Category Archives: Fruits and Veggies

Of Garlic and Goats

Rows of freshly planted garlic.

Today was garlic planting day here at Good Life Ranch.  It feels good knowing that the first crop of 2011 is in the ground!

We ordered seed garlic of several varieties from an organic nursery back in August.  After months of delays caused by the company losing our order and not returning our phone calls, yet being organized enough to put the charges on our debit card, we finally got our garlic in mid-November.  The company we used was Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, and although we eventually got the garlic we ordered, I can’t say that I recommend them based on the customer service the company gave us.  Took the money, lost the order, claimed all of their office computers crashed, did not return phone calls, would not call back when they said they would.  All in all, I hope their garlic does better than their sales and service personnel.

I wanted to plant the garlic in mid-to-late October, but due to the shenanigans with the order and the company that wasn’t able to happen.  Then I thought it might be a good activity for when my family was visiting us over Thanksgiving, but due to the appendectomy, that wasn’t able to happen either.  THEN we had 6 inches of snow that I didn’t want to plant through.  So we finally got the garlic in the ground today.  Old European tradition says to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year – December 21st.  I know that’s not til Tuesday, but we’re supposed to get more snow and I didn’t want to waste the relatively nice weather we had today (a balmy 31°F).

We planted 5 varieties of garlic – large elephant garlic, Spanish roja, German red, Nootka rose, and Inchelium red.  I planted a dozen cloves of the elephant garlic, then almost a pound of each of the other varieties.  Each clove went pointy side up 2 inches into the ground spaced 5-6 inches from any other clove.  I planted the elephant garlic a little further apart since they are so large.  All in all I think I planted 9 rows of garlic this morning.  After planting the rows I raked a thick layer of leaves and straw over them, then watched the chickens proceed to scratch it all up.  Hopefully they won’t disturb the cloves too much.  The garlic should overwinter in the ground and pop up and begin growing early in the spring.  If all goes well we should be able to harvest some green garlic shoots sporadically throughout the spring before we harvest the garlic bulbs in July and August.

The other order of the day was to move the goat herd into a holding area.  We’re going to visit my family in Arkansas next week for the holidays and want caring for the goats to be as simple as possible for our farmsitter.  We hired our young neighbor Darrell to watch after the goats, livestock dogs, rabbits, and poultry for the 3 days we’ll be gone.

Maggie Mae and her protegé Sergeant Pepper survey their new domain.

Eventually we want to build a hayshed for feeding livestock in the winter so that we can collect and compost their manure before respreading it in the spring (when the pasture can actually take up the nutrients).  Manure put on pasture in the winter sees its nutrients vaporize or leach into the water long before the plants begin growing again, so we want to collect and store those nutrients in the winter so we don’t have to import our soil’s fertility in a bag.  However, we’re a little short on hayshed money right now, so this is our next best option.

A view of the entire goat corral.

We got some cattle panels and attached them to T-posts to make a 48′ x 90′ holding area for the goats.  We moved their shelter with hayrack into it.  The plan is to hold the goats in this area and feed them hay when the weather is bad this winter (or when your 13-year-old neighbor is farmsitting), and move them around with the portable fencing when there are a few days of nice weather.  We strategically placed the hay feeding area in a “living barn” of sorts.  The area is shielded from the north wind by the thick stand of bamboo.  Two other sides of the enclosure have pine trees to protect it.  So basically the goats are shielded from the weather on 3 sides and have their portable shelter in with them to boot.

Corral, corral maker, goats, and guard dogs.

To move the goats today we employed our successful strategy from the Great Goat Escape of 2010, which is to say that I caught lead goat Miss Priss and led her into the new corral.  The other goats followed along just like the other day and before we knew it we had the whole herd in the corral.  Piece of cake!

Guess who can fit through a cattle panel? Sergeant Pepper, that's who!

