Supposedly April showers bring May flowers. They did.
What do May showers bring?
I need to know because it has been raining for what seems like weeks on end. The county farm data bank says that in an “average year” (what’s that?) the county has gotten 22.76″ of rain by this date. So far on our ranch we have gotten 35.48″, or over a foot more than average. It rained another half-inch last night during our latest round of severe weather. So in a word, our spring has been soggy. As I’m writing this it just started raining again. Really hard. So by the time I’m done with this sentence those precipitation numbers will be outdated.
Most of the garden plants seem to enjoy it so far. The lettuces and broccoli and onions are all growing well. All the greens are going like gangbusters. The spinach showed its strength. The garlic seems less thrilled, though. The tomato plants have been repeatedly snapped in high winds even in their cages (no, we don’t have free-range tomatoes). The corn has yet to come up because it was so recently planted, but I’m hoping that it won’t rot in the sodden ground before it has a chance to sprout.
Our philosophy about heritage varieties of animals and plants also extends to corn. Some people in the local and sustainable food movement have unfairly painted corn in pretty bad light. After all, who’s making the decisions here – a plant or the humans who propagate it? Corn is an amazing plant with a lot to like. First, it’s native to the Americas. It was bred and developed by the indigenous peoples here. It is a tough plant that will grow almost anywhere there is a modicum of water and fertility. It stores almost indefinitely. And it has been grown and adapted to so many varied locales that there is an incredible variety from which to choose. In other words, farmers don’t have to grow #2 field corn for the commodities market. In fact, if you want to eat it you shouldn’t grow that type of corn at all.
We got some old-school varieties of corn from neighbors and seed cooperatives to plant on about 1/4 acre. I baled hay for our neighbor Joshua a while back in exchange for him tilling up the area where we had the goats deposit all their winter manure for us to plant. He did a great job with the tilling and then Lindsey and I leveled it with shovels and rakes. Finally, the weather cleared for 2 consecutive days and it dried out enough for me to plant it yesterday. Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, Golden Bantam, Floriani Red Flint, Bloody Butcher, Reid’s Yellow Dent, and Daymon Morgan’s Kentucky Butcher corn all went into the ground. Those links are not necessarily the sources for our seed, but they were the best pictures I could find of the varieties we planted. The Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, and Golden Bantam are all sweet corns that we can eat or freeze. We’ll plant more of those varieties every two weeks or so to make sure we’ve got fresh sweet corn all summer long. The other corns are for drying. The Floriani Red Flint supposedly makes the world’s best polenta. Since polenta is basically fancy grits, I can get on board with that. The butcher corns are for flour and decoration, and the Reid’s Yellow Dent will provide some winter food for our poultry.
I know 1/4 acre doesn’t sound like much, but that’s about the limit of what I think we can care for doing everything by hand.
In other news, the rabbits, turkeys, and chickens are growing quickly. We’ve sold quite a few of the Black Australorps and Kentucky Redneck chickens to people who wanted to start their own flocks. The rest we’ll grow out as meat birds or add to our layer flock in the Yolkswagen. The rabbit does we have are really bad mothers, but hopefully in a few generations we can breed for good mothering instincts. So far out of 4 litters we have only 10 bunnies to show for it. The rest have been rejected or killed by their own mothers.
Guinea keets are hatching in the incubator as we speak. This is especially good news because another rogue cat has been systematically eliminating the guineas one by one. We’re down to 4 adult birds and 1 juvenile from the 18 we had 2 weeks ago. Those last ones are cooped up at the moment to eliminate the food source and encourage the cat to move on. This is a sneaky cat. Usually I see them hanging around, but this one is either very wary or has some sort of cloaking capability.
Our Black Spanish hens have not returned yet. If they were nesting, their poults should have hatched out last weekend. Then I imagine they keep them in the nest until the poults are capable of following the hen around. Every day I look forward to seeing them, and every day my heart sinks just a little bit when they don’t return. Yesterday one of the chocolate hens that has been going off by herself a lot during the day didn’t come back to the turkey roost at dusk, so now we might have another month-plus wait while she sits on her nest. Natural farming is stressful! I want to let the animals nest on their own and raise their own young, but it’s so hard to sit and wait and hope that they are able to hatch out their eggs and brood their poults before a predator finds them. We have so much financially and emotionally invested in them at this point that it would be heartbreaking to have them not return.
The last bit of news is in the Lifestyles Lane department. We should get a good start this summer with all the helpers coming out to the ranch and we plan on completely 2 of the more intricate structures this summer. Hopefully more, but 2 is the definite attainable goal. Our friends Adele and Bonnie are visiting, my brother and his friends are coming out, and we have 9 interns coming to the farm in June, July, and August to help build the structures and learn about sustainable farming. We will begin introducing them to you as they arrive on the ranch in mid-June, but we are getting excited for their arrival.