
Bee back door

The bees in our Warre hive decided they didn't like their main entrance.

Perhaps the hole in our homemade entrance reducer was too small?

Now most of them go in and out through a crack near the back of the box.
Posted Mon Apr 11 16:24:58 2016 Tags:
Strawberry frost damage

With the final hard freeze of the 10-day forecast in our rear-view mirror, I uncovered plants and assessed the damage. Bad news for early strawberries --- most of the blooms that were partially opened were nipped despite my double covering. Luckily, strawberries flower slowly over a few-week period, so the current loss just means we won't get ultra-early berries and that our overall crop will be a bit reduced. We'll have to assess whether Gallettas are worthwhile given that nippage once they fruit.

Heat-nipped apple blooms

Similarly, the future isn't looking good for our apple blooms...but there the fault is my own. The image on the left shows a twig I left covered with a dogfood bag for over a week. I'd hoped the plastic burlap would allow the twig to breathe, but it's obvious the covering instead captured the sun and caused overheating. In contrast, an uncovered flower cluster on the right looks much prettier...although I suspect the ovaries inside will be nipped and unable to make fruits due to the 21-degree night Saturday.

Cabbage and parsley

Young onion plantOn the plus side, our spring vegetables came through nearly or entirely unscathed.

I'd left transplants under row covers ever since setting them out a couple of weeks ago, so I got a very pleasant surprise when I removed the fabric and saw huge cabbage plants, nearly as big broccoli, impressive onions, and small but growing parsley.

I guess our indoor seed-starting revamp this spring is paying off, even if late freezes are continuing to make tree fruits a gamble.

Posted Tue Apr 12 06:47:49 2016 Tags:
Fenceposts in wagon

We dismantled our final tree alley this week in preparation for building our fourth goat pasture. Although the idea was good, it matched up better with the animals I was used to pasturing when I conceived it --- chickens. Goats require so much more grazing area that it seems preferable to use our limited fencing supplies to enclose the largest possible square footage rather than separating out zones to protect woody perennials.

One more day of fence-post pulling and I should be ready for the fun part --- putting those cattle panels back up in a new arrangement!

Posted Wed Apr 13 07:13:03 2016 Tags:
Anna with cute chick

Today's the day we moved our new chicks to the outdoor brooder.

We ordered 17 but lost one that showed up on constant chirp mode.

Posted Wed Apr 13 15:52:09 2016 Tags:

Pregnant goat
Unfortunately, that dose of Safe-Guard really knocked Artemesia's guts out of whack. As I mentioned in a previous post, the dewormer killed all of the threadworms...but paved the way for an infestation of another parasite that my extension agent IDed through email as the dreaded barberpole worm. Barberpole worms are resistant to common over-the-counter dewormers, so my options as I saw the parasites' numbers rise consisted of either contacting a vet or seeking further options.

Ragwort and new spring grass

Round goat bellyI figured I'd first try seeking further options. Initial item on the agenda: refresh the mineral and kelp feeders...again. Artemesia's belly has gotten so round that it's tough for her to stick her neck over the edge of the mineral feeders, which I only realized when she started asking me to hand feed her kelp after her daily meals. (Yes, of course I complied.) Once she was able to easily reach inside again, she started scarfing the stuff like it was candy.

That should have clued me in about the need for option C, but I instead turned to Molly's Herbal Goat Dewormer (the safe-for-pregnancy version). Artemesia scarfed her first dose down quite nicely mixed with molasses and I soon started seeing a better look to her fur and eyelids. Of course, I was doubling down on her minerals at the same time (and haven't yet done a followup fecal analysis), so don't have a clear idea what caused the effect and if the barberpole worms are indeed on the decline.

Molasses on a bolus

While waiting to catch a fresh poop sample, I also ordered some copper boluses (the 2 gram version since Artemesia isn't quite big enough to get the full-size-goat pills). I could write for hours about the pros and cons of boluses, but here's the cliff notes version:

  • Goats require lots of copper and boluses seem to be more effective than either kelp or mineral mixtures at getting that copper in their system.
  • Goats low on copper tend to be high on parasites.
  • But boluses scared me away initially because you're really supposed to shoot the pill down the goat's throat with a bolus gun. Yikes!

