Gardening


It has been another few weeks of busy-ness around here.  Sorry for the absence.  I realized I haven’t even taken any photos!  To catch you up a bit, though…

Building:  I built more shelves.  Lots of shelves.  I will die happy if I never build another shelf, but unfortunately, I have at least 3 more to finish, which means planing, installing, painting, you get the idea.  I got a little help on a couple of projects from an in-law who lives close by and is very good with construction, I finally have desks, shelves, and a reading closet in both the girls’ and boys’ room, plus a new “activity counter” with 2 more desks and some shelves in our loft.  I promise photos soon.  I have a little more tweaking to finish it all.

Unpacking:  I’ve been slowly unpacking for almost 4 months.  Every move in the past has taken 2-3 weeks, tops.  Every house in the past, though, has had shelves and not been a farm when we moved in.  This house had almost no shelves, hence all the building.  Trying to move a family of 7 with a large homeschool library into a 3 bedroom, 1900 square foot house with little storage was challenging to say the least.  I’m getting there, though.  My upstairs still has paths, but the paths are widening by the day.  I’m almost there.

Visiting:  Nana (my mom) heard my inner plea for help, and came to stay for a while.  She has been here about 2 weeks so far, and has been a tremendous help.  She is filling my normal domestic and mommy role to a great extent, while I focus on finishing many of these necessary outdoor and construction projects.

Homeschooling:  We started our school year the last week of August.  N is K4, A is K5, M is 2nd grade, and JR is 4th grade.  And I still haven’t taken their annual school pictures.  Add that to my list of “to-do’s.”  We are doing Abeka Academy again this year, and loving it.  N and A take a lot of focus, which Nana is mostly handling right now.  Once she leaves, the first half of my day will mostly be spent sitting beside them as they work.  JR and M are totally independent, though.  R is always into things, so that’s why God gave mommies (and Nana’s) eyes in the back of their heads.

More visiting:  S came home!!!  Only for a quick visit, but it was great!  I had a short list of projects he worked on for me, the kids got their “daddy-fix” while wrestling, jumping on the trampoline (oh, yeah, I spent 2 days assembling that thing!), and just being with him.  Then I got my time with him when Nana agreed to watch the kiddos while we headed over to a Bed and Breakfast for the night.

Goats:  I’m trying to sell my 2 remaining goat kids, but I’m finding dairy goats are not as popular here as they were in CO.  It’s a much harder sell around here.  In the mean time, I have had to move poor Pride (our buckling) out with the pigs, to ensure he doesn’t breed Caramel (our too-small doeling).  To reduce my workload, I’ve also gone to once a day milking.  I’m not exactly sure how the milk will hold up, especially since I’m considering milking through rather than breeding this fall, but I’ll just play that one as the time passes.

Cattle:  Red Bull finally went home.  He was sweet and never gave me a days trouble–unless you count the time he somehow got into an adjacent paddock to the cows, the other time when he bred my dairy heifer without permission, or the time when he decided to scratch on an old fence and succeeded in knocking it down, releasing all the cows into the pig forest.  No biggie, though.  They were still inside the perimeter fence.  I just set up a water trough down lower in the pasture so they had to come out of the woods periodically so I could check on them.  It actually made my day easier temporarily, and started some clearing in the next section the pigs will move to.  That all being said, the day finally arrived for the sweet bull to go home.  As soon as he saw his owner approaching with the halter, he turned into a beast.  He completely mangled a 5 foot cattle panel as he lept over it (trying to get AWAY from his owner), then easily cleared 3 hot wire fences.  Watching a 1,000 pounds of pure muscle soar gracefully over a fence without hardly touching it is a very impressive sight indeed!  I was finally able to halter my jersey, Abbigail, and lead her to a stall in the barn, and that finally got Red Bull distracted enough to follow her so he could be confined and caught.  Once caught, he walked out of the barn and hopped up in that trailer with a grace and timeliness that would shame any horse.

Chickens:  While S was home, our biggest project was harvesting our 25 Cornish Cross meat birds.  We used our new Featherman Pro chicken plucker too.  Can I just say, THAT.  WAS. AWEWOME!!!!!  Expensive, yes, but totally awesome.  We may decide to rent it to other home poultry raisers to try to help pay for it.  Otherwise, it’ll take like 50 years to pay the thing off.  But, then again, when I consider the fact that I will never have to pluck another bird, I realize it is priceless!  We did 25 birds in about 3 hours, but that includes all the stops and distractions we had with the kiddos and lack of preparation here at this new farm.  The replacement pullets are growing well.  They still live in the barn, but free-range the pastures all day.  Our layers are also doing well.  We’ve had one go broody on us, so I got smart and decided to get some fertile eggs from a friend.  Unfortunately, at the same time she went broody, another has become an egg-eater.  I have no idea which girl it is, but in addition to eating 1 or more of our eggs each day, she has also destroyed 6 of the 8 fertile eggs.  I’m not sure any will survive to hatch.  Other hens are randomly kicking the broody hen off her nest each day to lay their eggs, and one of them is eating some while doing so.  I tried moving the broody hen into the barn, but she refused the new nest, and after 24 hours, I released her, only to have her run straight back to her original nest in the coop.  Oh well.  I guess she’ll just have to go through the natural cycle for a while, and then we’ll try again next year when our new roosters can ensure all our eggs are fertile.  In addition to losing eggs to an egg-eating hen, we are also losing a few chickens lately.  The girls–both the older ones, and the younger replacement ones, have begun doing some foraging deep in the woods, outside of the main pasture and perimeter fence.  There are openings on one side of the perimeter where the hens can get through, but the dogs and other animals can’t.  Obviously, the dogs can’t protect the girls on that side of the fence, so some of them never seem to make it back up.  I remain hopeful that one or two may have gone broody and are just hiding down there.  Realistically, though, I’m pretty confident they were some wild critter’s lunch.  We’ve lost 4 older hens and 5 little ones.  There isn’t much I can do about it right now, except hope that the remaining ones will learn and stay in the fence.  Only time will tell.

