When does it slow down?

I was asked a very interesting question yesterday – which is the slowest season on the farm? It took me a few seconds to think about it, and the answer is, there really isn’t a “slow” season, at least on our farm. Because we raise animals, every season is focused on their care and well-being.

Right now (fall), we are making sure things are ready for winter – hay in the barn, waterers ready to go, moving manure out of buildings, as well as putting up the garden items and machinery. Beef sides will be ready for processing in December, so there is the paperwork side of things to maintain.

Winter – keep the animals fed and watered, watch for new calves, work on outdoor projects as weather allows, mostly focus on indoor projects (indoor veg growing, household maintenance, etc), check the beehives every week or so and add food patties as needed. I’m hoping to experiment with dyeing my hand-spun yarn, and will spend more time in the pottery studio.

Spring – watch the ground to see when the grass starts growing and we can stop feeding hay, plan and plant the garden,  shear the sheep, plant the new hay field, make the list of things that need fixed/maintained this year, order meat chickens.

Summer – watch the weather and watch the grass grow, mow and bale hay, get the hay into the barn for winter, work on all those projects (they never end – finish one, find two more that need done), tend the garden, harvest honey as needed, process the meat chickens, mow  the few areas that need it (mostly clearing paths – the sheep and goats do the majority of the mowing around here!)

This is by no means a complete list – some things happen every season, like moving the sheep and goats around the farm for them to eat the grass and brush, or putting up/repairing fences (now that is a never-ending job…), checking the beehives, tending the animals, etc. Add in the daily household tasks (cooking, dishes, laundry, sweeping, etc.), and the hours fill up quickly.

Is it easy? No. Do we always *want* to go out in the heat/cold/rain/snow and do the job? No. I’m pretty sure just about everything on a farm is heavy or difficult, but it’s always interesting, and it always is engaging (physically, mentally, or both!).

I don’t know who originally said it, but the quote “Build a life you don’t need a vacation from” fits. I don’t think I could enjoy a “vacation” away from the farm – I’d be thinking about how everything is going. Did the old cow die, do the sheep have enough grass, on and on.

There you have it – there is no “slow” season on our farm, and every season focuses around caring for the grass, so we can care for the animals.123

Pre-bacon

This was bound to happen…

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It’s been fascinating to watch these two little girls – we have them in one of the large barn pens until the weather is better. This is the pen where we keep the beeves while they are waiting to be taken to the butcher, so there is a nice deep layer of cow poo, straw, and hay for the pigs to root through. As you can see, they got right to work looking for yummies to eat!

They have pretty precise control over that snout of theirs – I’ve seen them delicately root in one spot, but they can also use that snout like a plow and move through several feet of debris.

They also “nest” – we have a heat lamp for them, and I watched them paw the hay around where they were going to sleep until it was where they wanted, then they snuggled into the nest together.

Little Pink is more wary than Big Black, who will come right up to me now. They both know the sound of the feed bucket, and start running around until I get in the pen.

And they don’t stink. Really, they don’t. In my experience, stinky animals come from being confined to too small of a space, or being fed a poor diet. They do have a scent, but everything has a scent. 🙂

 

100% whole grain

We have wanted to transition to using flour that we grind ourselves, and I just recently used the last of the King Arthur flour, so have been searching for recipes that use 100% whole grain flour. So far, we’ve been happy with the buttermilk biscuits and hamburger buns. I have recipes lined up for pita, tortillas, bread, pizza crust, and bagels – will report on those as they happen.

The thing I’ve noticed is that once the dough is mixed, it needs to rest (anywhere from 2 hours to overnight – the recipe will specify). This allows the moisture to soak into the grain, and you end up with a lighter end product. This means you need to plan a bit more, but the end product is worth it!

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As easy as garlic

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If I would have realized that garlic is so easy to grow, I would have done it long before this year.

Garlic should be planted in the fall, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Be ready to plant about 6-8 weeks before frost.

*Do not use the stuff from the grocery store! If no one at your local farm market grows their own, buy from a good seed company. We support companies like Baker Creek.

Break apart garlic cloves a couple days before planting.

Plant about 4″ apart and 2″ deep. Plant the pointy side up and the flat side down. Mulch well (I used straw).

In the spring, remove the mulch (I forgot to do that…). When they flower (called “scapes” and very good to cook with), cut off the flower to keep the energy in the root.

For us, harvest was in July. Loosen the soil around the bulb and dig it out – don’t pull it like an onion. I read several ways to know when the bulb is ready – when the stem is anywhere from 1/2 dry to all dry. I harvested when they were a little more than 1/2 dry.

Dry the bulb (with the stem still on it) in a dry place, out of direct sunlight. Put them up on something so the air can get all around. When the whole bulb is dry and has the papery outside, it is ready to cut off the stem, brush the dirt off, trim the roots off, and store. You can also keep the stem and braid them all together.

These bulbs were on the small side, but I planted them in a new area that hadn’t been worked before – I expect that with looser soil, the bulbs will be much bigger.

