April 29, 2013

Soil Remineralization: Year 2

Soil health is one of the top priorities on our homestead. If our soil is healthy, then our plants will be healthy. In turn, we and our animals will be healthy. This applies not only to our garden, but to our field and forage areas as well. Each year, we plan to choose another field and remineralize it. Last year it was the pretty green pasture you see in many of my recent photos.

The first field we remineralized. Previously, it was a sea of poison ivy,
blackberry briars, and hundreds of sapling cedars, pecans, oaks, and pines.

This year it's going to be the buck pasture. In preparation for that, I ordered a soil test last month. Recently, we got the results.

Click to biggify (takes you to Photobucket)

The results surprised me. I thought the field we did last year would have had the worst soil. This one was worse. To help me understand what the results meant, I got out Neal Kinsey's book, Hands-On Agronomy. It's the best guide for this analysis because it was done by his soil testing service.

Not surprisingly, the soil there is acidic, but I didn't think it would be that acidic (5.0). Also, all the minerals tested were deficient, except sodium. Sodium was very high.

Sodium excess is apparently caused by excessive irrigation, or a soil compaction layer which doesn't allow the water to move the sodium through the soil. The latter would likely be the case here. The solution for excessively high sodium is calcium, which must be brought up to a minimum level of 60%. Ours is only 30%. Calcium will be added in the form of dolomite, which will also raise the soil's pH. Two things accomplished with one substance. Plus, dolomite will add much needed magnesium to the soil.

The recommended form of nitrogen is feather meal. This is one of the more expensive forms of nitrogen, so I was tempted to substitute something cheaper. Then I read that feather meal is one of the slower releasing, longer lasting forms of organic nitrogen fertilizer. Blood meal is quick acting and cotton seed meal lowers the pH (which is too low as it is!).  The amount is as recommended for what we intend to plant there, corn and cowpeas. (That's assuming it ever stops raining so we can get the soil turned!)

Of phosphates, the soft rock phosphate is also a long lasting, slow release form. Almost everything I grow shows signs of phosphorous deficiency (purplish leaves and often stunted), so this is an important addition to our soils.

There are numerous trace minerals called for as well. Some say these additional micronutrients aren't necessary, that once the soil pH is corrected the minerals will correct themselves. This can be true if they are already present in the soil. If they have been washed or eroded away, or used up by vegetation, there will still be a deficit even after the pH is correct.

At one time we thought we'd just rely on compost. Compost is good, but not all compost is equal and can be deficient or imbalanced just like soil. Neil Kinsey's recommendations are based on the Albrecht system, which focuses on mineral balance in the soil. Besides making sense, we've seen the results for ourselves, in our new pasture.

You can read more about the Albrecht System at Fair's Biofarm Assist.
You can find out more about Kinsey Ag Soil Testing Services here.

Where did we buy most of our soil amendments? Some (dolomite and borax) I found locally. The rest I ordered from Seven Springs Farm. They have good prices but the shipping is not cheap. We consider it an investment in our land, however, and so worth the expense.

Soil Remineralization: Year 2 © April 2013 by Leigh 

April 26, 2013

Sourdough Parsnip Cake

Well, I'd hoped to have some Ziggy kids to show you by now, but there is no progress to report on that front. Today is her technical due date, but what baby every pays attention to that! In the meantime, here's a filler post. :)

If parsnips are similar to carrots, and I can make a carrot cake, then why not a parsnip cake? This is the kind of thing you think about when you have a bumper crop of parsnips. This recipe combines my basic sourdough cake recipe with a carrot cake recipe, substituting grated parsnips for the carrots.

A plain but tasty cake. I don't usually frost my cakes. We like our
desserts,  but I like to keep them as simple and low sugar as possible.

2 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening (I use non-hydrogenated organic)
1 cup whole wheat sourdough starter
2 eggs
2 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups grated parsnips

Combine and beat well. Pour into greased bundt pan. Bake at 350° F for about 40 minutes or until done.

This recipe is linked to Food on Friday: Parsnips and Pumpkin recipes, over at Carole's Chatter.

Sourdough Parsnip Cake © April 2013 by Leigh 

April 24, 2013


Mild April temperatures have meant being able to finish the bathtub! The tub refinishing kit required air and surface temps of 72° F (22° C), and the house finally warmed up enough to do the job.