Further perusal of the internet, though, suggested that as long as those little wires go down the gullet without too much chewing, they seem to stay in the rumen just where they're supposed to, gun or no gun. Unfortunately, my method of dipping the pill in molasses only succeeded in turning our goat a little sweeter as she licked off the goop and then spat out the bolus. After a trip to the store, we'll move on to the internet's low-tech solution --- marshmallows.

Posted Thu Apr 14 07:37:03 2016 Tags:
Clipping a chicken's wing

After some experimentation, Mark and I settled on Black Australorps as the breed that best fits our farm. But then last spring I thought to myself, "I'd really like to try a few more types of chickens that I've never raised before." And so a mixed flock of Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Dominiques, Rhode Island Reds, and New Hampshire Reds showed up on our farm.

Australorp chickThe new breeds drive me nutty. Dominiques are so flighty...that they end up in the garden. Buff Orpingtons are so people-oriented...that they end up in the garden. Rhode Island Reds --- well, I'm not sure what they are...but they end up in the GARDEN.

We put three bad hens in the tractor last fall to deal with that issue, then I pushed everyone else into the woods where they mostly behaved for the rest of the winter. Now that I'm turning the flock back onto pasture, though, renegades are getting clipped. In case you're curious, the two renegades so far have been a Dominique and a Buff Orpington.

Which is the long version of why a box of layer chicks came in the mail last week and the birds inside all looked exactly the same. While it's probably unfair to the New Hampshires (who have yet to cause any problems), I've decided to stick to the breed that has proven itself multiple times over the past decade --- my favored Australorps. Homesteading word to the wise: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Posted Fri Apr 15 06:59:33 2016 Tags:
door making with goat

We installed door number 4 in the star plate goat barn today.

An improvement on this version is sinking a treated 2x4 in the ground on each side to help stabilize the frame.

Posted Fri Apr 15 16:04:20 2016 Tags:
Plants under lights

Adding lights to our indoor seed-starting arrangement is like...well, the difference between night and day. The seedling have been growing so fast that I'm thinking I might need to change my seed-starting dates for next year.

After all, it's still a solid month until our frost-free dates and zinnias are jumping out of their flats, tomatoes are trying to grow through the lights on their highest setting, and one hardy pepper thinks she might want to bloom. We'll either have a set of stunted, rootbound plants in May or one of the earliest summer harvests our farm has yet experienced.

Posted Sat Apr 16 06:29:22 2016 Tags:
Damascus bike trail Anna and Joey
We went for our second awesome Damascus bike trail ride today.
Posted Sat Apr 16 17:43:53 2016 Tags:

Goat bolus and cookieA huge thank-you to reader (Another) Julie who suggested turning one of my own favorite treats into a delivery method for our goat's bolus. (Okay, my recipe has cocoa in it and differs a bit in other areas too, but still....)

For the goat version, I mixed peanut butter, molasses, and oats in the right proportions to get a rollable ball. Then I split the bolus contents into three of these "cookies," keeping the balls small enough to be goat-swallowable but big enough to completely engulf the copper rods.

Artemesia gladly scarfed down the first one, willingly ate the second after clearing her throat with some alfalfa pellets, and will hopefully eat the last one today. Based on this website's goat x-rays, it sounds like the in-food feeding of copper rods should be just as effective as the scary bolus-gun method. Fingers crossed this will help nip our parasite problem in the bud!

Posted Sun Apr 17 07:32:59 2016 Tags:
chicks in the brooder

Today's the day our batch of Australorps gets their first chance to roam outside.

We leave the door open in the morning and it usually takes a day or two for one of them to work up enough courage to see what's beyond their comfort zone.

Of course it's very important to remember to lock them back in at night.

Posted Sun Apr 17 15:53:46 2016 Tags:
Pair of goats

Mark detests bullies. As a result, he was fully willing to take Abigail to the butcher --- or at least to separate her into a different pasture --- weeks ago. But Artemesia seemed to like being close to her herd mate, so I left the pair together.

