August 30, 2014

Busy August Days

Where has the month gone to! August has been a busy month with more things to do than time to do them in. My days have been filled with picking and preserving. Here's the rundown.

Canning Green beans

Dehydrating Zuchetta summer squash

Canning figs

Curing and bagging multiplier onions

Canning pizza sauce

Freezing Green Nutmeg melon

Drying more dried blueberries

Mozzarella cheese for freezing

Black turtle beans for shelling

Frozen elderberries. So far I've filled two 2-gal freezer bags with more
to come. I'd like to make a medicinal syrup this year, and maybe jelly.

1st ever crabapple harvest. Only got 1 lb. Eventually I'll
use these to make my own pectin and apple cider vinegar.

And just coming in ...

Okra, green peppers, and our first pears!

So what's been happening at your place?

August 27, 2014


Sadly, I have no dog news to share, but I do have goat news. Meet Bunny.

Born May 21st of this year, Bunny is half Pygmy, half Nubian - my second unofficial "Kinder" (Caleb being the first).

When I realized Lily's kids were not my much hoped for half breeds, I put all my goat plans on halt. I had been eyeing Bunny for Splash, but I needed to rethink my goals and plans. In the end I sold Splash with Suprise's girls, Miracle and Grace. Awhile back I sold Ziggy and her triplets, also Zoey and her twins.  I once thought I'd keep them all, but I realize I can't keep everybody and our winter quarters and forage really aren't adequate for all those goats.

Bunny and Dottie. Dottie and Sissy are 5 months old, Bunny is 3 months.

Unlike the way I'd been trying to go about it, Bunny's mother is the Pygmy and her sire is the Nubian. Makes me wonder if I should try again for an official version with different goats.

It was an all day trip there and back to get her. In some ways it seems crazy, but you goat folk know that when you find what you want, you go for it.

Sissy in the background, Bunny in the front.

Adjustments are still being made. Of course all Bunny wants is her mother, twin brother, and older sisters. All she wants is to go home.

Surprise and Lily, my adult does, show little interest in her except to warn her off from getting too close. Lily's girls, Dottie and Sissy, have been quite interested, and some kid sparring has taken place. No one has rammed her, happily. I know if I still had Ziggy she would have flattened her at least a dozen times by now.

Plans? To let Gruffy have one more try with Surprise and Lily. This is the last chance I'm giving myself with these three to make some Kinders. If Surprise settles, the kids would qualify for registry and could be "official". Considering nothing happened the other years I tried this, I'm not counting on it. Caleb will get the three younger does when they're old enough. Those are MY plans anyway. Who knows what the goats will decide.

August 25, 2014

One Hour Dog Owner

I was planning to introduce you to this handsome boy today.

Ever since coyotes returned to our area, Dan and I have discussed getting another Livestock Guardian. I've checked craigslist from time to time for such a dog, made a few inquiries on occasion, and finally found this fellow - a 2 & 1/2 year old working Great Pyrenees needing to be rehomed. He worked with cattle, pigs, chickens, formerly goats, didn't mind cats, was known to go after coyotes, and was excellent with human children as well. He sounded absolutely perfect for us. They told me he needed good fences, because if he thought something was threatening his territory he'd jump the fence to go after it.

Saturday afternoon, I drove 45 minutes to go buy him. What a sweetheart! I fell in love immediately. I brought him home, gave him a drink of water, and left him in my goat showing pen next to the goats to get acquainted. I went inside to change clothes before taking him around to see the property and meet all our critters.

The goats all ran away but Waldo was interested.

When I got back outside he was gone. I couldn't believe it! I frantically started looking around and finally saw him down in the woods at the back of the buck browse. He'd easily cleared two fences to get there. He did not respond to my calls; why should he? He didn't know me, I was the lady who took him away from his home. I tried to follow but lost track of him.

I jumped in my car and drove the back roads looking for him. I didn't see him. I came home and called the city police, county sheriff's office, and talked to animal control to give a description and my number in case someone found him. I also emailed his former owner to give her a heads up because I have no doubt he's going to head for home.

I can't even explain how I feel about the whole thing: worried, foolish, uncertain, like beating my head against a wall. Is there a name for all of that? I'm hoping he'll show up at his former owner, but then what? Could be really be taught to stay here? Would we have to surround the entire property with electric fence? Should I try to give him back and see if they'll return my money? Maybe I should just wait and see what happens. One thing I can say is that we certainly don't seem to be doing very well when it comes to dogs.

