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archives for 05/2016

Goat fun

I'm starting to realize that kidding season is similar to strawberry season --- our impassable floodplain suddenly doesn't seem so difficult for visitors. Which is great since I hate to leave the farm and love seeing family and friends. Thanks for coming, Joey and Mom!

Posted Sun May 1 07:22:07 2016 Tags:
monorail modern

We've hit a dead end on our quest to buy a monorail.

The nice guy at the Japanese factory stopped returning our emails.

We might need to plan a trip to Japan to make it happen?

Posted Sun May 1 14:51:59 2016 Tags:
White strawberry

Sometimes, I think I get more of a kick out of anticipating coming attractions than I do out of eating the actual fruits. Then I remember the glories of strawberry season, sitting in the grassy aisles and gorging on drip-down-your-chin juices. Nope --- consuming the real fruit is even better than eating the developing berries with my eyes.

Blueberries and gooseberries

But this is eye-candy season only, so I thought I'd share the joy. In addition to the baby apples I posted about last week, there are scads of berries beginning to bulk up on the Tomato flowersvine. Our dependable gooseberries and northern highbush blueberries chug along with no help from me, and the equally dependable raspberries are getting ready to bloom.

And, even though it's not really a fruit (unless you want to put cucumbers and butternut squash in that category), our first tomato is blooming too. So many joys ahead in this gardening season!

Posted Mon May 2 07:00:05 2016 Tags:
mark Disbudding
collage of day we went for disbudding

Today was the day Aurora was old enough for disbudding.

Dr Fuller in Gate City was so gentle our little goat barely let out a whimper.

We were very impressed with Dr Fuller's style and operation.

Posted Mon May 2 16:21:02 2016 Tags:
May Day garden

This is the time of year when the weeds sometimes begin to feel overwhelming. It suddenly began to rain at the same time I started turning my energy to summer planting...and the result was an explosion of green in all the wrong places.

Young onions

The photo above shows normal weeding pressure around here. I set out these onions five weeks ago, and they could definitely use a weed and mulch. But they'll be okay for another week or two until I get around to them. (Fertility source: chicken bedding.)

Weeding disaster

This carrot bed, on the other hand, is what I think of as a weeding disaster. My homegrown compost was a little weedier than I would have liked this year, but it didn't cause much trouble elsewhere. Amid the slow-growing carrots, though, the weeds are terrible.

Some people would just give up on the crop, but I'll relentlessly handweed for a few hours until it's back into shape. After all, there's no way to go back in time and replant the spring carrots if I throw in the towel now. Still, next year I'll try to be smarter and plant my carrots in completely weed-free ground. Maybe Fortier's occultation would be a good trick to try for these very slow-growers.

Posted Tue May 3 06:33:31 2016 Tags:
New sprouts

Look who's awake! Corn, beans, and cucumbers are up and running a little early this year.

...Just in time for blackberry winter to come calling. Will a 43-degree forecast turn into a light freeze that nips all and sundry? I'd like to say no, but we'll still spend the day covering everything up anyway.

Posted Wed May 4 07:04:28 2016 Tags:
anna with new kids on goat deck

Aurora has bounced back from her disbudding thanks to some TLC from Artemesia.

Posted Wed May 4 13:58:43 2016 Tags:
Frost protection for a grape vine

Mark has a very gentle touch that makes him the right choice for protecting tender spring growth from late freezes. He wrapped both young grapevines in front of our trailer in preparation for the cold spell, covering up all of the stems that have flower buds attached. Fingers crossed the plants inside those bundles will make it through Blackberry Winter unscathed.

Posted Thu May 5 06:52:51 2016 Tags:
grape trellis 2x4

We built a 2x4 grape arbor today to help elevate our vines to avoid any blight.

Posted Thu May 5 14:55:03 2016 Tags:
Light through cabbage leaves

The morning glow was so beautiful Thursday that I had to pause in my chores to rush and get the camera. I was glad I did since the light was fleeting and rain had returned an hour later.

Broccoli row

I'm thrilled with my spring cabbage and broccoli this year. Starting the seedlings inside with heating pads and lights got them out in the soil extra early (under row covers). The result is big beautiful plants before the cabbageworms have even been spotted. These broccoli will likely start heading up any week now.

(In case you're curious, the bucket brigade in the background is providing frost protection for our tender tomatoes.)

Posted Fri May 6 07:23:41 2016 Tags:
grape arbor wire details

We threaded the heavy wire through a series of holes.

I added a middle support to prevent sagging.

Posted Fri May 6 14:01:21 2016 Tags:
Mother goat

I know most of you want to see cute kid photos like the one above. But what I've really been aching for all week is this:

Goat eating tree leaves

Poor Artemesia is a helicopter mother who won't eat when she could be taking care of her kids. And I'll admit I'm a helicopter mother too --- I fuss over our doe's dietary intake (or lack thereof) like crazy.

