Category Archives: Infrastructure

Early Spring Update

The year's first asparagus. 200 feet from plot to pot.

Ahh, early spring on the farm!  The cherry trees are full of blossoms, the grass is bright green and growing quickly, the garden is planted, and the chickens are brooding eggs for us.  It’s a great time to be working outside.

The rabbits have been breeding for a while.  Unfortunately, our rabbits are not very good mothers.  Two of them abandoned their litters right after birth and would not take care of them.  The other two rabbits that had litters were good mothers.  One had a small litter of 3 bunnies that have done well.  They are 3 weeks old now and busily hopping around their pen exploring.  The second mother was doing fantastic.  She had a litter of 8 bunnies and they all survived and were growing rapidly throughout the first week of their lives.  Then we had a big storm.  We got a couple inches of rain the night before last and all through yesterday.  We did not know that the roof of that rabbit’s cage would not hold up against the storm.  It started dripping water right through the back half of the roof where the rabbit had made her nest.  All the poor bunnies got soaked and too cold.  None of them made it.  Those discoveries are always hard, and the blow is especially severe when the bunnies came from our two best rabbits and were doing so well.  We even had them sold!  Setbacks, setbacks…

Thomas and Not Thomas enjoying their first romp on the new spring grass.

On a brighter note, all the Black Australorp chicks we hatched out are doing great!  The first two (the only two that hatched successfully from our frozen January egg clutch) got to go out onto pasture today in their very own chicken tractor.  They are enjoying exploring the outside world, catching their first bugs, and tasting their first grass.  They’ve got all their feathers now, so they should be fine unless we get a really cold snap come in.  If that happens they can go back into the brooder for the night.  The second clutch is so vibrant!  We had 30 successfully hatch, and all 30 of them are doing wonderfully!  The chicks we got from the hatchery last year had a few problems with weak chicks and chicks who developed pasty deposits around their anuses.  These home-hatched chicks have had NONE of those problems whatsoever.  It’s really remarkable.  Hopefully the last batch of chicks we just got in will be the last chickens we have to order and we’ll be able to hatch them all out on-farm from now on.

Speaking of which, we just picked up our (hopefully) last ever chicken and turkey order from the post office this morning.  52 Naked Neck chickens (we’re calling them Kentucky Redneck Chickens) and 48 Narragansett and Bourbon Red turkey poults have joined the Black Australorp chicks and Magpie ducklings in the broodhouse.  We had 2 of the turkey poults DOA, but so far everyone else seems healthy so hopefully they’ll prosper in their new locale.  The video below shows the new chicks, the old chicks, and some footage of the greenhouse and garden.

Lindsey’s family came in last week and they helped us transplant the seedlings we started in the greenhouse to the garden so now our garden is full of our cool-weather crops: broccoli, sweet peas, Amish snap peas, radishes, 3 kinds of carrots, turnips, 5 kinds of lettuce, spinach, chard, onions, mustard greens, and kale.  The little seedlings have adjusted well to the outdoors with a minimum of hardening off.  We’ve been picking salad greens for a while and are now waiting on our first peas and radishes to be ready.  Yesterday we got to eat the season’s first asparagus.  So good!  I don’t really like asparagus from the grocery store too much, but the fresh stuff is to die for!  The strawberry patch that we’ve worked so hard to revamp by removing the weeds and old plants, mulching, and fertilizing with rabbit manure has really taken off.  Lots of new leaves and plants loaded with blooms.  We are looking forward to a good crop of strawberries in another few weeks if we can fight off the birds and pick our fair share of them.

In other news, the Eggmobile we’ve been building for the chickens should be finished this weekend so check for a how-to post on that in the near future.

We also revamped the Good Life Ranch website to make it more informative and easier to navigate.  Check it out and let us know what you think!

Enjoy the update!  I’ve got to get back to work outside!

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Long-Overdue but Less-Than-Necessary Update

One end of our as-yet-uncompleted new fence.

