March 29, 2019

Tending Fences

"In appraising the future of a farm, fences were reckoned a prime necessity. Almanac after almanac starts the month of March with, 'Look to your fences.'"

Even if one doesn't follow the agrarian calendar, this time of year seems a natural fit for projects such as looking to one's fences. The planting and harvest seasons are just too busy! Early spring is a good time, because the weather is starting to get mild and it's a joy to be outdoors again after a long, cold winter.

If you've read my blog over the years, then you know we've had a terrible problem with old pine trees taking out our fences.

This is all in our woods, and we've patched the damage as best we could. There are enough of those trees still standing to make us wonder when it will be safe to replace the damaged fencing. Probably not this year, so this year we turned our attention to fencing repairs closer to the house.

The first project was the hedgerow we created four years ago in our front pasture (see "Forest Garden Hedgerow: Fenced, Gated, & Planting Begun"). Planting it was one of those one-step-forward-two-steps-back projects, because most of what I planted didn't survive. I chose drought resistant and heat tolerant species and did not pamper them but they struggled. I replanted pears, mulberries, chestnuts, and aronia several times. None of the flowers and herbs I planted made it. The survival rate was less than 50%, which isn't very encouraging, is it? We definitely don't want to give up, but this year we decided to narrow it.

Last summer.

It was so overgrown that Dan decided to remove the bottom fence to let the bucks graze it down first. It became their favorite girl watching position. It's apparently the best place to try and catch a glimpse of the does on the other side of the homestead.

Earlier this month.

They both ate it down and wore it down. Then we got to work. Dan pulled out the bottom t-posts.

Heavy-duty chain wrapped around both the t-post and
the tractor's drawbar make pulling them out a snap.

Then he reset them a little closer to the top fence. I planted the bare area with chicory, clover, and coneflower, and covered the seed with composted woodchips.

Now. We've found that board scraps from the sawmill
help reduce erosion until plant roots are established.

Now we wait and see! Eventually we may move the top fence in some too, but that's for another day.

The other end of the hedgerow was it's own kind of disaster.

Dan backed into the cattle panel with the tractor awhile back and pretty much trashed it. We had to think about what to do with this one. Originally I fenced in a wild rose bush here, but that old bush has pretty much quit producing. So we removed the bent panel and rerouted the existing panels. The fence now goes behind the bush. After the boys clear it out I'll removed all the dead wood.

Colby on brush trimming duty.

The next bit of fencework in this pasture is the front corner.

There used to be a tree and hedge of shrubs there, but these have been removed by the power company and our next door neighbors. This really shouldn't be a problem, but people walking up and down the road have taken to throwing things at our goats. I like for people to enjoy watching them, but I don't get why they want to throw golf balls, beer bottles, and soda cans at them. What's the matter with people?

We've talked about putting up a privacy fence on that side of the property for several years, and in fact bought a number of fence panels for that purpose. We have good neighbors now so there isn't the same sense of motivation to do this, but we would like that corner to not be exposed. That will be the next project of the tending fences list.

Tending Fences © March 2019 by Leigh 

March 25, 2019

Happy Agrarian New Year!

Something that has always seemed odd to me is that the beginning of a new year is in the middle of winter. That isn't strictly true of all cultures in all time periods, but it's been standard enough for long enough that I doubt few folks give it a second thought. When I read Eric Sloane's The Seasons of America Past I learned that the old agrarian calendar began the year on March 25. This makes sense to me! So here I am, wishing you a Happy Agrarian New Year.

The roots of this go back to the ancient Hebrew, Canaanite, and Babylonian calendars, where the first month started in the modern late March. The early Romans celebrated the new year on March 1st, but this was changed in 45 BC with the Julian calendar. It made January 1st the beginning of the new year. The best I can figure out is that this was done because the month's namesake, Janus, was the god of new beginnings. When Pope Gregory XIII had the calendar revised in the mid-1500s January remained the first month. 

The Gregorian calendar is the one we still use today, but March 25 remained the start of the new year in parts of Europe for a long time. England was the last holdout until 1752. According to Eric Sloane, early European American farmers continued to use March 25 as the first of their year, as documented by old farm calendars, almanacs, agricultural manuals, and personal diaries. 