Rabbits:  Nothing too new there, other than the fact that we harvested our summer litter.  That takes us back to our one mature doe, 2 mature bucks, and 2 young does that that we brought with us from CO, and will be ready for breeding in December.

Donkey:  The only farm vehicle I have around here is a 4-wheeler.  I use it to haul supplies down to the pig paddocks, to move my portable shelters, to haul wagon loads of dirt, to haul fence posts, and to have fun.  Before we left CO, S and I decided that Shiloh, the donkey would help earn her keep by becoming a work donkey.  We bought a little homemade driving cart to start out with.  After we moved, I ordered her a custom donkey harness.  With the number of projects I had this summer though, I never really had a chance to teach Shiloh to drive.  Then, my 4-wheeler–long over-due for a tune-up and basic maintenance–essentially died on me.  While it’s waiting for a ride to a shop, I’ve had to get creative.  There are still water buckets, feed, dirt, and fencing that has to be hauled.  Time for Shiloh!  I reviewed the basics of long-reigning I had taught Shiloh in the past, spent a few days reviewing all her basics and getting her accustomed to her new harness, and then took full and total advantage of her being a calm and laid back donkey rather than a flighty horse, and hooked her up to the cart.  Since Nana was here at that point, she offered some assistance for safety in the early stages, but Shiloh took to it with ease.  She still has a little trouble turning in the cart, but that is likely due in great part to the fact the shafts on the cart wound up way too big for her.  Now, I have my first real equine-power on the farm.  I can hitch her up to the cart, and then use the cart to haul all the buckets, feed bags, materials, etc, she can drag small logs, and more.  Eventually we will get new shafts that fit better, but I use these in the mean time.  Pictures will follow as soon as I get the chance.

Dogs and cats:  Due to the unintended and unexpected increase in cats around here, I wound up rehoming our barn cat, Katie, and her litter of 6 kittens.  A new farm was looking for a whole slew of cats to stock their barn with, and they jumped at the chance when they heard about her.  That leaves us with Sarah and her litter of 5 kittens, and she is much better mannered as a house cat, so I have a better chance of keeping her indoors until she can be spayed.  The only cat outside at the moment is Shadow.  Callie is still inside, as always.  Will, the house pet, has loved having all these cats around.  He has discovered there is always a dish of cat food sitting around somewhere, and has become quite adept at finding all my hiding spots.  As a result, he has gained somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds over the last 6 weeks.  At this point, my hiding places are getting higher and higher up on shelves, in an attempt to keep them accessible to the cats, but well out of Will’s reach.  Iris and Athena are doing great.  In fact, Iris has entered her fall heat cycle, and I am debating breeding her this fall or waiting until spring.  I finally found the (hopefully) perfect stud dog.  He is in the next state, so quite a drive, but he is of the Colorado Mountain Dog breeding and quality I am looking for, and has already proven himself as a guardian and homestead-type dog.  As usual, we’ll see how this plays out.

Pigs:  The pigs are growing well on their forest forage diet.  I continue to supplement with excess milk and eggs (though the eggs are few and far between with an egg-eating hen on our hands!), and occasional organic grains.  I am working on setting up their next paddock this weekend.  I estimate their weight to be around 100 lbs. now, so I think they are growing well.  I should research and find out averages for this breed so I have something to compare to.  Whatever the weight, they are big enough now that the kids don’t really go in the paddock unsupervised.  The pigs are very friendly, and in their quest for attention, plenty big enough they could easily knock a child down.

That pretty much brings you up to speed for now.  There’s never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure!!

….when you have an awesome neighbor with a huge one?

We have a retired neighbor that has a passion for growing fruits and vegetables.  Every year, he plants a massive garden.  It’s just him and his wife, though, they can’t use it all, and they hate seeing it go to waste.  This year, he discovered that our family would always take excess garden-fresh food!  Although he isn’t into organics like we are, he had decided not to use any sprays this year.  I’m not sure what changed his mind, as I know he always used Seven-dust in the past.  In addition, his sister grows corn and his brother grows blueberries, and when gathering for us, he asked about their chemical use.  What a blessing, as it turns out, that none of them used chemicals of any type this year!

In any case, he invited the kids over to do some picking in his garden.

M and A picking blackberries with the neighbor.

M and A picking blackberries with the neighbor.

R was too busy eating a popsicle the neighbor gave her to pick berries at first.

R was too busy eating a popsicle the neighbor gave her to pick berries at first.

JR hunting for the perfectly ripe, not too sour, blackberries.

JR hunting for the perfectly ripe, not too sour, blackberries.

R finally decided to ask me to finish her popsicle so she could join in the fun of picking berries.  It didn't matter if they were ripe, unripe, black, red, or green--they all went straight into her mouth!

R finally decided to ask me to finish her popsicle so she could join in the fun of picking berries. It didn’t matter if they were ripe, unripe, black, red, or green–they all went straight into her mouth!

N decided to jump to the other side to find as many as possible before the other kiddos made it over there.

N decided to jump to the other side to find as many as possible before the other kiddos made it over there.

JR found the blueberry patch, and picked anything that was even remotely ripe.  He loves berries!

JR found the blueberry patch, and picked anything that was even remotely ripe. He loves berries!

The neighbor showing the kiddos his other veggies in the garden, and how to pick the ripe ones.

The neighbor showing the kiddos his other veggies in the garden, and how to pick the ripe ones.

After almost 2 hours of picking, we came home totally loaded with buckets of blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, and green beans.