Goat in forest

Slowly but surely, though, we're learning how to get our mama goat to eat. Best option --- shut the kids in the coop and drag Artemesia down to the floodplain on a leash. She'll cry for a few minutes, then she seems to forget her offspring and settles down to the important task of filling her belly. The twins are always just fine when we return.

Goat family

Second-best option: cut some boot-stage grain plants and drop them off in her manger...then babysit the kids while Artemesia chows down. I've learned the hard way that just dumping the grub and running does no good. But if you stick the buckling in the crook of one arm and then pet Aurora into submission, Artemesia will actually eat.

And, yes, I've also been easing our doe onto a bit of grain as well. As much as I hate to do it, I know she needs to keep her calorie count up to feed those high-octane goat babies. Grain goes down the gullet fast enough that she can actually grab a few bites in between kid wrangling. Hopefully in a few more weeks, she'll ease off on her overprotectiveness and the whole family can go out to enjoy dinner on the green.

Posted Sat May 7 07:17:03 2016 Tags:
goat and sheep workshop at MEEC

We had a nice day today taking in an educational workshop on sheep and goats.

Posted Sat May 7 16:52:22 2016 Tags:
Flipping a sheep

If you ever get a chance to attend an Extension Service Master Shepherd Course, I highly recommend it. We only took in one of the two days because Artemesia was kidding the weekend of the other, but hopefully we'll get a second stab at the earlier session next year. In the meantime, I came home with so many notes that it will probably take me several days to work through all of the information.

The morning classes at the event we attended were led by Dr. Roberson of LMU-Veterinary College. Despite showing us lots of scary photos that will probably keep me up at night, the excellent teacher's two-hour time slot flew by.

Aurora heading to the vetThe information most relevant to our farm was his vaccination recommendations. Basically, he suggests only preemptively treating for diseases that have shown up on your farm in the past. That said, Roberson is a fan of the CD&T (Clostridium perfreingens type C and D plus tetanus) vaccine.

We didn't mean too, but accidentally got the first dose of that vaccination for Aurora while we were at the vet's office last Monday, so I'm glad to hear it's a recommended treatment. Tetanus is most common in young goats and sheep that have been subjected to castration, tail docking, or disbudding, while the other half of the vaccine will help prevent so-called "overeating disease" primarily in grain-fed animals.

I'll probably do a bit more research on the topic (and will be curious to hear what readers have to say on the subject). But Dr. Roberson's advice does suggest that we should plan to bring Aurora in for the recommended booster shot in a few weeks. By that time, Aurora may be almost too big to carry at the rate she's growing!

Posted Sun May 8 07:41:41 2016 Tags:
Nearly ripe strawberry


Anna's been on twice-daily strawberry patrols for the last week.

The big question is: who will ripen first? Honeoye or Galleta?

Honeyoye won by a nose because the earliest Galletta flowers got frost-nipped.
Posted Sun May 8 16:31:43 2016 Tags:

Soil amendments for the Organic GardenToday's the big day --- the third book in my soil series is live and the fourth book is up for preorder (and on sale for a limited time)! I hope you'll take a chance on a series that has been described as "Easy, useful, and homestead tested."

Yes, the topic is a bit geeky and semi-scientific. But paying attention to your soil will pay huge dividends in the quality of your crops and the ease of your gardening endeavors now and for a years into the future.


Without further ado, here are the links to book 3, Balancing Soil Nutrients and Acidity:

And here are the links to book 4, Soil Amendments for the Organic Garden:

Black soldier fly larvae

As you may recall, these are quarters of my upcoming print book, The Ultimate Guide to Soil, and I have to admit I went over my word-count quota by the time I finished part three. I actually considered pulling part four out to be its own print book since that section is quite a tome, full of all of the tips and tricks I've found for incorporating both found and purchased amendments (biochar, humanure, black soldier fly larvae, and much more) into a beyond-organic garden. But I eventually talked my editor into letting me fold it into the print book without cutting anything out.

Why am I telling you all that? Because I had to be a bit evasive to keep my promise of offering new books at 99 cents for a couple of days during preorder when it came to Soil Amendments for the Organic Garden. Book four is so big that Amazon told me the minimum price I could apply to the book was $1.99...so I uploaded a fake file. You won't get that fake since I'll swap it out for the real book as soon as I raise the price later in the week. But I won't ever be able to offer Soil Amendments for the Organic Garden below $1.99 in the future. (Fake files only work during preorder.) So if you want the gargantuan last quarter really cheap, snag it now.

Thanks so much for reading! And if you enjoy my ebooks, I hope you'll consider taking the time to write a brief review. Your social proof helps strangers decide to take a chance on a new author and gives me the leisure to share my experiences with you every day on the blog. I appreciate having you along for the ride!

Posted Mon May 9 06:58:38 2016 Tags:
kidding stall bottom latch installation

This is the week we will start locking the kids in the kidding stall at night.