With March as the first month, the quarters of the year make sense because the seasons correspond with the work for that time of year.
  • March, April, May - planting
  • June, July, August - growing
  • September, October, November - harvest
  • December, January, February - hearth
As you can see, the rhythm of the agrarian year is set by a relationship with the seasons and with the land. 

Last November I asked my readers to define agrarianism off the top of their heads (that post here). I promised to get back with you on what I thought, so this is the first of a series of posts exploring that. My understanding of agrarianism is that it isn't simply agriculture, it's a worldview.

What is a worldview? It's how an individual perceives the world and the way it works. It answers life's fundamental questions about the existence and nature of God, the origins of the universe, the place and purpose of humans, what happens after death, and how we determine right and wrong. Obviously there are many worldviews. Agrarianism is the one that makes the most sense to me.

The agrarian new year had it's own traditions in the rural US. It was celebrated with mead, and cider and doughnuts. It was the time to begin looking ahead to planting, with one of the first chores of the year being fence mending. It was also time to begin the laying up of the next year's firewood and splitting logs for fence rails. In the north it was (and still is) maple sugaring time.

Dan and I didn't have any mead, cider, or doughnuts, but we have been looking ahead to planning the planting season. Of course that includes the garden, but also we're been planning to expand our hay growing. We're going to work on our hedgerows and continue pasture improvement. Last week he cut the first tree to start curing for next winter's firewood and we have indeed started working on our fences. Some of them are in bad need of repair!

Of course, our spring begins earlier than others. And those who live south of the equator will be in the opposite season! But we all adapt, don't we?

How about you? Do you have seasonal traditions or tasks for March?

Happy Agrarian New Year! © March 2019

March 21, 2019

Carport Repair: Replacing the Old Siding

Ordinarily carports don't have siding, but the builder of ours added a small storage space at the back. Once Dan had the new metal roof on he was ready to replace that siding.

The old siding was some kind of fiberboard.

Old siding removed.

It wasn't a lot to replace, but of course there were hidden surprises to keep things interesting.

Rotted fly rafter

So that had to be replaced. Dan also added gable end studs for support and for something to nail the new siding to.

New fly rafter and gable end supports.

We decided to use the same barn board siding and color scheme we used on the house.

Ready for primer and paint (a warm weather project).

The other place that needed new siding was the gable end in the front.

It came with a surprise too.

Some sort of ridge beam support.

Here's a closeup.


The two-by-four nailed to this ridge beam support was apparently only for something to nail the siding boards to. Dan replaced it with another two-by-four and a collar beam.

One fly rafter needed to be replaced and he added a couple of gable end supports too.

Lastly the siding.

Primer and paint will be next, once it warms up a bit.

March 18, 2019

Twins for Ellie

Friday evening I went to the goat barn to secure things for the night and found Ellie standing in the corner. She had that faraway look does get when they're concentrating on the early stages of labor. Into the kidding pen she went and about an hour and a half later, she started to push. The only concern was that it looked like it was going to be a tight fit for kids to pass. I helped pull them out and fortunately there was no tearing. She had a boy and a girl.

On their feet for the first time.

The next morning.

Buckling was first.

Then his sister

One-day old

Ellie is a first-time mom but she took right to it. She's given me a couple of looks, though, as if to say "but what am I supposed to do with them?" Like so many things it's a combination of instinct and experience.

Twins for Ellie © March 2019

March 16, 2019

Book Review: Managing Cover Crops Profitably

It's too early and too muddy to do much in the garden, but I can work on tending to those bare spots in our pasture. Working on that reminded me of a book I wanted to tell you about: Managing Cover Crops Profitably  published by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA.

I learned about this book from a video by regenerative agriculturist Gabe Brown. (I don't specifically recall which one, but if you are interested in soil building, head over to YouTube, search his name, and pick one - they're all that good). Those videos set us on a whole new approach to how we homestead. When he recommended this book I didn't hesitate to get a copy. It then became a valuable resource for the experiments Dan and I started late last summer:

The book is a collection of articles written by a panel of cover crop experts. It is geared toward farmers in the U.S. who are looking for alternatives for weed, pest, and erosion control on their farms. The techniques are applicable for anyone wanting to manage their land in ways that build healthy soil. The emphasis is on no-till, but also offers strategies for those either unwilling or unable to stop tilling altogether.