Refurbished clawfoot tub re-installed in the bathroom

This is exciting. This bathroom has been torn apart since last July, and in the entire four years we've lived here, the room has never been functional. There were plumbing problems from the start. I can't even imagine what it will be like to have a bathroom bigger than a postage stamp (although at 5 feet by 8 feet this bathroom is not exactly large).

The next step will be the bathtub plumbing. But here's where we ran into another problem - the water supply lines.

Bottom left: old water supply line
Top right: new water supply line

The new one is an inch wider / deeper than the one Dan took off. The problem is that it doesn't fit because the room is so small. We're putting a 5 foot tub back into a 5 foot wide room, and there is no room for the supply lines to stick out so far away from the tub. The problem with the old onse is that they are a different diameter than the new plumbing. Dan installed shut off valves and they aren't the same size. If it ain't chickens, it's feathers! (Or maybe it's, so near and yet so far away). I have every confidence, however, that Dan will figure it out.

Tub-A-Dub-Done! © April 2013 by Leigh 

April 22, 2013

Hey Ziggy, What's The Holdup?

Quite a few of you have inquired about Ziggy. Almost every day I'm thinking I'll have a new kid post to share, but Ziggy doesn't seem to be in any hurry. There is progress however.

About two weeks ago, I showed you this photo:

Ziggy, 2 weeks ago. Her back is flat like a table top.

Yesterday, I took this photo:

Ziggy yesterday. No longer flat across the top.

Can you see the difference in her shape? The kids have dropped, which is an indicator that kidding isn't too far off.

The kid(s) have dropped and there is now a hollow or dip  on
either side of her lower back. Before it was smooth and round. 

Based on when she visited Gruffy, her due date is April 26. That's based on an average 150 day gestation for goats. The gal I bought Ziggy from said that Nigerian Dwarfs are typically anywhere between 145 and 150 days, which means this week!

Other things to keep an eye out for are a mucus discharge, which I noticed two days ago. Resources vary greatly as to how far in advance to labor this occurs, anywhere from 24 hours to 2 weeks. A filling udder is another indicator, though this is not 100%. Many folks can tell by the doe's tail ligaments, which stretch to accommodate birthing. My success rate with this one is 0%; hopefully I'll learn with experience.

Behavioral changes are clues too, though these will vary from doe to doe: seeking to be alone, distracted (concentrating on the first stage of labor), pawing the ground to make a nest, "talking" to her kids, preoccupation with her own belly. I won't claim to be particularly expert in this department, but I'm trying to pay close attention to my does and learn their personal signs.

Of course, since I never had a blood test done nor an ultrasound, this may all be a false alarm! Certainly doesn't seem like it, so I'm keeping an eye on Ziggy, praying for healthy kids and an easy deliver, and generally trying to take it all in stride.

Hey Ziggy, What's The Holdup? © April 2013 by Leigh 

April 18, 2013

Spring Has Sprung & The Garden Has Too

Apple blossoms

Fall planted lettuce & multiplier onions. Barely to be seen in the
foreground, Red Detroit beets. All are from saved seeds or bulbs.

Egyptian Walking Onions are doing well their 2nd year. 

Spring planted cabbages. I just planted Red Norland potatoes here too &
mulched with compost. The ground is really too wet, but rain is forecast.

Fall planted parsnips in the front, garlic behind.

Wando peas ready to be trellised

Strawberries. So far so good.

Also planted so far:
  • Fordhook Swiss chard
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Chioggia beets
  • Bucklunch sugar beets
  • Jericho cos lettuce
  • pak choy
  • radishes
  • flax (for seed)

  • asparagus

Herb seeds in egg cartons (starred ones are coming up)
  • catnip*
  • bergamot
  • marshmallow*
  • Joe Pye weed
  • narrow leaf echinacea
  • wormwood
  • sweet woodruff
  • bush basil*
  • sweet basil*
  • anise hyssop
  • creeping thyme
  • valerian
  • flat leaf parsley
  • summer savory
  • skullcap

And more to come......

April 15, 2013

Rainwater Catchment Update

Our rain catchment tanks collect water from a small addition to the house.
A better photo and close-ups of the set-up are here.

I've been wanting to do an update on our rainwater catchment system, but we had to fix a problem first. That problem was a leak at the pipe fitting between top and bottom tanks.

