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Harvesting The New Garden

zucchini potatoes and tomatoes 

When I started this garden, I didn’t have high hopes. Due to several factors, I had not put a garden in the ground for years. There were the raised herb beds (self-sustaining for the most part), and I planted garlic now and again in the raised bed, and occasionally grew a tray of greens inside, but a full scale, planted-in-the-ground garden had taken a back seat to everything else going on in life. We supported, and still support, our local farm markets for the vegetables we wanted. This year, even before pandemics and stay-at-home orders, I felt the pull of growing vegetables again.

So I fenced in a 32’x32’ section of the old pig pasture (which was a 100’x100’ garden before that), did a couple of rounds of tilling, hoed trenches, and started planting. Potatoes, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and various brassicas filled the in-ground garden. Jalapeños, poblanos, and more brassicas went in the space available in the raised beds. I put down straw, said a little prayer, and hoped to get something edible at the end of it all.

The weather warmed, the weeds grew, but so did the vegetable plants! Lovely rows of onions, a tumble of potato plants, tomatoes spilling through the cages and needing retrained up the wire. The cucumbers didn’t make it (I think they were too small when I put them in), and the brassicas were enjoyed by some rogue chickens (and a plethora of cabbage worms – how had I forgotten about cabbage worms?!), but the zucchini were oozing in every direction, and the blooms on the peppers started to get my hopes up for a harvest.

close up of potatoes

It took several evenings to get the 3.5 rows of potatoes dug, but I ended up with about 10 pounds of smallish potatoes. The brassicas were a complete loss, as were the poblanos. Did you know that chickens love poblanos?! I couldn’t figure out why I had a pepper hanging there one day, and by the next day, it would be gone. Until I saw the culprit noshing away at one. They didn’t bother the jalapeños at all, so the harvest from that was about 15 peppers from 3 plants. The zucchini? That’s the one plant I knew would do well – I’ve never killed zucchini yet (knock on wood...). They are still blooming, but so far, five large zucchinis. Most of those went in the dehydrator for zuke chips.

I planted about 75 total feet of onion sets. I recently pulled a couple for what I was making for supper – like the potatoes, they were on the small side, but there will be storing onions in the pantry!

close up of tomatoes

The five tomato plants are still producing. I planted what I thought were cherry tomatoes, but; they ended up being grape tomatoes. Such tiny things – only about four cups worth at this point. Good snack, though. I won’t plant those again – back to sandwich size varieties next year. I much prefer a good tomato sandwich to this snack-size variety. Speaking of tomato sandwiches, I had no idea there were so many ways to make the “perfect” sandwich. My way is hamburger bun, greens, cheese (that’s a new addition after a whole pile of people suggested it!), tomato, mayo. One friend puts avocado on hers, some toast the bread or bun...the possibilities are endless!

I learned a lot from this garden. Among other things, tilling ground that has been a pasture for several years is hard work, and needs a proper tiller, not the one-foot wide mini-tiller I have. I would have done well to have spaded the areas as I needed to plant – that would have loosened things up more. The onions and the potatoes were not able to get very far into the soil, and I believe that was the reason for the small size and yield. Second, make sure to have some sort of brassica dusting powder on hand if I want a harvest! Cabbage worms are no joke – they can decimate a plant in what seems like seconds. A third thing I learned was straw is my friend. It was so much easier to weed and maintain the strawed-down areas.

This ground is good and healthy. It just will need a bit of work to soften it. Next year I will spade where I plant to see how that helps loosen up the soil, and I will keep planting root crops to further break things up.

How is your garden harvest this year? Did you have any crops that were great successes, or great failures?

Eau du Goat, Or, What Is That Smell?!

goat profile view
Showing off for the camera...

Goats stink. Specifically, bucks stink. Fortunately, they don’t stink all the time, but when it’s breeding season, grab your gas mask because it’s bad...really bad! It’s currently breeding season for my Kinder goats, so “buck stink” is in the air.

