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Posts Tagged ‘homesteading’

Spring has sprung, and farm life is busy. It has been busy for a while, really, with calving season now almost finished. It has been a good season, with only three losses so far and well over a hundred calves born. One mama who had twins last year– and nursed both– did it again! We are quite proud of that mama!

Two donkeys, mother and daughter, joined us in January for coyote control. We have them in with the mama cows, in pastures on opposite ends of the farm.

Cocoa, the mama donkey

Cocoa, the mama donkey

The mamas and babies don’t seem to notice the new guardians. They were very curious, however, about me in the farm truck:

Sniff, sniff... got any hay in there?

Sniff, sniff… got any hay in there?

Mamaaaa...

Mamaaaa…

Today I planted the hellebores I bought yesterday, and potted the lemon balm and rosemary so I can bring it inside until well past the last frost.

 

rosemary and lemon balm

rosemary and lemon balm

This afternoon was gorgeous, bright and cool, but this weekend promises more freezing temperatures and possible snow. Seriously? Snow?

spring sky

spring sky

apricot blossoms

apricot blossoms

our wild yard (mint family)

our wild yard (mint family)

 

sunset over the shed

sunset over the shed

Whatever the weather, happy spring!

 

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Halfway between summer solstice and fall equinox, today marks another turn of the wheel of the year with the traditional first harvest festival, Lughnasadh, and we are in full swing canning tomatoes.

pressure canning tomatoes

The pressure canner made its maiden voyage, no one was decapitated, and we now have twenty-something quarts of tomatoes with more to come. Our five-year-old discovered that she loves tomato juice, so we hope to put up a few batches of that as well, and today I aspire to begin cooking sauce.

We did get some crucial rain, our crops continue to survive… we learned this year that when corn tassels during extreme temperatures like we had the first week of July, it won’t pollinate. Our fields are staggered but we’ve seen some of this in the sweet corn we’ve been picking: spotty kernel formation, big gaps on the ears, sometimes nearly nothing at all. We have been more fortunate than many– we’ll still make a crop– but the final measure will be made at the grain elevator in the fall.

The veggie patch may have been saved by its dampness and our delayed planting earlier. Look at the sunflowers!

my happy place

Most still looks good…

veggie patch: eggplant, basil, tomatoes, sweet corn

Melons are just starting to get ripe. Hopefully this means a few weeks of market sales.

melons!

Wishing everyone a happy harvest and more rain as needed!

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I knew this phrase as a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but it was not until last year that I gained first-hand experience of its origins. Pa Ingalls wasn’t using diesel-driven tractors and rakes, certainly, but haying bears the same urgency it always has: get it up before the rain, or risk losing a portion of next winter’s feed.

front yard baled

This small pasture had already been knocked down last week, but the risk of rain was finally upon us yesterday, so brother-in-law Drew dragged the rake over it all to fluff it, then Brad finished up behind him with the baler. The kids went out to climb and play haybale tag only to be chased indoors after just a few minutes by the rainstorm that blew in.

running in

Brad and Max also managed to start setting out tomatoes in the veggie patch, following the rows created by planting the sweet corn. They didn’t get far before getting caught in the downpour, but it is at least a beginning.

tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, waiting on the porch

Max went to the patch this afternoon to check the plug trays left behind yesterday and found several cows; fence repair is now next on the agenda, before we set anything else out and absolutely before the corn starts coming up. With the fence wiring grounded out in several places the new calves are learning to come and go as they please instead of learning to avoid the fence like their mamas. They’ll be surprised (dare I say shocked?) after it’s all fixed and carrying the proper amount of current again. I’ll just have to hope it doesn’t take too long to sort it all out. You just never know what’s going to come up.

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Julia Child rose, very fragrant and a prolific bloomer

May is already upon us, and the fertility of earth swells forth everywhere. Calico blankets of white clover, buttercup and hop clover soften field road edges, their honey-like fragrance enticing local pollinators. Spiky wands of milk thistle wave their pink poufs high above the grasses they punctuate. The heifers have been inseminated and the bulls bellow and whistle, claiming their respective herds. Spreaders trundled back and forth all through April, feeding the soil that feeds the grass that feeds the cows, and we’ve baled the first field of hay from this year’s growth. Nightshades and peppers grow strong in the hoop house, and corn planting has begun, with the planters now resting mid-field, awaiting the next rain.

when there's rain...

This has been a month of tragedies and triumphs. My first order of chicks got lost in the mail, arriving a few days too late and putting a damper on everyone’s expectations. The unceremonious roadside disposal of thirty-five dead chicks reminded me of the indifference of experience. I was raised to not spend much time grieving over animals; I wonder if I am too cold, too detached. It is what is, however, and arguing with reality wastes precious time and energy; so, onward. The hatchery sent me a replacement order the following week and while the survival rate was not stellar we now have two crested girls that we’ll keep for layers and twenty boys. (Apologies for their blurriness, they wouldn’t sit still for anything!)