The only glitch in the system is Sergeant Pepper (the new Pyrenees puppy).  He is growing bigger by the day, but he is still small enough to slip through the 6″ x 6″ cattle panels.  So far this afternoon he had squirmed out at least 6 times.  It’ll be nice next week when he’s finally too big to do that and he’ll be forced to stay in that pen and bond with the goats at last.  It’s hard to get mad at him, though.  He’s so cute!

Egg makers. Particularly the one on the right. 🙂

On the poultry front, the chickens are really beginning to lay!  Today I found 13 eggs from our 14 hens.  The only unfortunate part is that I found them under the trailer, next to the mower, under a bush, on the straw bales…  not ONE egg in the milk crate nest boxes.  Hmmm….  Gotta figure out a way to convince them that the milk crates are the place to lay the eggs.  Collecting them will go much faster if we can do that.

BUT, the eggs are fantastic!  Even in winter, when the egg yolks are supposed to be very pale compared to the rest of the year, the color in these eggs just blows away the store bought ones.  I can’t wait to compare the difference in the spring and summer when the grass is growing.  Green plant matter leads to more yolk color.  More yolk color means more beta carotene.  Check out the difference below.

Good Life Ranch egg on the left. Naturally Preferred Organic Cage Free eggs on the right. This is Dec 19. We'll do the comparison again when the grass is green.

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The Bad Blogger Update: Adele through Appendectomy

We get to live here!

Every day I wake up thankful that we get to live here.   I’m thankful for the wonderful neighbors that we have.  I’m thankful for the support Lindsey and I get from our families.   I’m thankful that our families could come spend Thanksgiving with us.

I'm thankful for turkey mohawks. Not all turkeys can pull of a mohawk. You just gotta feel it.

I’ve got many more things to be thankful for this year, even though I didn’t get the chance to post this on actual Thanksgiving:

  1. Lindsey and I have just celebrated 2 wonderful years together.
  2. The heritage turkeys turned out to taste wonderful.
  3. The goats humor us by staying behind a fence they are able to simply jump over.
  4. We’ve been able to learn a lot of skills quickly without making too many terrible mistakes.
  5. Randy, Ronnie, and Cody have made handy farm pre-interns.
  6. Wild turkeys take hikes past the back of our house.
  7. We’ve built a sturdy greenhouse and beaten back the jungle that had grown up around the property.
  8. We have gotten to share lots of fruit, veggies, nuts, and meat that we’ve produced here this year.
  9. The flood didn’t do the farm in.
  10. The drought didn’t do the farm in.
  11. The leaves have changed and fallen, and the first flurries of the year have drifted down to earth.
  12. We get a full calendar year to plan, produce, and share next year’s bounty.

Lindsey and Scooter pose on a haybale.

Adele practices for her haybale climbing race in Austin. She's just resting between sets of 15.

Lindsey and I have gotten an influx of visitors lately.  First our lovely friend Adele came in for a weekend from San Antonio.  She got to climb some haybales, visit the animals, and sample some farm-fresh beyond-organic food.  It was great to see her!

We cleaned up the bamboo and the other gardens to help impress our guests.

Then Lindsey’s family came in from Houston and NYC.  Ronnie, Jake, and Cody came to celebrate Thanksgiving with us the weekend before the holiday.  Cody chased the goats and harvested the carrots and parsnips we roasted with the Thanksgiving turkey.  He also took a turkey back to New York with him to share with his roommate.  Jake and Ronnie did a little planning and investigation for the new house they are planning to build in nearby Campbellsville.  Ronnie helped us take care of the chicks, rabbits, and goats.

Finally, most of my family came in from Arkansas and Missouri.  My parents, Randy and Pam, arrived on Wednesday while my brother Will and his new bride Keri got in late Friday night.  We were all having a wonderful time showing them the farm for the first time, getting prepped for our Thanksgiving dinner scheduled for Saturday, and gearing up for the big Arkansas/LSU football game.  Then, this farmer had to go ruin everything.