August 23, 2014

I Think I Was Wrong About Lily

I was standing in the buck pasture the other day, admiring my boys. Splash was standing next to Caleb and it occurred to me how close in size 4 and a half month old Splash is to Caleb. Caleb is a Kinder, mid-size between his Nubian and Pygmy parents. I had thought Splash was a Kinder too, born to Lily, one of my Nubian does and fathered by Gruffy, my Pygmy buck. But if he's a Kinder, I thought, shouldn't he be a lot smaller with those Pygmy genetics?

I realized that Splash's sisters weren't smaller than the Nubian/Kiko kids born to surprise. Ziggy and Zoey's half miniature breed kids were smaller than the standards. Shouldn't Lily's be too?

Lily and her girls on the left, Surprise on right with one of her twins in front.
There is no size difference with all the doelings. Shouldn't Kinders be smaller?

I went back to check my calendar. Sure enough, on the breeding date (October 31) that matched their birth date (March 31) I had put Lily in with Gruffy. I had a later date that indicated one of the boys break-outs, which meant it was whose guess as to who's the daddy. There was no such notation on that date. Still, I've been wrong before, so I went back through my blog posts. Sure enough, on the one dated Nov. 4, 2013 ("More Misadventures in Breeding") I mention a buck break-out with Lily.

What that means is, my Kinders are not Kinders!!! I thought I finally had my dream breed but apparently not. Now I have a beautiful Kinder buck with no Kinder doe to breed him to. The wind is knocked out of my goat plan sails. sigh

August 21, 2014

Weeding For Goats

Last spring I wrote a weeding and gathering post on Heartsease. Over the years I've been learning to identify herbs and edible wild plants and let them grow in my garden and yard. When they need to be removed for other things I want growing, they can be a welcome harvest, either for us or for the goats.

I've been studying plants and weeds in regards to goats. I observe what they eat and what they don't. I learn what weeds are growing and check them against lists of plants considered poisonous for goats. Anything that is especially nutritious I chop, dry, and add to my vitamin and mineral mix for goats. (See "DIY Vitamins & Minerals For Goats" and "Homegrown Goat Minerals")

Amaranth thinnings. Amaranth is a good source of
calcium. I find it easier to chop while still fresh. 

Everything is air dried on screens and later added
to my goats' homemade vitamin and mineral mix.

Other things I just cut and dry for the hay pile. I like to spread them out on a big tarp in the shade. That way I can fold it over at night to protect from heavy dew. Being in the shade, it doesn't bleach out and retains a nutritious dried green color.

Fresh and dried grasses and weeds the goats like to eat. 

Once dry I toss it onto the hay pile. I don't get a hugemongous amount, but I'm a firm believer that every little bit helps.

I suppose it could be said that all this takes a lot of extra work. I figure if I'm going to weed or otherwise get rid of it anyway, why not save it and feed it to somebody? Makes sense to me. :)

August 19, 2014

Melons Galore

I had such a poor harvest of everything last year that I reckon I went a bit overboard this year. For melons, I planted Green Nutmeg, a lovely heirloom variety that we like better than cantaloupe.

Green Nutmeg melons

Well, production hasn't disappointed. We've been eating one almost every day. There are a couple of things I like to do with the surplus. One is to cut thin slices and dehydrate them. This makes a very tasty, no sugar, fruit leather-like snack. My blog post about dehydrating watermelon (with instructions) can be read here.

The other thing I like to do is to freeze melon, especially the ones that get away from me, i.e. overripe. I don't find this works well for a bowlful of thawed melon chunks or a fruit salad, but we love them in smoothies.

Preparing melon for freezing. I'll transfer to freezer bags once frozen.

To make those smoothies, I add chunks of frozen melon along with whatever else is in the freezer: strawberries, blueberries, figs, bananas, and whir it up in the blender with some kefir. That makes an exceedingly refreshing frozen treat on a sweltering hot day.

As you can see from the above photo, there is no waste, not even for the compost pile. The rinds are fed to the goats and pigs, pulp to the chickens, and I save a few seeds too. For that I use the method for soft, pulpy foods (see "Seed Saving: Cucumbers"), but after the incident with the sweet potatoes, I use only filtered water!

Anyone else enjoying homegrown melon this summer?

August 16, 2014

"They Won't Tear Up Your Yard"

That was the sales pitch we got when we bought Waldo. He was one of about 20 or so piglets running around with two adult sows (and a bunch of goats and chickens), and there was no sign of rooting anywhere. I suppose it was meant to be a good thing, but it was the one thing about the American Guinea Hog that disappointed me. There is so much excellent information out there about using pigs as natural tillers of the soil. That had been an important reason I wanted pigs, but once I set my heart on the Guinea Hogs, I had to accept whatever their natural behavior was.