Meet Spock, my Kinder buck. Spock was born in March of 2019, so he’s a young boy, but he is filling out and becoming a fine looking buck. He arrived on the farm in May 2019, did his one-and-only-job very well, with four kids that arrived at the end of February 2020 (I wrote about them in a previous blog). Maybe it was because he was younger, but I don’t remember him smelling that bad last summer. Boy, was I in for a surprise when the does came into heat this year.

As you can see, Spock has a lovely beard. It usually is a beautiful grey/white/black mixture. Right now, the white and grey are a not-beautiful yellowish hue, as is his nose. I can’t think of a delicate way to put this, so here goes. His beard and nose are now yellow because he pees on himself. There you have it, folks, the secret to goat love. Urine. While a “why do goat bucks smell” search will yield oodles of information and anecdotes about stinky bucks, the short story is that bucks spray themselves to attract the does, who find it irresistible.  

(As an aside, I taught junior high and high school for 20 years. I remember Axe body spray. If you’ve ever been around a young human male who uses a product like that, I see an astonishing similarity. Some days, my eyes would be watering as the kids would change classes.)

As if this weren’t enough, bucks also have scent glands near their horns that are triggered by testosterone. The combination is a heady brew that sticks to my clothes when I walk anywhere near his pasture. When I have to enter the pasture, Spock will come up for pets and neck scratches (he is very much a friendly and calm little guy, but as with all male animals, I keep a close eye on him), leaving me to smell like buck for hours. And that’s after washing with handfuls of soap! The smell does not go away quickly.

goat with mouth open
Spock definitely thinks he's all that. He may be all that, but all that really smells!

I am incredibly thankful that Spock is the only stinky boy I have – the Shetland rams develop an odor when their breeding season begins in September, but it is nowhere close to the near-visible cloud of goat buck smell. My first ram, Sven, had a slight musky odor to him, and my current ram Marcus, has no smell that I can notice, but that may be due to my olfactory system overloading on the reek that is Spock.

Smells are part of life on any farm. Tractors, seeds, inputs (I’m not a fan of the smell of fertilizer!), animals, plants, they all have distinct smells. Some only happen at certain times of the year, like goat breeding season or corn on a hot summer night, and some are more constant, like tractors and the wooly smell of sheep. As much as it may make me gag a little right now, I know the smell will go away once breeding season is over, and it also starts the anticipation for next spring’s goatlings. That’s worth it, but wow, does he stink.

What are your favorite/least favorite smells around the farm/homestead? Is there a smell that has stuck with you (figuratively!) over time as particularly nice (or not!)?


Chicks, Cleaning, And Canning

chickens and chicks outside
Golden Buffs join our motley crew of free-range chickens

Time flies when you’re having fun, or in this case, when you’re working through the farm project list. These last few weeks have been filled with lots of “getting ready for winter” activities to make life better for humans and beasties, along with some cleaning up and clearing out of items no longer needed on this farm. That last part makes life better for me because I don’t have to move those unneeded things around!

Speaking of beasties, we got a batch of chicks from one of the Ohio hatcheries at the end of July. Our laying hens are getting up there in age, and egg production was beginning to drop, so instead of waiting until April or May of next year to get chicks in, we decided to get a late summer batch. I’ll be feeding them all winter while they grow, but hopefully, they will start laying once spring comes. I had heard good things about the Golden Buff (aka Golden Comet, depending on who is selling them) being a good chicken for pasturing/free-ranging, so we got two dozen of them. They’re not even two months old and are already ranging around with the older hens. They are active little chickens, they stay close to the buildings (well, at least right now – we’ll see if they get more adventurous as they grow), they know me as the Food Bringer, and they all go in the coop at night. I like them a lot so far!

Cleaning and canning have been the other two big-ticket items on the list. It constantly amazes me how I can cut piles and piles of brush in the spring, and have to do it all over again in the fall. It simply doesn’t end. Ever! More honeysuckle to cut down, more trees growing next to buildings, more spaces that have grown up that need cleared out. I had to start a new brush pile to handle all the debris that has accumulated in little piles here and there. I’m glad the temperatures are dropping below the 80 degree mark – makes it much easier for me to work outside, although I now need to be mindful to not overwork myself on any given day.

