April 30, 2011

Field Corn Planted!

Thank you to everyone who has asked how we've been faring the severe weather this month. We've never lost power nor sustained property damage, so all in all, we've been very fortunate. The storms having been coming pretty regularly, and besides the garden, we we've been wondering what to do about planting our field corn.

Growing our own grain, has been one of our homestead goals. It's part of our desire to be food self sufficient for both us, and our animals. The easiest and most logical grain to start with is corn. Last January we chose and cleared an area for it, and at the beginning of the month our neighbor tractor tilled it for us. Decided when to plant, has been the topic of much table time discussion.

Our go-to book for information has been Gene Logsdon's Small-Scale Grain Raising. Besides providing the practical information we need, his style of writing is down-to-earth readable and confidence building. (In fact, if you're not familiar with Gene, check out his blog, The Contrary Farmer. Better yet, read his post "What's Your Game Plan As Corn Prices Skyrocket?" It will probably motivate you to grow your own corn too!) One thing he cautions, is to not be in a hurry to plant corn, because soil temperature and conditions are key to a successful crop.

A couple of days ago, our soil temperature was 67º F and the soil seemed fairly dry. Dan had a few days off before his next trip out, and the weather map looked like this.....

Weather map on Wednesday morning

With that system heading our way, we decided to go for it. If we got another deluge, there was no telling when the soil would dry out. Nor if Dan would be home when conditions were right. Real life decisions can't always go by the book!

Trying to get 'er done before the next storm

We figured the tiller could make the rows for us faster than a hoe, with the additional benefit of breaking ground that had been compacted by April's rains.

We planted Trucker's Favorite white,
an open pollinated variety.

We plotted out a plan, he tilled, and I dropped seeds and covered them with the hoe. As we worked the sky got darker, the winds picked up, and we got a sprinkle. We pressed on and it all blew over.

Half planted. 

By the end of the day there wasn't a cloud in sight, the entire area was tilled, and we had our first section of corn planted. You can see a strip of grass running left to right at about center of the photo above. That divides our two sections. We planted the section nearest to front, using about half of our 5 pounds of seed.

We've decided we're going to wait a few weeks to a month or so to plant the next section. Since this is new to us, it will give us two plots to compare, because experiential knowledge is a valuable thing.  As much as we hate to run into problems or make mistakes, they are the basis of homestead common sense and wisdom. It's why I often say "something is better than nothing;" because I know I'll always learn something valuable, even if the crop doesn't do very well.

My hope now is for good germination. Last summer's sweet corn didn't do very well in that department, so this is a concern. Then it will be pollination. I'd also like to grow popcorn, so hopefully we can plant to stagger pollination without crosses occurring. Another unknown is whether or not we've planted enough. Or not enough. This is something else we need to learn from this first patch.

Later I'll plant pole beans and some pumpkins in with the corn. After it's all harvested, we'll sow the plot with winter wheat. My experimental patch is doing well...

My wheat is heading out.
... and that's encouraging. That's the plan anyway, and hopefully we're off to a good start.

April 28, 2011

April Gardening: A Race With The Rain

I reckon nearly everyone will agree that April hasn't exactly been cooperative when it comes to gardening. This is the month of our last expected frost, and when I can start planting our warm weather vegetables. This is the month when I ought to be working in the garden every day. This year though, it seems as though the ground barely dries out enough so as to be workable, when it rains again.

One thing I managed to do earlier this month, was to transplant the rest of my strawberries...

Mulching newly transplanted strawberries with feed sacks & wood chips

Because of the lay of our land, the garden areas around the house dry out more quickly than the big vegetable garden. I still have to finish mulching them, but at least the job is done. Happily all the transplants are doing well and we have strawberries beginning to ripen!

The vegetable garden about a month ago.

Our vegetable garden, which was freshly tilled and ready to plant in March, became overrun again with the annual rye we planted last fall as our winter green manure crop.

The vegetable garden this month. The annual rye was taking over. Again.

It's grown like crazy with all the rain and mild temperatures. I think we've decided we won't plant annual rye again. It does add organic matter to the soil, but for us, with only a tiller, it's impossible to get it turned under enough to not grow again. Perhaps it's better suited for areas that can be plowed.

The other thing we plan not to do again, is to till this garden. Our new garden plan calls for permanent, companion group beds (all about that in this post.) In discussing the execution of that, we took into consideration that there is a 4 foot drop in slope from the top of the garden to the bottom. Because of that, we decided that the best option for us would be to terrace the beds.