"heavies" from McMurray Hatchery

In better news, Brad found one more calf in the field, at least two weeks old, born after the mamas and babies had been sorted into separate pastures for breeding. Thus we have one bull from this year’s birthings, a mother to identify and extra attention to pay in a few months when we’ll need to separate him from the others.

The calves nearest the house have a particular disregard for the electric fence, browsing the field roads and the yard many mornings:

just another pretty face

mmm, figs

in the clover (and perhaps the blackberry canes)

the grass is greener over here

My raised beds are built, filled, and planted; seeds sprout in flats, and we’ve begun preparing the field that will be the veggie patch. If all goes well (this is also the season of tractor repair as things break or malfunction periodically) Brad will put the sweet corn in the patch today, while I am once again headed for market this afternoon, with eggs, cornmeal, grits, and polenta. Happy Beltane!

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Northerners may not believe me, but I’m late harvesting the chickweed already. Tangled mats of Stellaria media have been sprawling over my aspiring flower beds and all through the composting area of the yard for weeks. Life’s daily demands (feed, wash, rinse, repeat) interfered with sterilizing jars and picking and chopping, but I finally remembered to put some jars and lids in the stockpot to boil this morning. I have had vinegar tinctures spoil in the past, so for this preparation I cut no corners.  Alcohol tinctures are more forgiving, but vinegar extracts chickweed’s rich mineral stores more efficiently. (Also it will make a delightful vinaigrette by midsummer.)

more than enough

The basic process I learned from Susun Weed’s book Healing Wise is simple: fill a sterile jar with fresh plant material, then fill it with vinegar and cover.

all done

I may need to “top it off” in a day or two, then it sits out of direct light and the extraction takes care of itself over several weeks.

Double-checking the botanical name and the plant description, I found mention of a poisonous lookalike I had never heard of. While I doubt I would ever mistake chickweed it bears repeating that care should always be exercised when foraging and wildcrafting. The safety and potential benefits of nature’s offerings depend completely on accurate identification. Reckless harvesting of improperly identified plant material does not show a person is one with nature, it shows a lack of respect for nature’s power and diversity. I wouldn’t want anyone to hesitate to learn more about foraging and making plant medicines, but I also wouldn’t want anyone getting sick from “wild plant bravado.” So that’s my disclaimer 🙂

Now to wash, rinse, repeat again…

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almost all the seeds...

The deadline for hypothetical discussions arrived in the mail. We’ve been evaluating fields, gauging weed pressure, considering our available equipment and how to prepare the land. The tomatoes and peppers will all be started in hoop houses on the family farm, with much warmer soil to hurry them along. Greens will stay in yet-to-be-constructed raised beds by the house for easier maintenance and harvesting. Herbs and flowers also go mostly around the house, although various sunflowers and some of the zinnias for market will likely need to go in the field. Melons, squash, zucchini and all the beans will go straight in the ground. I still haven’t decided where to put the carrots. We’ll start seeds and begin our race against the rain, juggling equipment between farms on dry days and pacing with bated breath through all the wet ones. We should have more than enough to grow all we can eat, including enough to preserve for all our winter eating, plus copious amounts for Brad to take to market. I have ordered my pressure canner and some new books on alternate preservation methods that I’m eagerly awaiting. Here we go…

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We auctioned off our yearling steers this week. For $1.44 a pound, we loaded all but one of them onto a truck headed for South Carolina. The one that stayed was bloated and required a visit from the vet to intubate his first stomach to relieve the pressure. Most likely he snuck some of the grain used to get them to follow the truck up to the loading area and then ran too much after eating. The man who won the auction didn’t want the heifers so we got to keep all of them as well. This way at least we’ll get to grow one of those steers to full grassfed weight and see what that may mean for this herd, and we’ll breed the heifers. We weighed all the yearlings earlier in the week before the auction; true to the Angus breed, the smallest (Isabel, our bottle-fed calf from last year) was still 560 pounds. So far, these Angus yearlings appear to grow better than other breeds our family has raised.

Our bottle baby seems to be doing alright. He waits at the gate every morning, eager to suck down his morning bottle, but finding him in the evening has been hit or miss this week. Last year we kept our bottle baby up in the pen all the time, but this steer wasn’t acting too terribly hungry in the evenings, so Brad decided to let him stay in the pasture with the others. Quite surprisingly Brad has seen the calf getting to nurse, although it isn’t likely that he gets away with it often. Iris is loving the steer’s tameness and getting to pet him every day.

bottle ready

He trots right up to whomever comes near for nuzzles and scratches behind the ears, until he determines whether or not a bottle is being offered, then in the absence of one he scoots off for something more bovine to do.

feeding 287

We haven’t had any new calves in a while now, and we suspect the mamas may be done for this season. If so, we have ninety live ones, two better than last year from the same herd. Ninety-two mamas out of 101 have given birth (we strongly suspect that 287 is a twin, the most common explanation for abandonment). In another month it will be breeding season again, and we’ll keep turning the wheel…

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