March 28, 2023

Garden Notes: March 2023


  • 2nd: 0.1"
  • 3rd: 0.55" 
  • 10th: 0.05"
  • 12th: 1.125"
  • 17th: 0.65"
  • 22nd: 0.3"
  • 25th: 0.2"
  • 27th: 1.1"
  • Total: 4.075 inches

  • range of nighttime lows: 26 to 58°F (-3 to 14°C)
  • range of daytime highs: 37 to 82°F (3 to 28°C)

Weather Notes

March didn't do the lion-lamb thing this year. February's late mild temperatures continued into the first week of March, then the cold returned. This last week has been more spring-like and very welcome.

One observation I wanted to notate, was a small isolated pocket of frost on March 11th. I found it at the base of the hugelkultur, on the southwest edge. Mapping the microclimates on one's property is one of the tools of permaculture. For example, our garden is protected and warmer than other places on the property. But I haven't been very tuned into the subtleties of microclimate on our place, so this tiny pocket of frost was a curiosity.

Garden Projects

Aisle mulching and soil prep continue in anticipation of spring planting next month. Every year about this time, I tell myself that next fall, I'm going to get all of my garden beds tucked in with a thick mulch of dried leaves. Then fall comes and I make a start. And then it rains and gets cold, and I lose enthusiasm for outdoor projects and don't finish getting everything mulched. So, when warm days present themselves, the weeds all jump into action and take advantage of the bare soil. Then I have to de-weed them before I can plant. You'd think I'd learn. 

By March, the bare soil garden beds are covered
with weeds, but the mulched beds grow very few.

Another project - expanding our hugelkultur, with two more mounds. 

Dan started a base layer of rotted wood.

Our first hugelkultur is that mound in the background.


First asparagus!


Apple tree

Cherry tree

Pear tree



We're not getting much from the garden, so it's mostly food from the pantry.

I canned potatoes last year. They make quick and tasty hash browns.

1st salad of the year: chickweed, wild lettuce, dandelion and collard greens,
hard-boiled egg, goat feta cheese, and my oil-preserved cherry tomatoes.

You may recall that the oil-preserved cherry tomatoes were an experiment from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning.

Cherry tomatoes preserved in olive oil & vinegar. I made
these last September. Follow the link for the recipe.

The jars sat in my pantry all winter, but with no winter garden and no winter greens, I kinda forgot about them until I made our first salad of the year. They are preserved in olive oil and vinegar, which makes a handy instant flavored salad dressing. I forgot to take a before photo, but here's what the jar looks like after eating some.

The tomatoes wilted somewhat, I think due to the salt.

It was a lovely addition to our salad! I will definitely make more than two pints next fall and work them into our winter diet with or without salads.

Next month will be planting month, and I'm really looking forward to that. Anybody else?

Garden Notes: March 2023 © March 2023

March 24, 2023

The Problem is The Solution

Bill Mollison, the Father of Permaculture, is credited with that concept. I confess it's often puzzled me because I was raised with the consumer-discard-and-buy mindset; problems are discarded and solutions are bought. But the longer I homestead, the less the consumer model makes sense, especially considering everything we're now being told about the environment.

Anyway, we have two problems. Here's the problem.

Perennial native grasses

These are clump grasses, so-called because they grow in clumps rather than an even carpet-like ground coverage. They are hardy perennials, tolerant of most weather conditions, and the goats will eat them. Not their best favorite, but definitely deemed edible. The problem with clump grasses is that they are difficult to cut, with either lawnmower or scythe because the clumps make dense bumpy mounds on the ground.

We pretty much leave the clumps alone in our pastures, but in areas where we want to grow grain or hay, they are in the way. We don't plow, so they become a growing problem. The clumps in the photo above were a problem because they were growing between the garden and hugelkultur bed, where a path is supposed to be. But the clumps made it too bumpy for the wheelbarrow.

I've tried transplanting these clumps to the pasture, but the goats zero in on them (Look! Something new to eat!) and the grasses don't survive. Instead, I wondered if we could use them to address another problem - soil erosion.

I know I've mentioned that our property is a series of ridges, sloping downward to the back of the property. These tops of the ridges are where we see the most soil erosion, and we needed a way to keep it from washing down the hill. One idea I got from Sepp Holzer's Permaculture, was to make what he calls humus beds to catch soil, sediment, and natural debris runoff on his mountain. My adaptation has been to make a barrier of sorts at the bottom of the ridge, using old branches and boards discarded from Dan's sawmill. The trees hold them in place, and I fill it in with sticks, branches, weeds, and various cuttings.