The water level gives you an idea of where the pipe fitting leaked.

The water level in the photo above shows where the leak was. This was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. We'd considered the set-up experimental to begin with, something we've learned to do with new projects because things don't always work out as we first expect!

The first thing we did was to try various sealants to plug the leak. Even waterproof caulks state they are not for underwater use, or in this case, in constant contact with water. Between that and the pressure from the water in the tank, nothing we tried worked. It took awhile to figure this out because we had to wait until it rained again to test each sealant.

What Dan wanted, was different fittings, but we couldn't find anything locally, nor online for a decent price. Finally, on a trip to Iowa, he found what he was looking for at Bomgarrs.

fittings for rainwater catchment tanks
Left to right: gland nut, washer, and flanged
threaded fitting with gasket incorporated.

The gland nut (above left) and washer (middle) were fitted into the hole on the inside of the tank. The flanged threaded fitting (on the right) screwed into the gland nut from the outside, and the tanks reconnected. How did it work? We had to wait until it rained again to find out.

double tote rainwater catchment fittings
Success! Leak fixed.

As you can see, the top tank is beginning to fill with no more leaks. The white piece between the two black elbows is a coupling and threaded union Dan put together.

Not an especially good photo, sorry!

To see the rest of the set-up, click on this link, "Rainwater Catchment (At Last)".

So how much rain are we collecting? That small section of roof pictured in the first photo measures 15 by 7.5 feet, or 112.5 square feet. From that, we collect 50 gallons of water per one inch of rain. I am so glad we resisted the temptation to put up a couple of 55 gallon drums, especially considering that we've had over 23 inches of rain since the tanks were installed at the beginning of January. That's over 1100 gallons of water from that little bit of roof! (And our two tanks only hold a total of 550 gallons).

It's almost overwhelming to consider how much rain run-off gets away, even from a small house like ours. That's not only potential irrigation water, but potential toilet flushing, showering, and washing machine water as well. Needless to say, Dan's mental wheels are turning.

Rainwater Catchment Update © April 2013 

April 14, 2013

Potholders! Thank You Mama Pea!

I am pleased to announce that I am the delighted winner of Mama Pea's potholder giveaway.

Mama Pea's potholders

Mama Pea's potholders

Aren't they absolutely perfect for my new kitchen? The only problem is - they are too pretty to use!!! My potholders always end up dirty, raggedy, torn, worn, ripped, stained, and smudged with wood cookstove soot. I can't do that to these! Instead?

my potholder collection
4 potholders ought to make a collection, right?

The chicken potholder on the left I bought from a WARP (Weave A Real Peace) sale. WARP sells items handcrafted by weavers and textile artisans in communities-in-need. My potholder was made by a Guatemalan weaver. The sheep potholder on the right was a gift from my mother, but I have no idea where she bought it.

I love them all.

April 12, 2013

Milk Goiter

When I was taking photos of the t-post pulling the other day, I noticed Alphie had a lump on his neck.

Alphie, "helping" pull t-posts. Note the lump on his neck.
Alphie, 3 and 1/2 weeks old.

It was soft and obviously not bothering him. As I tried to figure out what to do, I recalled reading somewhere about milk goiter in kids.

The best article I could find about it was at the Fias Co Farm website. I found that via the metabolic/nutritional disease page at www.sheepandgoat.com (the Maryland Small Ruminant page. I mention it because it is definitely worth bookmarking.)

Bottom line? It is not uncommon and not a problem. It resolves itself once the kid is weaned. The only action on my part was to make sure it was indeed milk goiter and not bottle jaw (parasites, a soft abscess located more on the jawline, found in adults usually, not kids), CL (Caseous Lymphadenitis, very bad news. Abscess is hard, not soft), or even an insect bite (small, hard lump).

It certainly doesn't slow him down. He's a very happy, active little guy.

Milk Goiter © April 2013 

April 9, 2013

How Many Bent T-Posts Does It Take....

T-post puller
How many bent t-posts does it take to change a light bulb? That's not what I was going to say but it certainly came to mind in a goofy moment as I contemplated a title for this post. The real fill-in-the-blank is, how many bent t-posts does it take before we finally buy the proper tool for the job!