The first section is a series of articles spelling out the whys and how-tos of cover cropping. It introduces the reader to the specific benefits of cover crops, how to identify one's goals, and make a plan. For example, reducing pest or disease damage, increasing soil fertility and structure, improving crop yields, preventing soil erosion, conserving soil moisture, etc. Lots of real-life examples are included in this section.

Charts come next. They are one of the strengths of the book, because they organize cover crop information visually. They include best cover crops by region, specific roles played by various cover crop plants, planting information, and charts listing their advantages and disadvantages.

Section two deals with specific information about many of the commonly used cover crops. It starts with non-legumes: annual ryegrass, brassicas, mustards, sorghum-sudangrass, and small grains (barley, buckwheat, oats, rye, and winter wheat). Legumes are next with information specific for various clovers, cowpeas, field peas, vetches, and medics. Regional maps help the reader immediately decide if the plant is a good option for their location. Specifics include types and cultivars, best uses for forage and soil improvement, how to establish and manage (by region), and other species to mix with for good results.

Appendices tell how to test cover crops for chosen applications, a 3rd edition update on some of the newer cover crop species, plus resources for finding seeds, support organizations, and regional experts.

For me, the "profitably" isn't about money profit, but about success in reaching my goal of building healthy, productive soil. The more I study it, the more I realize how it isn't just dirt, it's the foundation of all living things.

The good news is that the book is a free download from the SARE website. You can choose online text, PDF, epub, or mobi (Kindle). It's also available for purchase as a paperback there. I took a look at the PDF and realized the information was useful enough to have a hard copy. It's been an excellent addition on my homestead library shelves. Highly recommended!

March 12, 2019

Carport Repair: New Roof

With all the rain we've had, progress on re-roofing the carport has been slow. Any time we have a few days without rain, Dan gets busy and finally the new roof is on! You may recall where we left off.

Snoopervisor Sam performing an inspection.

Bracing to stabilize the roof rafters was first on the job list.

The next step was roof battens (purlins) to screw the roofing panels to. What to use for them prompted one of our "time versus money" discussions. Dan looked through his stack of boards by the sawmill but didn't have many of consistent depth. The length and width of the boards could vary, but if they aren't the same depth, the new roof will have dips in it. We have a new "crop" of fallen pines thanks to the waterlogged ground, so should he drag them through the woods and mill new boards for battens? Or would it be more expedient to buy them? After consulting the piggy bank, we opted to buy them.

The most economical choice was grade-2 decking planks.

Dan orders the metal roofing panels cut to specifications from a small local company. It's actually cheaper to buy them that way, rather than buy standard length panels from one of the big-box home improvement stores.

There are three sections to the roof and Dan spent a day on each.

Then new fascia.

Then the gutters and drip edge.


I think Dan is planning to replace the old siding next.

 Carport Repair: New Roof © March 2019

March 8, 2019

Poised for Disaster

"I play a mental game with myself that helps me bring our progress into perspective. It's a “what if” game, based on whatever imaginary emergency or doomsday scenario suits my fancy at the time. What if Dan was suddenly unemployed for months on end? What if, for some reason, civilization as we know it collapsed? How prepared would we be?" 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, Chapter 5, "The Establishment Phase"

I don't blog much about preparedness. This isn't because I don't see a need to be prepared, it's because Dan and I believe that the very best thing one can do to prepare for __(fill in the blank)__ is lifestyle.

Changing our lifestyle over the years has been a top priority, because we have long seen the root of the world's problems to be its industrialized economic system. I know many people love this system's promises of convenience and wealth, while others hate the inevitable inequality it produces. Trouble is, both points of view are too personal to be realistic. Step back for a bigger picture and it becomes easier to see that as long as industrialized manufacturing and agriculture consume the lion's share of the world's resources, we are headed for global disaster.

People look to politics for answers, but honestly? I think that's a pretty lazy excuse. If politics was actually interested in solving problems, then maybe. But it isn't. It's about power. What we have going on in this country, at least, is nothing more than a giant game of King-of-the-Hill. And it's not a friendly game. It's driven by hate, with one political party literally hell-bent on destroying the other at any cost. Even if it means climbing out on the limb of a tree and sawing that limb off. America's self-destruct button has been pushed. No amount of finger pointing is going to change that.

