Spring is actually coming. Of course we are expecting a snowstorm today, but it is the week here to start planting seedling in the basement grow room! Soon the big lights will be running and the new plants will begin their journey to the gardens. The annual garden grid is up and, of course, I do most of it in pencil because it always changes. This year we are moving all of the tomatoes (as usual) and the peppers, into the greenhouse. Some reading up on peppers indicated that they should do much better here under the cover of the greenhouse and the shade cloth. We usually have quite a large pepper harvest but the fruit always look like they fought a bit of a battle. It will be interesting to see if the protection and elevated humidity (versus none) help them out. One gardener said they saw a 500% increase. Doubt we will see that, but if the peppers are larger it would be fun.
But, before the hot weather plants go outside, the cool weather crops get to perform first. As we aren’t even to March yet, there are 3 months until our big plant in dates (usually around Memorial Day). Given the wild weather swings because we broke the Jet Stream, even if it looks like the temperatures are clear, buyer beware. Last year we put things out about 10 days too soon and we ended up scrambling with row covers to keep things from freezing to death before they even had a chance. In the next couple of weeks the Broccoli and Cauliflower and Spinach will get planted into the greenhouse. We still may need to use row covers (I have no doubt), but these three plants do pretty well in cold weather. Next up will be planting out onions and shallots, but that is still a ways off. Once it is time to plant in the peppers and tomatoes, the Broccoli and Cauliflower will be out and frozen and the same with the Spinach.
The newest addition to the main garden space will be the creation of a Blackberry hedge. This will be along the fence that Aaron and I put in last spring. There will be 24 bushes along the south side and will use the fence as a trellis. The irrigation will simply come from an extension of the hoses used to water the apple trees. More plowing, hole drilling, drip irrigation and composting will ensue. We should see those plants arrive sometime around the end of April. They come bare root, so initially they will go into pots and then, when the plot is ready, be planted in then.
In planning the garden we always have to assess what we actually need. If you have enough of something that you might never go through, why plant it, etc. I had planned on using one of our 50 foot beds to plant sweet corn. Out here that can be hit or miss, and we have a great source for sweet corn in Boulder. I have been doing the low carb thing lately so the sweet corn would likely just sit in the freezer and maybe end up getting fed to the chickens. So it was with that thought to feeding the animals that caused a shift in plans. Between that and the enormous potato harvest we had this past year, it was actually getting a little difficult to come up with enough plants to fill up all the beds. Enter the critters. American Guinea Hogs are walking scrap eaters. When we got them all the literature said how great they are as you can feed them on mostly grass and table scraps. Unfortunately, we are lacking in both so we have been feeding them store bought alfalfa pellets and pig feed. That isn ‘t too much of a problem but it is still having to turn dollars into pork. I read an article that talked about planting animal plots. They include vegetables that can be used by both humans and animals so nothing really gets wasted. While raw potatoes can be toxic to pigs, boiled ones are not. Pigs are natural rooters, so things like beets and turnips can be fed to them as well. This way we have ready potential pork to feed extra potatoes to and we can store both those and the beets and turnips I am going to plant in the corn bed, in burlap sacks. While this won’t eliminate the need for purchased feed, I can plant hundreds of root vegetables for a few bucks whereas pig feed is 15 bucks for a 50 pound sack. They will eat the roots, greens and all. Brilliant!
Yesterday was the early spring cleaning of the chicken coops. This is probably the nastiest job on the farm. Unfortunately it is a job one can’t ignore if you grow food without fertilizer. Chicken crap is pure gold. It goes from chicken feed to eggs to poop to tomatoes (Both the humans and the pigs eat the eggs). We have never added commercial fertilizer of any kind to the beds since we bought the place. The animals make all we need. However, that cleaning job is a real butt buster. Not only is it simply no fun (it is after all just cleaning out an enormous bird cage) it is insanely dusty. In my case, and Zina’s too, being a bit asthmatic, that dust just locks up your lungs. As it is also quite a bit of exertion, the choice is made whether to inhale the dust and not be able to breath that night, or wear a bandana and pass out from lack of oxygen. It usually winds up being a combination of the two. Truly, if my locked up lungs last night are any indication of what a bad case of the Roney Virus is like, I am not going out into the world ever again.
However, the birds are all cleaned up, the new compost from it is over in the garden area waiting to be used, the coops smell nice again, and I like eggs and fresh chicken….. things could be worse.