1st terraced bed. Winter wheat behind that.

Going has been slow because of having to wait for the soil to dry out between rain storms. I would have loved to prepared these in the same double dug Hugelkultur method we did in the front yard, but getting seeds in the ground before the next rain storm has been the priority.

Our soil has a lot of clay, but over the past two years we've worked on building it up. I hated to lose that top soil to permanent walkways, so I've been scraping and shoveling the top soil into the bed, down to the clay, which is fine to walk on.

Several terraced beds, created & planted

Eventually, we plan to use cinder or concrete blocks as the terrace borders. We'd need a lot to get started, so we'll add them as we can. In the meantime, we have tons of downed trees in our woods, which can create the terraces for a few years at least.

Because I'm preparing beds and planting in between bouts of rain, I am not strictly following my original garden group companion plan. I am pretty much following the plant groupings, but not where I put them. I'm preparing the beds from top of the garden down, and planting each one as it's ready, according to recommended planting dates. Hopefully the soil at the bottom will be dry enough to be workable by the time I get there! Fortunately planting dates aren't exact. Our first garden was planted late and did just fine. In the meantime, I'll just continue my race with the rain, and hope on the best.

April 26, 2011


First outing

Today Surprise's twins are two days old. They had their first chance to explore their new world.

Meeting CryBaby's Boy

Introductions went fairly well. There was a little bit of pushing and shoving. I reckon it's how baby goats learn to respect their elders.

Meeting Auntie Jasmine

Afterwards, the twins fell asleep in the birthing stall and Surprise went out to graze a bit.


They twins are still a little wobbly on their feet and nap a lot. At two weeks old, CryBaby's Boy is a spring loaded. And Jasmine? She is getting wider. And either her rumen is outrageously active in it's movements, or else there's at least one baby goat in there. :) My guess for her due date is May 13th, though I'm a little less certain about that one. I reckon we'll just have to wait and see!

One big happy family???

April 24, 2011

Surprise's Easter Twins

Twins! Early this afternoon, Surprise gave birth to twin bucklings.

Surprise and her brand new twins

Right after Bible study I went to check on her and realized she was in labor.

Baby Boy #1

The first little guy was born at 12:23 pm. His brother followed at 12:46.

Baby Boy #2

Thankfully the birth was uneventful and both kids were up on their feet very soon afterward.

Onlookers for the occasion included Crybaby's Boy and Lord B.

That doubles our goat population, with Jasmine still to kid. I have her due date down for mid May. Of course I was hoping for some girls, but am just relieved that all went well. I'm not quite ready to play Dr. Harriot yet(!) In any event, it made for a very happy Easter.

April 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey Gumbo

Last month I defrosted all the chicken bones I'd been saving and made chicken stock to can. The other day, I defrosted the leftover bones from our Thanksgiving turkey, because I really had a hankering for a big bowl of turkey/sausage gumbo.

I lived in Louisiana for quite a few years. Long enough to develop a definite taste for Cajun cuisine: gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, red beans & rice, boiled shrimp, boiled crabs, boiled crawfish, boudin, dirty rice, bisque.... Mmm-mm, yum! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Gumbo is something I make every year from the Thanksgiving turkey. Most of the meat and leftover gravy goes in to a pot pie, but the bones are saved to make gumbo.

I usually cook the meat off the carcass the day before. This way it's cool enough to handle so that I can get all the meat off the bones. Dan knows not to carve the bird too clean, just for this purpose. The broth is also saved for the gumbo.

Once that was ready I set it aside and made the roux. I use 2 parts flour to 1 part oil.

Most of you are probably familiar with roux, a cooked flour and oil mixture. White roux is used as a base for gravies and creamed soups. For gumbo, the flour is browned to a nice chocolate color. The trick is to do this slowly so as to not burn the flour.

When it's done though, it's done. To keep it from over browning, I had my vegetables chopped and ready to add. I took the pan off the heat and quickly stirred in the veggies to help cool it off. Gumbo calls for onion, celery, and green pepper. These three are signature to Cajun cookin'. Just chop up a bunch.

The roux is allowed to cool somewhat, as this makes it easier to stir into the broth. I add about a quarter cup of roux per quart broth. That can be adjusted according to taste.

While waiting for the roux to finish cooling, I browned the sausage.