Well guess what.

Waldo rooting to his heart's content.

They do so root! Waldo does and Polly does too. I was so happy to see this.

Pigs root to find things to eat: grubs, worms, roots, squirrel buried acorns, etc.

I'm guessing the reason there was no rooting at the breeder's was because there were too many animals in the paddock (which Dan really disliked). The soil was so compacted and trampled that not much was growing. I suppose rooting there was difficult if not impossible. To see an example of Guinea Hog rooting results at its finest, check out "Rooting It Up" at Windward.

So, we need to develop a plan / schedule of what will go where next year and where to put the pigs. Now that Dan has the 2-wheel tractor, our ability to grow field crops is greatly enhanced. And now that we have pigs, we're well on our way to a "work harder not smarter" solution to sustainability on the homestead.

August 14, 2014

Green Beans: 2 Beds, Same Variety, Big Difference

Now here's a curious thing. I planted two beds of green beans, same variety, one about a month before the other. I'd intended to plant them at the same time but, due to time and weather, didn't. Here's what they look like at present.

The bed on the left was planted first. It's done poorly from early on, appearing to have succumbed to bean mosaic. The plants and beans have been stunted and slow to develop from the git-go. The bed on the right has been more vigorous and productive.

The seed was the same variety from the same company, just two different packets. Odd that they should be so different, isn't it? Interestingly, neither one shows any insect damage, I'm guessing because of last year's colder than usual winter.

Technically I should have pulled and destroyed the diseased ones. Bad practice to leave them, I know, but if I pulled and destroyed every plant that showed disease symptoms I'd have no garden left. It's tough because disease is so much harder to deal with than insects. Sad but true.

August 12, 2014

Pasture Woes

Trying to learn something through trial and error is a tough way to go, you know it? Especially if it's something that can only be observed seasonally, like pasture. When we first bought the place it was very overgrown and we knew we'd have to work on establishing pasture/forage areas. Then I learned we'd have to maintain them as well; forage areas deteriorate over the years and must be tended to if they are to continue in their intended purpose.

There is a principle in permaculture called succession. Basically this means that no ecosystem stays the same, it continually changes over time. There are theories about this, and arguments over theories, none of which I subscribe to because none of them fits what I observe on our own homestead. No matter. Simply knowing that things change on their own means I'm not necessarily doing anything wrong. That's a relief. It also defines my place in the scheme of things; my job is to work with the principles of nature to maintain an ecological balance on our homestead. Easier said than done!

The biggest challenge to doing this is that it is impossible to simply read a how-to book, follow the steps, and get the same results as the author. There are just too many variables: soil type and content, local climate, and weather, for example. Add to that personal goals, the type and number of animals one wishes to keep and what they prefer to eat, the type of plants one wishes to grow, plus local availability of these things, and each homesteader is basically starting from scratch no matter how successful others have been. It's tough.

Pasture and forage have been at the top of our list of important things to do; almost all our critters depend on it: goats, chickens, pigs. My goal is to have year-round forage; our climate is mild enough that we should be able to do that.

We knew our soil was poor so after reading Hands-On Agronomy, we set about to have our soil tested one forage area at a time, remineralize it, and then plant a mix of grasses, legumes, herbs, and vegetables. The following posts chronicle that:

The first year we had beautiful pasture:
but then the challenges began. I had done my homework regarding warm and cool weather grasses and legumes,
and planted accordingly. Last winter, however, was exceptionally cold and everything went dormant, including the cool weather forage. We bought and fed a lot of hay. About the only thing that seemed to survive and grow the following spring was the clover and chicory. Early this spring I spot seeded with a pasture mix. Then we faced two months of high temperatures and no rain. Only the ground ivy didn't mind and took the opportunity to take over.

Even if the weather cooperates, another challenge is that even perennial forage plants don't last more than several years. Of course, other things begin to grow from seeds dropped by birds or blown in on the wind, plus tree seeds dropped at pasture perimeters. But standard pasture forage seems to simply poop out after several years, whether it's perennial plants or reseeding from annual grasses. Eventually it simply isn't there anymore. Weather has it's effect as does what the animals choose to eat. 

Having to buy pasture seed every couple of years doesn't fit in with our sustainability goals, not to mention that my local choices are limited. In spring, Tractor Supply begins to stock pasture seed mixes but upon examining the labels, I discovered that recommended planting time was autumn. Plus not everything in the mix is recommended for our area. I eventually found a warm season deer forage mix and used that. Also I have since learned that one of our local feed stores stocks pasture/forage seed in season and will sell by the pound. That means I won't have to mail order it. 