Friday afternoon I didn’t feel so good.  Saturday was worse.  Lindsey ended up ferrying me over to the emergency room where I had an appendectomy soon after arrival.  So no one got Thanksgiving dinner and no one got to watch the football game.  I felt so bad after my family and come so far and Lindsey had planned so much.  I know one can’t control appendicitis, but one can still feel bad about the impact the appendicitis had on others.

The day after the operation everything was fine.  The next few days everything was not fine.  I developed a condition called ileus due to the gas inserted into my abdomen during the surgery.  It simply kept building up and wouldn’t leave.  Needless to say, very uncomfortable and worrisome.  I was supposed to get out of the hospital on Sunday.  I didn’t end up getting released until late Wednesday afternoon and I still didn’t feel great.  Still don’t, unfortunately.  Nothing is going through the system.

So how does a sick farmer run a farm?

Through all this, poor Will and Keri had to detour through Arkansas to take my mom back home so that she could return to work.  My dad stayed on to help out and has been such a blessing to us.  He’s done all the chores extremely well without very much help from us in terms of showing him how to do them.  All the animals are doing great and he’s even invented a solution to make moving the portable goat shelter easier.  He has done all of this despite having been laid up himself with shingles until only a few weeks ago.  What a guy!  Thank you Pop!

So now some of the plans have experienced a slight delay.  We’ll have to wait a month or so before I can do the heavy lifting required to get a couple Lifestyles Lane structures built.  The budget for the fencing probably just took a big hit in order to pay our share of the medical bills.  Frustrating, but I guess you’ve just got to stay flexible.

In the meantime, I’ll just embrace the spirit of the season.  I’m thankful that I have such an amazing family who spring to your support whenever you need it.  I’m thankful that Lindsey and I get to follow a dream in such a wonderful place.

We didn’t get to enjoy Thanksgiving on the 25th, but here’s some turkey pictures for you.  These wild turkeys went on walkabout around the house yesterday.

A quartet of wild turkeys appeared in the hillside field.

The goats are envious of the beards on the wild turkeys.

Getting closer...

The wild turkeys marched all the way up to the backyard.

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Raised Bed Gardens

For the last 2 weeks my project has been renovating and recreating the fallowed gardens here at Good Life Ranch.  It’s been a long process because of the amount we’ve let the gardens go over the spring (when we weren’t here yet) and the summer (when other items rose to the top of the priority list), the large size of the gardens, and the fact that I am doing all of this with hand clippers, shovels, and a wheelbarrow.  Everything takes longer that way, but it doesn’t make sense to use more calories of energy in fossil fuels than we’ll reap from the vegetables in the garden now does it?

This is the "garden" before clearing and beginning the raised beds.

The picture above shows what we are starting off with – two large overgrown areas in which the previous owners grew flowers.  Since they didn’t work it in the spring before they left and I haven’t really touched it since we’ve arrived these gardens have just grown up with some flowers, some weeds, and some pioneering bushes and saplings.  For a sense of scale, check out Scooter’s head in the bottom right corner of the picture.  Step one of the project involved clearing out all of this material and setting it aside for use in the raised beds.  While I was cleaning out the two new areas I also cleared out the other two beds that we’ve let go as well.  Those two beds will not be made into raised beds, but will be planted in the spring with perennial and self-seeding annual flowering and fruiting plants – like lilies, dogwoods, mayhaw bushes, blueberries, large ornamental grasses, and hollyhocks.  But we did use all of the prunings from these gardens to help create the raised areas in the two new gardens.  We don’t waste any organic materials here!

