Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Starting the Summer Garden

We started the summer garden this weekend!  It's later than most people put their gardens in around here, but a week earlier than last year, when we still had a light frost a week after planting the tomatoes.  We seem to be in an odd micro-climate that gets much colder than other places.  The winter temperatures are closer to that of Monticello, near Georgia, than anywhere close by.

We put in 236 tomato plants, 25 tomatillos and ground cherries and 93 peppers and eggplants, and a bunch of different kinds of basil.  I didn't mean for there to be quite so many.  Last year we only had a single double row of all of those combined.  I only actually started five of each variety, but because the seeds were so old, I started two in each pot, just to be sure we would get one.  Most of them sprouted, and I didn't pinch off the extra ones like you're supposed to, because they looked so little and hopeful.  I had planted them on opposite sides, so it was easy to separate them when I transplanted them.  Most of them look like they are doing well.  A few of them didn't like being separated, but they were the runty little ones, anyway.

I've had a tricky time fitting everything into my garden plan as well as rotating things to places they haven't been for three years.  These were the best spots for the Solanaceous plants.  Next weekend we put in the cucurbits--the melons, watermelons, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers.  I know it doesn't look like much yet, but it's a start!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Growing Things

In between starting the summer garden this weekend, Ethan got some pretty pictures of things starting to grow.  This was a wild persimmon leafing out.

The blackberries are just starting to bloom.

The sheep's sorrel makes some of the fields pink.

The pawpaws are blooming.  I think they are beetle pollinated.  I see beetles all over the flowers.  They look so dressed-up in the greening fields, like fairies going to a ball.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Yesterday I laid out all my summer garden seeds (well, most of them).  I had to stand on the couch to fit them in the picture.  Some of these are flowers and basil varieties, and a lot of them are cowpeas or dry beans that I'm intending to plant in long rows here and there as borders, and so won't take up much space.  Ethan hates how many varieties we have, but I think it's interesting.  He says it gives him heart palpitations.

 We have the nicest collection of melon varieties this year!  The melons were so fabulous last year.  It was such  a delight to eat so many sweet, delicious homegrown melons.  I really hope we get at least that many melons this year.  I'm trying a new kind of watermelon--Gold Baby.  It turns yellow when it's ripe, which would be helpful.  We wasted a few watermelons last year thinking they were ripe and they weren't.  It's so fun to plan gardens, but it never ends up being planted the same way as in my plans.  It doesn't really matter, as long as we get a lot of melons and ground cherries.

More tangibly, I re-potted my tomatoes.  They are already twice this big, as this was from last week.  I think we are going to start putting the garden in at the end of this week.  Ethan has promised to help me with the garden this year, but I have my doubts.  Last year he actually tilled the garden, so there might be hope.  This year he promised to plant the corn and the peppers, but I already had to start the peppers for him so we would get any at all this year.

I recently re-potted them, too.  They seem to be happy.  Last year I tried leaving them in pots in the garden and they nearly all died, so we only got a few really hot peppers, the sweet peppers having withered early in the summer.  I love how much possibility there is in just one seed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


This past weekend we put the recommended minerals and fertilizer from Midwestern Bio-Ag on the grazing lines.  We don't have any fancy equipment, so it's just me tossing them on, but I've gotten really good at spreading the lime, sul-po-mag and fertilizer on evenly and not having any leftover or anywhere unfertilized on each line.  My arm feels like it's going to fall off now, but two lines are done, one nearly done and only one more to go.  I didn't realize how good I'd gotten at it until Ethan tried to help me one evening and I put two bags on before he had even finished one.

This was the sul-po-mag.  It's like Epsom salts with potassium.  This was the soil corrective, along with the pell-lime, because it's very acidic soil--5.8 on the soil test.  The consultant at Midwestern Bio-Ag said that even putting just lime on should make a huge difference.  We won't put any more on for three years until we retest to see if it made any difference and if we need more.  I tried to specifically target the cactus and blackberries when I had any lime left over, because they like acidic soil.  According to Gary Zimmer's book Advancing Biological Farming, different minerals become more available depending on how basic or acidic the soil is.  He says that the reason blueberries need acidic soil is because manganese is so much more absorbable at a low pH, and blueberries need a lot of manganese.  Therefore, it is possible to grow blueberries in a soil with a higher pH if there is plenty of manganese.  Not really a problem here, but I thought it was interesting.  A lot of the minerals that are better absorbed in acidic conditions are the ones that there was a lot of in our soil, interestingly, like iron.

Anyway, we're also putting on the 20-5-5 fertilizer they recommended.  The label also says it has lots of trace minerals that we just don't have here, like copper sulfate, zinc and boron.  They were shocked when we told them we don't put any nitrogen or anything on at all, but I think they didn't quite realize that the grazing lines only existed at all last summer.  We do run chickens over it, but it's not making a very permanent difference, although I'm sure the oyster shell they eat does help with calcium.

Anyway, there are so many things I can hardly wait to see how they turn out.  Are the cows bred?  Will we have baby goats??  Will the Freedom Rangers be tasty?  Will the garden survive?  Will the grass improve?
It's so hard to wait for things to grow.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Things Aren't Getting Done As Fast As They Should Be

So, the week before last Ethan had stopped by Goodwill to get some new farm pants, when he spied a bag of tennis balls for sale and bought them.  This has led to many brutal games of Tennis Ball Tag with Mirin (instead of doing chores/building barn/etc).

To defend himself, Mirin has created Monty Python-style armor out of junk he found laying around the farm.  Here is a colander taped to a broken chicken feeder for a helmet, with a broken galvanized poultry waterer for body armor, and a trash can lid shield.  He wanted me to post a picture up.

In the background you can see his leaf-bag hut he made.  It's wooden pallets nailed together, with a piece of plywood nailed to the top, feed bags stapled on one side and bags of leaves on the others.  The front has a massive chase top Ethan brought home years ago (I'm not exactly sure why) when he worked at the woodstove.  It was made slightly wrong, and had to be disposed of, and honestly it really hasn't come in handy around here in all these years until the kids started using it as the Junk Hut's "porch."
It's actually pretty cozy inside, and the pallets make little shelves.  It's ten times nicer than any of the things we saw built at the Finca Mycol "Earth Skills" gathering we were at two years ago.  The only downside is that we will have to take it apart in a couple of weeks when we need the leaf bags for the garden.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A New Cow

This is Mairie, our new cow.  She has proven to be as un-photogenic as the rest of our animals, so she already fits in.  This is a better picture of her:

Our friend, Karen Sherwood of Ochwilla Hill Farm, whose husband Ed so recently passed away, is needing to decrease her milking herd as soon as possible.  She raises Mini-Jerseys, but has a few larger ones that are only part mini, so we offered to buy one of her larger ones.  Karen said Mairie was a good milker, but is shy and doesn't do well with strangers, and she had to be sold because now different people are going to be taking over the milking responsibilities and she isn't going to be very cooperative.  She is only about as tall as Isla.  She was one of the largest cows there, but will be the smallest in our herd.

She looked like a good cow, although she is about as thin as Matilda, making me realize again that Matilda really isn't all that thin.  I've been comparing her to the sleek fat Jerseys I saw a couple of years ago on a Pennsylvania farm tour, but they have so much better soil there, it's not really a fair comparison.

It was really interesting going to Ochwilla Hill Farm to get Mairie, because I hadn't been there since Rose was a baby, and since we had our farm.  I found myself noticing completely different things this time.  The first time, I mostly noticed how things were laid out.  This time, the first thing I noticed was the soil.  Out there near Melrose is one of those ancient now-land-locked beaches from when Florida was underwater and it's all just drifts of white sugar sand.  Their pasture was growing out of what looked like a sand box.  My hat's off to them, I don't know how they've managed their herd so nicely with that kind of sand.  On our way back, I was looking at the sand on our driveway, which always looks so white and sandy to me, and realizing that it was actually grey sand, and feeling thankful.

Another thing that was really strange was how tiny her cows looked.  When we had stayed there years ago to milk the cows for them while they were out of town, the cows seemed so big.  The smallest ones seemed small, but the larger ones looked enormous and intimidating.  This time they all looked so miniature.  The tallest ones are only as tall as Isla.  I guess our herd is gigantic, and it's changed our perspective a lot!

The first day we milked Mairie we both had to catch her and lead her into the milking stand, and she was so afraid she was trembling.  She calmed down, though, and yesterday she went in to the milking stand all by herself, with only some coaxing and alfalfa.  I think she'll be a good cow.  She seems nice enough, just perhaps a little high-strung.  We really didn't need another cow this year, but this way we'll get milk when Matilda's dried off for calving and Mairie will have another good home.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


 Everything has gotten so green lately.  I've wanted to post pictures of it before, but whenever the sun was just right I was busy feeding the rabbits or something, and by the time I went to get Matilda the sun had set and it was too dark.  The black cherry trees have leafed out and are all blooming now.  The line in the foreground was where we desperately had to put the cows after Richard was gone.  They were only there for a few days, but everything green is gone.  It was only a small area, so hopefully it didn't do too much damage.

These are the higher up grazing lines that we've only just last year had the cows and goats in.  Mostly the goats, because the blackberries scratched Matilda's udder and made it uncomfortable to be milked, and the cows don't eat the browse like the goats do.  They still look much wilder than the first grazing lines.

We gave the cows an entire grazing line, which they have been very much enjoying.  Matilda has started to fatten up noticeably.  She was thin after she got scours during the winter (we're pretty sure it was a virus she'd had from before we got her.  She also had a cough and runny nose and was the only one to get sick).  I'm glad to see her get some meat on her bones.  Every time I've been to other farms and seen other Jersey cows I'd realize she really wasn't that thin, but she was so much thinner than our other cows I couldn't help but worry.  Can you even see the cows out there?  Geranium was to the left of the big pine tree, and Belle, who has been hanging out with the cows lately, is just next to the little plum tree.  The hay bale is on the far end, so they always look like little specks when I get out there.  It's been a little challenging to get Matilda down for milking every day, but once they see me Geranium and Isla come running, and that usually gets Matilda, too

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Piggies

Ethan got new pigs this weekend.  They are the ugliest pigs I've ever seen.  They look like Bavmorda's death dogs from the movie Willow.  Or like someone's cruel science experiment to combine pigs, dogs and rats.  They have long noses, small feet, narrow faces and evil-looking eyes.  They look exactly like the Florida wild pigs, which they probably are.  They have extremely long hair, about 2-3 inches long that sticks straight up along their back when they are upset.
At first I couldn't believe Ethan had bought them, they were so incredibly ugly.  Mirin, who had gone along but spent most of the time while the pigs were being rounded up playing with another kid there, started complaining about them as soon as they were out.  He was saying, "I don't want to eat those pigs, they're too ugly."
Every time I see them, they get a little less weird-looking.  I suppose they should be good, hardy pigs, coming from wild stock.  They were in stark contrast to our Glouster Old Spots, who looked like little pink sausages next to them.  They have been separated for now, so Star and Black ear are free-ranging for the first time in the paddock where the goats just have been.

It was nerve wracking to put them out, because we have so much invested in them, but they are extremely tame and well bucket-trained, and the electric was on along the hog panel fence the old pig area, so they were use to zappy fences.  We had recently gotten a new issue of the Stockman Grass Farmer that had an article on pasturing pigs.  Ethan said he couldn't even look at the article that night, he was too worried they would bust through the fence and escape.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Flowers

The narcissus bulbs I planted in January are blooming.  They are so lovely.  I wish we could have gotten more.  The amaryllis were really pretty, too, while they lasted.  We enjoyed them for a few days, and then May got out.

She doesn't care about electric fences at all, not even at 8,000 volts.  So when she ran out of the tastiest morsels in the new paddock, she escaped.  And now the amaryllis look like this:

Who knew they were so edible?  I thought lilies were poisonous.  The narcissus have proved to be much less palatable, so they are still okay.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Crazy Day

I really wish I had some pictures to put up, because yesterday was a crazy day.  But we were too busy.  It's really too bad, because it would be so exciting to post pictures of Richard the Bull kicking up dirt, shaking his horns, charging and being a total jerk while we tried unsuccessfully to guide him into the trailer.  Or a picture of Matilda with all four feet off the ground, pronging as she charged wildly down the wrong grazing line.  Yes, it was that kind of a crazy day.  

We also had to take the baby chickies out.  They were getting crowded and the deep bedding had reached the point in which the waterer didn't fit anymore.  They grew so fast!  Of course it rained yesterday, and the weather changed, but we gave them some extra shelter, so hopefully they'll be fine.

The biggest thing we had to do yesterday was get Richard home.  He was so expensive to keep, eating an entire round bale himself each week.  Otherwise, he was extremely well-behaved until it came time to be put in the trailer.  He doesn't have a halter or anything to make it easy to catch and lead him.  Eventually, after much hassle and life-endangerment, we got him in.  It was such a relief to drop him off and drive away.  We are going to stick with AI next year.  I hope I'll be better at telling when the cows are in heat by then.

The next exciting thing was moving the cows out to the grazing lines.  We didn't have enough electric wire to put up a line to guide them all in, so we figured we would just lead them with a bucket.  While we were dealing with Richard, we had put Matilda, Isla and Geranium in the milking paddock, which is really too small for them, but we thought it would be quicker than it was.  They spent the whole time goring each other with their horns and fighting over who would eat all the leftover peanut hay.  Chestnut-case got out and ran half way around the 40 acres.

Once we got Richard in the trailer, we let them out and tried to get them excited about the bucket, which they didn't care about in the least.  Instead of following the bucket, they ran bucking and kicking around and around while we tried to catch them.  Ethan caught Geranium, who was by far the best-behaved (yes, that kind of a day), and started leading her up.  Isla started to follow and got distracted.  Matilda evaded me until I finally caught up with her around the feed area, where she was trying to savage the steam rolled barley container.  I caught her halter, but had to weigh her head down with all my weight while she went charging after Geranium, trying to rip away and gore my side with her horns the whole way.  Isla came up from behind us, not wanting to be left behind, and as she passed Matilda and me (kicking up her heels as she went) Matilda switched into stampede mode and I had to let go or be dragged through cactus and small oak trees.

Ethan got Geranium in easily enough, and we both shooed Isla in after, but Matilda went charging along the wrong grazing line to the far end of the property where she was just a little speck.  I was worried she was going to step in a gopher tortise hole an break a leg or something.  She's just too big to move like that (I'll bet she's stiff and sore today, too).  She made an about face and came running back at top speed, but I headed her off and we got her in.  We almost didn't care enough about Chestnut to go catch her, but I got a stick (not to hit her with, as tempting as that might be, to lengthen my arms for shooing), and headed her off over by the calves' paddock.  She went running back, shaking her horns, towards Mirin, who had ignored my dire warnings to stay in the back of the truck, had run up to "help."  From a distance I saw him stop, turn around and run away as fast as he could.  We did get Chestnut back in eventually, and Mirin later told me, "I almost fainted when Chestnut was charging at me!  I could feel her hoof beats thundering on the ground."

On the way to take Richard back we finished reading The Hound of Ulster, in which Cuchulain and his charioteer alone are holding off Queen Maeve's army at the North Gap so they can't steal the Brown Bull of Ulster.  I would have let Connact come and take the Brown Bull if they'd wanted too, only they'd have to get him in the trailer themselves.