March 30, 2012

What's Bloomin'

I really ought to appreciate spring more. And I do. I'm happy to not be cold anymore. I love the flowers. It's nice to have plenty of eggs and not have the goats hollering to be fed at 2 in the afternoon. In spring, things start to grow and they have more to eat. They eat less hay (but still love their grain.) I love being able to get out into the garden. I love planting things. But I confess I don't look forward to the heat of summer, which in fact, is right around the corner. So before March fades into April, here's what's blooming at our place....


Spirea (Bridal Wreath)

Japanese Maple (no blossoms, just pretty red leaves)

Mondo grass


Dogwood blossoms

Lone tulip 

Vinca major (big leafed periwinkle)

Do you have your spring photos up yet?

March 28, 2012

Compost Worm Countdown, 3...........

Newly built frame for our compost worm bed

Dan and I have been trading information with Tom, over at Worms-a-crawling farm. He's given us some good information on how to get started with composting worms. (Read his step-by-step getting started, here.) Yesterday Dan got the lumber and built the frame for our worm bed.

Next step ........ bedding.

Related Posts:
Compost Worm Countdown, .....2......
Compost Worm Countdown, .............1

March 26, 2012

New Kitchen Floor

We made progress last week on the kitchen floor. Whew.

Preparing to cut boards to fit around the wood cookstove hearth

Previously, I told you about the problems we had with the original hardwood floor, and how we were dealing with some of those. The old floor became our subfloor because previously, there wasn't one.

We put the vapor barrier down as we went. I was glad to cover all those cracks between the old floor boards. We used leftover asphalt roofing shingles as shims (above), to level individual boards that needed it.

The boards are 9 inch wide Southern yellow pine planks. It's #2 grade, which means lots of knots. Perfect for a rustic looking kitchen floor.

This is the second wood floor we've installed (1st one was in the dining room), but we had problems with this one that we didn't have with the first. One, was that the boards weren't all the same width, varying by a quarter of an inch. Those we were able to use where we only needed one board's length. More significantly, the ends of nearly all the boards weren't square. The time we saved by not having as many boards to nail, was lost because we had to check and then trim almost every one.

The most challenging area was the wood cookstove hearth, because of it's not-square shape....

The good news is, the wood cookstove hearth and new floor are even! No worry about tripping over it.

Any gaps (both around the hearth and elsewhere) as well as knotholes, will be filled in with wood filler. Dan secured the hearth border with countersunk screws. The holes were later filled in with half inch dowels to look like trunnels. Trunnels are tree nails, i.e. old fashioned wood nails, or, dowels. We did the same at the ends of all the planks....

Face nailing with cut nails is a traditional way of securing plank floors. We were concerned about nails potentially working their way out (even though cut nails rarely do that), so Dan opted to countersink screws and fill with dowel as he did around the hearth. Even though they are tongue & groove and therefore blind nailed, this stiffened up the "give" in the floor from the wider planks. We like the look this gives the floor.

Here's what it looks like so far. One view...

Cat approved

.... and another.....

It feels wonderful underfoot and the whole kitchen seems so much cleaner and secure. Of course, we made lots of dust in the process, so that's somewhat of an illusion.

There's still a lot of work ahead of us. We need to fill knots and gaps, sand, stain, and finish. Then there are the thresholds and baseboards. After that we can install base cabinets! And do the plumbing! Yay!

I do have one resource to recommend, a Taunton Press DVD with Don Bollinger, Laying Hardwood Floors. We borrowed it from our county library, and found it to be excellent. There is a companion to that one, Sanding and Finishing Hardwood Floors, which is equally good.

Hopefully this is the last hardwood floor we'll have to install. It's been fun, but laying hardwood floors is definitely not our calling. :)

Next: Choosing & applying the stain

March 23, 2012

What's Growing: Puppy Dog, Goat Bellies, & Winter Wheat

The Puppy is Growing.....