From time to time fences must be moved or removed, which means t-posts must be too. Such was recently the case when we took down the temporary fence to the new pasture, which served to protect the seeds and new growth from chickens and goats. One can either try to muscle those posts out, or use a post puller. It turned out to be very easy. Position it....

positioning the t-post puller
Position the thingamagiggy under the thingamabog. Sheesh, I don't
know the right terms, but a picture is worth a thousand words anyway.
The slip hook can be used with a chain to pull corner posts or stumps.

And push down the lever.

Alphie is a typical goat, curious about everything!
Alphie assistance optional.

The post puller lifted the t-post out easily

The post comes right out of the ground. Best of all, it's still straight which means we can use it again. A piece of proverbial cake.

April 7, 2013

Ziggy Report

Nothing yet. After April 5, her next potential due date is April 26. [Correction. Nigerian Dwarfs have a gestation of 145 to 150 days,  
I've been told, which would make it April 21 to 26.]

Ziggy Report © April 2013 by Leigh 

April 4, 2013

Project Priorities & The Weather

In our last episode of adventures in bathroom remodeling, we were stuck with temperatures too cold to do the next step - refinish the old clawfoot tub. We need both air and surface temperatures to be at least 72° F / 22° C to work with the product. Because our house is so cold, we decided to wait until warmer weather.

That was actually a good plan, because with planting season right around the corner, we have some outside projects to tend to. At the top of the list was a shelter in the front pasture for the bucks. This is because next summer we will remineralize the buck pasture, just like we did the girls' new pasture last year. We also decided to plant it to field corn for one summer before planting forage. That means the billy boys have to be moved elsewhere for awhile.

The new shelter is three sided. The sides aren't square to the back, but sort of fanned out.

goat shelter
New goat shelter, just finished.

Dan built it in the far back corner of the pasture. He used two privacy fence panels for the back.

privacy fence panels used as the back of the goat shelter
Backside of the shelter. Using privacy fence panels will give a more cohesive
look to the fenceline once we replace the welded wire with privacy panels.

We plan to eventually fence that property line with these panels. The roof is shingled. Dan contemplated the options and went with shingles when we found them for $15 a bundle at a surplus building supply warehouse.

Also he built a hay feeder.

goat hay feeder
Hay feeder, sized for a big 'un & a li'l 'un

The "tray" on the bottom catches a lot of hay that the goats tend to pull out. Not all, as you can see, but it's the least wasteful hay feeder we've made so far. The challenge was the size. It needs to accommodate a short Pygmy and a tall Kiko.

Our Pygmy buck Gruffy, and our Kiko buck Elvis.
Our bucks, Gruffy and Elvis.

Because the fencing panels have gaps between the pickets, Dan added an inner plywood wall across the back of the shelter.  The purpose of this is to block the wind. Cold is actually less of a problem for goats than rain and drafts. They need to be able to get out of these if they choose.

I was able to test this out the other day when I was painting. The day was sunny but the wind was sharp and chilly. It was snug and pleasant inside.

Speaking of painting, here's how it looks with a coat of barn paint

goat shelter painted and ready for goats
I love barn paint. It covers pretty well and wears well too.
Dan built the shelter off a fence corner, so it incorporates the fence too.

The last thing to do is to run a gutter along the back and add a container to catch rainwater. This will be very helpful for watering the goats.

So, another project almost ready to cross off the to-do list.

April 2, 2013

Has Finally Grown Into His Knees

Alphie has finally grown into his knees.

Day old baby goat with contracted tendons.
Alphie, 1 day old, sporting his make-do baby goat coat.
This was the best he was able to straighten his legs at first.

Alphie is curious about everything.
Alphie, 2 weeks old. He still has "goat knees" but his legs are straight.

Alphie, Surprise, & Lily in the new pasture
At 2 weeks old, Alphie is becoming quite a handsome little buckling

Sometimes kids are born with what seems like ligament problems. CryBaby's kid was and at first Alphie's front knees, besides being knobby, were stiff and he couldn't straighten his legs. This happens when there is so little room in the womb that the kid's legs are cramped. They can't stretch their legs properly and are born with contracted tendons. Some folks splint these but my vet said no need to. As the kids use their legs the tendons stretch out properly, and there is no permanent damage. Happily, that was the case with Alphie too.

Has Finally Grown Into His Knees photos & text © April 2013