April 21, 2014

Chicken Coop Countdown Checklist

We're getting to that point in this project where Dan is anxious to be finished and move on to something else! We've gotten a few more things accomplished since my last update, and have a few more to go.

  • Nest boxes

  • Door between the storage area and coop area.

The bottom door swings into the storage room.
The top of the door swings into the coop. Slats
allow  for light,  visibility, and air circulation. 


I really like the dutch door in the goat shed, so Dan also made one for the coop. The bottom door swings out, the top swings in. The thing we learned from the goat shed is that it's difficult to swing the bottom half in, when the floor is covered with deep litter! The top is slatted so I can see in, plus allows better ventilation and light. Best of all, it's wide enough for a wheelbarrow!

Still to do:
  • Exterior door 

Dan's looking into a sliding barn door

  • Coop entry door for chickens
  • Finish painting exterior

  • Cover openings between storage and coop with hardware cloth
  • Paint interior

  • Gutter and rain catchment

We will probably use one of those 275 gallon totes like we did for the
rainwater catchment system on the house. It will fit under the overhang.

  • Extend chicken yard (a fencing project)

Green shows the proposed expansion of the chicken yard.
Stars indicate separate chicken gates which could control
(theoretically) which pasture the chickens have access to.

Expanding the chicken yard will give them more room when they aren't free ranging. There's also a nice little thicket there, a perfect hidey spot from hawks. The yard will border both front and back pastures. With a second chicken gate into the front pasture, we can direct where they graze.

So much to do and never enough time! Such is the plight of every homesteader. The key is to find contentment in the work itself, not in the expectation of the work finished.

April 18, 2014

My Garden in April: Random Shots

We had frost the past two mornings. It was a surprise after all the lovely weather we've been having. Still, our last expected frost date isn't until next week, so I'm so glad I held off with warm weather planting! Here's how things look on the verge of that.

My strawberries are happy after a top dressing of compost and a good rain.

Fall planted garlic mulched with leaves

Fall planted parsnips just started to grow this spring. Variety - All American
The long skinny plant is a wild onion. Some of these I pull, some I let grow.
(See "Wild Foods: Onions & Sheep Sorrel" and "Wild Onions Revisited".)

Purple top turnips and Wando peas, both planted this spring.

I planted two beds of peas, one with turnips as companions, the other
with radishes. These are purple plum radishes, aren't they a lovely color?

Multiplier onions (fall planted) and lettuce, most spring planted except
for one plant you seen in the upper right corner, which was fall planted.

The Scarlet Nantes carrots I planted last fall were sporadic in germinating.

Horseradish, a volunteer. Last year I studied vitamins & minerals in plants
for growing & making my own herbal goat formula (see "DIY Vitamins &
Minerals for Goats
"). I learned that horseradish is rich in copper, a needed
mineral for goats. I'll dry the leaves for feeding in a winter herb mix. 

Jerusalem artichokes are beginning to grow.

A very sad shot, frost damaged potatoes. Our cooperative extension says we
can plant potatoes in March. These should have been covered, but with an
overnight forecast in the high 30s (F), who would have thought? My mistake.

Our small stand of winter wheat (left of the logs). Germination was fair.

Let's not forget seed saving. This is a cabbage-collards
plant. I mulched with leaves and am letting the violets
grow for a pretty ground cover and to feed the soil. 

When I walk out to the garden all I see is everything needing to be done. When I stop to photograph what's growing, I see it through different eyes and I'm happy.

How is everyone else doing with their gardens so far?

April 15, 2014

Violet Herb and Violet Jelly

Who doesn't love violets? Historically they have been prized for color and for perfume. Even their Latin name, Viola odorata, hints of that. They are a medicinal herb too, commonly used as a syrup for respiratory complaints, as a traditional herbal treatment for malignant tumors, as a mouthwash (infusion) for mouth ulcers and throat infections, and in high doses as an emetic (to cause vomiting.) Permaculturists value them as a ground cover and dynamic accumulator, and I leave them grow in my garden. As a culinary herb, violets are used to make wine, candied violets, and jelly.

I have two colors of violets: purple, and white and purple. Both are abundant and in full bloom.

To get the best color for jelly, I used the purple. Since I was using Pomona Pectin, I followed their basic jelly recipe.