The topmost ridge, below the pasture in the goat browse.

We do see some washed soil build-up in these beds, and eventually, it will all decompose and we'll plant something here. Even so, I still see erosion is at the top of the ridge, above the brush. How could we address that?

The path above the ridge is on the left, my bed of branches and sticks are on the right.

I first read about using clump grasses as a barrier to rain and soil runoff in a discussion about swales on Permies. One suggestion was to plant a dense row of vetiver instead of digging a swale. Vetiver is a dense clumping grass that is used successfully in tropical and sub-tropical areas instead of dug swales. Rather than invest in vetifer, why not use the clump grasses we already have?

Filling in the top of the ridge with grass clumps.

So, we've been digging up clumps from places where they're in the way and moving them to the "ditch" where the top of the ridge meets the bed of branches and sticks. Then we mulch them above and below the row.

A row of clump grasses for erosion control.
Functional, and I think it looks good too.

But will it work? I think it will, if it survives transplanting. We chose the spring rainy season for this project, so it should get plenty of water, and we're keeping the goats off of them for now. If it can get established before our summer dry spell hits, it should have a chance, and a problem will become a solution.

March 20, 2023

Making a Zokin (Or Two Or Four)

March is the month when we start to spend more time outside. The earth is awakening, the weather is milder, and it's lovely to be out of the house. But there are still plenty of cold and rainy days. Days that are good for indoor projects, like sewing zokin.

Zokin is Japanese for "cleaning cloth." It is made from old, torn, or stained cloth, and has become a somewhat universal term for this style of cleaning cloth. But it has an interesting cultural background, and the best explanation comes from Atsushi Futatsuya of Sashiko Stories. In his video, Zokin with Sashiko (Zokin as Cleaning Rug) & Apply it to Ordinary Days, he describes the stages (or progressive uses) of Japanese cleaning cloths.

  • Fukin - kitchen cloth (dish cloth or tea towel)
  • Daifuki - for wiping tables
  • Zokin - final form, used for cleaning the floor, washing the car, or scrubbing a sink

I love this philosophy. It's so true to the "use it up, wear it out" concept of that little ditty so many of us frugal people love.

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

Old dishtowels are perfect for making zokin, and I had several old terry cloth dishtowels that were too worn for their original purpose.

I got these before we bought our homestead. We lived in an apartment and one kitchen wall had blue and white checkered wall paper. I bought these dish towels to match. When the first one became holey and frayed, I cut it into cleaning rags. I'm pleased to keep old clothing and towels out of the landfill that way, but my rag bin is almost overflowing. That's when I learned about zokin and thought it was a great idea. 

Finished size is arbitrary and I decided I could make two zokin from one dishtowel. I cut each one in half lengthwise, pressed down the cut edge, and folded the strip into thirds. 

The layers are stitched together with sashiko. You may recall from my Japanese Mending post, that sashiko is simply running stitch. It's often colorful and decorative, but for these, mine is simply functional.

Finished zokin

Besides old towels, I've seen these made out of old t-shirts and sweats. It's a great way to re-purpose end-of-life garments. My only recommendation would be to use natural fabrics, because polyesters and acrylics don't absorb water well. That, and when the zokin are beyond use, natural materials (in this case cotton), can be composted to feed the soil. That final act completes the cycle.

March 16, 2023

Unexpected Bottle Babies

10 days old here, but I still don't know their names.

Most of the time, goat birthing and kid rearing are without problems. I let the moms feed and raise their kids until they want to wean them. (Well, the little girls. The little boys tend to get bucky and rambunctious at an early age and so are often weaned earlier than they'd like). While Caroline had an easy kidding, several days later I detected there was a problem. She went off her feed and stopped drinking. A few days later, she laid down and refused to get up. 

This was quite alarming, because when a goat goes down and won't get up, they often give up. And it gave me two problems to deal with, one was her, the other was feeding her kids. One of them figured out she could still nurse as long as she saw a teat, the other didn't catch on to that. I figured out that one side of Caroline's udder was congested, and I suspected mastitis as well. I'm not sure why it happened, because I wasn't milking her yet. With Caroline not eating or drinking, her milk supply would dwindle quickly. 