I use smoked sausage because that's what I have available. Authentic Cajun gumbo would likely use andouille, a spicy pork sausage.

The one ingredient that I can't not use, is filé (fee' lay). This is a seasoning made from sassafras leaves. It not only flavors, but thickens as well. For 8 quarts of gumbo, I added about 1/4 cup.

Filé is something I cannot find in this part of the country. I didn't make gumbo for years because I couldn't get it. Dan finally brought some home when he had a trip to southeast Texas. He stopped in Louisiana and bought me some! I confess this isn't the brand I would buy myself. My usual brand is Paul Prudhomme's, but the ingredient is the same either way, so I wasn't going to complain! I'd like to mention though, that I found several young sassafras trees on the place, and you can bet that these are earmarked for future use to make my own filé.

Salt I added to taste, but the one thing I didn't add a lot of was cayenne pepper. Cajun food is traditionally very hot! In fact, Tabasco sauce graces the table of many a Cajun home, right along side the salt shaker and sugar bowl. My family never cared for too hot, but I add a small amount of cayenne for flavoring.

I had a huge bowl for lunch (served with a big scoop of rice) and canned the rest.

The only other comment I can make, is that gumbo is really better with white rice than brown. It's just one of those things, like French bread and pizza crust taste better made with white flour. I'm usually gungho for whole grains, but these are just a couple of rare exceptions.

It's fun to do some canning when the weather is cooler. And one thing I need to can more of, are canned soups, stews, and other "convenience" foods. So nice to still be able to have a home cooked meal in a pinch.

April 20, 2011


CryBaby's new kid is one week old today! How are things going?

4 days old

Pretty well. She's new to the mom thing, and occasionally forgets where he is. But instinct is a wonderful invention, and she's catching on. His leg has gotten better day by day, which of course is a relief, and he is literally, a bouncing baby boy.

No, we haven't named him yet! Does that sound odd? We've always been slow to name our animals (took over a week for Katy & Riley to get named.) That's because we think personality is key to the right name. And when it comes to the goats, we don't have plans to keep any males, unless as a wether to companion our future buck.

5 days old

Because of his leg, I waited 2 days to make supervised introductions with Jasmine and Surprise. Neither of them thought very much of him. At that point though, CryBaby needed to get out to pasture, so I spent the day close at hand, to keep an eye on things. I had hoped that things would mellow out after a day or so, but the reality of the world of goats includes quite a bit of bullying.

The problem is more so with Surprise than Jasmine.

Surprise, concerned with her person

CryBaby's mom Abigail, bullied Surprise terribly when we first got her. Some I could tolerate, but Abigail had horns, which put her at a dangerous disadvantage. And she took advantage of that. It's one of the reasons we got rid of her.

Surprise & Riley (she's not too crazy about him either)

With Abigail out of the picture, Surprise and CryBaby became the best of friends. Jasmine's arrival didn't change that, until after we lost Charlie (my llama). All of a sudden, Surprise was Jasmine's long lost buddy. CryBaby was on the outs.

Surprise, looking somewhat roundish

Surprise has been downright mean to CryBaby's kid. Not just pushing him out of the way like Jasmine does, but ramming him. Jasmine has been seemingly more tolerant, but not what I would call accepting.

Jasmine & CryBaby's Boy

Jasmine hasn't been especially friendly

He's sooo curious about the other goats though

With Surprise's due date around the 25th (my 2nd best guess), I moved her back into the birthing stall at night, meaning for CryBaby and her baby to share the other stall with Jasmine. Even though they'd shared it previously, Jasmine decided that she didn't want them there, and claimed it as personal territory. She's a smart goat though, and one night outside by herself seemed to do the trick.

Found his way through the chicken gate

Do chickens wanna play?

With more kids on the way, there are more adjustments in store. Dan is definitely not happy with Surprise. Unlike Jasmine, who is smart enough to work some things out, Surprise is stubborn to the point of stupid. Since it's about time for a major reevaluation of our goals, needs, progress, and master plan, I reckon goats will be on the agenda as well.

April 18, 2011

Progress in the Herb Garden

Last month I told you about the problems I was having in designing our front yard herb gardens. This month, I have a little bit of progress to show you. I ordered quite a few more herb seeds, and had a small sprouting tray in action, so the task at hand was to make another herb bed. For the new bed, Dan decided to try a modified double dug, Hugelkultur type approach.