An extra latch at the bottom should stop any wiggle throughs.

Posted Mon May 9 15:45:55 2016 Tags:

Goat eating garlicThe afternoon session of the Master Shepherd course we attended was led by Dahlia O'Brien and covered sheep and goat parasite management from a scientific perspective. Predictably, there was a lot of talk of chemical dewormers, but the most valuable section to me was her input on less mainstream techniques for keeping parasite loads low in your caprine and ovine herds.

I didn't take many notes on the management section since this is all data the biological farmer likely has under her belt (whether or not she's able to implement it on her own farm). Don't overstock. Do keep your animals healthy by feeding them appropriately. Don't let your animals eat or drink poop. Don't graze pasture plants closer than two inches to the ground. Try to rotate pastures in such a way that you keep parasite loads low (moving animals after four or five days on pasture and not returning them to the same spot for sixty days).

More interesting to me was Dr. O'Brien's take on which herbal and non-mainstream dewormers work. Basically, she said there's no scientific data that garlic, papaya, pumpkin seeds, ginger, wormwood, fennel, purchased herbal mixtures, or diatomaceous earth work at controlling goat and sheep intestinal parasites. She admitted that the herbs may help boost animal immune systems so they can better fight off the invaders, but she doesn't recommend counting on herbs as a first or even second line of defense. (Diatomaceous earth didn't even make the cut for the overall-health-improvement category --- it's only been shown to work as an insecticide.)

On the other hand, O'Brien wasn't all chemicals all the way. Instead, she recommended copper oxide wire particles (COWP or copper boluses), which she says are much safer than copper sulfate and which studies have suggested have a significant impact on lowering loads of barberpole worms. She recommends treating goat kids at weaning age (which is a dangerous time for worm infestations) with 0.5 grams and treating older animals up to four times per grazing season with 1 to 2 grams. Never treat more often than once every six weeks, and assess your area's soil copper levels before treating sheep.

Goats eating lespedezaAnother supplement that has been scientifically tested and proven to reduce parasite levels in goats and sheep is the condensed tannins found in lespedeza clover (Sericea lespedeza). Forage chicory has also been reported to contain similar condensed tannins that have reduced parasite problems in one trial with lambs. We'll definitely be looking for seeds to incorporate these plants into our pastures and surrounding areas in the near future.

Want more info on non-chemical goat and sheep parasite control? Wormx.info won Dr. O'Brien's seal of approval for containing tried and true information. The site is also, non-coincidentally, the source of the second photo in this post.

Posted Tue May 10 07:15:47 2016 Tags:
stihl cloes up of spool string travel through thingy

You can't find these doohickeys online....I looked and looked.

Our local stihl guy at the Gate City feed store had a big jar of them.

Posted Tue May 10 15:48:53 2016 Tags:
Goat five-point check

I've been playing around with fecal egg counts to keep a handle on parasite loads on our farm. But Dr. Dahlia O'Brien doesn't actually recommend egg counts in that scenario. Instead, she thinks the tests are most handy for determining contamination levels of pastures (rather than animals), for telling which parasite species are in your herd and which drugs those worms are resistant to, and for determining which animals to cull (those with high parasite loads that seem healthy and thus are spreading the worms to the less resilient animals).

What should you use instead to keep an eye on individual animals and determine if they need to be dewormed? The five-point check is a quick and easy technique that can be used on goats or sheep to eyeball their parasite levels in a minute or less. Start by using the FAMACHA method (more on that in a moment) to assess anemia due to barberpole worms via the color inside the animal's eyelids. Next feel along the animal's back to get a body-condition score --- low fat equates to general ill health (or not enough food in heavy producing animals). Check under the tail for scouring (diarrhea), which is a sign of coccidia infestation (a non-worm internal parasite that can do a number on animals' intestines). Look for bottle jaw (a swollen jaw), which is an extreme sign of parasite infestation. Then check the nose for discharge (in sheep) or check the coat quality (in goats) as another overall health indicator.

FAMACHA cardI suspect many of you use the five-point check (or parts of it) without even noticing. Of course you'll pay attention to a goat with a scruffy coat or a sheep with a daggy bum (as they say Down Under). Once you learn where your animals hold their excess fat, you've probably gotten into the habit (like I have) of feeling for fat every time you pet the little spoiled darlings handle those important farm livestock. Only the FAMACHA test really requires additional explanation.

And, unfortunately, that explanation is pretty intense. In order to become a card-carrying FAMACHA expert, you have to attend a full-day workshop about that topic alone or take this online course complete with video test. I'll bet you know what's next on my educational agenda....

Posted Wed May 11 06:56:58 2016 Tags:
lunchbox pepper being planted by Anna

The Lunchbox Pepper plants couldn't wait another day inside.

Thanks to this big head start this might be a high yield year for these sweet treats.