Kris, 3 months old

Kris seems to be growing right before our eyes. He's got the Berner markings and Anatolian coloring, fur, and body conformation, except for the tail. His tail doesn't have the Anatolian Shepherd curl. We'll have to wait and see where the Pyrenees shows itself, though his head and face are similar. All three breeds are huge dogs.

Goat Bellies are Growing .....

Only Jasmine would cooperate for a photo op..

Upcoming potential due dates: April 3 or April 25.

The Winter Wheat is Growing .....

Winter wheat, growing & starting to head

Happily, my winter wheat recovered from it's yellowed condition after I began to apply nitrogen. The fish emulsion was difficult to spray due to the size of the patch, but hand broadcast blood meal helped a lot. I could only find the little 3 pound bags (which cover 180 sq. ft) so it took several. There are still some stunted yellow spots but for the most part, it's doing well.

And who could resist a few more puppy pictures...

March 21, 2012

Broke :(

I am so bummed. All that talk about the long road to energy self-sufficiency, and my favorite non-electric gadget broke.

French coffee press
In case you aren't familiar with this, it's a French press coffee maker. Add coffee and hot water, let steep, and the fine mesh screen filters all the grounds out. It makes the best coffee ever! I got this one way back when we were doing Y2K preparedness and we love it. As long as the kettle is on one of the wood stoves, coffee (or tea, loose variety) is available in a matter of minutes.

I also have a stovetop percolator somewhere. Like so many other kitchen items, it's in a box who knows where at the moment. (But don't get me started on that. I'm getting increasingly frustrated with not having  places to put things due to our kitchen remodel.) I'll probably only use the percolator with the wood cookstove however, because it takes too long to boil water on the soapstone wood heater, and somehow, it seems using the electric range wouldn't be more energy efficient than the electric coffee maker.

Unfortunately my Superman (who can do anything, just look at all our remodeling posts) says he can't fix it, so this is one item I'll definitely replace.

So what's your favorite nonelectric gadget?

March 19, 2012

Book Review: Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care

I learned about this book, Natural Goat Care by Pat Coleby, on the KinderGoats list. I found a used copy at a reasonable price, and ordered it immediately. I will likely refer to it in upcoming blog posts, so I wanted to give you an idea of what the book is about.

The author is an Australian dairy goat farmer. Her approach to both livestock and farming, focus on natural rather than chemical methods. This book is a general, but thorough look into goat keeping, from the soil their pasture grows on, to the treatment of disease.

In a nutshell, Coleby relates the majority of problems with goats to nutrient deficiencies, especially minerals. She backs this up with years of experience, not only her own, but also that of the veterinarians and other farmers she's worked with.

For me this book was a timely purchase, because we are looking at pasture establishment for our goats. While I feed our goats a good quality mineral supplement, I'm realizing that there is more that I can do. It's not just that they need more than their forages, hays, and feeds can provide, more importantly, it is because these are grown on mineral deficient soil. What they eat is only as healthy as the soil it's grown in.

In some ways that seems like a no brainer. But like finding missing pieces of a puzzle, this book is helping me understand the relationship between fertilizers and trace minerals, and how to keep the later from being bound up by the first. It's helping me understand the importance of those trace minerals in a goat's diet and health, including to pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

The book is more well rounded than what I'm focusing on however. Chapters cover:

1 - A Brief Look at Goats World-wide
2 - Land, Control, Housing & Farming Methods
3 - A Brief Look at Different Kinds of Husbandry
4 - Acquiring Stock
5 - Breeds (except Kinders & Pygmies, which aren't found in Australia)
6 - Nutritional Requirements & Basic Feeding Practices
7 - Psychological Needs of Goats
8 - Management
9 - Minerals: Their Uses & Deficiency Signs
10 - Vitamins & the Use of Herbal, Homeopathic, & Natural Remedies
11 - Health Problems
12 - Breeding & Selection for Desirable Characteristics
13 - Goats for Milk
14 - Goats for Meat & Skins
15 - Showing, Driving, Hobby & Family Goats

You can see sample chapters at The author has also written a number of other books on natural farming and livestock care. Natural Sheep Care, Natural Horse Care, and Natural Cattle Care are widely available. Her Natural Farming, Farming Naturally And Organic Animal Care, and Natural Farming and Land Care, all appear to be out of print and pricey as used. Based on this book though, they're all on my wishlist.