Step one involved clearing out 4 large garden areas – 2 old flower gardens and 2 heavily overgrown former veggie gardens.  After those areas were clear, I took stakes and a measuring tape and laid out the new boundaries for the raised beds.  Each raised bed is 4 feet wide and will be elevated to knee-height on me.  Between each 4 foot raised area is a 20-inch pathway.  This way we will only have to reach 2 feet into the raised bed to plant, weed, mulch, and harvest.  This means that we’ll never have to step on the beds and compact the soil.  That’s key to maintaining the tilth and microbial action in the soil.  The picture below shows the staked-out layout of one of the new garden areas.  In this area the raised beds are about 30 feet in length.  The other area has beds that are roughly 60 feet in length.

The area has been cleared and stakes have been driven to mark the dimensions and placement of the new beds.

Note in the picture above that I left the grass underneath all of the previous overgrowth in place.  We are about to smother it with organic matter anyway so it will be smothered and add to the big pile of decomposing stuff – no use tilling it up.  All that tilling will disturb all the earthworms and microbial life we need at work for us to decompose all of the new material we’re going to give them to digest.  They need to be at their best, not tilled up and driven off by the disturbance to the soil.

So now that the beds are laid out, I took all of the trimmings from the four garden areas and piled them up to the height of my knee in the 4-foot-wide bed areas.  These trimmings consisted of stems, leaves, branches – everything.  The leaves and vegetative stuff will break down very quickly.  The larger, woodier branches may take several years to decompose, and that’s great!  They will provide long-term fertility as they release their nutrients very slowly; they will sop up water in the winter and spring and release it slowly in the drier summer and fall; and they will encourage the growth of beneficial insects, worms, and fungi that will help develop a good soil culture for our veggies.  I didn’t do this much because we only had a few available, but tree stumps and cut trunks are one of the best materials to use as a base for your raised beds.  We had a few laying around that I utilized, but most of the woody material I cleared out of the gardens was less than an inch in diameter.  Hopefully what we lacked in diameter we more than made up for in volume!  There was a LOT of it!  The Germans call this method hugelkultur.  Supposedly potatoes, squash, pumpkins, and beans absolutely go nuts for this stuff in the first year, and in successive years the soil becomes better and better for basically any type of plant you’d like to grow.

The raised beds are built up with garden and tree prunings, but have yet to be capped with manure.

The picture above shows the contrast in height between the beds on the right that have had the organic matter added the beds on the left that hadn’t yet been done at the time this picture was taken.  Note the almost 2-foot height of the bed on the far right.  This height is important to give the plant roots enough space to develop and to lessen the amount of time we’ll spend gardening on our knees.  In this picture you can also see that the greenhouse is conveniently located near the new gardens.  We won’t have too far to go to transplant seedlings when the weather warms up in the spring!

After piling up the material I gathered from the overgrown gardens in the right spots I covered each row with a mixture of fallen leaves and composted rabbit bedding.  Our rabbit hutches (for the breeder rabbits that aren’t out on pasture) have wire bottoms and the rabbit droppings fall through onto the ground.  We throw some straw down on it every week or so and the poultry love to scratch through it looking for worms, grubs, fly larvae, and the scratch grains we put in to encourage this behavior.  In the process the poultry mix up the straw and the rabbit manure and turn it into excellent compost.  This mixture went in with the leaves on top of the branches and prunings.

The next step was to cap these layers with a layer of composted and well-aged cow manure we got from our Amish neighbor David.  He had dumped it in a big pile in a field at the request of the previous owners, but they never got around to using it.  David’s forgotten how long it’s been sitting there, but at this point it is basically just rich, black, crumbly soil.  No smell, no caking, and full of earthworms!  This material was wheelbarrowed over to the new gardens and shoveled on top of the leaves and rabbit bedding to a depth of 2-3 inches.  This will be the layer into which the seeds and transplants will be placed next spring.  You can see what the garden looks like now in the picture below.

The near-completed new garden. All that's left is to finish manuring the last row and to cover with leaves to protect the new soil.

Now the only thing left to do is wait a couple days for some more leaves to fall.  Once that happens I’ll cover this newest layer of aged cow manure with a layer of leaves to protect it from washing away in the rain and blowing away in the wind.  When it’s time to plant in the spring we’ll brush the leaves away a little, plant the seed or transplant, and brush the leaves back into place.

The first year, we’ll have to weed this garden just as much as any other.  But in each successive year the amount of weeding necessary should decrease.  The weeds, along with the parts of vegetable plants that we don’t eat will be left in place as mulch to break down and return the nutrients to the soil.  The roots of plants will be left to decompose in place as well.  From this point on the only additional thing these gardens will need is the seasonal application of some mulch – which we’ll have plenty of in the form of grass clippings, fallen leaves, shed wool from sheep, etc.  The result of these practices will be a garden that doesn’t need any inputs except weeding and mulching.  Other practitioners of this method report that the fertility of their garden increases each year without the addition of synthetic or organic fertilizers.  Mulching and leaving plant waste to decompose in place is enough.

We’ve got the smaller of these two gardens completely done and the other, larger one is in progress.  It’s warmed up enough now to make working on it pleasant, so I’m off to go do that.  Have a great day, and thanks for reading!

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The Greenhouse

We have a greenhouse!

One of the things I was most excited about on our new property was the prospect of finishing the greenhouse that the previous owners had started.  Being in a temperate region, we’ve definitely got some seasons here in Kentucky.  We are located on the border of USDA Zone 6 and USDA Zone 5.  For you non-plant people, that means that it gets kinda cold here in the winter and if we want to extend our growing season we’ll need a finished greenhouse.  Completing this project means that we’ll be able to start seedlings earlier in the year and transplant them outside as the temperatures warm up.  It means that we’ll be able to continue growing plants later in the fall and early winter.  It means that we may be able to produce lettuce, spinach, chard, and such all year.  It means that we can have our aquaponics set up.  And it means that our lemon and lime trees won’t die.

A little about the greenhouse, as we inherited it:
– it’s on a 21′ by 21′ concrete pad
– it has 2 sides built, but no roof or front
– it has a couple of drains and what appear to be heating elements installed in the floor
– it has water pipes in every corner
– it has an electrical box ready to be hooked up on one side.
– it has all of the panels that need to be installed, but they’re lying in the barn
– it has the roof trusses to create the roof, but they’re lying in the field

I’m not sure why the former owners stopped where they did.  They had lovely gardens and obviously could’ve made use of a greenhouse.  They bought all of the materials, made the sides, even welded the roof trusses together (but didn’t put them up).  But they did buy all of the materials and sold them to us with the property.  And they created a wonderful footprint for us to build on.

A little about the construction materials.  The sides, front, and roof of the greenhouse are made from 2″ x 4″ steel tubing.  The panels called PolyGal and are made by a company in the UK.  There is one storm door providing access to the greenhouse.

The first problems we encountered were attaching the roof trusses and constructing a front to the building.  I have not welded since Career Orientation class in high school.  I’m pretty sure Lindsey has never welded.  I’m also positive that we do not own welding equipment.  Since I didn’t want our new greenhouse to fall down and since I’m loathe to operate machinery with the capacity to melt metal when I have scant understanding of how to use said machinery, we decided that hiring a welder would be a good idea.

Around here, welders come in pairs.  And they argue with each other.  A lot.  All day.  And they attempt to get you to settle their disputes.  Yay!  But they were good welders and completed the job in one day for a few hundred dollars.  I think that’s a pretty good price for an entire greenhouse, and I’m willing to not attempt it myself when I can watch someone who knows what they’re doing do the job right.

The welders and I spent about 10 hours one day putting the roof trusses up, installing the roof beams, and putting a front on the building.  They did a great job.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t come back for free and help us put all of the panels on.  That took a long time.

Putting the plexiglass panels on the greenhouse was fairly straightforward.  It was just time consuming.  Especially the roof panels.  Holding a roof panel straight and level, drilling the holes, changing bits, and screwing in the screws is hard to do with only 2 hands with 15-plus feet in the air.  I was always tempted to use one hand to hold onto something.  Silly me.

Anyway, we got all of the roof panels on, installed all of the side panels, and then cut the pieces for the front of the building.

With the building suitable enclosed in plexiglass, we set about installing the door.  We found a storm door in the barn near the panels.  If it wasn’t originally intended for greenhouse use, then it was co-opted.  It’s on there now.  We also put in a closer so that the door can be propped open on warm days to help ventilate the building.

Next task in the greenhouse: putting in the trellis for our climbing beans and fruits and finding something to use for holding the fish we’ll get in the early spring.

Enjoy the pictures and the movie!  (Rated PG: Parental Guidance.  Mom – I was safe at all times in the following pictures)

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Money, Math, and Movie

Part of the money from our very first sale. Lindsey says we should hang it upside down like Chinese restaurants do so it won't run out of luck.

We made our first two sales this weekend!  On Friday we sold one of our “pet type” lop rabbits to a couple who wanted a bunny for their grandson.  They came by the house around 7 pm and picked out a nice black and white lop rabbit.  We boxed it up and off it went to live with a (hopefully) loving child.  The $5 bill above is part of the $15 from the sale of that rabbit.

Then on Saturday we made another sale.  On Monday a customer from Campbellsville called and placed an order for 2 of our meat rabbits.  She wanted to pick then up on Saturday, which is good because after processing they need to chill (literally) for a couple of days to age the meat.  Since we’ve only raised these rabbits for half of the normally required grow-out period of 12 weeks I did the math and figured out that $2 per pound of liveweight would give us a profit and provide us the hourly wage we’re looking for from our farm endeavors.  Because these rabbits dressed out at 60%, that means that we’d be charging $3.33 per pound dressed.  I think that our price per pound will go up on those rabbits that we raise from birth, however.

The customer bought the live rabbits from us, and I dressed them as a courtesy for them.  So on Wednesday I had to process rabbits for the first time.  The processing went smoothly and the rabbits did not suffer, but it’s still a little graphic for me to describe in writing.  If you want to know how to process rabbits there are lots of good books, internet articles, and videos that you can google.  After processing the rabbits and composting the remains, the meat went into the fridge to age until Saturday when the customer picked it up.  I felt like an actual businessman writing up receipts.

Receipt from the first food we sold!

Now here’s where more patience comes in…  I figure that I work around 11 hours a day for 6 days of the week and for 2 hours on the other.  That means I work roughly 68 hours per week.  We’ve been here 14 weeks so far.  That means I’ve worked about 952 hours so far.  I’ve made $39.  That means my hourly rate is…….  4¢.  And that’s without subtracting the expenses yet.  Ouch.

This week has been really busy, as usual.  I’ve chopped and cleared out our bamboo patch to a more reasonable and aesthetically pleasing arrangement.  Tomorrow I’m going to cut all the leaves off of the chopped bamboo to make poles to dry and use for the garden and building Lifestyles Lane structures.  The leaves will go into the gardens to compost for spring plantings.

Fall plantings are in place and finally sprouting after a small rain this week.  We’ve had several weeks without precipitation, so it took a little while for the seeds to sprout.  The plantings include spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, peas, carrots, onions, and parsnips and are all growing now.  Hopefully they can evade the feet of the turkeys who come by every day to debug the garden.  They’ve really dented the squash bug populations.  The butternut squashes are now curing in the office for a couple of weeks until they go into the basement for storage.  Then into pies and soups!

The turkeys also do lots of other fun things.  See below.

They are doing well and their growth rate really seems to be taking off now.  They are also getting bolder and will explore further from the poultry house every day.  They will go all the way up the hill behind the house and halfway out into the front pasture, so their range is now about a half mile from their “base.”  Now we just have to see what we’re going to do with them.  One has been committed to fill an order (thanks Aunt Sheila!) and one will be our Thanksgiving supper.  We have 1 male and 2 females of the Chocolates and Black Spanish turkeys, so if no one else places any orders we may save them until spring and try to breed our own turkeys for next year instead of ordering them.

On to the caprine kingdom!  The goats seem to be doing great!  They are making short work of the  brush behind the house that was too thick to chop down or bush hog.  The goats have changed that.  Each section that they go through is eaten down to the point that I can now go through there with the machete and clear the rest of it out.  They really enjoy the brush and eat it preferentially over the grass they have available.

Maggie, the goats’ livestock guardian dog, is doing a great job watching over them.  She does take a little getting used to, however, because she watches over them at night by announcing her presence with authority.  That means a lot of barking.  🙂  Unlike the other livestock guardian dogs we’ve been around, Maggie really enjoys human attention.  I went into the goat paddock the other day to fix the shelter that the goats had broken a part of and I could barely accomplish any of the repairs because Maggie kept sticking her basketball-sized noggin in between my arm and my body wanting to be petted.  She really is sweet.

So it’s Sunday.  The dogs are sleeping on the couch, the goats are playing king of the mountain on the gravel pile, the turkeys are catching grasshoppers, and the chicks are cheeping.  Good day!

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Fall Approacheth

My family poses on (and around, for Grandma Bailey) one of the hay bales in the ridgetop field.

Fall is coming very quickly, especially for those of us who are used to South Texas.  In South Texas fall is more of an idea than an actual season.  No trees change color, there’s no falling leaves, and we really never have a frost until maybe January, if then.  Here it’s Labor Day and we haven’t used the air conditioner in about a week, the smaller shrubs and trees are starting to change colors faintly, and I can definitely see my breath in the mornings.  In our rural neighborhood the second or third haying is being finished, the corn mazes are springing up, and pumpkins are starting to appear at roadside stands.  Alas, the squash bugs got our pumpkins.

This weekend we took advantage of the wonderful 70-degree weather and went hiking around our property.  We always discover new things and enjoy passing by some of our favorite spots, such as the cave and the Crazy Plant.

Scooter "El Conquistador Timido" examines the entrance to the small cave we've found. Neither Scooter nor Lindsey will go in it.

Lindsey poses next to the Crazy Plant. This unidentified monster has the biggest leaves I've ever seen on a plant this far north of the tropics. Anyone care to ID it?

Bailey and Scooter love to go on the hikes.  Sometimes the turkeys try to follow, too, but they get tired quickly.  🙂  They just like to follow me wherever I go.  It’ll make the week before Thanksgiving logistically simpler if they keep doing that.  Today I was sitting in the porch swing shelling some of the black beans we’ve grown and the turkeys decided to come sit on the porch with me.  A couple of them even decided to sit on the other bench.  They’re funny, I tell you.

The turkeys hold court on the front porch while I was shelling black beans. The turkeys are always doing something amusing.

We also got the fall veggies planted today after a trip to Louisville to buy a suit for my brother’s wedding.  Hopefully we can just cover them during the tricky cold nights and have a good harvest through late November.  Today Swiss chard, spinach, parsnips, carrots, lettuces (Romaine and Simpson’s), snap peas, and onions went into the ground.  I’m trying an experiment, so I just basically swept the squash vine remains into a corner to compost in place and then prepped the soil before I mixed all the seeds together and scattered them.  I’ve seen some permaculture videos about doing that and it seems to work out well for them, so I thought I’d try it.  I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

As noted yesterday, the final batch of broilers for the year was put out on pasture this weekend and they are doing well.  I just wanted to report on the first couple of tractor moves because I’ve never seen anyone else discuss this point before.  In any case, there is a definite learning curve for the little chicks the first couple of times the tractor is moved in the morning.  I can understand.  If my house started to move one length over, I would be freaked out too.  The little chicks don’t know what to do the first few times this happens.  They learn to walk along with it pretty quickly, but the first couple of moves always happen in 1″ or 2″ increments with multiple stops when loud squawking alerts me to the fact that some chick has a leg (or wing, or neck) stuck underneath the tractor somewhere.  Right now we’re still in the learning curve for this batch – today moving each tractor took 4 or 5 minutes.  Usually it’s less than 10 seconds.  The White Rocks from last batch learned quickly, though, and I’m confident that these chicks are bright enough to figure this out soon.