This weekend, though, something shifted in Artemesia's behavior. Depending on whether she takes after her father or her mother, she's due Thursday or a week from Tuesday. And with kidding so imminent, our first freshener suddenly stopped wanting to go back in the coop with Abigail after grazing and feeding times. Instead, she kept trying to walk down one of the fallow pastures toward the trailer as if maybe it would be okay to move in with me instead.

First freshener

Unfortunately, Mark's not quite soft enough for that to fly. But since Artemesia appears to finally be sick of her bullying herd queen, we separated Abigail from the mother-to-be.

If Artemesia continues to prefer solitary confinement to life around a bully, we may even see if we can step up our butcher appointment to this week instead of next. In the meantime, we'll continue to coddle Artemesia as much as possible while we wait for her kid(s) to arrive.

Posted Mon Apr 18 06:44:47 2016 Tags:
firewood cutting

Cutting this tree adds some of the finishing touches to our new goat pasture.

The goal is to have a fresh new pasture for the upcoming kid delivery.

Posted Mon Apr 18 14:08:32 2016 Tags:
Temporary goat shelter

Before kicking Abigail out of the goat shed, Mark took a couple of minutes to cobble together a basic, temporary shelter for her. It's been awfully dry lately, so I think between Goat in the shadethe tarp and the IBC tank our doe will be fine for the next week.

I was actually more worried about how the ultra-social Artemesia would respond to being neighbors instead of roommates with Abigail. To my surprise our first freshener's reaction consisted of chewing her cud and taking advantage of the peace and quiet to sleep in the next morning. Maybe Mark's gut reaction to separate them weeks ago would have been the right decision after all.

Posted Tue Apr 19 07:29:40 2016 Tags:
Mowing the garden aisles

I've watched neighbors mow for the last two weeks, but didn't particularly think our "lawn" needed to be cut until now. But there's nothing like a preparatory pass of the lawn mower through the aisles to make cleaning up a garden area seem much more feasible.

Actually, I left the grass to continue growing on both ends of the mule garden so I could tether the goats there for company while I weed. Good thing no one except you can see how I cherish our weeds rather than cutting them down.

Posted Wed Apr 20 06:44:10 2016 Tags:
goat gate metal

We got our latest goat gate at Tractor Supply for 90 dollars.

Installation was smooth once we got our hinge holes drilled straight and true.

I think the increased longevity will be worth the extra money.

Posted Wed Apr 20 15:42:39 2016 Tags:
Dwarf versus semi-dwarf apples

I thought those of you making a tree-planting decision might get a kick out of this visual of two apple trees of the same variety planted on the same day and starting at the same maturity level.

On the left, we have a dwarf tree (Bud 9 rootstock). The dwarf is shorter than Mark but is absolutely coated with flowers. On the downside, nearly half of the nearby dwarf trees perished during their Apple blossomfirst two years of life --- they are much less hardy while getting established despite my careful weeding and mulching of the high-density row.

On the right, we have a semi-dwarf tree (MM111 rootstock) that has been trained in the same manner as the dwarf. The semidwarf is so tall I've already started it on a size-restriction campaign (cutting off the central leader). In terms of fruiting, this second tree created its first small flower cluster this year, which you may or may not be able to see in the upper left corner of the photo.

In case you're curious about whether all of these beautiful blooms are going to turn into fruit, I'd originally thought that our recent hard freeze did them in. But a few of the later-opening flowers appear unnipped (based on the color at the center of the bloom), so I'm keeping my fingers crossed but trying not to get my hopes up. I'd love to be able to show you a photo of the dwarf trees dripping with fruit in a few more months!

Posted Thu Apr 21 06:04:12 2016 Tags:

Medicinal Herb GardeningFrom homemade pepper spray to herbal remedies and compost teas, Jill Bong's Medicinal Herb Gardening has it all.