 

I’ll be planting a lot more this year – the almanac says our first frost will be around October 25th or so. I guess that means I better be getting an area ready very soon!

 

More gardens

Growing herbs in pots is great, but I wanted a more permanent solution to growing culinary and medicinal herbs that didn’t involve lugging large planters around. Enter 24×4 cinder blocks, lots of sticks, and lots of dirt.

These are a type of hugelkultur raised bed, which uses sticks and logs as the base, and dirt piled over them. This website has a good explanation, with pictures! And since we have plenty of sticks around here, it’s a good way to use them.

 

First, set up the cinder blocks, and add sticks. The two closest beds don’t have sticks yet, but the two farthest to the right do. Break up the sticks, toss them in, and when you have a good pile inside the blocks, stomp them down. Repeat until the sticks are more or less halfway up the blocks.

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Beds filled with dirt. And a chicken…

 

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I will be filling the side holes for herbs, but the main bed is ready to go. I’m going to let it settle for a few days to let the dirt get in between all the sticks. It’s supposed to rain, which will also help tamp down the dirt. After that, add more dirt to even it up, and start planting.

Since we have free-ranging chickens, a welded wire cover for each bed is in order. I’ll build those while I’m waiting for the beds to settle.

Cinder blocks around here are usually about $1.00. We used dirt dredged from our creek, but just about any dirt will do. You can put topsoil over the “fill dirt” if you like, or add compost. It doesn’t have to be an expensive process to get a nice raised bed. And if you decide to take the bed down at some point, the blocks can be reused, and the dirt/sticks (or what’s left of the sticks) can be spread around.

 

 

 

Hives – complete

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After re-pinning the fence behind these hives because the cows had worked it loose from the posts – because look at all that grass!!!!

I did find a couple bricks to put on top of the covers, just to weight them down. We don’t want the cover to blow off in a wind!

Shaded by the fruit trees, close to water, pretty much centrally located on the farm to take best advantage of all the flowers for pollen, out of the way of most human activity – let’s start the experiment.

Food and medicine

This is the year of the gardens for food and medicine. I’ve rough-planned out the vegetable garden to take advantage of companion planting, and we’ll be breaking ground on the new herb garden. It’s going to be a hard-working spring. And summer, and fall. And I’m sure there will plenty of weeds (there always are), so if you just can’t find anything to do, you can always come help pull weeds. It’s hot, dirty, unending work, but the rewards are delicious.

“Let Your Food Be Your Medicine; and Your Medicine be Your Food” – Hippocrates

Smart guy, that Hippocrates.

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Fennel, Greek and Roman Chamomile, Chervil, Lady’s bedstraw, Mulberry, Elderberry, Lemon balm, Lemon mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, Rosemary, Greek oregano, Tansy, Lavender,and more. And these are just the trays of herbs I’m starting. The veggies will be started soon.

011514 – the bucket garden

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This is all it is – a 5 gallon bucket, some soil and seeds, and a light fixture with a grow bulb in it. Denny made the stand the light is hanging from (the vertical piece goes all the way to the bottom of the bucket). We have the light on a timer, but as long as you turn it off at night, you should be good to go.

What corner could use to grow things? Lettuce, carrots, radishes, potatoes, tomatoes….experiment and see!

011414 – food in a bucket

If you have room for a 5 gallon bucket, you can grow food. Fill bucket with soil, plant some seeds, put a grow light on it, and water. Wait a bit and you’ll get food! These are our first radishes, and we’re going to try carrots next. Growing food, in the winter, in the house – it can be done!

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Day 311 – new chicken boxes

It was time. The old metal laying boxes were just not doing the job anymore. The mesh that was to let the poo through – wasn’t. The covers over the area the eggs rolled into weren’t opening very well (and had become separated on one side). Time to upgrade the nesting box system.

We had already installed some of these nice plastic boxes on the other wall, and decided to use them as replacements for the metal, even though we would be possibly losing a box or two in the process (the metal one had 10 boxes, and I could only fit 9 of the plastic ones in the same space). The theory goes that from 3-5 hens can use the same box, so we wouldn’t be losing too much with the number of hens we currently have.

I decided “I got this” and went to unscrew the metal boxes from the wall. One screw – no problem. The other? Wasn’t too interested in moving. Finally got it to loosen – great! Picked it up to lift it off the cinder blocks – the bottom fell off (that’s the bit laying on the far side of the metal boxes). Then the mesh fell off. I ended up dragging the bits that didn’t fall off through the chicken coop and out the door to where you see them laying in the picture, then tossing the fallen off bits out after them.

Installing the plastic boxes went smoother, although I remembered (after having screwed in 3 boxes) that you should always start from the wall and work out – much easier to make sure there’s enough room for everything! Unscrewed the boxes, started from the corner, and managed to fit one more box in than I expected – yay!

To complete the job, I tossed in some paper shreddings to each of the boxes – which the chickens promptly tossed out of the boxes when they entered to lay eggs.

Another little job off of the list and chore time made simpler for the egg collector.