archives for 04/2016
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
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!
We used old
pallets for our first woodshed floor and they did not last long.
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.
This one is from fall 2011 (courtesy of Bing).
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.
We had a minor goat break out
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.
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
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.
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
The first half of April is a good time to start sweet potatoes in some wet sand.
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?
So how about an extra row cover under that quick hoop?
We replaced our troubled back
steps with treated step stringers and 2x10 planks.
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 2: Do I buy a cheap goat or pay the crazy prices breeders ask for a purebreed?
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.
I had to re-do one of the new
woodshed lattice walls today.
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.
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
We got 40 bales of straw this
morning for Spring and Summer garden mulching.
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.
A light dusting of snow this morning had a distinct parmesan look to it.
Photos don't lie. I've resorted to voodoo in an effort to get fruit-tree blossoms to bypass spring freezes.
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.
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.
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 terrace that has been collecting leaves and building humus for decades.
Eat, drink, sleep.
Life is simple when you're an australorp chick.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the plus side, our spring vegetables came through nearly or entirely unscathed.
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.
Today's the day we moved our
new chicks to the outdoor brooder.
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.
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:
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
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.
We installed door number 4 in
plate goat barn today.
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.
A 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....)
Today's the day our batch
of Australorps gets their first chance to roam outside.
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
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
Cutting this tree adds some
of the finishing touches to our new goat pasture.
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 the tarp and the IBC tank our doe will be fine for the next week.
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.
We got our latest goat gate
at Tractor Supply for 90 dollars.
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.
From homemade pepper spray to herbal remedies and compost teas, Jill Bong's Medicinal Herb Gardening has it all.
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.
(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 nerves, but had to be impressed by the personalized attention. Clearly Artie's boyfriend comes from good stock.
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?)
Artemesia likes to have her kids on the milking stand for easy protection.
I'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.
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.
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.
Baby goats' first day out in the big world was brief due to a nervous Artemesia.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
Finally, 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.
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.
I sat with our new family
for about another hour while everyone slowly got to know each other and
then finally succumbed to exhaustion.
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.
We attached some panel pieces to close in a gap to finish the new goat pasture.
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....
Reader 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.
Now moving on to my own observations....
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.
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.
Our early tomato plants are
too big for their britches.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
The kids were jumping from
the milking stand into our
mineral feeders using them like a sand box.
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 around the base of each plant rather than the whole bed before mulching.
The more Anna uses the Harvest
Sickle the more she likes
Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.