Food preservation has been going well – the shelves are starting to fill up with a little of this and some of that. We have an orchard nearby where I can get peaches and apples. A friend gave me a box of pears from her family’s orchard. I had the onions and jalapeños from my garden, but had to buy some local tomatoes to put up salsa. Zucchini went into the dehydrator and also the freezer. Another friend has a pawpaw patch at their home. I went picking there the other day and tried my hand at a pawpaw butter recipe I found on the internet. Didn’t turn out too bad! Being on Facebook helped a lot to find “tried and true” recipes and sources for local fruits and veg. Each time I stand in my kitchen with canning supplies all around me, spatters on the stove, sink full of pots and pans to wash, and a load of food debris to take to the chickens, I am very thankful for both the ability and means to preserve my own food, as well as the abundance of local foods I have to choose from to do so. I’m also thankful for the availability of grocery stores and the variety of fresh, frozen, and canned foods on the shelves.

bucket of pawpaw fruit
Very thankful for my friend and her pawpaw patch

And I need to get the garlic in the ground – we’ve already had light frosts the last two nights! I’ve been buying garlic from friends of ours and saving out the largest cloves to plant in my raised beds. Growing garlic is fun to me – you put it in the ground in the early fall, it starts to grow a little bit, then just holds on for the winter. Come spring, the shoots green up, and by summer, you have garlic ready to harvest! I usually cover mine with some straw or leaves. Since the leaves aren’t falling quite yet, I guess it will be straw this time.

garlic cloves
Garlic cloves, ready to plant!

Lest anyone think that these are the only things I’ve been up to, never fear! There is still fence to install and fence to repair (and even some fence to take down), people and beasties to care for (including myself!), fiber and pottery, walks to enjoy, stories to write, winterizing to complete, and I’m even planning what to grow in next year’s garden!

How are you planning for winter? Any projects that need finished before the snow flies?

Even Burdock Is Useful

close up of bee on burdock 

A trip to the garden the other evening to harvest potatoes led to a learning experience that I wasn’t expecting. As I’m turning soil to bring the last rows of potatoes to the surface, I slowly process the hum coming from the perennial garden on the other side of the fence. Straightening up, all I see is a giant mess of weeds in the center part (the weather turned hot, and except for the area around each of the perennials, the maintenance stopped)  – chicory, aster, some jimson, ragweed. And burdock. Lots and lots of burdock.

Chances are, you’ve had an experience with this member of the Asteraceae family that was the inspiration for our modern hook-and-loop (brand name “Velcro”) fasteners. The plants (at least on my farm) can grow over five feet tall, and the leaves at the base can be three feet in diameter. After flowering, the heads turn into those horrible, clothes-grabbing, fur-tangling seedpots. I’m convinced that those burrs are magnetic and/or heat-seeking, especially when it comes to getting caught up in animal hair and wool. I’ve walked pastures over and over in a season, and just when I think I’ve found all the burdock plants and removed them, the dogs or sheep will walk by, and I’ll see burrs on them that weren’t there before. It’s completely maddening, and I cut them down or pull them out wherever I see them around the farm. It’s a never-ending job, but it beats pulling them out of wool and fur after they are already attached.

bee on burdock

I looked around the weedy area, thinking about getting the machete out to cut everything down, and still hearing the humming. Then I saw them – pollinators!! Once I saw the first honeybee, I could see them everywhere, along with a variety of “bumble” bees, wasps, tiny bees and flies, butterflies (lots of Monarchs!), and moths. No wonder I could hear something with so many pollinators out there! There were some on the white and purple asters, but the vast majority were feeding on the burdock flowers. I stood there for at least five minutes just watching and learning that this much-disliked weed is a useful pollinator plant. There are many other flowers and plants blooming right now, but with so many options on one plant, the burdock certainly presents itself as a pollen and nectar buffet. The longer I watched, the more I was convinced that my “hack and slash” campaign against nature’s Velcro would have to wait until they finished blooming. That would only take a week or two at the most. And with no animals waiting on this area, nightmares of burr-laden wool evaporated into the cool evening air. This unintentional pollinator habitat was safe.