After almost 2 hours of picking, we came home totally loaded with buckets of blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, corn, cucumbers, and green beans.

We added all this bounty to some of the harvest from our garden, and have been eating like royalty lately (that is, assuming royalty eats veggies!).  I told S on the phone tonight that it really is a blessing that is forcing us to eat healthy.  In his absence, my days are often full of stress and hard labor, and I am exhausted by dinner time.  It is so tempting, far too often, to gather the kiddos into the van and take them to a local diner for dinner.  No cooking, no clean-up afterward, just sit and be served.  Alas, I also hate seeing food go to waste.  With the bounty of fresh food growing in our garden and the bucket loads our neighbor keeps bringing us, it is forcing me to find a little more energy most evenings to make a good dinner.  Buttered sweet corn, steamed green beans, kholrabi hash browns, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh salad, grass-fed beef in some form, blackberry popsicles, blueberry and kefir smoothies…..I admit, I have no guilt about what I’m feeding my family these days!

This was our lunch for several days this past week:

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One day, we had a side of boiled eggs to go with it.  It struck me as a bit humorous that this type of lunch has fancy names.  Some might call it “vegetarian.”  Others might consider it as “Paleo.”  I suppose if fancy “diet” terminology makes a person eat healthier, good for him.  In our case, though, it’s simply known as “cleaning out the produce in the fridge and garden before it spoils.”

Our harvest of produce has really begun around Red Gate Farm.  Although quite small this year, it’s still impressive considering how little I planted, TLC was pretty much nonexistent, and we went about 4 weeks with no rain and no watering (for fear my well would dry up, which it already did once this summer).  We’ve gotten a few smaller harvests of kholrabi, zucchini, and green beans, but last week the harvest was more fun.  The kids and I worked together to fill 2, 5-gallon buckets with onions, potatoes, green beans, radishes, and carrots.  Plus, the laying hens are finally getting over the stresses of the move, the gnats, and the heat this summer, and we’ve gone from about 6 eggs a day to about 13 some days (out of 14 hens).

harvest

Yesterday, we harvested some rainbow chard, ornamental kale, radishes, carrots, bell pepper, and corn, and I was able to throw together a delicious salad for lunch.

Now, I have to find ways to use up this bounty before it spoils!  This is so much fun.  I just love opening my fridge to see the blessings God has provided, or walking outside and witnessing the fruit of the earth growing before my eyes.  It is a beautiful thing, and brings such peace to know that we are getting ever closer to not being dependent on an economic system that goes against everything we believe in.  Natural, non-GMO, chemical- , pesticide- , and herbicide-free food, grown in nutrient rich compost, watered with well water and rain rather than chlorinated, piped-in city water……oh, what a wonderful feeling!

My first onion braid

My first onion braid

 

 

 

 

For anyone who has this romantic notion that farm life is fun and beautiful and romantic at all times, let me tell you, that is not the case.  On the lesser extreme, there’s muck, mud, continual chores, and lots of manure.  On the greater extreme, there’s vomit, diarrhea, illness, and death (not often for us thankfully!).

Thanks to the less romantic side of farming, I get to meet our vet today for the first time.  We have a series of issues that have arisen with multiple animals, and I am baffled by all.  I believe in natural and prevention, but there comes a point where I am willing to call in professional medical help if my home remedies, vitamins, and herbs don’t do the job.  Particularly if there is an expensive life at stake–like my next year’s steak.

One of our new 3 month old calves is ailing.  It started with a mild cough, but as of yesterday, he was acting depressed.  Time for the vet!

One of our new 3 month old calves is ailing. It started with a mild cough, but as of yesterday, he was acting depressed. Time for the vet!

Since the vet is coming anyway to look at the calf, whose temperature was quite high this morning (suggesting infection is brewing somewhere), I figured I’d ask her take a look at several other issues as well.

Shadow, the cat, has scratched himself bald on the back of his neck.  It isn't spreading, but it won't get better either.

Shadow, the cat, has scratched himself bald on the back of his neck. It isn’t spreading, but it won’t get better either.

Iris has developed what can only described as a hot spot on her throat.  I have been cleaning and treating it for a almost a week, with no improvement.  She can't lick it, so she must be scratching it, but I'm baffled either way.

Iris has developed what can only be described as a hot spot on her throat. I have been cleaning and treating it for a almost a week, with no improvement. She can’t lick it, so she must be scratching it, but I’m baffled either way.

Even poor Shiloh has developed raw spots on her legs.  I'm not sure what has caused them.

Even poor Shiloh has developed raw spots on her legs. I’m not sure what has caused them.

I suspect the cat, dog, and donkey are all related to environmental issues–allergies or irritations from the grasses here, since they certainly aren’t used to the area.  I hope it can be cleared up easily and with minimal medications.  I don’t know what else to do, but I’ve tapped out my resources to no avail.

On a funnier note, there are other frustrations too….

Shiloh swatting flies....it's how she burns off her calories that she eats on the pasture.

Shiloh swatting flies….it’s how she burns off her calories that she eats on the pasture.

The cows took over the goat shelter.   I don't even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The cows took over the goat shelter. I don’t even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

Speaking of cows, when ailing baby calf has to go in the barn for treatment, so does mama cow.  Now my barn smells like cows.

Speaking of cows, when ailing baby calf has to go in the barn for treatment, so does mama cow. Now my barn smells like cows.

And then there’s the other cats, the little stinkers.  If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I am a HUGE advocate for spaying and neutering of pets.  We picked up 3 barn cats about a month ago.  The male was already neutered, and the females had both recently weaned litters and were thought to be OK long enough for us to settle in.  NOT!  Within days, of arrival, one of the females went to heat.  I tried to keep her around the barn as much as possible, and to take advantage of our isolation here, in the hopes that no tom would find her this cycle until I could get her spayed.  I never saw the first sign of a tom, so I thought we came through unscathed.  About a week later, the other female came in heat (competition, maybe?).  UUGH, in any case, I’m pretty sure we now have 2 pregnant cats for the first time in my life, and I will be discussing spaying after they deliver with the vet when she comes.  The kiddos are naturally excited to experience their first kittens, but I’m not sure what we will do with them all.