Posted Wed May 11 15:48:56 2016 Tags:
Cutting rye

Despite all of the recent talk about goats, I've been spending most of my outdoor time this month in the garden. I've planted, weeded, mulched...and got our cover crops in order.

If you have overwintering grain cover crops (like oats, rye, and barley), now's the time to keep an eye out for the stamens that mean your plants are in full bloom. Cutting close to the ground at bloom time kills the grains, then you can plant veggies into the stubble after letting the roots decay for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, gather up the tops and use them as a mulch elsewhere...just be aware that the stems dry down much smaller than you'd expect, so a layer of wet newspaper underneath is a good idea.

Saved soybeans

What type of cover crop do I recommend using to fill in the summer gaps? Buckwheat is my all-time favorite for fallow areas that you want to put back into production in another month or so. But last year I fell in love with soybeans...so much so that I harvested about half a gallon of seeds to fill this year's garden gaps. Soybeans are a slower crop than buckwheat and produce less biomass, but they fix nitrogen out of the air and provide partial fertility for the succeeding crop. As a result, I'm focusing my soybean plantings in areas where I want to grow fall brassicas and in new beds that need some nitrogen top-up before being used for an edible crop.

For more tips on keeping nutrients cycling and organic matter burgeoning with cover crops, check out my primer Homegrown Humus. I focus on the species that are so easy to grow nobody can mess them up...and many attract pollinators or make food for you in the process. How could you go wrong?

Posted Thu May 12 06:17:57 2016 Tags:
broccoli

We saw our first cabbage worm of the year this week.

The Broccoli yield might be higher this year thanks to a big indoor head start.

Posted Thu May 12 15:07:46 2016 Tags:
Apple tree in need of thinning

I really didn't expect to have to thin, but two of our apple trees (Enterprise and Early Transparent) set such a substantial crop this spring that they required a little TLC. And even a few of the other trees have pairs of apples in excessively close proximity despite a hard April freeze having nipped 90% of their crop. Time to thin!

Apple cluster

"Why thin?" some of you are saying. "Don't you want as many apples as you can get?" There are all kinds of reasons to thin but they tend to come down to size, flavor, future yield, and disease/pest resistance. Basically, if you don't thin a tree that is loaded with potential fruits, it'll make lots of small apples that are more likely to get sick by trapping moisture between the fruits. And some apple species tend toward biennial bearing, skipping a year after fruiting heavily the season before.

Tree self thinningYou can work around all of those issues pretty simply by going in at this time of year and pinching off excess fruits that set in the same cluster. Don't be too precipitate about this --- the image on the left shows a cluster that is self-thinning and you should definitely wait until the tree has decided which ovaries to abort before removing yet others. On the other hand, if you wait too late (which one study I read said was June), the tree will assume it's going to have to ripen all of those fruits and will decrease it's production of bloom buds for next year accordingly.

My other caution is to pinch off the fruits rather than breaking off the whole spur since apples fruit from the same spot year after year. A lost spur is a lost apple next year and for many years in the future.

Those caveats aside, thinning is simply a matter of choosing the best-looking apple --- usually the biggest, but sometimes the least insect- or frost-damaged --- and removing everything else in that cluster. Now we just have to wait with baited breath for homegrown fruit!

Posted Fri May 13 07:13:25 2016 Tags:
Phoebe nest


Two pairs of birds nested on our front porch this spring.

The wren made a home inside a cardboard box and the phoebe tucked her nest up under the eaves.

We haven't seen a single mosquito with four bug zappers on the job.
Posted Fri May 13 15:49:42 2016 Tags:
Three week old doeling

Our goat twins are three weeks old, but they seem more like miniature adults! They're still gorging on milk, but have been starting to nibble at greenery for the last week or so.

This photo is Aurora, who's both much skinnier and much more adventuresome than her brother.
Sometimes I worry she's a little too skinny...then I figure he's probably just a little too fat. After all, I watch Auorora drink and feel her belly to make sure it's full every day, and she continues to outpace her brother in overall body height and length. I think she got more of the Nubian genes and he got more of the Nigerian.

Three week old buckling
The other kid news of the week is that our little buckling has a name --- Punkin. Since his home will be on the Punkin Patch farm and since his hair has an orangish cast, I think the name is fitting. Here's hoping he'll learn to answer to it --- not that he does anything I ask at the moment anyway.

Punkin is a major cuddler, always happiest when he's in my lap. But his favorite game is bouncing on and off endlessly. Now that his hooves are getting harder and his horns are starting to poke out of the skin, I'm slowly turning the lap game rules into sit-still-and-shut-up, which he complains about...but still begs for whenever I enter his space. Yes, he does appear to have inherited the world's sweetest goat genes from his mother (who deserves her own post, coming soon!).

Posted Sat May 14 07:19:09 2016 Tags:
snow pea vine with barn in background

Sugar snap flowers today will equal crunchy green salads in a few weeks.