What's lifestyle got to do with it? Your lifestyle is the one tool you've got that can make a difference. When politicians and government make promises to fix things, it becomes all to easy to assume nothing is required on the part of Self. It's the government's job to provide __(fill in the blank)__ . That mindset enables us to turn a blind eye on problems and needs around us. Self can continue to pursue it's own desires. That's why I say that looking to politics is an excuse.

You can only make choices for you. As much as I wish my opinion may help someone, it's only my actions that make a difference. Dan and I have chosen to decrease our dependence on the current economic system. This is not just some wild, idiosyncratic hair. Historically, folks who live with farms and gardens fare much better when disaster strikes, because they can grow at least some of their own food.

"There are no one-size-fits-all solutions... It is better to grow one potted tomato plant on the patio than none at all. It is better to have a small suburban garden than none at all. It is better to keep a few potted herbs under a grow light than none at all. It is better to do something rather than nothing." 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, Chapter 6, "Food Self-Sufficiency: Feeding Ourselves"

 Poised for Disaster © March 2019 by Leigh

March 5, 2019

Introducing New Kids to the Herd

I was asked a question recently, about when to introduce new kids to the rest of the herd. It's a good question, because there are a number of variables: herd dynamics, individual personalities, and the dam's mothering style.

I like to leave mothers and their new kids in the kidding stall for their first couple of days. New mothers, especially, need to learn who these tiny creatures are and bond with them. The stall isn't out of sight from the other goats so there's no herd separation anxiety for the new mother. They can see and smell one another and it gives everyone a chance to become familiar with the kids.

This also gives new babies time to learn how to use their legs and get around. They need to be steady enough on their feet and able to run out of the way of any adult who is trying to teach them their manners. Learning their manners includes learning which teats are acceptable to nurse from and which are not! With so much access to milk at eye level, it's a lesson that needs to be learned.

For their first outing, I like to wait until the others are out grazing and then let Mama and her babies out of their stall. That gives them the chance to explore and become familiar with the common area.

When it comes to meeting the rest of the herd, I supervise introductions.

I want to observe how the other adults react to the new babies and how well their mother will protect them. I've had does that let others butt their kids around, and I've had does who butt everybody else away before they can get anywhere near their kids.

Some adults are gentle with kids. They push rather than butt them away. Other adults are rough and rude with the kids, so I'm always on the lookout for bullying. The kids learn quickly and soon know who's way to stay out of.

I also keep an eye on the older kids because they tend to play rough and need to be supervised. Eventually the newbies know how to stay out of the way.

I keep these first times pretty short. If Mom wants to go out to graze, I'll put the babies back in their stall until she's back. They sleep a lot their first week or so and don't miss her while she's out with the others. I keep the adults out of the empty stall during this time, and I'll put mama and the kids back in it for several more nights.

I don't know if it's necessary, but I feel better knowing they can't get too far from their mother at first. Once everybody knows who's who and what's what, they don't need that anymore. Then it's just regular goat business as usual.

March 1, 2019

First of March Garden

Our coldest months are finally behind us! At least I hope so. March can be so iffy for us. But spring flowers are blooming everywhere and that's always cheerful, no matter what the weather is like.



Japanese magnolia



February went from frigid to mild and with a lot of rain, so my winter garden has been growing like crazy! We've been eating a lot of salads and sauteed greens from the garden.

Cosmic purple carrots and broccoli. We finished the broccoli
heads a while ago but the plants continue producing florets.

To top our salads, I still have plenty of feta cheese stored in herbed olive oil. That plus black olives (Dan's favorite) make for delicious fresh winter eating.

Everything we're eating from the garden was planted last fall. Some things made it, others didn't. Here's what's there now ...

Carrots, beets, multiplier onions, heading collards, & clover

Savoy cabbages with living mulch of clover

Claytonia (miners lettuce)

Mizuna mixed with chickweed. The mizuna is already trying to go to seed!

Carrots, lettuce, and chickweed.

My main garlic bed.

Resting garden beds. Some I filled with leaf mulch,
in others I grew a cover crop of annual rye & clover.

How about you? Anything happening in your garden?

 First of March Garden © March 2019