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Now for some GOOD, totally unrelated news…the sunflowers are sooo cool!  I’ve never grown them before, but I will be planting lots more next year.  They are just turning out to be a fun plant.  Of course, if you are only 4 foot tall, I supposed that could be a bad thing, as you can’t even see the flower starting to bloom at the top of the stalk.

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We’ve arrived!  After many years of waiting, wondering, studying homesteading, preparing the farm, we finally made it!  I cannot express to you how wonderful it feels.  As you read, we had a few unwelcome adventures along the way.  There’s nothing like a leaking fuel line, an unexpected layover at a small-town repair shop, on a hot day with a trailer full of overheating livestock from a cold climate, and a loose and stubborn chicken running around a parking lot , being chased down by 2 kids and 2 helpful truckers, to get the blood pressure up a bit!  I drove the truck and trailer, and a girl-friend drove my minivan with the kiddos.  She was such a God-send through the whole ordeal, and for the whole week after!  What should have been about a 15-18 hour trip turned into a 22 hour trip.   We arrived at almost 2 in the morning, got the kids in bed and began unloading animals.  We had to walk each of the goats, dogs, and donkeys about 200 feet from the trailer to the barn, through the tall hay field.  The tall grass was so foreign to them, not a single animal attempted to take a bite!  They didn’t know what to think of this stuff brushing against their bellies!  Oh, what an adventure that day was!!

While Will, our resident house pet knows and seems to enjoy the place, he doesn’t leave the front porch much.

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The other animals, to the contrary, are still trying to figure out this place.  Some seem to think they have died and gone to a heaven far beyond anything they could have dreamed of, while others are still trying to figure out whether they are in heaven or some kind of purgatory.

Honey bees:  definitely think they've died and gone to heaven!  I've never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers' legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs.  The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

Honey bees: definitely think they’ve died and gone to heaven! I’ve never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers’ legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs. The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

When we first arrived, the chickens weren’t quite sure what to think.  Until today, they were living in the stock trailer, using it as a makeshift coop until we could get theirs’ finished.  Notice the rabbit cages are also still in there, until we get a permanent area set up.

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It took a couple of days for the hens to learn to go INTO the trailer at night, rather than hide out UNDER it.  It also meant that M has stayed busy hunting eggs when they decide to lay in the grass or under the trailer, rather than in the makeshift nestboxes we put in the trailer.

Look closely, they're under there, enjoying the shade.

Look closely, they’re under there, enjoying the shade.

Hens foraging the hay field.  They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven!  Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there.  Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

Hens foraging the hay field. They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven! Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there. Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

The donkeys aren’t sure what to think.  Probably depends on what time of day you ask them.  Most of the day, they hang out in their spacious stall together.  I added a few toys to keep them entertained.  In the late afternoon, they get to go out to the trimmed pasture as we wean them on to the rich grass here.  As long as the grass is short, they enjoy it, but if you ask them to go into the longer field grass, they get pretty nervous.  They don’t seem to realize it is food as well.  In addition, the bugs are driving them batty.  I have had to start using a bug repellent ointment in their long ears due to all the bites they were receiving.  After a few hours in the buggy, humid outdoors, they are usually standing at the barn doors waiting eagerly for me to let them back in to their cool, bug free stall.

Donkeys:  Too short to see over the rails!

Donkeys: Too short to see over the rails!

 

Dogs:  Totally in heaven here!  As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated.  The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.

Dogs: Totally in heaven here! As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated. The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.  The only problem so far is that my white dogs have turned a clay-orange color since we are in the midst of a very wet, muddy spell here. 

Like the donkeys, the goats’ thoughts seem to vary with the time of day.  At night, or when the donkeys are out, the goats are stuck inside a stall/alley area.  They have plenty of room, but get very bored.  Latte tends to bully Joy to no end during those times (hence the reason I allow them 2 areas to roam).

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Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds, and drinking almost a gallon a day of Latte's milk!

Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds free-choice nursing on almost a gallon a day of Latte’s milk!

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out.  They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first.  They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out. They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first. They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The only issue the goats have had is that the stress of the move combined with the heavy milking from Joy and Latte caused them both to drop a lot of weight.  To make matters worse, none of the goats were eating their portions of grain like they used to.  As a result, I was forced to purchase my first non-organic feed in the form of Calf-Manna.  This is a product that contains a load of B vitamins that work to stimulate the appetite, as well as high carbs to help with weight gain.  Despite the non-organic nature, it is a pretty good product for such issues.  It works.  Faith is due to deliver next week, so I am eager to see how that goes.  She also shrunk in size SIGNIFICANTLY, but I can’t tell if she has lost weight, if the baby shifted, or what happened there.

We also have 3 new faces around the farm.  Two days after our arrival, my friend and I were working on cleaning out the barn when we saw several mice run out of their hiding spaces. The next morning, I called the local small-town animal shelter and told him I was in need of some barn cats.  I told him I would take ferals or otherwise unadoptables, but couldn’t pay a lot of money in adoption fees since they were destined to be barn cats and I had no idea if they would stick around.  He told me to come on over for a visit.  M and I went over, and came home with 3 new kitties.  The added bonus is that all 3 are SOOOO sweet and lovable!  It’s a bit hard to milk with a kitty intent on helping, but we are getting by.