The "double" (removing two layers of soil) will help loosen the clay under the top soil. Hugelkultur makes use of our wealth of tree limbs and branches.

On top of a layer of small branches, he added a good layer of mostly decomposed compost, and then covered it all with the removed soil.

While he did that, I weeded and bordered the two beds we made last year. I've never been real keen on bricks as borders, but we have a ton of them from tearing down the chimney and fireplace! Sure beats having to buy anything, so I'm deciding I like those bricks better than I thought.

Since I have perennials already established in these beds, I raked back the wood chip mulch, pulled pesky weeds, and applied a layer of dried comfrey leaves on top of the soil. Then I raked the mulch back over the top.

The paths in between the beds will give me fits this summer, I know. We made them a lawnmower width, but grass and weeds will grow right next to the bricks, where the mower can't get them. Eventually we need to do something about this, but with so many other projects on the list, it will be awhile before the paths become a priority.

I actually took these photos a couple weeks ago, and am just now getting the post written and ready to publish. I'm amazed at how much everything has been greened out since then. Last year's plantings are doing well and starting their spring growth: lavender, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, yarrow, echinacea, hollyhock, butterfly weed, rudbeckia. I have high hopes this year's plantings will do as well.

April 16, 2011

A Book Win

Click for a closer look.
I won a book!

I was poking around the internet, following links of interesting blog titles, and ended up at Trashing My Reputation. Wendy is a certified Master Recycler & Composter through the Master Recycling Program in Portland, OR. On her blog, she shares the whats, whys, hows and more on reducing, reusing and recycling. The first time I visited, she was posting about a book giveaway (what better way to recycle, right?!?!? :)

The book is entitled Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens It is a Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide, edited by Niall Dunne. Each chapter is written by a different author, and chapter titles include: The Physical Properties of Soil, Ecology of the Soil, Soil Fertility and the Essential Nutrients, Conditioning Your Soil, Compost, Fertilizing, and The Magic of Mulch. Soil Care Strategies include gardening in challenging conditions and soil care tips for specific plants.

My introduction to soil science was through the extremely detailed first volume of Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke. I'd call Healthy Soils, the nutshell version of soil science.

I confess that our soil here, on our property, has puzzled me. The southeastern US is known for its red clay soils, yet as we've tilled and done garden preparations, we've found that the top 8 to 10 inches or so is browner and sandier. I can already see how the texture test and texture triangle on pages 35 and 36 is going to help. And while I understand the basics of soil fertility, I'm already gleaning tidbits from this book.

I was pleased to win and want to give Wendy a big thank you for having the giveaway. This book is a welcome addition to my homestead library.

April 14, 2011

First Kid!

I expected Surprise to kid first but surprise! CryBaby beat her to it.

At 3:40 yesterday afternoon, she gave birth to a little buck kid. These photos were taken when he was just minutes old.

I've been checking the girls frequently, and around 2:30, noticed CryBaby lying down by herself, licking at her sides in a way I hadn't observed before. A closer look showed tinged mucus hanging from her behind, so I dragged her (literally, she didn't want to go) into the birthing stall.

All my birthing supplies were already in the shed, so all I had to do was pull up a stool, watch, and wait.

Fortunately the birth was very routine, and a little over an hour later, she had a hungry baby boy. This morning I was able to get some better shots.

The bandage is because he appears (as best as I can tell), to have a contracted tendon.

This is apparently not all that uncommon and will correct itself. Some folks splint, some don't, and there's a full gamut of what to give him for it. I splinted because his leg tends to bow outward when he tries to get around. The splint adds a little support to the leg, and he's actually getting around pretty well.

[UPDATE 10:06 AM: Just got back from the vet's office. I was concerned about the leg joints when I removed the splint. Vet says everything feels normal, and simply to exercise the joints several times a day. The ligaments should tighten up and the leg should be fine soon.]

[UPDATE 15 April, 7:04 AM: Baby Boy's leg is doing better. I left the splint off at the vet's advice and he's definitely getting around better. The leg still tends to bow outward, but not as much. He's testing his legs out with a little jumping/hopping/bouncing and while still clumsy, is getting the hang of it.]

He wants to be jumping and bouncing, but can't quite manage that yet because of his leg.

I'm still waiting on Surprise. She missed my first guess at a due date (April 6th). My next guess, based on her behavior with Petey, is April 25. Baby, I had down for April 10, so that one was pretty right on target. At least that gives us some time.