Posted Sat May 14 15:52:40 2016 Tags:
Goat eating oat flowers

On Mother's Day, Artemesia finally got the message --- she needs to fill her own belly first. Okay, so she didn't entirely toe the line immediately. But she started nibbling a bit of the cream of her pasture, was willing to eat out in the world while I sat nearby with her kids, and even grazed for up to half an hour in the forest when I shut the kids in the coop to keep them out of both of our hair.

I'm ashamed to say that this last scenario is my favorite --- kids are cute, but I vastly prefer the serenity of enjoying the outdoors with a gentle adult goat. Artemesia, on the other hand, prefers option two --- she's only fully content when her kids are accessible to her eagle eye.


Oat flowers

To please the crowd, I usually take momma and babies out to nibble on oats at the bloom stage for their morning/noon repast. These are the cover crops I planted into close-cut lawn last fall, and the patch did an amazing job of feeding goats all winter in the sunnier parts of the yard (while pretty much doing nothing in the shadier parts of the yard). The goats kept the grains nibbled low enough that they survived the winter in a vegetative state, and the plants are now pushing up blooms...which apparently are the tastiest thing since dried sweet corn.

Artemesia browses through the patch at head height, eating nothing but the top six inches of growth. Once she's done, I'll see if more tasty flowers pop up. If not, I'll sprinkle soybean seeds into the standing grain then have Mark whack the latter down to ground level. Come fall, I'll definitely plant this area in oats once again. The amount of enjoyment and forage value we've gotten out of $5 of cover-crop seeds is truly astounding.

Posted Sun May 15 07:14:45 2016 Tags:
Grafted apple tree


Our first set of apples grafted onto homegrown rootstock are growing well.

But the goat kids are growing faster.
Posted Sun May 15 16:37:14 2016 Tags:
Six-year-old cleft graft

I went over to my movie-star neighbor's orchard Saturday, ostensibly to help him thin the fruits but actually just to peruse his ingenuity. The oldest tree in the orchard looks like it's about a decade old, and Frankie has grafted different varieties onto several branches. The photo above, for example, shows a limb that was cleft grafted maybe seven years ago.

Apple tree

Here's the same limb from further afield. It's coated with tiny apples.

Another limb of the same tree was grafted more like five years ago and is an interesting data point. The parent of that particular scionwood is in the orchard nearby and barely has half a dozen baby apples on it...but the branch on the older tree is coated with a hefty crop of incipient fruits. In other words, the maturity of the tree accelerated production of that branch, something I've noticed in my own small experiments in that direction. So if you want to try out lots of varieties fast, the best option is to graft them onto branches of older trees rather than onto rootstock.

Shaking a peach tree

Finally, here's the best option we came up with for thinning those peach branches way above our heads --- give the tree a hard shake. Just don't look up!

Posted Mon May 16 06:42:32 2016 Tags:
kidding stall solution

We think we solved our kidding stall problem with this large and sturdy pet crate.

Posted Mon May 16 15:44:32 2016 Tags:
Grape flower buds

Winter coats (for us) and row covers (for the plants) came out one last time this weekend.

Frost-nipped squash seedling

Forecast low --- 38. Actual low --- 32. Luckily, damage was very minimal, mostly because the frost was extremely short-lived and spotty. I could hear frozen dew melting off the porch roof shortly after dawn as the outdoor temperature rose above freezing. In the end, only a few leaves here and there were impacted. (Yes, the squash plant above was under a row cover.)

Harvesting strawberries

That had better be the last freeze, because it's time for these...

Raspberry flower

...And, soon, some of these. Hear that, winter --- it's time to relinquish your grasp and let summer have a go.

Posted Tue May 17 07:20:55 2016 Tags:
cute goat standing on top of pet crate

We installed a layer of plywood to the top of the crate to make it climbing friendly.

Posted Tue May 17 15:14:16 2016 Tags:
Wet rose

The best part about rain in a garden? Even if you're snug inside with a book, the flowers and vegetables are still growing.

Rainy garden

The worst part about rain in a garden? Even if you're snug inside with a book, the weeds are still growing.

Posted Wed May 18 07:22:33 2016 Tags:
drill bit for livestock gate hinge

What makes our new livestock gate easy to swing is the simple hinge design.

The large 5/8 inch drill bit was too much for a battery powered drill.

Posted Wed May 18 14:53:16 2016 Tags:
Planting sweet potato slips

A drizzly day is perfect weather for setting out sweet potato slips. This is almost the end of our summer transplants, but I do have a flat of sunflower seedlings waiting in the wings. After I find them homes, it's time to start all over by filling yet another flat with brussels sprouts in preparation for the fall garden.

Posted Thu May 19 06:49:48 2016 Tags:
lithium grease for wheelbarrow

One application of lithium grease to a squeaky wheel lasts most of the year.