March 16, 2012

More on the Floor (Kitchen Floor That Is)

Well, I showed you the problems we were facing with our kitchen floor project (Old Kitchen Floor: Problems & Preps). Several folks were interested in how we'd tackle these, so here's what we've done so far.

The original floor is neither flat nor level. Flat and level are not the same things, so we started by addressing the numerous buckled floor boards.

To smooth these out, Dan rented a drum sander. Ordinarily, sanding is done with the grain. To knock out the ridges made by the buckled boards, Dan sanded diagonal to the grain. Since this is going to serve as our subfloor, a smooth sanded finish isn't crucial anyway. This took care of most of the ridges. The few stubborn ones were nailed flat.

Remains of buckled ridges were nailed down

The result was a much, much flatter floor....

After sanding and nailing

He also addressed a sagging spot in a high traffic area. I mentioned there was a 24" wide dip in front of the pantry hallway. Initially we assumed it was between two floor joists. When he went into the crawl space, to see if he could beef up the floor like he did with the dining room, he discovered that the problem was the joist itself. There was a half inch gap between it and the floor boards so that they weren't even touching it. That meant there was a span of 48 inches with no support. No wonder it sagged! He was able to work a shim between the joist and the floor, which raised the floor to eliminate the sag. What a difference.

The other thing Dan did was to fill in where the floor beam had been exposed.

Fill-in over the exposed floor beam was one
of the leftover boards from our dining room floor.

This is where a wall had been removed years ago, leaving an exposed floor beam. We discovered it when we removed the old ceramic tiles. He filled it in with a leftover board from the dining room floor project. He's using the same to frame out the wood cookstove floor protector.

Border for brick look floor protector

The next step is to lay out the new boards to get an idea of the best layout.

That's the progress at the moment.

Next post: installing the floor

March 14, 2012

March Gardening

March is an iffy month for us. We can get daytime highs bordering 80°F, but still have the potential for frost or even snow. It's easy for one's impatient inner gardener to want to jump the gun and "take a chance." Ordinarily this would be a time of nurturing indoor started seedlings, something I put on hold due to the indoor chaos of our kitchen remodel.

On the other hand, we're still enjoying the harvest from our fall and winter garden.

Lettuce, kale, turnips, and a carrot

And! A first ever for us....

1st ever asparagus

Last year I planted asparagus for the first time, about 30 plants. This is our very first sampling. We won't get much this year, because the plants still need time to establish themselves, but who could resist at least a taste? I have to say it was the best asparagus ever.

In addition there are beets, broccoli, turnips, kale, radishes, carrots, collards, and cabbage collards for the picking, though the broccoli and cabbage collards are starting to flower. I'll let some go to seed for saving, but the rest I cut back mercilessly to feed the goats. They are very hungry for something fresh this time of year and start hollering as soon as they see me coming with a basketful.

Parsnip plant

I checked the parsnips the other day and they look ready to harvest. I tried to grow parsnips last year without success. This time I didn't get a lot, so it will probably be a one or two meal deal, especially since I want to let at least one plant go to seed for saving. The variety is All American, not one usually listed in the seed catalogues. Still, since even some grew for me, it's a keeper. Besides the parsnips, I'd probably better harvest the rest of my turnips and beets as well, before they want to go to seed.

Egyptian Walking Onions

All the onions I planted last fall seem to be doing well. The Egyptian walkers have emerged from their winter's nap and are needing to be mulched. Only about half of the multipliers are growing however.

Last spring's onions are finally making a go of it. They were very slow to grow last year. Maybe that's how I need to do onions, plant sets and harvest a year later. Even so these point to a problem area for me, wire grass....