Sarah

Sarah

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Katie

Katie

A few other random Red Gate Farm happenings, and some of the projects that have kept us busy this week (in addition to the normal unpacking associated with a move):

My first hay!  My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage.  It isn't much at around 150 pounds, but I'm pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

My first hay! My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage. It isn’t much at around 150 pounds, but I’m pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won't cooperate.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won’t cooperate.

My garden!  I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March.  Many of the seeds sprouted!  We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more!  There are plenty of squares that didn't grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.

My garden! I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March. Many of the seeds sprouted! We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more! There are plenty of squares that didn’t grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.  We also plan to expand on these beds quite a bit. 

Chicken coop got finished today!  I will have better photos later.

Chicken coop got finished today! I will have better photos later.

Fruit in the orchard.  Some of the trees seem to be having a problem -- blight maybe?--so I treated with some copper sulfate.  Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Fruit in the orchard. Some of the trees seem to be having a problem — blight or leaf curl maybe?–so I treated with some copper sulfate. Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn.  She likes to know what's going on at all times.

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn. She likes to know what’s going on at all times.

That’s it for now!  I’ll post more as I have time.  Tons of work to do around here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have just over 4 months to Move Day, and early preps have begun.  For the first time in my life, I have prepared an order for seed!  That’s right, as if we didn’t have enough to worry about our first summer there, we want to grow a garden as best we can.  The plan is for me to head back in March, and work on a few projects.  One of those projects will be building raised beds for the garden area.  The area we plan to put the garden is very sloped, so I am planning to use raised beds as a terrace to prevent the soil I plant in from running off in the deluges we can get there.

Hard to see, but behind the gate, where the sheep are grazing, is my planned garden area.  It is a nice little hill that we have had erosion issues with in the past.

Hard to see, but behind the gate, where the sheep are grazing, is my planned garden area. It is a nice little hill that we have had erosion issues with in the past.

The number of beds I get built that week will determine the size of our garden this summer.  Over the next 2-3 years, we hope to grow 90% of our produce.  Some advantages (there are many I’m not going into here) of raised beds:

  • I can more easily relocate them if I decide I don’t like the spot they are in.  
  • Using them to terrace my slope allows me to have the garden on a slight slope to the south (for better sun) and prevent erosion problems, all while not having to destroy the natural slope that is already there by terracing the land itself.
  • Raised beds allow the soil to be developed into a prime growing medium for different plants, while also staying loose enough to encourage good, healthy roots and straight root vegetables.  The fresh soil and compost added each year on the top lacks many of the grass and weed seeds found in a standard ground garden bed, thus decreasing the weeds I am fighting from the beginning.
  • Raised beds are much easier on an achy back like mine.  I’m still working with a chiropractor regularly, but the 3 breaks and other old injuries in my back make me feel quite elderly some days!
  • Raised beds provide animals a visual barrier to help prevent trampling of young seedlings.

I have been piddling around with gardening for several years, learning as I go.  I have tried container garden (a miserable failure since I tend to forget to water regularly enough), normal gardening, companion gardening (using complimentary plants to help each thrive and to repel pests and attract beneficial insects), and this past year, I had my largest garden yet.  In fact, this past year’s garden was quite nice, IMHO, but a few of the plants didn’t grow well in our climate.  Since we have a rather large gardening space, I also wound up not planting the plants nearly close enough together, which left me with a lot of bare, wasted soil–not a good thing if you want an efficient, productive, weed-free garden!

This photo shows less than half of this past year's garden.  You can see the wasted space though.

This photo shows less than half of this past year’s garden. You can see the wasted space though.

Based on what I have learned so far, I decided to expand the planned garden to about twice what I had this year.  After doing a lot of research on more efficient gardens, I also decided that, since I was building raised beds anyway, to use the square foot gardening (SFG) method to increase my production and decrease the maintenance required by the garden.  I also went a step further and added in companion planting to discourage the prolific plant pests in our new area, while encouraging beneficials and adding in some variety.  Some advantages (there are many I’m not listing) of square foot gardening include:

  • Pack plants densely into a small area which improves pollination, and decreases the areas where weeds can grow.
  • Utilize trellises for vining and spreading crops so they grow upward instead of outward, taking up less ground space overall.
  • Takes up less space to grow the same amount (not that space is a problem for us, but I like the idea).  Particularly since we host educational farm days, and frequently have visitors with less space available, it will be nice to show them they can grow food in a postage-stamp yard.
  • Helps confine the garden to specific boundaries.
  • Makes harvest easier.
  • Helps the soil retain water (by preventing evaporation) in a dry season–which they are starting to forecast for the coming year. AGAIN.
  • Allows for easy garden bed rotation to prevent spread of disease.

In addition, by combining the raised bed and SFG method, I can easily add a net to anything birds go after, and in the fall, I can easily add a cold-frame top to selected beds for growing cool-weather veggies through the winter. It just seems to be a very versatile, practical, and economical set-up.

Since I had a little time on my hands while S was home on Christmas holiday, I decided to develop a way to more easily design my garden in the future, based on how it works out this coming year.  I developed a system of labeled magnets to allow me to design, move things around, and then develop the final plan.  By overlaying magnets, I can also develop a plan for succession planting of different items as the seasons change.

First, I developed a grid on the computer where each 1x1 inch square represented a 1x1 foot space in the garden, then labeled each square with a plant name/type and how many to plant in that square (based on the recommendations of those who developed the SFG method), and finally color-coded the labels to give me an idea how the actual colors in the garden would balance out.  I printed off the paper, and cut the squares apart.

First, I developed a grid on the computer where each 1×1 inch square represented a 1×1 foot space in the garden, then labeled each square with a plant name/type and how many to plant in that square (based on the recommendations of those who developed the SFG method), and finally color-coded the labels to give me an idea how the actual colors in the garden would balance out. I printed off the paper, and cut the squares apart.

Next, I placed one square of paper on a 1x1 inch magnet.