Posted Thu May 19 15:37:45 2016 Tags:
Six-week-old pullet

We usually move our chicks from free ranging to fenced pastures when they're about a month old. The transition isn't for their sakes but for mine --- older chicks have a tendency to scratch up my mulch and peck up my strawberries.

This set of pullets preferred browsing the far edge of our yard beneath the pear trees rather than invading the garden.
But at six weeks old, they'd dramatically outgrown their brooder. Off the coop it was to learn grownup perching!

Posted Fri May 20 07:18:25 2016 Tags:
swisher mower

The big thing we like about the Swisher string mower is its ability to mow heavy weeds without the danger of a metal blade hitting something.

One of the downsides to its awesome power is the way it throws weed pieces everywhere.

Our solution is to use the old push mower on stuff near food we want to eat.

Posted Fri May 20 15:37:49 2016 Tags:
Horse manure

We used to get our compost at this massive horse-manure mother load.

Goat manure
But I have to admit I love this pile ten times more. Yes, after rotting down all winter, our homegrown goat-poop pile is minuscule in comparison. Yet the compost is located a short wheelbarrow journey away from our garden and I know exactly what went into every shovelful. In fact, manure day is the only time of the year when I wished I had twice as many goats.

Posted Sat May 21 06:54:43 2016 Tags:
nice looking image of greenery with moisture

It's nice to know these raspberries will mature around the time our strawberries decide to give up for the year.

Posted Sat May 21 14:11:47 2016 Tags:
Baby apple

I've been spending a lot of time ogling my apple trees, watching the unexpected fruit swell under the summer sun. But everything isn't rosy in the mini-orchard.....

Dead apple tree

We had three tree deaths this winter, all individuals who simply failed to leaf out as planned when the cold weather broke. It's tempting to blame the losses on variety. The specimen above (Pristine), for example, barely grew last summer due to a terrible case of cedar-apple rust...even though its fellows just showed a few spotted leaves then shrugged off the fungal disease.

Dead espaliers

However, I'm now feeling like the ultimate deciding factor in who thrived and who perished was location. The two trees shown above, like the one in the previous photo, are the individuals closest to our north-facing hillside. And they just happen to be the only trees who perished among all eleven of the 2014 graftees. Hmmm.... I guess that permafreeze, high shade zone just isn't fruit-tree friendly. Good to know, and good to learn on home-grafted trees that cost us no more than a buck apiece.

Posted Sun May 22 06:58:04 2016 Tags:
trash can metal

We added another metal trash can to our feed and seed storage system.

Posted Sun May 22 16:09:46 2016 Tags:
Goat kids at play

Although I milked Artemesia for the kids' first two weeks of life, the youngsters quickly grew big enough to take up that slack. Luckily, two weeks of age is also when goatlings are old enough to be locked away for the night, giving the human twelve hours of free milk.

The trouble, as Mark alluded to, was that our kidding stall is not impossible for a determined goat to access. The first night I locked the kids in, I heard distressed crying for about ten minutes...then everything went ominously quiet. Sure enough, when I went up to check on the herd, Artemesia had jumped over the wall to be with her babies. So I opened the gate and put on my thinking cap for a solution.

Milking a goat

We could have bulked up the walls and done our best to keep momma goat out. But I don't like Artemesia to be in distress, and barely being able to see her kids through the lattice gate was clearly too scary for her to handle.

Enter the dog kennel shown here. It worked perfectly --- the twins were a little pissed at not being able to get into mischief overnight, but Artemesia could lie down right beside them and everyone was happy. In fact, our doe gets so relaxed after not having kids crawling all over her for twelve hours, that by day three I stopped locking her head in the stanchion during milking time. With carrots in the hopper, Artemesia's quite content to stand still and let the machine pull out her milk.

Goats nursing

The kids are always anxious to get their breakfast, but they wait semi-patiently until it's their turn. Rather than hand-milking out the last cup or so, I just release the barbarians and they stampede for the udder. Then I take my two or three cups home with a smile --- happy goats make for a happy human!

Posted Mon May 23 07:00:31 2016 Tags:
gate latch

I've changed my mind about this being the best heavy duty gate latch.

The main bar will bend with repeated ramming from a medium sized goat.

Posted Mon May 23 16:02:03 2016 Tags:
Strawberry leather

Strawberries are my favorite fruit and fruit is my favorite food group. So you'd think I'd be tempted by out-of-season berries at the grocery store.

The trouble is, homegrown strawberries are so good I now turn up my nose at even the offerings from the local berry farm. Instead, we gorge on delicious red fruits for one month out of the year and we dry a little bit of leather for winter treats.

Since writing that linked-to post, we upgraded to an
Excalibur dehydrator to make it more feasible to dry food in our wet climate. But, otherwise, our method of storing summer sunlight is very much the same.

Posted Tue May 24 07:01:08 2016 Tags:
mark Flex Seal
flex seal sealing a trash can lid

I'm trying some Flex Seal to see how long it will keep our new trash can dry.

