It’s been raining for 4 days straight, so I’ve finally found some time to blog. I may have to cut this short if it keeps raining and try to teach the chickens how to swim. Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been teaching Spanish at the high school lately (yikes!) and with the daylight getting shorter each day I just haven’t found the time to put pencil to paper. Er, fingers to keyboard.
Since the last blog, we’ve mostly put the gardens to bed. There are still some greens and peas hanging on, but everything else has been chopped and mulched with leaves from the surrounding trees. I’ve been working really hard on the gardens this summer and fall. Next year should be our most ambitious gardens yet! Lindsey’s dad Ronnie wants to help out with the gardens and essentially combine our labor on the gardens here to produce veggies for both of our families. I’ve prepped the 2 raised bed gardens that we’ve used the whole time we’ve been here, the 3 Sisters garden that we made two years ago, and the new “straw garden” I made last fall and put to its first use this year. I’ve also “broken ground” on two new gardens that we’ll use for the first time this coming spring. One will be another standard garden and the other will be a trellis garden for growing vertically-oriented crops like cucumbers, Malabar spinach, peas and beans, and small squashes. All of our gardens are created by first closely mowing all of the vegetation. Then we lay down cardboard sheet mulch to block any regrowth (thanks to Jake and Ronnie’s move we’ve had access to a lot of cardboard). After that I throw on layers of manure and old hay and straw and let that mix compost in place all winter. Then in the spring, the garden is ready to go! Plant, mulch, harvest! All told, next year we should have almost 12,000 ft² of garden space in production next year!
The Food Forest in the backyard is moving along nicely as well. This year we managed to get almost of the trees planted! Our ultimate goal here is to teach people that a phenomenal amount of food can be produced in a regular suburban-sized back yard. When we moved here there were a few raspberries planted in the backyard, but that was it. Last year we planted grapevines and built an herb spiral with our interns Cameron and Alexa. This year we got 5 apple trees in the ground (Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, MacIntosh, and Arkansas Black), 2 plums, 2 sweet cherries, several blueberry bushes, 3 pawpaws, a mulberry, 2 hardy almonds, 2 brown turkey figs, 2 mayhaws, and 2 golden chain trees. Most of the trees look like sticks right now, although the ones we planted in the spring put on some good growth. These will be the canopy layer of our Food Forest and we wanted to get them growing as soon as possible since it will take several years for us to begin to see the literal fruits of our labor. Next year the goal for the Food Forest will be to begin the establishment of the understory plants to grow underneath the trees. These shorter plants will provide some food, but will also accumulate nutrients, block the grass, and generate mulching material on site. Right now all the mulch comes from old chicken and rabbit bedding. These plants will include comfrey, horseradish, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, sea buckthorns, nasturtiums, daffodils, and other shorter plants. Once the trees get larger, we’ll add some more vining plants for another layer in the forest.
We also got a corral built around the winter quarters for the cattle and goats. Now the animals should be secure behind a solid physical barrier. We’ve been using just electric fencing and that isn’t a great winter solution because it doesn’t work very well in the winter. We can’t keep the batteries charged well in the cold and snow shorts the fence out on occasion. But now we shouldn’t have to worry about escapes due to faulty fencing. We’ll be down to just human error now. No place else for me to hide!
We are continuing to learn about pigs. I really like them! They eat a lot, but they are very useful and I can see them improving our woodlots paddock by paddock. Now if their jaws could just get strong enough to actually crack all of the black walnuts they have access to we could cut the feed bill down significantly!
Finally, we’ve adopted a cow for the short term. One of our Amish neighbors needed his cow bred, so we traded out our bull Russell’s stud services for some hay. I didn’t ask Russell for his permission, but I can attest to the fact that he did not mind a bit. I like this deal a lot. Our bull knocks up someone else’s heifer and we get a half a winter’s worth of hay from it. Only with cows…