Onion, strawberry, & asparagus bed, invaded by wire grass

Last spring, I worked very hard to rescue my strawberries from wire grass that was choking them out. I transplanted over 50 plants to a new location. In keeping with my companion group gardening plan, I also planted onions and asparagus along with the strawberries. Well, that wire grass has been trying to claim a corner of my garden and it happened again.

I cannot tell you how discouraging this stuff is. It is invasive, tenacious, and impossible to get rid of. Nothing I've tried has given me the upper hand: tilling, hand weeding, deep mulch, landscape cloth, cardboard mulch. Problem is, I don't know how to learn to live with it. At the moment I'm thinking to harvest the onions, move the strawberries again (the ones that haven't been smothered to death that is), let it go until fall, and then mow the summer's growth of wire grass down. The asparagus comes up before it gets growing, so perhaps I can still get an asparagus harvest every year. How to keep the wire grass from spreading further, is another unsolved nightmare.

On the bright side....

fall planted garlic

I'm very pleased with my garlic. I planted nearly all of last year's harvest, nearly 100 cloves. We use a lot of garlic for both culinary and medicinal purposes, so I'm not sure even this is a year's supply. Still, we'll have some homegrown to enjoy.

Romaine lettuces from saved seed

Having a milder winter was great for the greens. Even my lettuces survived, though they grew very little during the coldest months. I'm thinking if I'd covered them, they might have produced fairly well.

So far this spring I've planted peas, a new to me variety of turnip, Golden Ball, and more comfrey. This comfrey is also in a different spot. Last summer I lost most of the comfrey I planted two years ago. I'm not sure if it was the wire grass that choked it out or perhaps I failed to keep the soil sweet enough, but for some reason it did not like that location. Comfrey is an important protein source for my goats as well as instant compost material. I need it to thrive.

The success of this year's winter garden, plus my experiences of the two previous winters have me thinking about year round gardening in my little corner of the world. I'm seeing that we can indeed eat fresh all winter long. Even in the colder, snowier winters, we can harvest root crops if they're well mulched. We should be eating more of that, so that I don't have to preserve as much of the summer's harvest as I have been. With a row cover or hoop house we could have greens during the colder winters as well. The heat of summer with it's annual dry spell is actually more problematic for me! How to best garden through that, is something I'm still contemplating.

March 12, 2012

Puppy Report

Kris, almost 11 weeks old

So our cute "little" puppy is becoming a gangly, all-legs puppy. At his 2nd puppy check last Friday, he'd grown from 14 to 22 pounds in just three weeks.

Kris, running after Surprise

He has taken to following the goats around and seems to particularly like Surprise. She, on the other hand, has no use for him whatsoever, and presents him with the top of her head anytime he comes up to her. Fortunately he doesn't know that this means "mind your own beeswax" in goat body language, so he tries to lick her ears. Sadly, she has no appreciation for puppy kisses. She does seem to like his puppy food however and makes a beeline for it when it's time for Kris to eat. Of course, this is something she is not allowed to have.

There are two schools of thought regarding the training of livestock guardian dogs. Old school is for the puppy to have virtually no human contact for several weeks, to allow bonding with the stock. More current thinking is that the tendency to guard is more about genetic instinct. Some dogs naturally make better guardians than others, even within the LGD breeds themselves. This line of thinking says the puppy needs to be kept with the stock, but also needs human socialization. It needs to know basic commands, be leash trained, and be able to be transported for things like vet visits. Folks who raise LGDs now, say the instinct to guard livestock just "kicks in."

We had a go-round with "kennel cough," which was worrisome. Fortunately we caught it before it developed into pneumonia, but Kris had to come stay in the house while he was coughing and congested. After that he came in at night and on rainy days; something he did not like. I can't say that I blame him and am glad he's an outdoor dog, but we felt he needed to use his energy for getting well, not keeping his body temperature up in the cold and wet.

The goats have been slow to appreciate him.