Even though purchasing seed is not my preferred option, I'm willing to do it for our critters' sake. I have a stewardship responsibility toward them. I haven't yet found a lot of information on sustainable pasture, however, so I've been doing some experimenting. 

The gist of this experiment is to spread the goat barn litter over pasture areas. I usually compost this and seed inevitably ends up in it, as evidenced by where I spread my compost in the garden. Why not spread it out on the pasture itself? I chose a pasture being rested from the goats and did just that. And it worked. Next time we'll use a better quality hay, which I think will improve results. Eventually, I hope we can do with with only our own hay, and simply return our own seed, manure, and straw waste to our soil. That's the goal.

Rainfall at the end of July was a welcome relief, but our pasture areas haven't recovered as I hoped. Nothing grew during the dry spell and what was there got eaten down. I'm tempted to think that all of this makes my pastures a fail, but then I remind myself that the soil is certainly better than it was several years ago. The investment of the minerals is a long term one. Currently I've been thinning our goat numbers, with a view to learning how many our land can support. That varies depending on the season and the weather! Soon I'll be looking at planting for winter pasture again. Perhaps I need to look at what tolerates dry versus wet conditions and plant both! It's all a learning process. 

August 9, 2014

Color Me Wrong -or- Riley & the Tomatoes

Tomato harvest has commenced!

Bowl full of Amish Paste, Roma, and hybrid table tomatoes
A variety of Amish Paste, Roma, and hybrid table tomatoes

This is such a relief after last year's piddly tomato yield (only got 4 pints of sauce and even that was a disaster!) That means tomatoes are a happy, daily chore.

My priority tomato preservation job is pizza sauce. It's not really different from spaghetti sauce, we just eat more pizza hence the name. If I have a good picking I like to use my Roma to start the sauce.

Roma juicer

Raw tomatoes can be juiced with ease.

If I want to peel tomatoes for canning, then I freeze the tomatoes whole for easy peeling (beats the boiling water / ice water dunk method). I freeze them too at the beginning and end of the season when I'm only picking small amounts. For sauce I thaw them, cook them down, and run them through my Foley.

Foley food mill

After that the juice goes into the crock pot to be cooked down to thicken.

This is my big crock pot, fount at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore

At this point I add some homegrown seasoning, then I can it in pint jars for those Friday night pizzas. But what's all this got to do with Riley? Well, while I was working away on this Riley was sound asleep in his ManCat Cave.

Riley in his ManCat Cave under the kitchen peninsula where my work stool goes.

He woke up and immediately started asking for some.

"Kitties don't like tomatoes," I told him. But he kept insisting. So I put a little of the discards into a kitty dish and gave it to him.

Riley and his requested tomato

I don't know if he did it to prove me wrong, or because he really liked it, but he polished off all the juicy stuff. He did not eat the tomato peel, but the pigs did.

He never asked for it again, but later Katy came in and begged for some. I let her sniff a bit of tomato but she made a "eww" face and left. I reckon tomatoes must smell good to cats, ya think?

August 7, 2014

Of City Water and Sweet Potatoes

I have two types of sweet potatoes this year, Beauregard and Vardaman. I didn't plan on two kinds, but I have them due to something I might not have figured out if it hadn't been for a spontaneous trip to the feed store.

Early last spring I took a couple of nice looking sweets from last year's stored crop and popped them into wide mouth pint canning jars. I filled the jars with tap water and waited. Like other sweet potato gardeners, I planned to pull off the sprouts and root them in another jar of water for my homemade slips. I waited. And waited. And waited, but they wouldn't sprout. I changed out the water regularly but they just rotted in the jars. Very puzzling! It was so disappointing to think we'd have no sweet potatoes this year: no baked sweets with butter and cinnamon, no sweet potato french fries, no roasted veggies with sweets, no sweet potato honey pie!

Some weeks later I was on my way to town and happened to notice the sign at the feed store, "We have sweet potatoes." Considering the time of year that could mean only one thing, slips for planting. I pulled in and bought a bunch containing two dozen Beauregard sweet potato slips. I happened to mention why I was buying them, and the gentleman said he'd had another customer who had the same problem. Hmm.

Beauregard sweets. They produce long vines and sprawl everywhere.
During our 2-month dry spell, they wilted eventually, even with mulch. 