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July 16 – August 6, 2010

In this post I will attempt to fill you in pictorially on everything that’s happened on the ranch since the Great Isolated Internet Earthquake of 2010.  There’s too much to relate in an extensive post, so please read the captions on the pictures. Enjoy!

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Guess what we found?

There are several old gardens around the house that weren’t started this year because the former owners were moving.  The way that some of them are grown up with weeds I wonder if they were used for the last several years…

Anyway, Lindsey and I were walking around the gardens last night and saw this:

See anything?

Need a closer look?

How about now?

See the tomatoes?  🙂

We found at least 30 volunteer tomatoes growing in that mess of weeds.  I guess they grew from fruit that had fallen in the previous years.  We’ve seen them in at least 3 of the old gardens so far, but there was one particular spot that had about 30 plants.  We had some old tomato cages in the barn, so I got those out and Lindsey and I began to clear out the weeds and stake up the tomatoes in the cages.

Newly caged tomatoes

We tried to choose the healthiest plants and several different varieties to cage up and keep growing and still leave ourselves a little pathway to walk through and pick the tomatoes.

After we were done it looked like this:

Tomato patch cleared out and plants caged up

Unfortunately we did have to “cull” some of the smaller, less healthy plants as well as some of the ones that were just growing too close together and stunting each other’s growth.  But having about 20 healthy tomato plants of several different varieties that we did not have to buy or plant is a nice morning’s discovery!

Some photos of the triumphant tomateers:

Lindsey

Geoff

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Jammin’

Lindsey and I decided that we have WAY too many blackberries hiding up on the hill, so we went up and picked some.  We learned that we did, in fact, have a lot of ripe berries to pick.  We also learned that we had at least 5-6 times as many berries that weren’t even close to ripe yet.  Blackberry season is extended!  Maybe it will last until our friends (Laurie and Rachel) and Lindsey’s family come to visit in late July.  Then we can form some berry-pickin’ expeditions!

We picked way too many blackberries to eat fresh, so we decided to jam them.  We used 4 cups of berries, 4 cups of sugar, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, and a box of pectin.  We washed and crushed the berries, heated them to boiling, then stirred in the pectin and sugar.  The whole mix gets returned to a boil for a minute or two, then we canned the whole mess.  We ended up with 7 jars of blackberry jam.  Sweet and delicious!

We also picked about 2 cups of blueberries off of the 1 blueberry bush we’ve found.  Those little wild blueberries are so good though that they barely make it into the basket, much less into a jam or jelly.  They just get eaten so fast!

Homemade blackberry jam

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Mulching

Most of the plants in our garden that we planted from seed have sprouted and grown, some of the ones we bought are already starting to fruit! I think pretty much everything has sprouted that is going to sprout, so Lindsey and I spent a morning mulching the “crops.”

The mulch serves 3 main purposes:
– Covers the ground to retain soil and moisture, contributing to less water usage.
– Prevents at least most of the weeds from sprouting, thereby making us weed less often.
– Fertilizes the garden as it decomposes in place, keeping us from having to use fertilizers.

The garden is doing very well so far! We water at least every other day because it’s been hot and dry. It’s only rained once since we planted the garden. Here are some pictures of the mulching and plants:

Lettuce and bean beds

Corn, cabbage, and more beans

Zucchini

Yellow squash

Corn

Cabbage

Beets

Broccoli

Peas

Pencil-pod beans

Lemons

We do have lots of other veggies planted as well, but I thought you’d be bored enough with plant pictures by this point!

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