I particularly enjoyed the way Jill focused in on ten high-quality plants rather than trying to include every potential medicinal species known to man. I often get lost in guides to edible and medicinal species because I don't know which ones are worth trying and which ones are just maybe worthy of using in a survival situation. Jill cuts through the vast array of information to focus on a double handful of plants --- cayenne peppers, comfrey, elderberry, garlic, marshmallow, peppermint, red raspberry, sage, stinging nettle, and yarrow --- that will definitely make the cut.

Then she expands out to growing, harvesting, and preparing those plants to keep your own medicinal pantry alive throughout the year. Perfect for prepper, homesteader, and interested layman alike, Jill's offering one free paperback copy to a lucky reader. Just comment below with your favorite medicinal herb then enter using the rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

Posted Fri Apr 22 06:23:30 2016 Tags:

Newborn goat kids

Artemesia had a pair of Earth Day twins around lunchtime.

First a girl, then a boy.

Mother and kids are happy and healthy. Details to come.
Posted Fri Apr 22 14:50:48 2016 Tags:
Bowing goat
(Friday was such a massively exciting day that I have to break it into three (or four?) parts. Here's part 1, written at 9 am before I knew for sure that Artemesia was going to kid within a few short hours.)

Monte's mom called up Wednesday to remind me that Artemesia could start popping out kids any day now. I was already a ball of Goat pettingnerves, but had to be impressed by the personalized attention. Clearly Artie's boyfriend comes from good stock.

Since then, I've been waking up way too early to check our first freshener's butt by flashlight, but Artemesia is taking her late pregnancy in stride. Well, except for begging for me to scratch her neck for a pretty much indefinite amount of time every day.

Between the yawning and the stretching and the mucous plug slowly oozing, signs of birth are imminent. But after reading that average goat gestation period is shortest for multiples, in the middle for male kids, and longest for females, I'm rooting for Artemesia to hold out a little longer. I still have my fingers crossed for a girl.

Goat udder

So I watch her tail positioning and the color of her mucous, but try to keep patient. It has to be soon, though. Our poor doe's udder is so humongous she can barely waddle and her teats are already about twice as big as Abigail's were at their peak. My hands are definitely breathing a sigh of relief. (What, your hands can't breathe?)

Posted Sat Apr 23 07:13:01 2016 Tags:
milking stantion cutness

Artemesia likes to have her kids on the milking stand for easy protection.

Posted Sat Apr 23 16:00:07 2016 Tags:

Recently swarmed hiveI'll bet you thought today's post was going to be about goats, didn't you? After checking on Artemesia Friday morning and finding the kidding signs ominous but not necessarily imminent, I decided to fill my day with small chores that could be easily interrupted by trips to the goat barn. "Maybe I'll start by pruning that grape vine I've been putting off since March," I said to myself.

Heading over to the vine with clippers in hand, I was surprised to notice bees hanging out on the outside of one of our hives. If it had been a hot afternoon, that could have been cooling behavior. But the morning was chilly and drizzly. Uh oh --- looked like in all of my goat obsession recently, I'd allowed the hive to swarm.

But this time, the swarm was neither gone nor on a branch fifty feet above my head. Instead, they'd settled on the U-post onto which Mark had attached a trellis wire to train the young grape --- yes, the precise plant I'd come out to prune.

Catching a swarm

Mark was in town filming a student project, so I called my beekeeping mentor instead. Frankie's primary role in this project was calming me down --- I was pretty jittery between my pre-dawn goat-barn visit and thinking through trying to catch a swarm on my lonesome. But my mentor also gave me good advice --- don't forget to put a sheet underneath the new hive (I used row cover fabric) and shake the post rather than trying to brush the bees into the hive.

Swarm entering a hiveThump, thump! The mass of bees fell (mostly) into the deep Langstroth box exactly as planned. But when I looked more closely, I realized the ones outside weren't crawling in the way they should have if the queen was inside the box. And when I braved the honeysuckle to look at the indented side of the U-post, I saw that a considerable amount of the cluster was still hidden in that cavity.