Posted Tue May 24 15:28:44 2016 Tags:
Queen cells

I hate to admit it, but I got a bit disheartened by our bees and ignored them for a solid month. The thing is, I actually lost track of how many swarms materialized and then flew away, never to be seen again. (Four, I think?) It was pretty amazing when I was watching Artemesia and family graze in the oats and a mass of bees came flying just over our heads, a few landing on the trailer roof before leaping back into the air. But my rational side knows that each absent swarm is that much less chance of homegrown honey this year.

I seem to use lots of 20/20 hindsight with the bees, but here's a little more. When I opened up our swarming hive in April, I saw lots of queen cells at the bottom of the warre box. I cut off one...then got all worried. If the old matriarch left and I removed all the queen cells, will the new hive perish? So I left the rest in place. As you can see in the image above, though, there were many more queen cells than were really necessary, the likely source of so many afterswarms.

The other hive did swarm too, though. That one had fewer queen cells in it (two or three, I think), probably because there wasn't the gap between warre and langstroth boxes that my converter top created. Honestly, I think that feeding warre hives in the spring just makes them swarm. So if I want to bulk up the hives early in search of honey, I need to hurry up and get those bees back into langstroth boxes so I can checkerboard and use other swarm prevention techniques. (Warre frames just aren't movable enough to use techniques like this with success.)

HoneybeesOn the plus side, the hive that swarmed several times has capped brood and is bringing in lots of pollen. So, fingers crossed that their new queen will finally start laying eggs in the langstroth boxes and I can remove the warre box to complete the conversaion. The other hive swarmed a bit later and is all warre (so harder to tell what's going on inside). But they've got a good bit of honey and will hopefully have new workers soon.

And, all things considered, I don't regret being so engrossed in Artemesia's kidding and in the twins' early childhood that I missed a heaping handful of swarms. If I could go back in time, even knowing what I know now, I'd do it all over again. But maybe next year the two events won't coincide and I'll be a little smarter about early spring bee management. And, who knows, it could still be such a good nectar year that we get honey. Hope springs eternal....

Posted Wed May 25 06:56:36 2016 Tags:
sweet corn risk

It was a risk planting this sweet corn on April 20th but I think we're in the clear.

Posted Wed May 25 15:02:06 2016 Tags:
Drying herbs

My little herb bed on the south-facing side of the trailer is doing beautifully this year. On the recommendation of one of our readers, I started some Greek oregano from seed last year and found to my delight that it did indeed have much more of the flavor I was looking for than the plain old oregano I'd grown before. Throw in some sage, lavender, thyme, chamomile, fennel, chives, and a few flowers and I have a pretty and delicious space right outside the back door.

Cooking with herbs

Being so close to the kitchen, the herb garden reminds me to pick a little flavor for meals that I might otherwise skip. I'm also air-drying a few of the more aromatic leaves while they're at their peak since last year's dried basil really hit the spot over the winter.

Mostly, though, I'm just enjoying the low-work, high-reward growing space. There's nothing quite like zone 0.5 homesteading projects that really work.

Posted Thu May 26 06:20:14 2016 Tags:
goat flying from one tire to another
Aurora seems to have more agility than her twin brother.
Posted Thu May 26 14:56:22 2016 Tags:
Pristine broccoli

What's the first thing you look at when you pick a head of broccoli out of your garden? Personally, I flip the whole thing over and search for signs of cabbage worms. This year, each head I've harvested has been pristine.

What's the secret? Starting the plants early so they bulk up before butterfly season is in full swing. (Yes, the cabbage "moth" is really a butterfly.) I cover this and other permaculture tactics for dealing with pest invertebrates without chemicals in The Naturally Bug-Free Garden. Here's hoping your broccoli is just as sweet and caterpillar-free as ours have been this spring.

Posted Fri May 27 06:40:29 2016 Tags:
Basket of broccoli
We had to plug our big freezer back in today.

Fourteen pints of broccoli is twice as much as we froze in all of 2015.

Even better, two-thirds of the crop is still in the garden.

Posted Fri May 27 15:50:38 2016 Tags:
Goats at the gate
The goats like to wait for me at the gate.

Okay, I never said they were all on the same side of the gate.


Goat family

More seriously, there's been some trouble in paradise over the last few weeks --- hoof rot. As these things go, I suspect it's a very light case, but the recessed hoof area freaked me out enough to order some zinc sulfate to stop the bad bugs in their tracks. While I was waiting for the drug to arrive, I also instituted once-a-week hoof trimming, which Artemesia submitted to with her usual "please don't...but okay if you must" grace. Interestingly, by the time the Hoof-n-Heel came in the mail, her problematic hoof area was already starting to regrow.