Next, I placed one square of paper on a 1×1 inch magnet.

I also used the computer to print off blank white grids to put on larger 4x6 inch magnets, which represented my planned 4x6 raised garden bed itself (seen in the center of the photo).  You don't want more than 4 feet wide, as you want to be able to easily reach the center plants, and 6 feet is about as long as I can go on my slope.  Then, using my reference books as guides, I played around with filling the grids in with labeled, color-coded magnets until I had a design I liked.

I also used the computer to print off blank white grids to put on larger 4×6 inch magnets, which represented my planned 4×6 raised garden bed itself (seen in the center of the photo). You don’t want more than 4 feet wide, as you want to be able to easily reach the center plants, and 6 feet is about as long as I can go on my slope. Then, using my reference books as guides, I played around with filling the grids in with labeled, color-coded magnets until I had a design I liked.

Once I have the magnet design the way I like it, I sketch it out on paper so I can take the paper out to the garden with me to reference as I plant.

My final garden plan, neatly recorded on paper.

My final garden plan, neatly recorded on paper.

So, there you have it!  A preview of my garden for the coming year.  Due to time constraints this year, I will be ordering a lot of plant starts from our co-op Azure Standard to try to make up for my lost weeks, then I will have seeds to help with succession planting of certain crops.  I am excited to see how it works out.  I’m hoping it works the way I’m envisioning.  A lot of people seem to have had a lot of success with it, so we’ll see.

One of the first things we learned out here after winter set in, was that the animal manure froze solid to the ground.  Now, you have to understand that as much as I love my animals, I hate two things–unpleasant animal odor and manure laying around.  I just feel there is no excuse in either.  Both are a sign of poor farm management.  It is unpleasant to smell, look at, walk on, and generally be around, not to mention the increased health risks to the animal (and milk in our case) due to poor hygiene in their environment.  Clean pens are one of the first things I look for when considering purchasing an animal (or animal product) from a farm, so clean pens are a big deal to me.  Now, as busy as I am, I obviously can’t clean pens on a daily basis.  However, there are still ways to deal with the issue.  By turning the animals out into the larger pasture, I quickly discovered that I could get away with cleaning pens just 1-2 times each week.  So, as you can imagine, the first time I went out to clean pens after our winter weather arrived, I was totally disheartened to discover that it was absolutely impossible to dislodge the frozen manure from the ice, and the frozen urine puddles quickly became an eyesore.  The snowy weather meant the goats never wanted to leave their shed.  I knew it was time to implement deep bedding to get by.

For those of you not familiar with deep bedding, it is an excellent tool to use for animal bedding–especially in winter weather.  When utilized properly, it prevents ammonia (urine) odors, provides heat through composting (breakdown of manure), provides regular, fresh, clean bedding for the animals, prevents the ground from growing toxic from animal waste, and provides exceptional, ready-for-the-garden compost when spring finally rolls around.  Although it can be used year round, most folks only use it in the winter since it does provide a lot of heat (something that isn’t generally needed in summer!) and because winter is more often the time that animals wind up penned together in smaller spaces.

To get started, you simply put 2-4 inches of a carbonaceous bedding material (wood shavings, straw, hay, etc.) down in a stall as normal.  Then, depending on the number of animals you are dealing with and the amount of space they are in, as the bedding begins to appear soiled, you add another 2-4 inches of carbonaceous material on top.  The nitrogen and moisture from the urine that is absorbed by the lower layer of bedding begins the process of decomposition, while the fresh layer provides clean bedding for the animals.  The decomposition prevents odor.  This process is repeated over and over for the duration of winter.

The only real problem with deep bedding is that it can get very deep very quickly.  I know of a couple of farmers who built their sheds extra tall, and then built their feeders to be adjustable in order to compensate for up to 4 feet of added height as the bedding increased over the winter.  Unfortunately, I do not have this option.  My sheds are short to begin with, and my feeders aren’t adjustable.  So, a couple weeks ago, after I had smacked my head on the rafters one too many times, I had to clean out most of my deep bedding and start the process over.   As usual, my photos don’t show great detail, so you will have to just believe what I am telling you.

This first photo shows my goat shed.  The roughly 8×8 shed has housed 3-5 does at any given time throughout this winter.  We have put roughly 7 bales of straw into this shed for bedding over the winter (not counting the bales stacked in the entry way to form a wall of sorts–you can see it to the left side, in the sun).  In addition, I have used about 3 large bales of pine shavings.  As you can see below, despite all the material, the bedding layer is only about 8 inches deep.  This is because the decomposition process is so incredibly fast.

In order to clean out the bedding, I just had to rake.  Temperatures had been in the single digits and teens at night for weeks, with day highs generally only getting into the 20’s and 30’s on rare occasion.  Everything outside was totally frozen solid, but inside the wide-open shed, nothing was frozen.  In fact, it was warm enough from the active composting going on that I quickly had to remove my coat.  In the next photo, you can see how just a few inches below the surface, it begins to look like dark, rich soil.  It is.  You are looking at pure, nitrogen and nutrient rich compost.

Notice in the above photo that most of the bedding you see is comprised of wood shavings.  Wood shavings are actually the best material to use if you have access to a good supply.  It is the most absorbent, economical (when free), and decomposes the fastest.  Unfortunately, I have to buy it by the bale at retail prices, so I only bed about half way with it.  I use straw for the other half.  Straw/hay can cause problems if you aren’t careful though.  It tends to get wet and mat down, preventing the oxygen required for rapid aerobic decomposition from getting into the bedding.  As I raked, I found about 3 sections where the straw had done just that.  I knew by the smell that I was about to uncover such an area, because rather than the rich, earthy scent of healthy aerobic compost, the anaerobic breakdown smells musty.  You can see the large chunks and mildewey appearance on the underside of this section, which was about a square foot.