As I had posted previously, we put an outdoor brooder in the barn this year. We did it because we were wanting to eliminate the need to have to start baby chicks in the house. They need to stay in a warm environment for about 4 weeks while they feather out and then they go out into a grow out coop before either going in with the flock or to the freezer camp resort hotel (You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave). We have 52 roasters coming next week (52 because that is where there is a price break). Of course, weather being unpredictable like it is now, we are expecting the first part of March to be too cold for them to be out in the new brooder (even with the heat lamps). We lost a bunch last year for the same reason….. live and learn. Soooooooo, back in the house comes the big tank, heat lamps, wood chips, and feed in anticipation of many small cheepers taking up residence in the basement. Fortunately though, after about 10 days to 2 weeks (instead of 4 weeks) we will be able to move them out to the new cage as they will be partially feathered and the lamps out there will be ample. The last week of a 4 week stint is pretty nasty. The whole house starts to smell like chickens and there gets to be a thin layer of dust settling over everything. This way shouldn’t be all bad. By the time they go out into the grow out pen, it will be April and they will have their adult feathers. Besides, you have never eaten chicken until you have had one raised right outside your door. This is a bit of a hassle (processing is a big job) but we never complain at dinner time.
THE GOATS HAVE EXPLODED!
We have posted about our new goat babies. I don’t think there are many animals as cute as baby goats. By now they are about 3 weeks and are hopping about playing dodge the donkeys. It is always so entertaining to see them learning howt to use their springy legs and seeing the wide open world under momma’s supervision. After 2 weeks the milking begins. This is Ginger’s second round of babies so milking her is pretty simple. Because she had 5 kids she is pretty full and I imagine having some of the milk removed in the morning is a welcome relief. That little lady is producing about 1/3 of a gallon in a morning! Momma Paprika is a completely different story. She is petite to begin with and doesn’t seem to understand this whole milking thing (“What are YOU DOING back there!!??”). To be fair, it is her first time, I am human, and neither one of us is known for our patience. When she doesn’t want to be touched she simply kicks at you and lays down. I pick her up by her tail, she kicks and lays down. Oh well, it will come around. But not all goats are great milkers by volume either. While Ginger has opened up the flood gates, Paprika is a bit of a trickle. As milking is why we have them, one needs to evaluate. I won’t breed her again (as we are only getting about a pint from her) so she might have a date with our local community sale barn to be sold as a pet (Nigerians are sweet little kid friendly buggers and Paprika is very cute).
The one thing that makes things a bit of a challenge while milking, is the way it is done. Me milking a little Nigerian Dwarf Goat by hand would be akin to Andre the Giant milking a Hummingbird. No way that is happening. The milker we had been using is a good one, but it was simply a hand pumped device. If you have a skittish goat like Paprika, all that additional pumping commotion doesn’t help matters. So, UPGRADE! We have gone all modern and got an electric milker that doesn’t require pumping. Once it is on and in place the little motor does the rest. The thing, of course, has a fitting name: The Udderly EZ milker. Yep…..
If I could convince Zina that we should have a Jersey Cow, it would work on her as well…….. but for the goats, especially when I am out in cold weather, this thing is awesome. So for those thinking I am some kind of Luddite, think again. This, plus the new filter for processing, is going to save me so much time. By the sound of the dogs barking their fool heads off as I write this, it sounds as though the new cheese press has arrived as well. Time to start making some righteous Cheddar.
So this was kind of a mish-mash of things. It is typically what happens as spring starts to appear. Last year at this time I was finishing the last of our raised beds and hail guards. This year, I am going to finishing our last needed fence. My goal, weather not withstanding, is to have that fence done by the end of March. The gas driven post pounder has come back repaired so, hopefully, I won’t be driving t-posts by hand like I did for the most recent pasture fencing. My shoulders can’t handle that impact much anymore and there are over 100 to do. So far this year I have thrashed my shoulders, popped my right knee again, broken the middle finger of my left hand and sprained the one on the right. I always thought that the old farmers in Iowa, hobbling around in their overalls, must be some really ancient old codgers who have been around the block a few times….. I really need to not look in the mirror. As POGO said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I are one. Maybe I just need a shiny new pair of overalls and I will be all fixed. Add some Bondo, a few bearing and U joint repairs and I’ll be all set to go. Or not. As my t-shirt says, “Everything will kill you so choose something fun”. Peace.