Violet Jelly

4 cups fresh violet flowers
4 cups boiling filtered water
2 cups white sugar (to obtain purest violet color)
1/2 cup lemon juice (no pulp)
4 tsp. Pomona calcium water
4 tsp. Pomona pectin

Pour boiling water over freshly picked violet blossoms. Let steep overnight.

1 part violet blossoms to 1 part boiling water, allowed to steep overnight.

Pour off violet water and press out flowers to get as much as possible

4 cups strained violet water.

Stir in lemon juice

Look how the lemon juice changed the color!

Stir in calcium water
Mix pectin with sugar and set aside
Bring violet water to a boil
Add sugar/pectin mix and stir until boiling again.
Pour into sterile jars
Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

If I only have a few small jars to process such as half-pints,
I sometimes use a smaller pot than my water bath canner.
These will be gifts, so I used regular lids instead of Tattlers.

I ended up with six half-pints of jelly plus enough to sample.

Violet Jelly

Isn't it pretty? It has a delicate slightly lemon, floral flavor and would make a "something special" addition to any meal.

To read more about violets as herbs:
Violet Herb at Health Care Information
Violet, Sweet at A Modern Herbal

April 12, 2014

Stewardship, Balance, and Market Mindset

"What are you going to do with all of them?" Dan asked when I called him with the good news about Lily's triplets.

"Well, I don't have to think about that yet," I replied. "They need to grow up a bit so we can evaluate which ones to keep."

Kid races. This is one of the few photos I've managed with all 8 in it!

Actually, we'd love to keep all of them, but that isn't possible. As Dan and I talked, I commented how in biblical times one's flocks were a sign of one's wealth. Not so today. To the modern mindset such a notion is primitive and ignorant. After all, wealth is all about money, isn't it? Accumulating wealth is about investments and 401Ks, right? Not about having more goats. Goats Animals are an expense.

Ziggy's 3 on left, Surprise and her twins on right. Introductions are always
supervised. I especially don't trust Surprise. I saw her grab one of Lily's girls
by the head and give her a toss. Eventually everyone gets used to one another.

In fact, too many animals can seem a liability when one considers how expensive it is to keep them: feed, hay, minerals, fencing, housing, equipment, vet bills. It all adds up so that goats, indeed, most livestock, are more in the hobby category. In other words, keepers of goats have become another marketing demographic. In fact, in a cash economy it is not desirable that we should provide for them ourselves.

Miracle meets Ziggy.

One of our goals from the very beginning was that we would keep no more animals than our land can support. This is because we have a very strong sense of stewardship regarding both. We want both our land and our animals to flourish. We do not want to sacrifice the land for livestock. We do not want to run it down and wear it out.

After introductory sniffs, Ziggy wasted no time in teaching Miracle a lesson
about respecting her elders with  a good swift butt, sending her off crying.

This implies balance. I admit we are still working this out and are constantly wondering how many animals we can keep. I'm not just referring to grazing, but to being able to grow everything our goats need to be healthy. This is why we invested in our soil by remineralizing. If we feed the soil we'll feed the plants. The plants will feed our animals and us. It makes so much more sense than trying to meet nutritional needs with purchased feed formulations and vitamin and mineral supplements.

These two of Ziggy's triplets definitely show their Nigerian Dwarf genetics,
being smaller than their sibling. I've taken to calling them Jack Rabbit (left),
for his ears and darting about, and Teddi Bear, because she has a fuzzy face.

Maintaining a balance means determining which goats to keep and which ones to cull. By cull, I don't automatically mean kill. Although we do eat homegrown goat meat, culling simply means selecting which ones to cut from the herd. Mostly I do this through sales and trades.

Ziggy's first born. I call him Jump. Not because he
jumps over, but because he jumps up to be petted.

Last winter was an important lesson because it was so cold. Our winter pasture and cold weather vegetables went dormant, leaving us to rely more on hay and purchased feed. I realized that I need to get down to a smaller winter herd every year. Sales and trades, however, require an interested party with whom to transact. When I tried to sell Hooper and Rosie I had only a few nibbles of interest.

Lily and son, the middle born of her triplets.

This was an important lesson too. If I don't want to keep too many goats over winter, I need to price them to sell quickly. The expense of feeding them all winter could obviously offset the few extra dollars I might get if I waited to sell them according to the prices set by our local market mindset.