Later on that night I was thinking about how there got to be so much burdock in that pasture-turned-perennial-garden. We concluded that it was due to having pigs in that area for a few years. As they rooted, they stirred up the soil (and well-buried seeds of all the weeds that ended up growing), and with the lack of attention this year, well, the burdock and friends had free rein to shoot for the stars. I’m guessing next year will bring more burdock, but now that I know what can happen, I will be more intentional about where I let it grow. Our perennial bushes are around the perimeter of this garden and there will be a hugelkultur raised bed off to one side, leaving several areas in the center available for burdock to do its thing. Under careful supervision, of course!

burdock plant and flowers

I realize that burdock may not be a typical plant grown for pollinators, especially on a farm with wooly and furry beasts. Still, it seems to be quite useful as just that, and also fulfills one thing I love – it needs no fussing for germination and growth! With careful management, burdock might end up as a tended perennial around here. And those are words I never expected to say!

What plants that are regarded as weeds or nuisances have you left to grow around your farm/homestead? I’ve also read that burdock can be used as food – have you eaten any parts of burdock?

My Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

sheep in green grass 

I appreciate living in an area that has all four seasons, five if you count “mud” as a season! I know that I will have months of sunshine and rain, making the green grass for the beasties to eat, and there will be enough of that grass for me to fill the barn with hay for those months of cold and (usually) snow. It may get stinkin’ hot and humid for four months or so, but there are trees and shelters for shade, with plenty of water to keep the troughs full. It’s comforting to know that the overall cycle will continue even when the details change.

However, I’m not above saying that I have favorites. Autumn tops the list, followed by Spring, then Winter, and Summer at the rear of the pack. Mud season comes in even “laster” than Summer. I should have something nice to say about Mud Season, but I’ll need to think on that one for a bit!

Summer has the most glaring negatives for me – heat, humidity, and biting insects being the big three. On the plus side, Summer also means fresh garden vegetables, baseball, filling the barn with hay, all the animals out on pastures and growing like the weeds in my garden, and our “farmer vacation” at the fair. It’s not a go-stay-somewhere vacation, but during fair week, we do the morning chores, head to the fair for a few hours, come home to take a nap, do the evening chores, and usually head back to the fair for the evening. And that’s as close to a vacation as it gets around here, although we will be missing the fair this year. And did I mention baseball?!

Winter is surprisingly more tolerable for me, due to the lack of humidity. Of course, the brutal cold temperatures we sometimes get make working outside nearly impossible, but (hopefully) all of the major outdoor projects have already been finished. If not, well, it can usually wait. The beasties are snug in their barns with as much hay as they can eat, and we can work on the indoor projects that took a back seat when the weather was warm. Plus, it gets dark around 3pm (ok, maybe a bit later than that!), so there’s not much daylight to work outside even when it’s a nicer day. It’s a good time to plan.

winter snow and fence

Spring arrives, the weather warms, and the grass starts growing. I’m tired of working inside and want to get out of the house to do everything, even when it’s too early! The garden beckons, but the ground is too cold to plant anything. The lambs will be here soon, and I hope “soon” means after the last frost date. They don’t pay much attention to when I would like them born, though! I want to get everything done before dear Summer arrives, but pacing is important. Our springs have been very short recently, so there’s not much time between “too cold” and “too hot.” We also tend to have flooding in late Winter/early Spring – not a fan!

flooded field in spring

I have thought of some things to say about Mud Season, not sure how “nice” they are, though. First, it keeps me focused. When you are slogging through any amount of mud to get from Point A to Point B (especially the boot-sucking-off mud in February after a week of above-freezing temperatures), it takes focus and concentration to keep your feet under you. Especially if you’re on uneven ground or carrying something. Movements are slower, more methodical, more deliberate. I’ve been distracted while plodding through mud and ended up flat on my back. Which leads to another thing about Mud Season – it keeps me humble. I can walk over the same stretch of muddy ground five times with no problems, and I’m looking at the sky on the sixth time. Sometimes I think the mud can sense an uptick in my ego!