So I thumped again, gnawed on my fingernails, called my beekeeping mentor...and was ecstatic when a trip to the hive half an hour later found the box humming with life and nearly every bee inside. (Yes, I'd inserted the frames and put on the lid earlier.) Success!

Or so I thought. After watching Artemesia deliver two healthy kids (more on that in tomorrow's post) and spending a few hours cleaning the twins up and making sure they could nurse, I went back to check on the bees. The box was empty, my swarm fled. Yet again, I'd lost our hive's propagule to the wilds.

Newborn goats

What would I do differently next time? First, I would have listened to my beekeeping mentor and my gut and checked out that hive earlier in the week. But all I could think about was goats and gardens, so the bees once again ended up on the back burner.

Second, once I saw that the new hive contained most of my swarm, I think I might have blocked off the entrance for a day. Surely that would have helped them decide the box was home.

Third, if it hadn't been raining, it might have helpted to take a comb of brood out of the mother hive and insert it into the swarm box. After all, they say bees won't leave brood.

All of that said, two bouncing goatlings are quite a consolation prize. And one of these days, I'll catch...and keep...a swarm.

Posted Sun Apr 24 06:55:35 2016 Tags:
cute goat kids with goat mom in background

Baby goats' first day out in the big world was brief due to a nervous Artemesia.

Posted Sun Apr 24 15:05:48 2016 Tags:
Artemesia's twins

If you've been following along, you'll recall that I began Friday morning checking on my very pregnant goat before dawn. A second check at 8 am and a third check at 10 am showed her much the same. But after hiving a swarm of bees, the 11:30 am check presented a very different picture:

Nesting goat

Some goats may lie like this normally. But, to me, the visual was an obvious sign of labor. Artemesia had made a little nest in the new hay I'd laid down the night before, and her hind legs were stretched out rather than tucked underneath. Then, as I watched, she experienced a minor contraction. The time had come at last.

Goat in labor

Goat birth sacSo I rushed back to the trailer and grabbed the bare minimum birthing kit --- two old towels, a watch, a notebook, and a bite of lunch for me. I'd offered Artemesia a portion of Nutri-Drench that morning mixed with molasses and oats just to be on the safe side and she'd only eaten half of it, so I knew I had some emergency sustenance on hand for the mother-to-be.

When I returned to the goat barn, it felt like Artemesia had been waiting for me. Her contractions came closer and closer together as she began to push out what looked like a scary big, dark thing...but which was actually a liquid-filled membrane.

Goat delivering a kid

The beginning part of her labor was a bit slow, giving me plenty of time to second-guess everything up to and including getting my favorite goat knocked up in the first place. But she didn't appear to be in pain (although she was obviously working).

Then, right at noon, Artemesia began pushing in earnest. She cried a couple of times...and out popped kid number one. I didn't know at the time, but this was a baby girl.

Mother goat licking off kid

I only had time to pull the doeling's nose out of the sac of liquid (which hadn't entirely burst) before Artemesia was licking her...and pushing out kid number two (a boy) at the same time.

Drying off a baby goat

Goat placentaArtemesia proved to be the world's best mother immediately. She licked and licked and licked at those kids, not even taking the time to stand up and get the placenta the rest of the way out for quite a while. (It had mostly passed and clung to her butt for about an hour anyway, so I guess there was no hurry.)

I helped her out by drying the kid she wasn't currently working on, then swapping them around so each got a bit of towel action and a bit of motherly TLC. That's when I took the time to peer at the Newborn doelingkids' privates and discover that the first kid --- a little paler in color with a subtle dark streak down the middle of her back --- was a girl. The redder kid who turned out to be a bit more adventurous was a boy. Maybe you can tell that the boy is the one in my lap in the photo above while the girl is shown to the left?

Goat learning to nurse

Ungainly baby goatsFinally, Artemesia decided she could lick just as well standing up as lying down, and I began pushing kids toward her teats. Unlike Abigail, Artemesia wasn't averse to the idea of having her teats tugged on, but she was so intent on licking that she didn't give the kids much opportunity to drink. The youngsters also had a little trouble figuring out how to push those tremendous teats into their tiny mouths.