Lily's buckling. Still nameless, although I'm tempted to call him "Spot."
The only thing that stops me is that it doesn't seem very imaginative, lol

That market mindset is a curious thing. It appears to be based on retail prices whether they are relevant or not. For example, have you ever noticed how thrift store prices go up whenever retail prices go up? That never made sense to me because everything thrift stores sell, they receive free, as donations. We could assume it has to do with their overhead is going up, but changes in utilities and rents take months or years to catch up with the rising cost of goods.

Miracle, Surprise, Grace, and Ziggy.

I've first noticed this with used looms. If I bought a new loom for $1000 and got 10 to 20 years of good use out if it, why is $2000 a good selling price? Yet this is common thinking amongst weavers. Or farm tractors. Why is a tractor which cost $1500 brand new 50 years ago, now worth $4000 when it isn't even running? And why does tacking "antique" or "vintage" onto it make it worth more? I know all this makes sense to some folks, but it doesn't to me. To me, the correlation between inflation and used goods is based on an artificial sense of value.

Surprise, Grace, Ziggy, & Ziggy's triplets. The kids all sleep in sibling groups

I finally realized that if I want to support my goats from my land, then it would be better to give them away before winter sets in, than feed them all winter because of some ethereal notion of what they're "worth." The bottom line is the health of my land, not making money from selling an occasional goat. In fact, I could easily overuse my land by waiting to make those few extra dollars from that goat. It could easily cost me more to rebuild my soil than what I thought that goat was "worth." On top of that, I can have the satisfaction of helping someone else. The tendency to price everything for "top dollar" leaves many of us making do without.

Lily's first doeling. Maybe Dottie? Another unimaginative name!

Back to goats. I initially followed that market mindset in setting prices for Hooper and Rosie. I priced them mid to low range based on what others were asking for their goats. Except no one was interested. All this goes back to a question I've written about before (see links below), how do we set value? By what the goat "ought" to be worth? By how much I've put into her?

Lily's girls in front, Surprise's Miracle behind. 

I realize I'm probably not making sense to very many folks, but this is something that is often on my mind. The modern world says everything is about money. But it didn't used to be that way. There was a time when economics were seen in a different light, one based on land and and a sense of community.

Meeting the older sisters, Zoey and Daisy. Zoey is one
of Ziggy's triplets last year, Daisy is one of Lily's twins.

Okay, I'm almost out of kid pictures, so I guess I can quit talking. :)

Lily's girls

Related posts and writings:
Ziggy, Lily, and their two sets of triplets

April 9, 2014

Weeding and Gathering: Heartsease

Viola tricolor or heartsease, a common "weed" in my garden.

It's definitely time to switch up my chore routine. In winter, I do outdoor work in the afternoon. In summer, I do outdoor work in the morning. It all has to do with the coldest and hottest parts of the day!

The other day, my morning chore was weeding my lettuce and multiplier onion bed. My fall planted lettuce (mesclun, actually) was well established, but the spring planted lettuce was just beginning to sprout. It was being shaded out by violets and heartsease, so I needed to get a little light to it.

Multiplier onions, lettuce, violets, and heartsease

I confess my definition of "weeds" has narrowed considerably over the years. Besides companion group planting, I find myself leaving volunteers and any other plant I learn is beneficial in any sort of way. The result is rather hodge-podge, messy looking beds, but oh well.

When the lettuce needed sunlight and room to grow, I pulled and saved the heartsease to dry for my herb cabinet. These common little flowers (also called johnny jump up or wild pansy) have both medicinal as well as culinary value and so are worth collecting.

The whole plant can be used and is collected while in bloom. It can be used in infusions (tea), tinctures, poultices, and creams. It acts as an expectorant, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmatic, diuretic, and anti-rheumatic and has a laxative effect. Common medicinal uses include treatment for respiratory problems (cough, asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough), joint complaints (rheumatism, inflammation), urinary problems (cystitis, bedwetting, bladder stones, kidney weakness), as a spring tonic to strengthen circulation and metabolism, and topically for skin complaints (rash, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and cradle cap). For more complete lists:

Heartsease at Remedial Herbs 
Heartsease at Botanical.com

The flowers are the focus of it's culinary use: salads, garnishes, frozen in ice cubes.

Violets (Viola odorata) are in abundance at the moment as well! We have them all over the place. I reckon they should be next on my list for foraging and gathering.