Despite the issues with the mildew and mold, though, I was quite fascinated with the scents I did smell as I raked.   I would have expected at least some overpowering ammonia smell after almost 4 months of goat poop and urine collecting into that bedding, but it wasn’t there.  The entire time I raked, all I smelled was a rather pleasant, rich earth smell.  Even in the anaerobic areas, I couldn’t smell the mildew and must until just before I flipped the layer that was covered in it.

In the next photo, it is hard to see, but you may notice the center of the shed floor is much higher than the back and sides.  There is actually a rather large mound of dirt here, almost 4 inches higher than the sides, which I found interesting as well.  We just built and placed this shed last spring, so it hasn’t even been there a year.  It was placed on rather level ground.  The mound was formed by the deep bedding compost, as the center area is where the goats urinate the most.  The extra nitrogen and moisture causes much faster decomposition in that area, than on the sides, where you can still see lots of hay and straw laying on the ground, looking almost fresh.

Obviously, our winter isn’t even close to being over, so after I cleaned out most of the old bedding and compost, I started again with a couple of inches of wood shavings and straw.  I left just enough compost underneath to continue some provision of heat, as well as get the decomposition of the new material off to a faster start.

I want to mention a few other things worthy of consideration with this process, based on my limited experience and research.

  • First, the process can be used outside as well.  Shiloh, our donkey, does most of her elimination along a path on one side of her pen.  Some of the manure gets trampled into bits that can’t be picked up, while other areas just freeze solid before I can clean it out.  Her urine puddles are often in the same areas, which could easily make the soil toxic and kill all the microbes normally found in healthy soil.  As a result, I have found that I can sprinkle a couple of inches of shavings along this path, periodically covering up her poop piles, and adding a little thicker layer over the urine puddles.  Not only does it make the whole area far more pleasant and odor free, but I find the shavings prevent the manure from freezing as solid, which actually allows me to clean it out once in a while.  The heat provided also causes this area to thaw faster than the rest of her pen, which helps on cleaning days as well.
  • Use chickens to aerate the bedding.  All good compost needs to be turned once in a while to keep the oxygen at healthy levels throughout the compost.  I don’t always have time to spend turning entire sheds’ worth of compost and bedding, so I let my chickens do it for me.  All I have to do is periodically allow some goat grain to spill out and get stomped into the bedding.  The goats won’t touch it.  Then, on a nice afternoon after the hens have finished laying, I simply move a few out to the goat pen.  They spend hours happily scratching up all the bedding in order to find bugs, morsels, and old grain that has collected in the bedding over time.  They do such a thorough job that they can totally eliminate the anaerobic areas like I found in my last batch of bedding.  We use the hens a lot more now.  If there is an area they skip for some reason, a simple handful of corn or grain tossed on that area will focus their attention right where you need it.  This mixing process also helps the bedding to compost more evenly, since it helps distribute moist bedding and manure evenly throughout the shed, rather than mounding in certain areas like my first batch did.
  • If you have access to hogs, they can help as well.  We plan to use them at Red Gate.  After a winter of the deep bedding and compost being packed down, it can be quite a chore to dig it up in the spring (as I found with my center mound recently!)  By ensuring some corn is sprinkled into the bedding with every added layer, the mixture results in a fermented and highly desirable feed for the hogs.  They happily dig up all the old layers and turn the compost in search of the corn, which loosens it up for the farmer.  All you have to do is scoop it out and toss it into the garden–all ready composted and just in time for spring planting!
  • A slight variance of this process can be used for rabbits.  As with the larger livestock, we have found the rabbit manure and urine collects and freezes rapidly under the cages, which can quickly lead to intense and unpleasant smells.  We have found, however, that by adding wood shaving liberally into the manure areas (including on the “ceiling” of the bottom cages to collect urine from the top cages), we can totally prevent smells.  The decomposition heats and loosens the frozen manure, which allows us to clean it more often as well.
  • Like the rabbits, a modified version can be used in the chicken coop.  If we ever open our coop one morning and smell the unpleasant aroma of the highly potent chicken manure, I simply toss a pile of wood shavings over the base, toss in some grain to encourage them to dig it around and spread it out, and by mid-day, the smell is totally gone.  If not, I simply add more shavings.  Trust me.  It works.

Well, that’s pretty much it.  I am definitely a big believer in deep bedding.  I am greatly looking forward to being at Red Gate Farm, where S’s lumber mill will allow us to collect enough wood shavings and sawdust to create all the ideal carbonaceous material we could want!  Add a few hogs and hens along the way, and we’ll be set!

We attempted a garden this year.  Due to circumstances, we were unable to properly prepare the soil, so we did the best we could.  Of course, being total newbies and lacking any shade of green in my thumb, I didn’t really expect to get much.  I just wanted to learn as much as I could. 

One of the plants that seemed to actually do well was my tomatoes.  I had 8 plants–6 standard-sized, and 2 cherry.  The problem with tomatoes here is that we have a very short growing season.  Our season runs from about mid-June to early- Septemeber.  Even then, only in August does the temperature really get over 75* on a consistent basis. 

So, we began with tomato starts in hopes of giving the plants time to fruit.  By the end of the season, we had lots and lots of green tomatoes!  I was so excited, but the weather just refused to stay warm enough to make them ripen.  We had green tomatoes for weeks.  Then, mid-September came, and we had our first frost.  By the next morning, the plants were completely wilted.

There were several dozen tomatoes, though, and I decided to experiment with forced-ripening, using two methods I had read about. 

The first method involved pulling the plants out, roots and all, and hanging the plants upside down in a cool, dark place.  My garage seemed perfect.  Everything I read said they would ripen on the vine.

