Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ellie update

Ellie had two stillborn babies this morning.  They were both very small and underdeveloped, so I think they had died awhile ago, although they should have been due about now.  I am wondering if this contributed to her weakness--I know that it can make people ill.  She is very tired but still alive at least.  If I had known she would get so sick, I would never have brought her to the buck.  If she recovers, we won't have her bred again.  She is getting a little old, anyway, for having babies.  Ethan is out there now, cleaning her up and making her comfortable again with some fresh hay and water and green stuff, and I'm going to bring her out some more mullein, vitamin C and nettles later.  I hope that this will give her a chance to fully recover now.

We are very thankful for the rain we are getting right now.  Matlida was a total monster yesterday.  I think she's mad because she thought she was the only one getting milked, and now she's realizing that Mairie gets milked, too.  She was so horrible yesterday, breaking the fences, running around so we couldn't catch her, and periodically goring Mairie and the other cows and having them run through the fence, too.  All I could think about was beef.  I've never seen her act like that before--or any of our other cows be so incredibly malevolent, not even Geranium or Chestnut, who have the excuse of being normally crazy.

This morning when Ethan went to check on Ellie, he saw funny footprints in the sand on the driveway, and thought a bunch of people had ridden horses down it.  Then he saw the cows.  They are all out, they ate all the barley and peanut hay, which we can ill afford at the moment, and I'm sure it's all Matilda's fault.  When we come out later, she's getting stuck in the permanent paddock with a bale of hay until her behavior improves.

Anyway, hopefully Ellie will rest today and be better soon.

Here was Ellie, back when she had Chocolate and May.  She was leaning though the fence to eat Honey's milking ration and the babies were taking the opportunity to nurse.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Freedom Rangers

Our first batch of Freedom Rangers is nearly ready to harvest!
I have mentioned them before, but these were bred in France to meet the high standards of the Label Rouge Free Range program.  They are a slower-growing breed that is better suited to free-ranging and natural rearing systems.  We've noticed that from the very beginning these birds are much more healthy and vigorous compared to the batches of fast-growing Cornish cross chickens we have raised.

As you can see, our chickens are kept safe from predators (and the darn dog) in the Joel Salatin-style movable shelters.  They are raised on pasture and are moved to fresh grass daily.  We mix our own feed from barley, oats, organic corn and organic field peas (no genetically modified grains or soy), and we add fish meal, flax seed, Thorvin kelp, Fertrell's poultry mineral mix, Redmond salt and the high-mineral Desert Dynamin clay from Agri-dynamics.  The feed is soaked with our high-mineral well water and either raw apple cider vinegar or skimmed soured raw milk from our cows for 24 hours.

The price for these chickens is $5 per pound (this price is based on the feed costs, which are enormous.  We don't even factor in the soured milk, as that is a by-product of our cream and butter consumption.  By mixing our own feed we are able to keep the costs at a minimum and maximize the available nutrition).  It's hard to look at a bird on the hoof and estimate how much it will weigh (thus the 40-lb turkey situation we had one year), but they are supposed to grow to be about 3-5lbs.  Some are larger and some are smaller, so if anyone wanted a smaller bird to make it more affordable, we can arrange for that.

If anyone is interested in trying one of our chickens, please write me an email before next weekend!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Garden Update

It's been awhile since I've posted anything.  It's the usual excuses.  I thought I would finally write about the garden again, but gardens grow fast, and it has already grown in the two weeks since these pictures were taken.  We finally put the corn in, and it is several inches high by now.  That's in the middle bed, right above the big green patch.  The green patch will be sweet corn by and by.  We are trying more organized succession planting with the corn this year.

Most of the tomato plants are thriving.  At the moment they have green tomatoes on them.  Tomatoes always take so long being green.

The peppers are doing wonderfully this year, and are blooming and setting fruit.  The hot peppers seem to be growing faster than the sweet peppers.

Most of the eggplants survived, and the Turkish Orange eggplant is already blooming.  I was surprised--last year the eggplants only started producing in late July.

The tomatillos and ground cherries have set lots of fruit, it's only a matter of waiting for it to be ripe.  My kids couldn't stand it and picked a few bitterish under-ripe ones the other day, but they still enjoyed eating them, even though they didn't taste as good as they would have.  I love that about gardens.  Even if it isn't the best, just having grown it and having it right there makes you appreciate it more.

This year, the weather turned very warm very quickly, and so we are struggling much more with the weeds than in previous years.  Inadvertently, this year's garden has become a blend of last year's organized row garden and the previous year's wild garden.  None of the sunflowers I had planted this year are blooming yet, but last year's have re-seeded.  It's really interesting to see how they cross-pollinated, or didn't.  We left most of the sunflowers when we tilled and planted, so they are big and blooming and making the garden very colorful.  One thing I've noticed about sunflowers (and is the main reason I plant them) is that there is something extremely attractive about them to all sorts of insects.  Just one sunflower plant has an ecosystem of different interacting insects on it.  I've seen wasps, assassin bugs, lady bugs, aphids and the sap-sucking true bugs and ants tending the aphids and all sorts of different kinds of bees.
Not only do they attract the beneficial pollinators and predators, they seem to keep the true bugs that in past years would attack my tomatoes and make nasty black dents in them from wanting to go anywhere else.
Other plants that have re-seeded are the zinnias, the cosmos and the Spanish needle.  The Spanish needle (Bidens alba) is very weedy, but in the richer garden soil it does become highly ornamental, and there's not a second of the day that they aren't just buzzing with an incredible diversity of bees and butterflies.

The bad news is that three weeks ago when there was a minor cold snap, the cucumbers, European melons, squash and pumpkins got frosted.  We were completely surprised--it being probably the only place in the county that got frost damage that night (supposedly it only got to 40F).  Strangely, the sweet potatoes, okra, peppers, eggplant, watermelon and cow peas were all fine.  The melons and pumpkins have recovered, but the cucumbers and summer squash have been significantly delayed.  By my April birthday last year we had tons of summer squash and cucumbers, but this year they have only just started making some female flowers at last.  They are usually the first vegetables we get, so we are still buying vegetables from the store now, and my goodness they are expensive.  It's just amazing how much they mark up things like organic zucchini.  Usually we are desperately trying to give zucchini away.
Anyway, the moral, I think, is that every year is different.  Just when you think you've finally figured something out, the Weather Gods thumb their noses at you.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Peach

The peach trees have had a hard year this year.  It frosted just as they were opening their flowers.  However, we got one peach.  And this was it.  It wasn't very pretty.

Everyone got very excited, but when we opened it up it was all rotten inside (no surprise--look at all the bug holes).  So it was a disappointment, but perhaps they will make up for it next year.