muddy boots and footprint in mud

Autumn is the high point, my most wonderful time of the year. And not for the pumpkin spice that appears where you least expect it! Less humidity and cooler temperatures increase my outdoor productivity in a last burst of energy before Winter. If the weather is right, we’ll get a beautiful show of the trees in their reds, golds, and browns. I love the calm that this season gives, easing everyone into the coming cold. It’s getting dark earlier, baseball is wrapping up, projects are moving inside. Finish prepping the barn for the sheep and goats, roll up the water hoses, install tank heaters for the water troughs. I wouldn’t say work comes to an end as the temperatures drop, but there is a noticeable slowing down or at least a shift in mindset from doing to planning. After the frenzy of Spring and Summer, that shift is most welcome.

golden maple leaves in fall

What is your favorite season? What draws you to that time over any other time of the year?

Why Shetland Sheep And Kinder Goats?

brown Shetland sheep
My Shetland ram, Marcus

My first experience with sheep was raising Corriedales for 4-H. I enjoyed 4-H immensely, even though I had the only sheep projects in my club and one of the few (I may have been the only one) with Corriedales at the county fair. Being in junior high and high school, I’m pretty sure I didn’t internalize as much sheep-rearing information as I probably should have, but when I decided to get a few sheep for the farm, I discovered that just about everything I remembered regarding Corriedales was woefully outdated. Yes, they were still a natural white/cream-colored sheep and reasonably friendly. But beyond that, I learned after I brought four of them home that they were no longer the right sheep for what I wanted to do. That had a lot to do with my nostalgia, and nothing to do with the breeder of those sheep.

To my dismay, the breed had been “improved” in the intervening years, was now taller and heavier, had absolutely no personality at all, and did not do well on pasture. Again, the breeder was not to blame for this, and I was so stuck on getting Corriedales (based on my remembrance of them) that I wasn’t seeing the current sheep clearly. Once the sheep were on my farm, I realized that this was not going to work, and set about looking for another breed that would be of a manageable size, do well on pasture/hay without needing much (or ideally, no) grain, and had interesting personalities.

And that’s when Shetlands came to the top of the list. I had considered them before getting the Corriedales, but again, I really wanted the Corries to be what I remembered. When they weren’t, I found that the Shetlands should have been my first choice all along. Everything I read and the several breeders I messaged with all agreed – as heritage sheep that have not been “mucked with” genetically, Shetlands are thrifty, good on just grass and hay (although grain is a good bribery tool!), only grow to about 28” at the withers, and have personality. So I talked with a breeder in the next county and made the arrangements to pick up three ewes and an unrelated ram. In short order, I discovered just how well these pint-sized beasties would fit our plans for the farm. They are friendly, a perfect size for me to work with solo (shearing, hoof trimming, any needed shots/meds), eat just about everything (including honeysuckle – yay!), are easy to train (when they want to be trained...haha!), come in a variety of natural colors, and are just plain interesting to be around.

sheep and goats in pasture
Some of the 2020 lambs mowing the grass for me!

All of the above also applies to the Kinder goats we now have. Before we got any of the sheep, we had some full-size Nubians and Boers – all does, as we didn’t want to breed. They did a great job of clearing out overgrown areas, and made my job of trimming trees and removing deadwood a lot easier. The full-size goats we had were all very friendly, but several of them were used to a grain ration and had a hard time transitioning to a grass-based diet. As they aged and we thought about replacing them, it became harder to find goats that weren’t bred for the show ring or breeding/meat production, so this got me looking to find a goat that would “match” the Shetlands. Enter the Kinders.

According to the website for the  breed association, the first Kinders (pronounced like “kindergarten”) were born in Washington state in 1983 when Nubian does had been bred to a Pygmy buck. They are excellent milkers, and can also be used for meat. The maximum accepted height at the withers for bucks is 28” and 20-26” for does. This matches perfectly with the Shetlands - I had discovered that our remaining full-size goats had started bullying the smaller Shetlands, which was certainly not acceptable.

three Kinder goats in pasture
Three of the Kinder goats. Back to front - Stuck (so named because she kept getting stuck in fences when she was smaller!), Spock (the buck), Joey

I worked with two Kinder breeders to get a buck and an adult doe, who came with her four (yes, four!!) kids, for a total of one buck, four does, and one wether. Like the Shetland sheep, the Kinders are easy for me to work with, are doing great on pasture, and all have their own  unique personalities. I can safely say that none of my animals are dull and boring, although some days, boring would be a nice change!