But after a short while, I'd seen milk go down both kids' gullets. I breathed a big sigh of relief --- my job was pretty much done.

Mother goat pick me up

Actually, I planned to go home and rest for a while. I'd woken at 5:30 a.m. worried about my herd and now I felt like I'd been through the wringer even though Artemesia was the one who did all the work. Plus, my hands were covered with goop and I wanted to bring the new mother some molasses water to round out the Nutri-Drench, alfalfa pellets, and hay she'd immediately started glomming down once the kids were licked dry.

But my darling doe didn't want me to go. She'd barely made a peep during the entire birth episode, but as soon as I headed to the door she began to cry. "Don't leave me!" (Yes, her sentence was entirely understandable even if she didn't use words.)

I plugged my ears and left anyway, though, and Artemesia figured it was worth it when I returned five minutes later with that after-birth pick-me-up. And, speaking of after-birth, the placenta had fallen away from her rear end while I was gone, allowing me to scoop it out to Lucy...who'd been waiting patiently in the wings the entire time.

Mother goat

I sat with our new family for about another hour while everyone slowly got to know each other and then finally succumbed to exhaustion.

Goat cuddle pile

And once the cuddle pile was fully formed, Artemesia let me leave without crying. She and her twins were ready for a good long nap.

Posted Mon Apr 25 06:46:41 2016 Tags:
bias cut cattle panel filling in the gap

We attached some panel pieces to close in a gap to finish the new goat pasture.

Posted Mon Apr 25 15:07:33 2016 Tags:
Frolicking goat kids

The problem with taking three posts to tell you about Friday is that I now have three days worth of goat excitement to share with you in one post. Let's see if I can be succinct....

Dwarf doeling

Goat eating clementine peelReader question 1: Do the kids look like you thought they would? The buckling (left) looks almost identical to his father and just like I expected. He does have a tiny bit of white frosting on his ears and maybe a couple of moon spots --- it's hard to tell because he's already so pale. The doeling (top) is a bit paler and has a hint of a dark line down the middle of her back.

Reader questions 2 and 3: What are you going to name them? Are you going to eat the buckling? The girl got the name Aurora when she was in the womb and it stuck. The boy might be dinner...or the farmer who sells us our straw might want the buckling to replace his current herd sire. Until we know for sure about the little boy's future, we're keeping him nameless.

Protective mother goat

Now moving on to my own observations....

Hidden baby goatsArtemesia is the world's most protective goat mother, and she actually takes it almost too far. Even though Lucy is extremely sweet, Artie is afraid to let the kids get close to our canine companion. Instead, she stashes the twins in a hidden spot like the one shown here (or, previously, on the milking stand) before she goes out to graze. I'm slowly working on making Artemesia feel more able to bring the little ones with her so she'll eat more non-hay.

Bringing a goat leafy branches

Mother goatIn the meantime, I'm stuck bringing the fresh portion of dinner to her. To that end, I'm spoiling Artemesia with her very favorite types of tree branches, which I attach to the side of an IBC tank for easy leaf picking, and with armloads of freshly cut rye stems. On that diet, she seems to be bouncing back from her pregnancy very fast.

Now for a pop quiz --- can you tell who's in the picture on the left? And which is the doeling in the photo at the top of this post?

Posted Tue Apr 26 07:05:18 2016 Tags:
Asparagus and mushrooms

Are you sick and tired of hearing about goats? I'm sure I'll stop posting cute kid photos eventually. But in the meantime, here's a shot from elsewhere in the homestead to round things out.

In the garden/kitchen, we're eating asparagus almost every day, we got a small flush of shiitakes after the recent rain, and we're gorging on lettuce. We're also starting to mow and weed like crazy as we prepare for the biggest planting push of the year around our frost-free date.

In other words --- business as usual at this beautiful transition season midway between spring and summer!

Posted Wed Apr 27 07:07:25 2016 Tags:
Anna planting early tomato plants

Our early tomato plants are too big for their britches.

We decided to risk a killing frost and put 6 of them in the ground today.