My posting frequency lately partially reflects the slower pace of farm life in winter and partially reflects the enormity and repetitiveness of the latest task we have undertaken here on the ranch.  Fencing!

Well, permanent fencing.  We have electric fencing that we use to move the goats (and hopefully other ruminants to come) around on pasture.  The electric fencing is very useful and we will continue to utilize it to control the animals’ access to grass and thereby improve our pastures over time.  However, electric fencing is a psychological barrier rather than a physical one and the ranch has a lot of road frontage on a very busy highway.  Therefore we want to have a physical barrier at least around the pastures that adjoin the busy highway.

We’ve chosen to go with a 4-foot tall woven wire fence around those 2 pastures.  We had planned and set aside money to complete both fields this winter but now only the front field will get done this year due to the financial fiasco that is our current health care system.  The woven wire will be attached to cedar posts because we didn’t want to use the treated posts on our land and leach those chemicals into the ground and eventually into our livestock.

The weather and I have been battling over this fence.  I’ve chosen to let the weather win today because digging progress tends to be very limited when the ground is frozen solid by -4°F temperatures.  Tomorrow I will win.  I hope.  If not, the ground has to unfreeze eventually.

Fencing isn’t too bad of a job if you’ve got some music or something to occupy your mind.  I listen to the Nature’s Harmony Farm podcasts as I go.  The post holes are 4 feet deep for the end posts and brace posts and 3 feet deep for all the line posts.  With 162 posts needed to enclose our front field, that means I’ll dig 542 feet into the earth on this little project.  Whew!  This is why people with tractors use them for fencing projects.  We are setting the posts with gravel from the creek.  Using gravel to fill the post holes allows the water to drain away from the posts after it rains, which makes the posts last longer.  It’s a pain to haul a wheelbarrow full of gravel for every 2 posts I set, but if it means that we don’t have to buy and install new posts for an extra 5 or 10 years it’s a good trade-off.  Anything to keep from repeating this amount of digging for a few extra years!

We’ll let you know when the fence is done – then we can get sheep and cattle and pigs oh my!

Hayrack, Jr.

Hayrack, Sr. served us faithfully, but could not stand up to Ivory.

Okay, so goats are pretty destructive.  I built Hayrack, Sr. this fall for roughly $7 and it has served us well.  The goats like it and the hay is easily accessible to them.  However, the rack is low to the ground and some of the goats (well, Ivory, specifically) like to climb into the hayrack on top of the hay.  This does two things that are detrimental to a poor man’s hayrack.  First, it breaks the wires that hold the garden trellises on to the goats’ portable shelter.  Second, it bends and disfigures the garden trellises themselves.  So that led us to attempt Hayrack, Jr.

The previous owners of the property left us many items.  One of them was a rectangular prism of steel 2×4’s about 6 feet high, 6 feet long, and 30 inches wide.  We decided that the steel framework would make a very sturdy hayrack.

So we hauled it over to the goats’ winter paddock and unloaded the frame.  We took some 36″ high wire fencing with 2″ x 4″ spaces and cut 2 sections to match the length of the steel frame.  Then we tied one edge of the fence to the top bar of the frame by weaving heavy gauge wire though the fence.  We repeated that process with the other fence section on the other side of the steel frame before using lighter gauge wire to weave the bottom of the 2 fence sections together.  That made a hammock of galvanized fencing and wire into which we could put the hay for the goats.  The hay is about 30″ off of the ground (much higher than in Hayrack, Sr.) and we hope that will help keep the goats from spreading hay all over the ground and wasting it.

That by itself would have been a functional hayrack.  But it does rain a lot in the winter and early spring, so we decided to put a roof on the hayrack.  We used some scrap wood and corrugated metal roofing to put a simple (and ugly) roof on the hayrack to keep the hay dryer and minimize the waste.

We then left the goats to christen Hayrack, Jr.  We hope it will still be standing by evening chore time.

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Dealing with Winter

Early morning after snowfall

I’m finding winter hard.

There are the obvious things.  Chores are more difficult when all the water is frozen every morning and your fingers stick to every metal latch that won’t open while you’re wearing gloves.  You can’t put in fence posts when the ground is frozen.  You’ve got to feed  hay to the goats because there’s nothing left for them to browse.

What’s been harder for me is the waiting and planning.  Planning makes me fret.  We’ve got all of these things we need to get done, and I’m wondering how in the world it can all happen.

We are trying to put a perimeter fence around some of our pastures to keep predators out and our own livestock and guardian dogs safely in.  That was supposed to happen this winter but the medical bills from my appendectomy seem to be preventing it for now.

We are trying to plan and design our Lifestyle Lane simulation, but the more I read about the regulations, the more daunting the expenditures to comply seem to become.  There are some quite specific regulations, even to the point of dictating how far one camper’s head can be from another camper’s head while they are sleeping.  We’ve got to have a single structure capable of holding all campers with a 30 square foot minimum per person.  For us, that mean a minimum of a 5,400 square foot building with a poured concrete floor complete with at least 16 showers, 12 toilets, 4 urinals, and 12 sinks.  There must be 30 foot-candles of light at a height of 18″ off the floor that has built-in drains.  Bunk beds must have a minimum of 27″ from the top of the bottom mattress to the bottom of the top mattress.  I wonder how bunk beds reconcile with the 6 foot distance between heads while sleeping?  Maybe if we arrange the bedding head to toe and measure on the diagonal…

If we want to put a kitchen in the building, the regulations start to make my head spin.  One kitchen would require a minimum of 5 sinks, 7 signs, 3 freezers, 3 refrigerators, 2 non-cooled food storage areas, 8 calibrated thermometers (both independent and mounted on various appliances), a dishwasher with a warning bell in case the detergent is not dispensed, and various implements of food preparation and destruction that may or may not be able to include cast iron, depending upon how you are reading the law.  It’s also unclear whether the kickplates on appliances and counters can be attached with Phillips-head screws or hex screws.  Hmmm…

This is a situation where normally I would go do some physical labor or run around outdoors to make my head quit spinning, but it’s hard to find something that I am able to do right outside right now.  There’s only so many times I can clean the rabbits.

So I make some drawings of structures we want to build, try to imagine building the fences in short sections, and hope we get a grant for some of this.

And I wait for spring.

The Farm in Winter

Roughhousing.

Welcome to 2011!  Just don’t call it “two thousand eleven” in front of my dad.  You’ll get an argument…

With the new year comes a new layout for the blog.  Thanks to my brother Will/Billy for the photo and our friends Cassie, Adele, Kathy, and Angela for the depicted rooster.  Hopefully this theme is a little more personal and a little less garish.  Faithful friends who began reading this blog in Year One can always brag that they were there for the overpoweringly green theme that was 2010.

We haven’t seen much green around the farm lately.  Lots of snow has fallen and stayed on the ground.  Dry Creek, the waterway that forms the northwestern boundary of Good Life Ranch, is frozen over.  This morning I saw a mink happily walking along in the middle of the frozen creek.  You see a lot more wildlife when Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (Scooter and Bailey, our house dogs) are inside.  Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum don’t like to do morning chores when it’s cold and snowy, so they sit on the front porch and whine until Mama Lindsey lets them back inside.

On the plus side of snowy weather, we get to go sledding down the big hill in the pastures behind the house.  My parents gave Lindsey (well, both of us, but it’s been claimed) a sled for Christmas and it sure is fun to use.  It’s a really nice sled – fast, sturdy, easy to turn, big enough for two people – and we’ve given it a couple of uses so far.  In fact, after I write this I’m going to go sledding this afternoon.

Lindsey hoists her new sled.

The dogs like sledding, too.  They chase us down then hill and sometimes get in the way.  Then at the bottom of the hill they crowd around us like they are so glad that we emerged alive from the reckless activity we had just undertaken.  Then they pose for photographs.

Posing.

Bailey and her fellers.

So, besides sledding, what do farmers do in winter?

Well….

1.  We read and research.  In addition to a couple of books for fun reading, I’ve read The Contrary Farmer, It’s a Long Road to a Tomato, and One-Straw Revolution so far this winter.  I also read other farmer’s blogs and webpages looking for ideas and tips in order to work smarter around here.

2.  We plan.  I’ve laid out and measured fence lines for 3 of our pastures so far.  I’ve planned out 3 of the Lifestyles Lane structures that we’ll start building over Spring Break.  I’ve planned out the planting schedule for our greenhouse and gardens for the year.  I’ve tried to organize a Community-Supported Agriculture program for our area in 2011.  No takers so far.

3.  We order things.  Seeds mostly.  Last week I researched and ordered all the seeds we should need for the upcoming year.  We are planning on having (drum roll, please): 3 varieties of onions, 5 varieties of garlic, 6 varieties of corn, broccoli, leeks, cabbage, chard, spinach, 6 varieties of lettuce, arugula, mustard greens, collard greens, beets, 3 varieties of peas, 8 varieties of beans, 3 kinds of potatoes, 2 varieties of carrots, kale, radishes, sweet potatoes, 4 kinds of peppers, 5 kinds of tomatoes, eggplants, turnips, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, 3 kinds of melons, and parsnips.  We should also have our perennial crops of asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, walnuts, hazelnuts, plums, and pears.  Hopefully our peaches will do better this year too.

4.  We price things we’ll need.  This is a good time of year to scrounge the internet and the phone lines looking for the best prices on items we’ll need during the upcoming year: fence posts and wire, feed, and seeders, for example.

5.  We build up our infrastructure.  During some “nice weather” pockets that I hope will be coming in the next two months, there will be some fence posts going into the ground.  We have 5 pastures here on the ranch – the front field (13 acres), the side field (12 acres), the hillside field (20 acres), the creek field (15 acres), and the hilltop field (12 acres).  We can’t afford to fence them all in, so we are starting with the ones closest to the road and working our way back from there.  We want to get the front field fenced this winter and the side field done before the end of next winter.

6.  We rest.

We’ve also had fun lately with our new weather station.  Good Life Ranch does not have the same weather as the closest places for which the local stations report or the closest places that the iPhone apps will find.  Our temperatures seem to vary by as much as 15°F from these “local” reports.  We also wanted an accurate way to measure our precipitation, humidity, wind speed, etc.  So my parents got us a nice little wireless weather data station for the house.  I’ve had fun monitoring it and it has a nice feature of being able to download that data to a computer for storage.  So far our highest temp in January is 61°F and our lowest is -3°F.

 

Our new weather station.
The console for the new weather station.

In livestock news, the chickens are laying 4-6 eggs per day.  So now we’ve got enough to sell.  The eggs are really good even though the yolks have paled slightly from the first burnt-orange ones we got.  They are still much better than the grocery store eggs.  Today they went all out and gave us 9 eggs, which is fantastic!

 

9 eggs from our laying hens today. Really good production for cold, snowy January without supplemental light!

The goats are getting a little tamer lately.  They are starting to recognize that I bring their food now since they’ve been getting hay only for about a month.  Well, hay and a little bamboo that I chop out of our patch every few days.  Nadine and Ivory will even let me pet them now.  More correctly, I can brush the hay off of their backs while they’re eating until they notice that I’m doing it.

Sgt. Pepper is growing quickly and Maggie Mae is doing a good job teaching him the livestock guarding business.  Sgt. Pepper now makes a big show of barking at Scooter when the latter comes with me to feed the dogs and the goats in the corral.  He’s still about half of Scooter’s weight, but he’s just as tall.  The fluff makes him look bigger.  Maggie and Pepper play constantly.  I think she’s glad to have the canine company.