Hoof trimming day

I suspect the root of the problem was threefold. First, Abigail was a bully and often didn't allow Artemesia to stand up out of the mud on the loafing stations...even though we put two porches in the pasture to ensure there was enough space. Yes, our ex-herd queen would run back and forth chasing Artemesia away from anything tantalizing just for the fun of it.

Second, the threadworms that popped up in Artmesia's fecal matter were a warning sign I should have paid more attention to. I did read that threadworms can cause hoof rot as well as being an intestinal parasite but I ignored that issue since our goats' feet have always been top notch.

Finally, I skipped hoof-trimming during Artemesia's last month of pregnancy because she really wasn't in the mood. But a slight jostling of her kids would have been worth nipping the hoof rot in the bud.

Treating for hoof rot

All of that said, it's not the end of the world. I'll keep treating the problematic front hooves daily with the zinc sulfate and trimming weekly until all signs are gone, and I've also rotated to a new pasture in hopes of keeping our doe off wormy ground.

Now that Artemesia is back eating lots of greenery, her overall health has improved so much that she might have been able to fight off the problem on her own. And even the weather is cooperating, turning hot and dry. So hopefully our darling goat will be back at 100% in short order.


Goat kids

Oh and here's one last cute-goat photo to make up for regaling you with such a difficult topic today. Our goat kids really might be growing faster than the weeds!

Posted Sat May 28 06:54:08 2016 Tags:

Baby phoebe

Bug zapper 2.0 has launched.

Five baby phoebes are almost too many for the nest to hold.
Posted Sat May 28 14:27:20 2016 Tags:

Strawberry varietiesDisease-resistance, date of bearing, and size of berries are all relevant factors for the organic strawberry grower to consider. But if I'm being honest, I'll tell you that I make variety selections based 95% on taste.

With that in mind, we've ripped out multiple varieties that just didn't make the cut. Fresca, Jewel, and Allstar simply weren't tasty enough for my palate.

At the other extreme, delectable keepers have included:

  • Honeyoye --- a big berry with a more subtle (and slightly sourer) flavor than most. On the downside, this variety is prone to diseases, and those diseases accentuate the sour. But an undiseased, sunkissed Honeyoe is a delight!
  • Ozark Beauty --- a small but ultra-sweet berry that melts in your mouth. I snack on these the most when I'm out and about in the garden because they're just so dependably good. On the downside, I'm not 100% sure the plants actually are that variety since I bought them at Wal-mart and the big box stores are notorious for mislabeling edibles, so you might not get the same results I have....
  • Sparkle --- this late-fruiting variety is like Ozark Beauty on steroids. Some fruits are small, but many are big, all are sweet, and they are actually too soft for some applications. These plants benefit from daily rather than my usual bidaily picking and I'll admit that a few end up rotting on the vine.
  • Galletta --- this ultra-early variety lost most of its blooms this year to freezes. Perhaps that's why the berries that did set are humongous rather than small as I'd understood they'd be? They're also quite firm --- nearly the consistency of storebought --- but are almost as sweet as Ozark Beauty and feature a hint of Honeyoye's tartness. I find myself snacking on these almost as much as on Ozark Beauty.

How about you? Which strawberry varieties have turned you into a fruit connoisseur?

Posted Sun May 29 07:42:15 2016 Tags:
garlic press

Our old hand me down garlic press broke recently.

We've been using this fancy stainless steel garlic press for the last two months.

It's a lot easier to clean and seems like a more solid design than the old one.

Posted Sun May 29 15:03:47 2016 Tags:
Ripening gooseberry

French psychologist Erika Apfelbaum once said, "Americans eat with their eyes." The sheer quantity of wasted produce in our food system proves that she is, unfortunately, correct.

Young enterprise apple

However, I have to admit that as a gardener I totally eat with my eyes. Only I do so long before the food in question is ripe.

Ripening black raspberry

For example, in the making of this post, I consumed a delectable gooseberry, half a dozen apples of various flavors, and a handful of raspberries (both red and black). I'm stuffed!

Posted Mon May 30 06:57:56 2016 Tags:
garlic scapes with Anna

Today was that one day of the year where we harvest garlic scapes for lunch.

Posted Mon May 30 15:16:44 2016 Tags:
Goat eating broccoli

Basket of broccoli leavesMy garden layout revolves far too much around the goats.

"Hmm, what can I plant in this open bed?" I wonder. "How about some field corn and sweet potatoes to boost Artemesia's milk production?"

Or, Monday morning: "I wonder where I can find a spot to grow sweet corn? Well, if I feed these used-up broccoli plants to the herd, our summer crops can slip in right there."

The trouble is, goats are just so appreciative. Artemesia and company told me they enjoyed their broccoli bouquet very much...so I'll probably repeat the endeavor today. I'll just have to freeze another load of broccoli first....

Posted Tue May 31 06:48:32 2016 Tags:
mark Oat mow
cutting oats with weed eater
Cutting oats down before they go to seed.
Posted Tue May 31 15:48:45 2016 Tags: