Thursday, October 24, 2013

Last of the Harvest

Final harvest of the year.
 (l to r: peanuts, drying pole beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and southern peas)

Wendy the sheep is happy to clean up after the harvest, and maybe leave a little fertilizer too!

Smiling, as usual. Every new thing in the garden makes him laugh- shiny seeds hiding in wrinkled cases, pots with dirt to dump and spread, scratching chickens and munching sheep.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Good Eats to Keep

 Fall is getting on and with it a ripe harvest of the 'keepers', pantry stock that stores just as it is.

Pumpkins, gourdseed corn, southern peas and a sneak peek of the sweet potatoes to come.

                                     And here are my three sweet pea shelling sons!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Spring Harvest and Summer Plantings

   It has been a very busy spring leaving little time for blogging. The cool weather stayed on well into May, and pushed the main season crop planting about a month later than usual. In some places, like the beds of winter wheat above, I had to wait for the sun's ripening heat to harvest the over wintering cover crops, or, in the case of rye, the grain heads to go into the pollen stage to chop them into mulch. In others, the ground was simply not warm enough for the spring veggies to take off. But this weather has been great for greens. We have been enjoying daily salads and the main bulk of our lettuce has not even been harvested yet. We are going to have to find someone to share it with, because with temps climbing into the 90's this week, it's going to bolt really fast.

After a winter cover of cereal rye and hairy vetch are cut down into mulch and decomposed for a couple weeks, my Three Sisters beds are planted. Here is Cherokee white flour corn, Selma Zesta pole beans and Princess pumpkins, all planted from seeds saved the previous year.
  Managing a continuous garden can have unforeseen challenges. I like to try new things and it is easy to lose focus and get sidetracked. For instance, I had bought some discounted organic potatoes from the grocery store and decided to plant some in my garden when they started to sprout in early spring. They were doing very well, until heavy rains and warm weather brought the first signs of early blight on a couple plants. I fixed a horsetail tea spray, and this seemed to halt the spread temporarily. But as the spring continued, I realized that I was going to have to baby these plants with regular applications if I wanted a mature crop. So I decided to go ahead and harvest them as new potatoes and plant my relatively care free specialty, the Three Sisters, in their place. The potatoes had broken up the soil nicely and the bed still had plenty of compost mulch that the soil had not finished "eating", plus the leaves and stems of the potato plants that were returned to it. And since the focus on my garden is on heirloom grains grown in polyculture, (there is currently no one at my local farmer's market selling this, so it is also a business goal) I decided to assign the potatoes the function of support crop, like a weed suppressing cover with the harvested new potatoes as icing on the cake. And that was some yummy icing! We ate them almost every day and they were gone in a week. Also, I do have a second bed of later planted potatoes growing with rye and vetch that seem to be escaping the blight, and three of the kids have some in their hugelkultur beds that were planted even later along with tansy. So we may end up with a good harvest, all from about $4 worth of discounted spuds. Here's to good eating- past, present and future!
Our anniversary breakfast made from our own hens' eggs and our homegrown new potatoes.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Love the Earth

Spring dandelion greens and crowns harvested from the garden.

Roasted dandelion root "coffee"

A hastily woven honeysuckle basket to bring up eggs, herbs and greens from the garden.

Omelets and salad for lunch!
The goal of Permaculture is, as my sister Marianne put it so well, to enable a landscape to take care of itself. That includes the humans on the landscape, who exist in partnership with the other residents. Each member provides not only for itself, but for the other members. This is done passively, but humans, of course, have the moral imperative to do it actively.                        

In Nature, there is no waste. Every "output" is another's "input", and no nutrients are lost. Rather, they are accumulated as biomass as long as the sun shines and there are tree leaves to photosynthesize. It is from this natural tendency toward abundance that we must track our existence, meeting our needs in a way that replenishes, rather than extracts and leaves compromised, denuded landscapes behind. Indeed, is it worth mining for minerals or fuel if it brings up salts and harsh metals, too much, too many at a time so that the land and water supplies are poisoned? Is it worth slashing the rainforest to grow cash crops for our addictive, high carb diets (and replacing the foraging diets of our livestock, too) if, after a couple seasons the rain washes away the topsoil, leaving bare places where nothing can grow? This can only be kept up for so long before there is nothing but desert, and no carbon sink. Or perhaps our worldview secretly gloats over the earth's destruction, and we think we will be among the holy, chosen few to drift above it all in pure, spiritual bliss if we just believe correctly. 

I have found that both the search for gold and the search for holiness are equally to be avoided, and both stem from a fear of some sort of death. The hero complex that sees Nature as "red in tooth and claw", the parochial patriotism to defend one's own against the constructed Other, and infuse it all with religious zeal...I hope to never walk that path again. Like Alyosha Karamazov, when his faith was in crisis, the expected miracle so long in coming, he remembers his mentor's love the earth. And this is the only fiction to ever make me cry (I am not the sentimental type)- he falls to the ground and embraces and kisses the cold clay. Yes, clay. Here. It is what we are all made of. It is where constant miracles take place. Where seeds spring to life, the ancient Christian hope for our bodies. And this reverence for earth, for life, is the essence of truth in all religions and belief systems that contain it. Love the earth. 

"For God so loved the world..."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Holy- you know what

Here are two piles of future fertility. Weed seedy pasture grasses are part of the mix, which just means more stuff for the chickens to eat that I don't have to plant or buy.

Yesterday I cleaned out both chicken houses in the backyard. We have a greatly reduced, older flock in the back of four hens and a rooster, but they still generate a significant amount of black and white gold, even with the deep litter method, to warrant the occasion. 

The deep litter method involves putting fresh bedding over all the richness until it's as deep as you want. The layers beneath slowly compost and can help keep the place warm in the winter. However, my stores have dried up and the weather has been so wet that it has not allowed enough time for our wealth of fallen leaves to dry enough to shred and bag up. And I wanted to get some cover and pasture crop growing around the fruit and nut trees planted in the chicken pen before they wake from their winter's dormancy.
After spreading my treasure around, I need to put up some protection from the chickens  before I sow the seeds.
The inexpensive netting is stretched between a few posts, pinned to the ground using snips of old fence wire, and extended to form baffles at the top with forked sticks and scraps of twine.

Now I can sow and water (gravity fed with the rainwater collection system I built on the nearby tractor shed last year)  safely while the chickens pace the perimeter in frustration. Yes, as soon as I started throwing down seed, the rooster came over and began chattering excitedly. The hens quickly joined him to see what the fuss was about. A good test for the net barrier, which did the trick.
A good afternoon's work. A blog post of euphemisms. Just wait until the coffee kicks in.....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mobbing Along the Meadow

My day begins before dawn. I sip coffee and work on my computer stuff before the activity begins. The sun pops up and then the kids pop up, one at a time. There are breakfasts to get and lamb's milk to warm, and then, once the kids have dined, dressed and the baby diapered, it's time to do the chores.

First, the lambs are let out of their paddock and posts are driven in at the corners to secure it for the pigs.

Next, the pigs are let through to root in the paddock the lambs grazed in the day before.
Posts are driven in to secure the sides of the panels.
The three panels where the pigs used to be are moved to create a new paddock joined to the other one. Then the lambs follow their little mistress into their fresh grazing quarters.
The chicken tractor follows the general path of the sheep and pigs. It is moved to fresh ground on dry days. 

The tall, dead grass from last fall is cut a bit at a time with a sickle to provide fresh bedding for the animals, though enough is left standing to give the chickens plenty of hiding places from hawks.

The spent bedding is spread over the rooted up pasture after the pigs have gone through.

Some areas in the pasture stay green all winter. The dead stalks insulate from the cold, as well as the thick layer of humus below. More biomass exists in the areas where the slope levels off, as it collects the overland runoff from the higher ground during rain showers. Terracing the land for this purpose can greatly increase it's productivity.

Another small resident waits eagerly for a stray seed to grab from pig's breakfast.

Here is a small, terraced garden where the pigs and chickens grazed last fall. It has been divided into beds and paths, and sown with cover crops. The paths are sown with perennial clover. The work is done a bit at a time when there is a break in the rain and a couple of fair days to dry it out enough to work the broadfork.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hugelkultur and Water

Last year I bought a stella sweet cherry tree from and planted in my garden. I saw it leaf out in the spring and then slowly die from the top down. What I learned later was that it was really dying from the bottom up. That is, the roots rotted in the waterlogged soil. This kind of tree does not like wet soil. Enter hugelkultur. Credit goes to Paul Wheaton with his article about it on, where I was introduced to the concept, and with the ongoing discussions, experiments and successes going on at the forums, I gathered enough information to recognize it as a potential miracle. Self fertilizing, self irrigating- and it also happens to be a kind of raised bed. Thus add self aerating to the mix. Just what I needed. Hugelkultur is basically a mound of soil on top of rotting wood. The wood acts as a sponge, holding water for much longer than in a regular garden bed, and it also acts as a substrate for beneficial fungi. There is a symbiotic relationship between plant roots and fungus mycelia- a sort of nutrient exchange that goes on between them. Some relationships are species specific, but I am taking a gamble that a more general exchange also happens, or that the bed creates the ideal conditions to facilitate the evolution of symbiotic fungal-bacterial-plant root polycultures. We'll see.

Gurney's nursery promises to replace any tree as long as your garden exists. So I e-mailed them and they were as good as their word. A new one was sent this past week. It arrived Saturday, on a rainy day. It came as a bare root and needed planting that day. So I had to construct the bed in mucky soil. Not the best day for excavation. First, I used an A-frame level to make sure I placed the bed along a contour. This is so it would receive runoff evenly. I removed the sod, then a little soil beneath it. Next, I added a layer of old, rotting firewood, then returned the sod upside down, followed by the last of the excavated soil. I dug another layer of the clay subsoil on the uphill side of the bed to create a small swale, packing the clay into the side of the bed at the bottom edge.  I added a layer of half finished compost to the top before planting the cherry tree and seeding the rest of the bed with oats, clover, snap peas and carrots. I will probably add a few strawberry plants as well.

Two days later it rained again and the swale filled with water. Extra water drained via the buried tile that runs under it into the pool on the far right. However, it is also full. Anyhow, the swale kept the water longer, and I am hoping it will function to recharge the buried wood in the bed during dryer times, capturing afternoon thunderstorm runoff, and reducing evaporation speed through it's simply being concentrated for a little longer in that space.

For more hugelkultur step by step photos, go here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beside Vernal Pools

Living on the edge of wild has many advantages. Fresh revelations occur. Like vernal pools. I had always known there were some areas that filled with water during the winter and spring, but dried up in the summer. To my delight, I discovered that they not only have this lovely sounding name (vernal pool is so much more poetic than a puddle in a ditch), but they provide a unique habitat for certain types of amphibians to complete their life cycles, away from the hungry dwellers of permanent pond places.

Today my daughter led me on a delightful adventure. She and her sisters had been doing what kids do best- exploring places where there is mud and water. And she had found eggs. She related the discovery while we were finishing up some homemade cards for our church members' birthdays. 

"What were they like?" I asked

"They were white and shaped like this." She held up her fingers and thumbs in the shape of an oval. 

"Like chicken eggs?"

"They were under the water. They were bigger than chicken eggs, but harder than frog eggs."

My curiosity was aroused. Wild turkey eggs washed away by heavy rains, perhaps? I promised to go down there with her after we finished lunch. Here are more details about our expedition.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Snow Ice Cream!

It doesn't have any snow in it. We just used snow and slush to freeze it in the ice cream maker. We don't have an ice maker, so we make ice cream when it snows. Yum!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ain't it thrillin'?

Yesterday was a warm, sunny 63. Today it snowed. I think it is the first real snow we've had since the year before last.

Confessions and Superheroes

This is the post where I must be brutally honest about my shortcomings. I hate it when I screw up, especially when it might affect relationships with people I care about. Yesterday, I invited some good friends to come over and help feed the lambs, forgetting that it was the day I was to pick up a delivery for a food co-op I had ordered from. The call came one hour before they were to arrive, and the delivery was also expected at the same time! I frantically bumped my son off the computer and sent messages via facebook to my friend, Kelly, explaining the situation.

This is also the story of two superheroes. Kelly immediately volunteered to stay with the kids so I could go get my order. She arrived with her four kids and one of her nieces a few minutes later, and I took off with Jude, leaving her with 9 kids, 18 chickens, 7 cats, 2 dogs, 2 lambs and 2 pigs. All but the pigs were running around together in one mass of unpredictable movement. Except for the one glued to the computer. Add to that swings, slides and an assortment of wheels, and just about anything could happen.

 I had no worries. I was only sorry to miss all the fun. Kelly did not just step in and pick up the muddled pieces of my poor planning,  she also took pictures!
photo courtesy of Kelly Hawkins

photo courtesy of Kelly Hawkins

photo courtesy of Kelly Hawkins

photo courtesy of Kelly Hawkins

photo courtesy of Kelly Hawkins

Did I say two superheroes?
I arrived home shortly thereafter to behold a glorious sight. 9 children, fed and happy, playing in the afternoon sunshine, including the one stuck to the screen. Kelly had managed to pry him loose, and his brother. We had a lovely visit, and they left awhile later with some freshly milled flour and yeast. As they were piling into the minivan, whether or not they belonged, (ahem, Hardings, please come out of their car!), and Kelly and I were exchanging goodbyes, Seth waved and wailed desperately, "Mama, let me tell you something!"

"What is it, Seth?"

"Um-uh-I was stuck and Lindy saved me."  So we ran over to thank Lindy before they left.

That makes two superheroes in our story today.

photo courtesy of Kelly Hawkins

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Two Lambs and a Baby

Death and Hope

    I missed the Ash Wednesday service yesterday because I had to bury two of my young chickens. And find a place for a wounded third. I came down to their shelter to put in dry bedding and noticed a lot of feathers on the ground. I looked for my little flock, and saw only a small cluster of five hiding in the woods. A few yards from them was the first dead one- a young rooster that one of our hens had hatched out. Our two little dogs ran up to me then, barking because they had not seen me come out and thought I was an intruder. Were they the killers? I do not know. Sparkle looked to be in heat and the girls had seen the neighbor's little fellow over here this morning. Perhaps he started it and the primitive pack instinct overrode everything I'd been teaching them. Ah, the thrill of the chase, the call of the wild. I understand. I eat meat, too, and there is something about domesticity I do not love. But now was time for communication. I moaned, expressing my grief freely. The dogs became quiet, and led me to a spot in the woods where another was expiring. Sorry, little girl. Sorry that I wasn't here to protect you. I'd had an errand to run, and trusted the dogs to continue their good behavior as chicken guards, not chasers. I thought we had an understanding. Maybe it wasn't them.
   The girls came out to see why I hadn't returned and joined the search for the missing pullets. There were still seven unaccounted for. I dreaded what we would find. My husband, Luke, drove up the next moment and joined the search. He and the girls combed the thickets at one corner of the field in front of the house while I walked around the backyard and circled back up the driveway. I turned to look again at the front yard, and there were six more, running to meet the others, followed by the old red rooster, who had taken it upon himself to protect my young brood even though they were not yet grown into hens. I shouted the good news to the others and ran to count them. Old Red looked at me and I nodded my thanks. Poor fellow, though, he had some wounds on his legs and was missing some feathers. The kind a small dog might cause. But he seemed okay.
   That left only one still missing. We abandoned the search, thinking she had probably met the same fate as the other two, when I heard some clucking behind me. I turned around and saw Diamond trotting behind the missing pullet, barely visible in the tall, dry grass. She sat back down so I picked her up and stroked her. She was wounded, but her eye still bright and head still perky. The girls ran over as I examined her, and I found a  bloody gash in her side. Miriam informed me that Virginia had asked Diamond to find the chickens. "Virginia can talk to animals". she explained.
   "That is a gift." I said in agreement.
   Diamond sat patiently and comfortingly beside the hurt chicken while I stroked both of them. Sparkle had gone to lie down with the kittens and the girls wondered why she was acting so sad. One dog hides, the other helps.
   We washed the pullet's wound and set her up in a safe place. She seemed to be drooping after this, and I will be surprised if she makes it. I buried the two dead in the compost. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. However, soil is full of life, and the energy will be regenerated into other forms of life. When I die, I want to buried on my land, and a tree planted over me so my descendants can eat the fruit.
   The sun had come out after the day's rain, washing the breaking clouds and sky with intense pigments of orange and blue. I'd come upon disaster, but in the midst of it were moments of hope. Moments of compassion we creatures shared together that would not have happened otherwise. And it was not as bad as it could have been. Easter is coming.