I really wasn’t prepared for how heavy the plants were.  The healthiest 2 were so full of long vines, leaves, and green tomatoes, they probably weighed over 30 pounds each!  Trying to heft them up to the ceiling to hang was hard enough the first time.  When the weight caused my nail to bend and the plants to fall to the ground, I had to devise a new support system to hang them.  Eventually I got it figured out, but not before I wound up with about 40 green tomatoes strewn around the garage. 

The second method I wanted to try was to ripen tomatoes in a dark box in the kitchen.  We collected the healthiest looking ones from the garage floor.  S placed the tomatoes in a box, covered them with moist newspaper, and closed the box. 

Both methods worked to some extent.  However, the second method had a much better outcome overall.  Hanging the plants only ripened about 10% of the tomatoes, while the box resulted in about 75% ripening to red.  (Don’t you love my “about” measurements, and rounded percentages?  You can tell I’m pretty scientific!  😉 ).  Of course, as green as they were when we had to pluck them from the vine, none were the nice, juicy, sweet tomatoes you would expect from home-grown.  They were comparable to store-bought, though, so not too bad.   The children wound up eating most for snacks, and the chickens got a bunch of the ones that either didn’t ripen or wilted first. 

It was a fun experiment, and very interesting to compare the two methods simultaneously.  Nonetheless, next year, I’ll go straight to the box if need be.  It was much simpler, cleaner, and faster.

When we first moved out here, one of the goals we had was to learn how to compost.  We read, we studied, we tried to mix different amounts of organic materials and layer appropriately.  After about 4 months, however, we discovered that the good, rich, humus soil we were aiming for, just wasn’t happening.  So, S pulled out his books yet again, and found a few problems with what we were doing.  He made a few quick and semi-temporary adjustments to experiment, and VOILA!  2 months later, we have a huge pile of beautiful, rich soil, just waiting to go into the garden.  Here is the final system he came up with, with pictures being taken during his last “stirring” of the pile:

This pile originally consisted of weeds, branches, sticks, twigs, manure, hay, straw, wood shavings and chips, garden and kitchen wastes, and even a few, small, dead animals.  In the beginning, as it was being built, it looked like this:

First, there is the crucial, basic set-up.  Mind you, if you simply throw a pile of material on the ground, it will eventually compost.  However, it will take months, or even years, to fully compost, and it will most likely use the less efficient means of anaerobic fungi to do most of the work.  If you want compost to be made quickly and efficiently, it requires an aerobic process that uses all sorts of bacteria, heat, and live critters eating and moving the components around.  You can’t control those components, but you can make the atmosphere inviting to them by creating your pile with several key ingredients: oxygen, nitrogenous materials, carbonaceous materials, and moisture.

The first problem we discovered with our original system was a lack of oxygen.  When he stirred the pile, S found lots of anaerobic fungi, slime, and stink in the pile–signs that no air is getting inside.  A healthy, well-made compost pile should NEVER stink!  Rather, it should smell, rich and earthy, which is more of a pleasent, natural smell.  In the below photo, S has ensured plenty of oxygen by creating a “bubble” of air all around the pile.  In this case, he used pallets, and fencing.

Next, he added back a few layers, thoroughly mixing some soil (which contains needed organisms) with animal manure, leaves, pine needles, straw, hay, etc.  Once that layer was several inches high (no more than about 18 inches), he added more air inlets by way of pvc piping with holes drilled into it.

He then continued layering the pile back together, effectively stirring it up as he did so.  Once the pile was built, he sprayed it down with water to ensure it was moist enough.  He had discovered another, big problem, we had was a lack of moisture.  The atmoshere is so dry here, and the humidity so incredibly low, that moisture just gets sucked right into the air around us.  Our original pile dried out very quickly.  It’s a great thing if you are hanging quilts out to dry, but not if you are trying to compost!  You don’t want the pile soaking, dripping wet, but you do need it damp.  A good way to tell is to grab a handful from inside the pile somewhere.  If you squeeze it, the soil matter (humus) should stick together in a semi-clump, as well as stick to your hands a bit.  If water actually squeezes out through your fingers, it is too wet, and you are risking setting up anaerobic conditions again.  If you open your hand and the matter is more powdery or dry, with no “sticky” or clumping factor, then it is too dry.

In the next photo, you can still see the upper part of the pvc pipes sticking out the top of the soil, and you can just see the spaces under the top section of the bottom pallet, all to help circulate the air.

Because it is so dry here, he also found that keeping our pile covered helps retain the needed moisture.  So, he places a tarp over it, and then has to spray it once or twice a week (dependent on rain and temperatures).

You can see the change it has gone through….from a pile of debris and mixed, individually indentifiable materials, to what is now almost entirely humus with a bit of straw mixed in.  It is quite literally clean and good-smelling enough, that you could sit on top and eat your lunch with no problem!  It was quite fascinating watching how quickly nature broke this stuff down and essentially sterilized it.  This set-up now allows our inner-pile temperatures to get up to 160*F, where it will stay for a couple of days, then gradually taper down.  Once it gets below 100*, S will stir it by digging the whole pile out and simply shoveling it back in, re-assembling as he goes.  These photos were his last stir of this pile.  The temperature doesn’t go as high any longer since most of the breakdown has been accomplished.  Thanks to the temperatures though, most of the unwanted weed seeds should have been killed off.  Within a week or so, it will be ready to add to the garden.

I am greatly looking forward to seeing the difference in next year’s garden, as compared to the weak production from this year.  Plants will have some awesome, natural fertilizer to pull nutrients from, which, hopefully, we can then use to nourish our family.  It is always such a neat reminder to watch something like this and realize, yet again, that God designed things to work a certain way.  That way is so much better–in every aspect–than anything man could ever develop.  God created nature to be a miraculous, highly efficient thing in itself.  We just have to learn how to work with her instead of against her.

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