It immediately made me wonder if she had tried to sprout her sweet potatoes in city water too. Ours is so strong with chlorine that it's hard to take the smell that comes out of the tap. It's why we got our water filter. I went home, put two more of my stored sweet potatoes in filtered water, and sure enough. I finally got my slips!

My Vardamans are smaller because they were later going in. I like
this variety because they have excellent flavor and store well. They have
also tolerated the dryness better than the Beauregards from the feed store. 

So we'll have plenty of sweet potatoes to enjoy this winter. The goats love them too; I chop them up daily and add them to their feed. So glad I figured this out. Unfortunately we still use this water for backup irrigation (should we run out of rainwater), and for the animals. Needless to say, some serious discussion is going on about this.

August 5, 2014

Rules With An Iron Claw

Dan calls him “The Sultan” because he keeps his little harem of Buff Orpingtons in check. He's the third reigning rooster we've had and it's interesting how different the three have been. They've all done what roosters do, but not exactly the same way.

The Sultan, our Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster
The Sultan, our current rooster, a Silver Laced Wyandotte

Lord B, our Barred Holland rooster
Our 1st rooster Lord B, a Barred Holland
Our first rooster was a Barred Holland. I called him Lord Barred Holland (or Lord B) because of his lordly manner; Dan called him B. He was almost perfect: always watchful, always on the alert, deferential toward his hens, and non-aggressive toward humans. At least that was initially the case. As he got older he did show some signs of aggression toward us (a big no-no and absolutely not allowed). His biggest fault, however, was that he was entirely intolerant of new additions to the flock, pullets as well as cockerels. After killing one, he had to go.

Cowboy, our Buff Orpington rooster
Our 2nd rooster Cowboy, a Buff Orpington
Our second rooster was a Buff Orpington. We named him Cowboy because of his approach toward his hens. Rather than do a courtship dance to get their attention as Lord B had done, Cowboy would puff out his chest and wings, then charge the hens, and grab on like a rodeo rider. Cowboy did not have all the natural roostering qualities. My oldest Barred Holland hen had to teach him that any goodies he found were for the hens, not himself. I don't know how many times she had to rush in and gobble down his food-finds until he learned to simply announce them and step back to let the girls enjoy. But he did catch on.

Last year Dan became interested in Silver Laced Wyandottes so we decided to give this breed a try. Of our three SLW cockerels, The Sultan was the last one left after the elimination process. When he first realized he was the only roo, he chased down each of the hens in turn and simply stood on top of her. Eventually it got to the point where any time he approached a hen, she would hunker down in obedience before he could grab her. This is mostly true of the Buffs. The Wyandotte and Speckled Sussex hens have minds of their own. They go where they please and as fast as they can if The Sultan in on their tail. But the Buffs can almost always be found in a cluster with The Sultan standing tall and proud in their midst.

We have mostly Buff Orpingtons, with 3 SLW hens & 3 Speckled Sussex

To his credit, he respects the humans and keeps out of the way. He is very alert and very quick to round up all the hens if he hears a hawk or one flies overhead. Because he rules with an iron claw, they heed and obey. I've not lost a chicken to hawks so far this year.

The other really nice quality about this rooster is that he does not bother the chicks. Lord B was aggressively intolerant of new chicks, while Cowboy would simply take pleasure in tormenting them. He loved to sneak up from behind and grab a beakful of feathers. He would proudly parade these around while the youngster ran squawking. The Sultan, however, doesn't seem to take notice of them and leaves them alone. That's a huge plus in my book and he may have a longer career on the homestead than the others.

Rooster tales, anyone? I'd love to hear your stories about your roosters.

August 2, 2014

The Long Awaited Much Anticipated Mrs. Pig

May I introduce

Polly is a two month old registered American Guinea Hog and Waldo's bride-to-be. Polly and Waldo are our foundation breeding stock, destined, through their progeny, to provide us with bacon, sausage, pork, lard, and more pigs. An added bonus is that they are natural tillers of the soil.

She's shy and a bit skittish, but has been exploring her new home.

Gruffy: "Oh no, not another one"

I put Polly in the buck pasture with Gruffy to start. Waldo remains in the front pasture with Caleb and Splash. My original idea for separation was to let Polly and Waldo meet through the fence and get used to one another. Her breeder recommended not letting them together until Polly is 8 months old. She based that on personal experience, having had a young pig get bred at too an earlier age which in turn stunted her growth.

What does Waldo think?

Polly on this side of the fence, Waldo on the other. 

Meh. They sniff on occasion through the fence but then it's pig business at usual, which means rooting around, grazing, and otherwise finding things to eat. I imagine that will change as they both mature a bit.