Posted Wed Apr 27 15:42:22 2016 Tags:
Developing apples

I'm trying really, really hard not to get my hopes up about non-berry fruit this year...and failing miserably. The deal is --- we still have 2.5 weeks until our frost-free date, so anything could happen.

That said --- look! Baby apples! This is the moment of truth, when old flowers drop off the trees if they were damaged or went unpollinated. And, yes, the earliest blooming variety lost all of its flowers and even the later bloomers lost up to three quarters of their potential fruit due to a 21-degree night in early April.

Luckily, trees make many more blooms than they could ever turn into apples. So, barring a late, hard freeze, this might be a good fruit year after all.

Grape flower buds

Our apple flowers seem to pretty reliably turn into fruits if they're not nipped, but I'm having to rein in my excitement a bit over our grape vines. The seedless varieties we like to eat are very sensitive to fungal diseases, so I planted a few vines right up against the sunniest sides of the trailer a few years ago in hopes of creating a dry microclimate they can enjoy. This is the first year I've seen bloom buds on those trailer-side vines, so just maybe this year we'll actually get grapes. Fingers crossed!

Posted Thu Apr 28 06:33:48 2016 Tags:
Mother goat

A week after the birth of her first kids, Artemesia has already given us nearly half a gallon of milk. Yes, I know you usually don't milk a goat so soon and the milk does have a slightly bitter colostrum taste to it. But it was necessary, as you can see by peering at our doe's udder in the photo above. Artemesia is so productive that the kids are keeping fed by drinking nearly entirely from her right teat, so it's up to me to keep the left half of her udder drained every night.

Climbing goat kids

I would worry that the kids aren't getting enough to eat, but their bellies are often full and their energy levels are always high. Well, until they suddenly decide it's time to nap, at which point the buckling settles down in my lap for an extended petting session while Aurora snuggles up against her mother.

Bowing goat

Artemesia is a joy to milk compared to Abigail. Her huge teats allow me to use two fingers instead of just one, and the milk squirts out about five times faster than it did from our other goat.

Lest you think Artie is invincible, though, I feel obliged to mention that she had a fit during her first two milking sessions. Despite all of my pre-milking training, when it came time for the rubber to hit the road our doe fought the headlock, stamped her feet, and tried to sit down to hide her teats.

Leaping goat kid

Then, two days later, it was as if a switch flicked on. Or perhaps the change occurred because the kids were getting old enough to jump on the milking stand and hang out? Whatever the reason, the milk started to flow fast and furious and I haven't had any trouble since.

(Well, yes, it is a constant necessity to watch out for flying goats. But such is life on our farm.)

Posted Fri Apr 29 07:14:06 2016 Tags:
mineral feeder location

The kids were jumping from the milking stand into our mineral feeders using them like a sand box.

Crossing my fingers that moving them to another wall will put a stop to it.

Posted Fri Apr 29 15:31:43 2016 Tags:
Mulching with newspaper

This year, I'm using all of the experiments that I summed up in Small-Scale No-Till Gardening Basics to streamline our vegetable garden without ditching the biological imperative to keep the soil happy. To that end, I'm applying wet newspapers beneath straw wherever possible, which means all I have to do is weed the small area right Growing broccoli plantsaround the base of each plant rather than the whole bed before mulching.

While the method doesn't save any time in the short term, it does seem to reduce my need to weed dramatically over the course of the year. That said, if you live in a windy region and have relatively high raised beds, I'm not sure I'd recommend the trick. Last month's newspaper mulches blew all over the yard during what turned out to be the windiest month our farm has had in a decade. Hopefully the current lull will extend for long enough to let the paper meld to the soil below and the straw above, preventing my hard work from blowing away.

Posted Sat Apr 30 07:10:45 2016 Tags:
Anna using harvest sickle to forage for our goat

The more Anna uses the Harvest Sickle the more she likes it.

It's the perfect tool for cutting handfulls of rye to take to your goat.

Wear a glove because it's extremely sharp!

Posted Sat Apr 30 16:30:42 2016 Tags: