Category Archives: Lifestyles Lane

Another Growing Season in the Books

It’s been a ridiculous amount of time since I’ve blogged.  I probably should apologize, but I’m not sure if anyone reads this anyway.  But with a 160-acre farm, a full-time teaching job, a wife, and a young son (oh yeah, that is new, too) I feel like blogging definitely falls on the low end of my priority scale.  You understand.

Good Life Ranch has grown and changed a great deal since December 2012, which is the next blog post down the page.

I’ll try to go through the most exciting (for me) changes and improvements we’ve made, in no particular order.

#1 – We traded our goat herd for hair sheep.

 

St. Croix sheep at sunset

 

Not everyone made it into the picture, but you get the idea.

The goats were great, and did their job of clearing brush well.  So well, in fact, that they ate themselves out of a job.  We were actually able to sell the entire herd to one farm so they all got to stay together as a unit and keep their herd structure intact.

Now that our pastures have been improved a bit through our management-intensive rotational grazing, we decided that hair sheep would be a good choice.  They don’t compete much with cattle in terms of the species of plants they graze, they don’t share parasites with cattle so each becomes a dead-end host for the other species’ worms, and the meat is a lot easier to market than goat.   They are also a dream to shepherd around the property, unlike the goats.  They also stay where you put them, unlike goats.   Want to test a maximum security prison?  Put a herd of goats in there and they will find the potential escape routes for you.

 

Our sheep are a bit friendly, as a bonus.

 

#2 – We chose a breed of hog to stick with.

Back in 2012, we were trying out all manner of heritage hog breeds and crosses – we had Gloucester Old Spots, Red Wattles, Mulefoots, Durocs, Tamworths, Hampshires, Berkshires, Herefords…. all have their strengths and weaknesses.

We settled on Large Black hogs.  I trust I don’t need to describes their physical appearance.

Large blacks are good grazers, docile, fertile, good mothers, and very intelligent.  They also have delicious marbled meat that can only be described as “phenomenal.”

They have thrived here for us.  We had a new litter just the other day and the piglets are already roaming all over the pasture following mom on her quest for falling nuts.

 

Piglets! Not large yet, but definitely black.

 

#3 – Our cow herd is growing and thriving.

We have grown from our initial 2 cow-calf pairs into a herd of 17.  We have had a few more animals go through our farm.  Some have graced plates and some have gone to join other herds.

Red poll beef is just awesome.  We raise them for 30 months on nothing but grass of course, and the meat is flavorful and so tender that you really don’t even need a knife on the steaks if you cook them right.  I’ve never had such tender beef before.  I was very nervous before trying it.  Our other meats were very good, but beef on grass only really reflects the character of the grass that the animals are raised on, and I was worried that our still-too-acidic soil would produce off-flavors in the meat.  Not the case at all with our beef.  I’m either lucky or good.  Probably door #1 on that one. 

 

Our herd of cattle and flock of sheep. Our “flerd.”

 

 

A bottle calf. That was a learning curve for everyone.

 

 

Red Poll bull Shuter’s Last Chance aka “Russell”

 

#4 – Back to dogs as livestock guardians.

Even though there is the added chore of feeding them because they don’t eat the same things as the stock they are guarding like llamas and donkeys do, dogs have the advantages of mobility, intelligence, and aggressiveness.  Our new dog, Bubba, is a rescue from a colleague at work, and you don’t mess with his charges.  The first time I picked up a newborn goat kid with Bubba around, he tried to kill my ass.  In front of my grandmother, no less.  Had me down on the ground, big holes in my best jeans.  So now Bubba gets tied to a fence post or tree whenever I have to work with an animal.  But if he’ll do that to me, I now a coyote or a livestock rustler (yes, those exist and strike often around here) doesn’t stand a chance.  Our neighbors have lost animals to both and so far we have not. Bubba did chase a utility company lineman out of the field and the lineman was yelling to his buddies to “shoot the polar bear!”  Bubba is 140 pounds, but still a bit shy of polar bear status.

 

Bubba

 

 

The bane of Bubba’s existence.

 

#5 – Our infrastructure is improving.

We have 4 fields fenced in now, and water access in all 4 with no lugging of 5-gallon buckets for hundreds of yards, which is good becaause I’m getting old.  All told we have around 45-acres of grazeable land now where even if an electric fence is knocked over by wind or a rogue animal the herd still can’t wander off.  

We’ve installed a water tower to gravity feed water to 2 pastures, a solar pump to supply water to the 3rd, and a couple of ponds to collect water for the animals’ use.

 

2 ponds collect water on the hillside

 

I’ve built Eggmobile 2.0 so that the laying chickens can follow the sheep and cattle around the pasture, filling their ecological niche as nature’s sanitation crew.  This version is much sturdier and more maneuverable than its predecessor.  I’ve also built the pigs a Love Shack to keep them warm in the winter and give them a place to make a nest for their litters.  It can be pulled around the farm as needed to keep the pigs moving around the pastures and woodlots as well.

 

Eggmobile 2.0

 

 

The Love Shack for the large black hogs.

 

#6 – I took a Permaculture Design Course and am now a certified permaculture designer and consultant.

This was one of the best courses I have ever taken, and I have been to a LOT of school!  I took the course from a man named Geoff Lawton, who is well-known in the permaculture world, and I can’t say enough about his teaching ability.

If you are unfamiliar with it, permaculture is a discipline that uses ecological principles to benefit humanity and the environment.  Basically learning how to accentuate and accelerate natural processes in order to create security and an abundance of food, energy, and health.  I highly recommend looking into permaculture.  If you’re reading this blog and not a blood relative of mine, you’ll be interested in it.  If you are a blood relative, you may still be interested.  Because it is interesting.  🙂

I am now able to use my knowledge to create and design properties for people who would like to create a little slice of food-producing, energy-producing, waste-reducing, health-increasing, happiness-inducing oasis on their property.  If you are interested in doing something like that, get in contact with me.  I’d love to help you make your dream come true!  

Geoff Lawton doing his thing.

 

#7 – Lifestyles Lane is ready.

Thanks to the help of our intrepid interns, we now have quite the impressive array of structures back in the village.  I believe I have posted about Haiti, Cambodia, and the urban slum.  We also have India, China, a refugee camp, Moldova, and a Maasai round house.

I am indebted to all of our interns who gave so generously of their time and energy to help us build all of this, so I feel the need to credit their effort by listing them here.  They are:  Cameron Day, Alexa Zanikos, Grayson Middleton, Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, Dana Eardley, Meredith Prentice, Sam Abney, Jacob Klein, Riley Francis, Allison Vigil, Rachel Seidner, Trevor Antrim (twice!), Bianca Lopez, Mariana Vazquez-Walter, Alex Cohen, Sarah Elizabeth McLaughlin, Emma (King) Fife, Tyler Swank, Hannah Kavy, Laura Prentice, Gabriela Castanon, Jake Weeth, Joy Rathman (twice!), Mackenzie Despain (twice!), Judah Oechsle, Grace Herndon, Abigail Land, Brianna Vitt, Sarah Gonzalez (twice!), Savannah Gonzalez, Liam Day, Caitee Nigro, Nicholas Ochoa, Avery Riester, and Isabella de la Rosa.  Muchas gracias a todos!

It’s been a great couple years.  I will put more effort into keeping this blog more active.  Please ask questions and give feedback in the comments section.

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Slums

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Another project we completed with our first 2012 interns was a 3-family “slum.”  This is meant to represent how people live on the outskirts of large cities in developing countries throughout the world.  We’ll probably change the country this is supposed to represent often to reflect that this type of dwelling if found throughout  Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America.

To complete this project we utilized mostly recycled and reclaimed lumber, pallets, tires, cardboard, and roofing plastic and metal – although we did have to buy some more roofing material to complete the structure.

One difference between our construction techniques and “real world” construction techniques can be highlighted with the slum dwellings.  I’ve never seen post foundations set 30″ into the ground in a real slum, for example.  I’ve never seen rafters bolted onto posts.  Everything is far more slapped together.  However, we have to balance an authentic look and feel with actual and honest-to-goodness safety.  We simply can’t build slums like they are built in real life because they would eventually fall down and hurt someone.  We can’t have that.

So we took great pains to make the slums – as well as other Lifestyles Lane structures – be structurally sound but visually crummy.  We installed the rafters and cross-beams at odd angles.  We built them on a non-level site.  We used pressure-treated framework and then hid it underneath pallets, tires, plastic, cardboard, pegboard, sheet tin, and all sorts of other junk.

The resulting structure hopefully will give Lifestyles Lane participants the feeling of living in a slum but without the safety risks.

Our interns were great!  Riley Francis, Sam Abney, Rachel Seidner, Allison Vigil, and Jacob Klein slapped this thing together in 4 days!  Days 1 and 2 were digging post holes, installing corner posts, and attaching bracing and framework.  Days 3 and 4 were attaching the roof and filling in the walls (along with a fair amount of graffiting – that structure has been tagged up!).  The final touch will be hanging a ubiquitous blue plastic tarp up to shelter the cooking area from rain.

Haiti

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Whew!

We finally finished Haiti!

First, congratulations and thank-yous are in order for the 14 interns who helped build this structure:  Cameron Day, Alexa Zanikos, Grayson Middleton, Katie Black, Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Julian Cross, Annalise Carington, Dana Eardley, Meredith Prentice, Allison Vigil, Rachel Seidner, Jacob Klein, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney.

We tried to use all local or recycled/reclaimed materials for this dwelling.  This also involved some scrambling and changes of plans – like when we determined that we didn’t have enough tile shingles to make the roof how we had planned and switched to sawn-up door pieces.  The cement blocks were left on the property, the pavers were found piled in a field, the gravel subfloor came from our creek, and the doors were found lying in one of our fields as well.  We only had to buy mortar, some 2×6 rafters, and a few sheets of  plywood.  Now that’s building on a budget!

The first step of the process involved digging a deep trench for the foundation.  Since the ground freezes and thaws here, we had to make sure the heaving of the ground did not crack our mortar.  So with Cameron and Alexa – our first two interns – we dug a trench 30″ deep outlining the entire structure.  That part was definitely tedious and I felt bad for Cameron and Alexa because they only got to see the foundation of the building and nothing of the aboveground features.  After the trench was dug we filled the trench with concrete, leveled it, and let it cure.  Due to rain delays and the difficulty of the digging, that’s as far as we got in the first internship session.

The second step in the process was laying the cement blocks.  Everyone gained a new respect for masons.  The work is not conceptually difficult, but it is practically difficult.  Every block had to be “buttered” with mortar, lifted into place, and leveled.  Grayson, Katie, Julian, Annalise, Catherine, Dana, and Meredith all had a hand in mortaring during the summer of 2011 and together we all got the cement blocks up to the mid-thigh level.

When Dana and Meredith and I tired of mortaring blocks in August 2011, we decided to work on the floor of the dwelling.  All the dirt that you see piled in the middle of the structure in some of the pictures above was hauled off to the Cambodian structure to help form their rice paddy.  The remaining dirt was leveled and then we hauled in gravel from the creek to make a nice drainage bed for the pavers that would make up the floor.  Finally, we found the exact middle of the floor and began laying down the paver stones.

Then Dana and Meredith went home, ending the 2011 internship sessions.

When 2012 rolled around, we were determined to finish the Haitian dwelling as quickly as we could.  Allison, Sam, Riley, Jacob, and Rachel were rock stars.  They began mortaring and laid a level of blocks every morning and a level of blocks every afternoon until every block was in place.  Along the way, they inserted the windows and built a narrow “porch” roof.

The last step was to put on the roof.  We dropped 4×4 posts down into the corners of the dwelling to hook beams and rafters to.  We cut and lifted rafters into place and them laid plywood sheathing on top.  We waterproofed the plywood.  Since we did not have enough clay tiles to shingle the roof, we looked around and found lots of sawn-up exterior grade metal doors.  We decided these would make great shingles and threw them up on the roof.  I think those metal doors as shingles give the structure an especially ragtag look.

The interior of the dwelling has a hanging bucket system providing “running” water and a bucket sink that drains water away from the house.  Makeshift beds and some rickety furniture will complete the dwelling when we get closer to entertaining “guests.”

2012’s First Internship Session

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For the last 3 weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having 5 interns from the International School of the Americas helping us out on the farm.  Allison Vigil, Jacob Klein, Rachel Seidner, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney have been absolutely wonderful.  They accomplished more than any other group of interns so far – and every group we’ve had has been outstanding!

Some of the things they accomplished while they were here:

  • completed the halfway done Haitian dwelling (separate post coming soon)
  • started and finished an urban slum for Lifestyles Lane (separate post coming soon)
  • planted our 3 Sisters Garden
  • planted our popcorn and sweet potato garden
  • worked with our pigs and got them loaded up to go to the processor’s
  • put the broilers and replacement layers out to pasture
  • raised the rabbits
  • taught the turkeys how to free-range boomerang (come back to roost at night)
  • caught all the goats, weighed the kids, trimmed all the hooves, and herbally wormed the adults
  • rotationally grazed the cattle (and goats)
  • hauled tons and tons of water
  • moved all the rabbit hutches into the shelter of the barn

These guys and girls were absolutely tremendous.  Their major accomplishments will be detailed in subsequent posts, but their presence will be greatly missed.

For more pictures, check out the whole album on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.374729892592146.88189.102369686494836&type=1 

 

Dana and Meredith

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Our final internship period of 2011 brought us Dana Eardley and Meredith Prentice.

Dana Eardley will be a senior at the International School of the Americas in the upcoming year and she decided to take this internship as an opportunity to further her understanding of the relationships between plants, animals and the folk that take care of them. Dana is very fond of the environment and is striving to learn the steps that we can take in order to preserve the land while still producing the food that we need in order to survive. Her interest in poverty education also encouraged her decision to take this internship as she sees Lifestyles Lane as a great way to educate students on the topic.

Meredith Prentice will also be a senior at the International School of the Americas next year. She was very eager to participate at Good Life Ranch having interest in sustainable farming and getting a chance to work with the land. Having a love of the natural world, she found this a great opportunity with the intention of dedicating future studies to the environment

We got a lot more work done during this final internship experience.  Dana, Meredith, and I continued work on the Haitian dwelling in Lifestyles Lane – making a lot of progress on the cinder block walls and completely finishing the paver floor.  We also integrated Captain Jack, the new livestock guarding alpaca, into the herd of goats.  The gardens are into their heavy harvest period now as well, and we spent a great deal of time harvesting and preserving our garden vegetables.  We made pickles, froze pounds and pounds of beans, made salsas and jellies, and canned pear preserves.

Meredith and Dana were great workers and we will miss them a lot!

 

Cambodia

In a three-week period with the help of our Fab 5 interns we completely built the first dwelling in our poverty simulation called Lifestyles Lane.  We started with the Haitian dwelling while previous interns Alexa and Cameron were here and we did make some progress on that structure while the Fab 5 were here as well, but I decided to focus on the Cambodian dwelling when the largest intern crew of the summer was here in an effort to complete it.  Mission accomplished!

Finished!

This structure is meant to represent one household in Cambodia.  It is up on stilts just like a rural house would be in that country so that ducks and other livestock can be safely housed underneath the sleeping family at night.  We’ll have that too once we get closer to opening for real.  We will also use the dirt we dug up for the footer on the Haitian dwelling to construct a rice paddy behind the Cambodian dwelling that the family can plant and harvest.  Hammocks will hang from the rafters and there will be a small lean-to for cooking added as well.

All told, the structure is 16′ long by 10′ deep for a floor area of 160 square feet.  Not large, but I’ve seen houses in many developing countries smaller than this that held 8-12 people each and every night.  Personal space is usually not an option in the developing world.

The building is supported by 8 posts set in cement.  2×12 boards form the floor and 2×8 boards create the rafters.  The floor is covered with vinyl tile and the family is sheltered by a tin roof recycled from a neighboring Amish barn raising.  Bamboo from our own patch was cut and tied to form the walls.  The inside of the dwelling is refreshingly cool and breezy during our current heat wave, just like natural cooling would be a priority in a real Cambodian home.  (I wouldn’t want to stay here during a Kentucky winter, however.)

I think it looks great.  Thank you to Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, and Grayson Middleton for the construction and to Elden Beachy for the tin.

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Dodging Raindrops

Lately it seems the skies always look like this.

Supposedly April showers bring May flowers.  They did.

What do May showers bring?

I need to know because it has been raining for what seems like weeks on end.  The county farm data bank says that in an “average year” (what’s that?) the county has gotten 22.76″ of rain by this date.  So far on our ranch we have gotten 35.48″, or over a foot more than average.  It rained another half-inch last night during our latest round of severe weather.  So in a word, our spring has been soggy.  As I’m writing this it just started raining again.  Really hard.  So by the time I’m done with this sentence those precipitation numbers will be outdated.

Most of the garden plants seem to enjoy it so far.  The lettuces and broccoli and onions are all growing well.  All the greens are going like gangbusters.  The spinach showed its strength.  The garlic seems less thrilled, though.  The tomato plants have been repeatedly snapped in high winds even in their cages (no, we don’t have free-range tomatoes).  The corn has yet to come up because it was so recently planted, but I’m hoping that it won’t rot in the sodden ground before it has a chance to sprout.

Our philosophy about heritage varieties of animals and plants also extends to corn.  Some people in the local and sustainable food movement have unfairly painted corn in pretty bad light.  After all, who’s making the decisions here – a plant or the humans who propagate it?  Corn is an amazing plant with a lot to like.  First, it’s native to the Americas.  It was bred and developed by the indigenous peoples here.  It is a tough plant that will grow almost anywhere there is a modicum of water and fertility.  It stores almost indefinitely.  And it has been grown and adapted to so many varied locales that there is an incredible variety from which to choose.  In other words, farmers don’t have to grow #2 field corn for the commodities market.  In fact, if you want to eat it you shouldn’t grow that type of corn at all.

We got some old-school varieties of corn from neighbors and seed cooperatives to plant on about 1/4 acre.  I baled hay for our neighbor Joshua a while back in exchange for him tilling up the area where we had the goats deposit all their winter manure for us to plant.  He did a great job with the tilling and then Lindsey and I leveled it with shovels and rakes.  Finally, the weather cleared for 2 consecutive days and it dried out enough for me to plant it yesterday.  Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, Golden Bantam, Floriani Red Flint, Bloody Butcher, Reid’s Yellow Dent, and Daymon Morgan’s Kentucky Butcher corn all went into the ground.  Those links are not necessarily the sources for our seed, but they were the best pictures I could find of the varieties we planted.  The Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, and Golden Bantam are all sweet corns that we can eat or freeze.  We’ll plant more of those varieties every two weeks or so to make sure we’ve got fresh sweet corn all summer long.  The other corns are for drying.  The Floriani Red Flint supposedly makes the world’s best polenta.  Since polenta is basically fancy grits, I can get on board with that.  The butcher corns are for flour and decoration, and the Reid’s Yellow Dent will provide some winter food for our poultry.

I know 1/4 acre doesn’t sound like much, but that’s about the limit of what I think we can care for doing everything by hand.

In other news, the rabbits, turkeys, and chickens are growing quickly.  We’ve sold quite a few of the Black Australorps and Kentucky Redneck chickens to people who wanted to start their own flocks.  The rest we’ll grow out as meat birds or add to our layer flock in the Yolkswagen.  The rabbit does we have are really bad mothers, but hopefully in a few generations we can breed for good mothering instincts.  So far out of 4 litters we have only 10 bunnies to show for it.  The rest have been rejected or killed by their own mothers.

Guinea keets are hatching in the incubator as we speak.  This is especially good news because another rogue cat has been systematically eliminating the guineas one by one.  We’re down to 4 adult birds and 1 juvenile from the 18 we had 2 weeks ago.  Those last ones are cooped up at the moment to eliminate the food source and encourage the cat to move on.  This is a sneaky cat.  Usually I see them hanging around, but this one is either very wary or has some sort of cloaking capability.

Our Black Spanish hens have not returned yet.  If they were nesting, their poults should have hatched out last weekend.  Then I imagine they keep them in the nest until the poults are capable of following the hen around.  Every day I look forward to seeing them, and every day my heart sinks just a little bit when they don’t return.  Yesterday one of the chocolate hens that has been going off by herself a lot during the day didn’t come back to the turkey roost at dusk, so now we might have another month-plus wait while she sits on her nest.  Natural farming is stressful!  I want to let the animals nest on their own and raise their own young, but it’s so hard to sit and wait and hope that they are able to hatch out their eggs and brood their poults before a predator finds them.  We have so much financially and emotionally invested in them at this point that it would be heartbreaking to have them not return.

The last bit of news is in the Lifestyles Lane department.  We should get a good start this summer with all the helpers coming out to the ranch and we plan on completely 2 of the more intricate structures this summer.  Hopefully more, but 2 is the definite attainable goal.  Our friends Adele and Bonnie are visiting, my brother and his friends are coming out, and we have 9 interns coming to the farm in June, July, and August to help build the structures and learn about sustainable farming.  We will begin introducing them to you as they arrive on the ranch in mid-June, but we are getting excited for their arrival.

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.”