If you are considering adding sheep or goats to your farm or homestead, check out Shetlands and Kinders. I was able to get stock from registered breeders that are all three hours or less from me, from people who are not just selling an animal, but were genuinely interested in me and what my goals were with the animals. Good breeders won’t just take your money and toss an animal in your trailer, but try their best to help you after the sale as well.

Visit breed association websites and Facebook pages, make contact with several breeders to find your options, read about the experiences other people have had with the breed you are interested in getting, and have a clear idea of the goals you have for these animals. I found out the hard way that the sheep I originally bought were not going to work with the goals I have, but I was able to get sheep and goats that did align with those goals. And that has made everything less stressful and more productive.

What livestock have you added to your farm/homestead? Have you had an “oh no, these aren’t the right animals for me” moment?

That’s Not A Pasture! Or Is It?

As I write this today, my “nursery flock” has been given a very important task to complete – mow the berms of the driveway. With three adult sheep plus five lambs, and one adult goat and four goatlings, this should only take two or three days. There are only about 12-18 inches on each side between the driveway and the fences, and it’s about 100 feet long. Doesn’t seem like a big enough area to even bother putting them in, and I’ll still have to do some trimming of the greenery that they didn’t eat (mostly the stemmy, overgrown grasses, and a bit of stinging nettle). What’s the point, then?

For one, it’s super easy for me to block off this section of driveway with a 16’ cattle panel on each end. I clip the panel to the fence on each side and boom! Instant pasture! I just make sure to schedule “driveway eating day” on a day I know we’re not expecting any deliveries – it’s very confusing to the mail lady and other delivery services when there’s a cattle panel with orange flagging tape blocking their way! If I need to leave the farm for some reason, I can always cut through one of the yards. And it’s not an imperative that the driveway berms be eaten down quickly, so I can open up one of the pedestrian gates that you see in the pictures and lead the flock into one of those pastures. The top gate leads to a “regular” pasture, and the bottom gate goes into our front yard. We fenced in the yard for the dog to have a place to run around, but it’s a fairly large yard, and I really don’t like mowing, so it doubles as a pasture. The dog also has a “back yard,” so she always has outside access, even when there are sheep and goats in the front!

sheep and goats grazing driveway
Today's view from my desk - sheep and goats doing the mowing!

Another reason I put them on the driveway? All grass is food! Don’t get me wrong, I do mow areas around the farm, but if it’s possible, I like to have the beasties do what they do best, and I’ll come in after them for any touch-up work that needs done. I don’t have close-mown pastures with nary a weed in sight. My farm is messy, overgrown, weedy, with honeysuckle and other “nuisance” flora. And the flock simply LOVE that stuff. It took a few years of grazing, but I discovered that sheep and goats can kill a thriving honeysuckle bush. You read that right! I thought nothing could kill honeysuckle, and was proven wrong. It just took time. That started my change in mindset about pastures – what the edible stuff should look like, and the footprint of the pasture itself. If an area has a good amount of grass and forage, and I can get fencing around it, it becomes a temporary pasture. I have enough of these areas (and a small enough flock) that I can rotate them through each area several times a year. And each year, I notice the greenery is a little more verdant, a little thicker, and the plants I don’t want growing there (poison hemlock, for example) are a little less noticeable. I’ll have to write about the corral/loafing area next to our barn sometime – from cow-trampled mud and noxious weeds to grassy sheep pasture!

sheep and goats eating grass
Cattle panel across the driveway to create a temporary pasture

I know this system won’t work for everyone, but I encourage you to look at your land with new eyes – what can I temporarily fence in (with electric, netting, panels, etc) for my animals to graze and cut down on my time spent maintaining?

Have you turned a greenspace into a pasture (temporary or permanent)? Was it a success? I’d love to see what you did!

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