I asked the goats if they felt unsafe with their guardian dogs distracted by playing with each other.  To a doe, they all said “Naaa.”

 

 

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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Building a Hay Rack

Fancy, Ebony, and Ivory are thrilled with their new hayrack.

Well, I’m still on “light duty” from my appendectomy.  I’m not supposed to do anything real strenuous yet and since all the things I had planned for this winter were “heavy duty” moving or building I decided to make providing for our goats a little easier on us and a lot less wasteful of hay.  Winter feeding of hay is the number one operating expense in most livestock operations, so we want to minimize the amount of hay we have to feed and utilize the hay we feed as efficiently as possible through good management and decision making.

In the future we hope to be able to graze our ruminants year round without supplemental hay except in the worst years but we have to get our pastures into much better shape before that can happen.  So this year we will have to feed hay to supplement the browsing and grazing of the goats.  I thought we were going to be able to make it until January before we had to feed any hay, but we’ve had such a cold snap here lately that the grass is fading fast.  The temps here have been in the teens this week – no higher than 28°F on any day – and have been in the single digits at night.  So basically we had to start feeding some hay.

Since we’re new at all this we started by placing a hay bale on top of a dog house thinking that LGD Maggie Mae could get some shelter and the hay would stay up off the ground.  That strategy worked for somewhere between three and five minutes.  After that time, the goats had knocked over the doghouse, spread the hay all over the ground, and they and Maggie had made little nests in the hay in which to sleep.  Seeing all of the goats and Maggie sleeping in their nests was very cut, but hay is expensive, and that was going to waste a lot of it.

From the couple of days I spent carrying hay out to the goats I could tell doing that every morning was going to get really old really quickly, so I started thinking about making a portable hay rack.  Lots of companies make hay racks, but I was unable to find one that was designed to be moved around pastures with the animals.  Most people either bring large round bales to central feeding points for non-rotationally-grazed animals or they bring their animals into a hayshed in the winter and feed them there.  We’ll probably opt for the latter strategy eventually, but we need to build a hayshed and small stockyard first.  That way we can store the manure in one place through the winter when the pastures can’t absorb the fertilizer and spread it in the spring when it can be utilized.  But for now we have no hayshed and no stockyard, so we needed another solution.

As I said, I couldn’t find any portable hay racks to model one after, so I tried to think of the solution that would be easiest for us.

I decided that attaching a hay rack to the goats’ portable shelter would be the easiest thing for us to do since doing it that way would create no extra work in moving it.  We already move the shelter with the goats anyway – a task that has gotten much easier thanks to my dad, who put wheels on the goat shelter while I was in the hospital.  Now that thing pulls so easily!  That used to be the worst part of moving the goats, but no more!

Anyway, I attached a remnant 4′ x 4′ piece of plywood to one side of the shelter and then angled two old garden trellises that I found into the bottom of the plywood and through the bottom frame of the goat shelter.  Then I attached a wire to the top frame of the goat shelter, wove it through the trellis for added support, and attached the wire to the top frame of the shelter on the other side of the plywood.  See the video below for a visual.

As you can see, this is a perfectly functional poor-man’s hay rack that moves right along with the goat shelter from paddock to paddock.  I used stuff we had lying around, but if you want to copy this it would only cost you about $22.  A full piece of plywood runs about $8 at Lowe’s and I saw similar trellises at Wal-Mart for $6.97 each.  You’d even have a half sheet of plywood left over at that price.

Hopefully the goats will be kind to it and not break it to pieces, but I think the worst they could do it bend the wire on the trellises.  That shouldn’t be too hard to fix if it becomes necessary.

After 24 hours, the hayrack has seemed very successful at keeping the hay off of the ground and at giving the goats access to the hay.

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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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Lindsey’s Fall “Break”

 

The foliage along Dry Creek is beginning to change colors.

 

Lindsey has had the last 11 days off of work, so on her fall “break” she became my willing helper!  I’ve saved up 2 large tasks that needed two people to complete – cleaning out the barn and setting up the greenhouse.  The greenhouse will be covered in its entirety in a separate post once it’s finished, so stay tuned.

I must apologize for not writing as often as I should.  If excuses are necessary, then mine are:
1.  we’ve had visitors, farmsitters, and went to a wedding.
2.  it hasn’t rained in many moons, so my indoor time has been greatly diminished.
3.  it really does take a lot of work to get this place up and running, and sometimes after completing the physical work the last thing I want to do is rehash it.

The wedding was my brother’s.  It took place in Breckenridge, Colorado, which meant vacation time!  Lindsey’s parents were kind enough to farmsit for us while we went to the wedding.  They took care of all of the animals and gardens while Lindsey and I celebrated with Billy and Keri.  Breckenridge was beautiful in the fall and the weekend was almost perfect.  The wedding was perfect.  The Razorbacks blew the lead they had over then-#1 Alabama, and that was the only perfect weekend foil.

 

Lindsey and I keep Billy's dog Maddie company during the rehearsal.

 

 

Ten Mile Station, site of Billy and Keri's wedding. Isn't it gorgeous?

 

 

Aspens in fall colors provide a backdrop for the wedding.

 

Back in Kentucky the trees are changing colors, too.  Some of them, like the maples and pears, are changing colors because it’s October and that’s what they do.  Others of them, like the cypresses and pines, are changing colors because it’s been so dry here that they are starting to yellow and brown.  Needles are drying up and falling off.  Our brainstormed U-Pick-‘Em Christmas tree idea is starting to lose inventory before December even gets close.  The pasture crackles underfoot.  We need rain badly.  Hopefully it will rain before winter.

If we do get winter storms, we now have a place that can shelter the animals!  Lindsey and I spent 3 days clearing out the barn from top to bottom, eliminating many years of junk, debris, and manure.  Now we’ve got some stalls for the goats in case we get wet windy weather in the winter.

I don’t know exactly when our barn was built.  The previous owner of the property said the 1920’s or 1930’s.  I know that it was standing for sure in 1947, because there is a whole family’s worth of initials from the original family to have owned the property carved into one of the planks and it’s dated “1947.”  My father-in-law’s a detective.  I listen and learn.  The barn is 2 stories with a drive-through lane through the middle of the ground floor.  On one side of the drive through lane are 2 stalls, a large storage area, and a staircase to the hayloft on the second floor.  On the other side of the driving lane is a single stall and an even larger storage area.  On that side there is also a small storage area above the stall.

We found all manner of stuff in the barn.  Greenhouse panels (yay!).  Ancient corn cobs and tobacco leaves (expected).  Large piles of rusty barbed wire (boo!).  Manure, hay, tobacco plates, tobacco sticks, trellises, lumber, scrap metal, an antenna, plastic mulching sheets, planters, draft horse collars.  We learned that baling twine never disintegrates and that it’s best not to think about how old that cloud of manure dust may be.

In any case, most of the barn is in good shape.  Two of the three stalls are usable right now if we needed to put the goats in there during a severe winter storm.  The other stall needs a new floor and a new floor beam.  That’s a project for another day, but other than that and some rotted floorboards in the hayloft the barn is in surprisingly good structural shape.

Almost everything we found got saved or recycled.  We did dump one load at the landfill, unfortunately, but that couldn’t be helped.  One load of trash that we couldn’t think of a use of from at least 64 years of inhabitation isn’t too terrible, I guess.  We paid $13 to dump the load of trash and got $37.50 for the aluminum and scrap metal, so all in all we have a clean barn and enough money to see a couple of movies.  That’s right, big city friends, I said a couple of movies.  For both of us.  Life’s cheaper at the Green River Theater.

Enjoy a few pictures of the barn cleanin’:

 

Lindsey sweeps out one of the barn's stalls.

 

 

No, I'm not robbing the barn. The hankerchief was necessary to keep manure dust out of my mouth.

 

 

Shoveling ancient hay and manure from the barn's hayloft.

 

 

The floor in the barn loft could use some work, but at least it's visible now. It was buried under corn cobs and tobacco leaves.

 

 

Any guesses as to what these might be? The one on the left is ceramic. The right one is metallic.

 

 

One of the stalls has a floor that has seen better days. A future project...

 

 

The big pile of junk in the barn. Most will be re-used in Lifestyles Lane, some had to go to the scrap metal place. A little went to the dump, unfortunately.

 

 

The turkeys enjoyed perching on all of the new stuff coming out of the barn and generally getting in the way as much as possible.

 

The turkeys enjoyed sitting on all of the new perches we were providing them as we cleaned the barn.  Being old heritage breeds, they are quite good flyers and are capable of roosting in the trees and on top of the barn when they want to.  Their favorite nighttime roost is the tailgate of the trailer, but I make them go in the poultry house.  We have enough coyotes around here at night without putting sleepy turkey on their menu.

 

Everything's a turkey perch. Fence. Trash. Front porch swing. Truck. Tree. Cold frame. Dog. Chicken tractor....

 

The turkeys are getting pretty big now.  Big enough that they’ve decided that they can chase Scooter, our 45-lb dog, around with impunity.  One hen in particular seems to enjoy tormenting him, but the whole flock will join her.  He will mostly stand his ground with the one hen, but as soon as multiple turkeys enter the fray, he takes off running and the turkeys take off chasing him.  Bailey, our older dog who is roughly twice Scooter’s size, occasionally comes to his rescue and chases the turkeys away.  Mostly she seems to enjoy watching the turkeys do to Scooter what Scooter does to her most of the time.  I’m not sure what brought this on.  Scootie’s new favorite thing is finding the turkey feathers on the ground and running all over the place with the feathers in his mouth.  Maybe the turkeys think he’s stealing them.

 

Scooter's latest fascination is turkey feathers. He loves to collect them and run all over the place with them in his mouth.

 

Besides the barn, our farm is starting to appear more legit.  We’ve made some money lately selling rabbits.  The goats are rotating through the pasture.  The junk, debris, and construction materials have been removed from the fields.  Neighbor David has harvested his corn from the fields he leases from us.  In exchange he’s cut and baled the hay in the front pasture.  All in all, the farm is looking much better than when we arrived in June.

 

Neighbor David's hay bales decorate the front field.

 

In other news on the bird front, the Cornish X White Rock broilers have a date with the processor on Tuesday morning.  This time, in an effort to be as local as possible, we are using the processor 8 minutes away from us for the first time.  We’ll see how he does!  I can tell you that we won’t be having any underweight chickens this time.  Check out these fatties in the video below:

The guineas have also been growing, although we’re just using them for tick management around the house and barn area.  Some of them have fallen prey to a couple of critters, but the remaining ones sure do a great job clearing out ticks and grasshoppers!

Speaking of predators, the coyotes have been coming close at night.  The other night they were right outside the goats’ paddock.  I could hear the coyotes making a racket and I could hear our livestock guardian dog Maggie growling.  Usually she barks a lot at night as she patrols, but this was deep-throated, threatening growling.  The coyotes eventually took off, so Maggie did her job in the first challenge of her authority.  Way to go, girl!

 

Maggie's mug. This is what coyotes see when they sniff around the goats at night.

 

 

Lindsey feeds Maggie while Bailey investigates the possibility of pilfering her food.

 

 

Maggie's goat herd is rotating through the pastures, hopefully focusing on the many weeds that choke out our grasses and legumes at the moment.

 

Our last project over Lindsey’s “break” has been building the greenhouse.  We’ve had our first frosts already, so we need to get our sensitive San Antonio plants inside the shelter of the greenhouse soon.  It should be ready inside of a week now, and we’ll have a post dedicated to it once the structure is completed.

 

We had our first hard frost on October 2nd. The goats didn't seem to mind, but the basil sure did.

 

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