For the goats, it was initially us against it

Of course, he wants to play in ways they don't. Still, they're beginning to tolerate him. Of the chickens, he's decided to keep a repsectful distance.

Watching Mrs. Mean parade by

But then, he's seen Mrs. Mean giving "what for" to the pullets. Other than that, he's a happy little guy, all puppy.

Of the dog next door (which prompted us to get Kris), he is being chained up outside again. He has a much sturdier collar, but he has taken to barking at our chickens and goats. He must remember all the fun he had chasing them. Every critter on our side of the fence ignores him, but when he gets worked up, he fights and struggles to get out of that collar. So far it's held. We are seriously thinking about putting up a wood privacy fence there, just so he can't see and be tempted.

Jasmine, Surprise, & Kris

Anyway, that's the puppy report. :)

March 9, 2012

Old Kitchen Floor: Problems & Preps

When we bought our house, the kitchen floor was ceramic tile. (Photos of original kitchen here.) Though this appealed to me when I first read the real estate ad, it turned out to be old, grungy, and cracked. It had to go and here's what we found underneath...

The original kitchen floor, 92 year old hardwood
The scoring was where the ceramic tiles used to be.

The original floor is oak tongue and groove, which has obviously seen better days. Besides the ceramic tiles, it has sported several different layers of linoleum over the years, of which there are still remnants.

Even though it's hardwood, it is not a candidate for refinishing like we did in the living room. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it's the only floor, i.e. there is no subfloor. There's just this. Then too, over the years the boards have shrunk, so there are huge cracks between most.

Cracks between the floor boards. They're everywhere

Of course they're impossible to keep clean, but also, with no subfloor, there's no sense that this is, or ever could be airtight.

Other problems? Over the years some of the boards have sunk,

or buckled,

It's no wonder the ceramic tiles were so badly cracked.

Another big problems is dips, as in the floor sinks in some spots. This is likely because the joists were built on 24 inch centers. More conventionally, floor joists are spaced 16 inches part, measuring from the center of one joist to the next. That extra 8 inches in our joists means more bounce in the floor, and a greater potential for dips. In fact the worst one (which I tried to photograph but couldn't catch the "dip") is spans a width of 24 and is about 3 feet long. It is right between two floor joists in front of the pantry hallway. This is a high traffic area and so will have to be dealt with.

Not unsurprisingly, the floor also slopes. Some places it's only a quarter of an inch, other places, 3/4.

It is a 92 year old house after all and really, this isn't as bad as some floors we've seen.

Here's another construction oddity

What are we looking at? An exposed floor beam (in this case 2, 2x10s, true 2x10s mind you). We discovered this when we pulled up the old ceramic tile. This is where a wall used to be, which was later torn down to enlarge the kitchen. In modern construction, the subfloor is put down first, and walls are built on top of that. When this home was built, the walls were built first and the floor added afterward. When this wall was torn down by previous owners to enlarge the kitchen, it exposed the floor beam. Filler was added when the ceramic tiles were installed. We will also have to fill it in before we put down our new floor.

Options? We discussed several. One would be to tear the entire old floor out and install a new plywood subfloor. The subfloor could be leveled and this would take care of the buckles and dips. Dan did do this in fact, in two places: when he repaired the rotted rim joist under the kitchen window, and when he installed the floor protector for the wood cookstove. What he discovered in doing these is that not all the joists and beams are the same size. They have sunk, shrunk, or twisted over the years so that it would be impossible to simply put a piece of plywood over the top to level the floor.

The other option would be to use the old floor as a subfloor, put down a vapor barrier, and shim as we go to level the new floor. Though we may have second thoughts later, this is option was one reason we got a 9 inch plank floor.

At the moment I am scraping old tile mortar and linoleum adhesive, and then Dan will work on the uneven spots to smooth out the floor. He'll start by renting a drum sander to knock out some of those ridges, and then we'll go from there. It's going to be a huge job however we do it, so here's hoping it all goes well.

Next: sanding out an irregular floor