That's their mom, Caroline, in the background

I started treating Caroline with herbs, antibiotics, and B vitamin injections, and decided to put the kids a bottle. This can be tricky once kids start on their moms. In that case, they usually refuse the bottle. But they took to it quickly and got their tummies full. As a side note, there is apparently a different technique nursing from a bottle as opposed to their mom. Even after getting used to it, they still have to negotiate the bottle nipple before they latch on. 

It was such a relief when Caroline finally started drinking water again. She started nibbling on fresh greens soon after that. Then came the morning when she was on her feet when I got to the barn. I was so relieved. I can't help but wonder if those kids didn't give her the will to live. 

She's still thin but no longer looks and acts distressed. Her appetite is back to normal and she is nursing the kids. The congested side is a tad better but it's still congested and difficult to get much milk from it. The little girls work it, but it's obvious they don't get much. Their interest in the bottle varies: sometimes they both finish off their bottles eagerly, sometimes only part of it, and sometimes one or the other (or both) won't be interested. I'll continue to offer these supplemental feedings for as long as is necessary.

Even with Caroline's problem, her girls are thriving.

I'm careful not to feed too much with the bottle, so they will continue to nurse.
That and good feed are the best ways to build up her milk supply again.

While I'm on the subject of kids, how about a few more pics and a video?

Ursa's boys. They are a week older than Caroline's girls.

Ursa and Buster Brown

Ursa's Orion

River and Saluda

River's Mosul, hunting for acorns

Sky's Willow

After a hard play of racing, the kids relax in the sun.

And a short (45 second) video. First, the cast of characters -

Caroline on the left, then Ursa's two boys, and Carolina's girls on the right.

March 12, 2023

Greenhouse Project: Roof Setback

Our greenhouse is pretty much a recycled materials project. That means we're using different types of windows for different parts of the structure. In my last greenhouse blog post, I showed you what Dan used for the upper portion of the greenhouse roof. For the lower portion, his plan is to use the $10 bargain windows he got from a builders surplus warehouse.

Picture from Greenhouse Project: Weather Permitting

Unlike the wood frame windows, these had vinyl frames, which he removed.

First one in place.

The roof rafters are spaced to accommodate these windows. 

The wood framed windows were installed leaving a gap at the lower edge, to allow simply slipping the lower window up and under the painted frame. Some adjusting has been necessary.

Dan using his grinder to tweak the slot for the window.

View from below.

Then, an accident. One of the windows broke! We went back to the builders surplus, albeit not very hopefully because Dan bought out all of this size when he first got them. We couldn't find anything similar, but it wasn't a wasted trip because we bought the interior greenhouse door.

So, the hunt is on for a replacement. Replacement glass of the same size and thickness was priced to us at $500 (!!!!!) Custom cut acrylic or plexiglass was similar. Sheets of acrylic or plexiglass aren't cheap either. 

As anxious as Dan is to get this project finished, it may take some time and hunting to find what we're looking for. The broken window is timely, however, because we need to work on soil prep for spring planting. 

Current status of the greenhouse.

Hopefully, we'll find a replacement soon.

March 8, 2023

Big Changes For Our Turkeys

Our Jersey Buff

Awhile back, I lamented that we thought our three young turkeys were probably all male. This is our first time with turkeys, so we have no past experience to guide us, plus, there were no distinguishing characteristics amongst our turkeys to compare physical traits and behavior. On top of that, turkeys are slower to mature than chickens, so we had a lot of uncertainty.

Our two Spanish Blacks

Guidance around the internet is vague to not helpful, I suppose because everyone wants to leave room for the exceptions to the rule. Most information is geared toward poults anyway, and after getting the wrong kind of websites in a search for "sexing young adult turkeys," I decided to turn to Permies to ask for help there. The Permies forums are my go-to place to talk to knowledgeable and experienced people with goals similar to Dan's and mine.

The consensus amongst turkey wranglers there was that we have three hens! Dan took to Craigslist to see if he could find them a Tom, and the next day brought home this guy. . .

He's a Bourbon Red, and was the best choice of the available options. Dan had to drive a ways to fetch him, but he was priced at $60, whereas the available nearby toms were priced between $150 and $300. 

We put him in the turkey yard, so that everyone could become acquainted by sight and smell through the fence. Our ladies were immediately interested.

Becoming acquainted includes us too. Adult animals, especially males, require a lot of respect when handling them. The adage to never turn your back on them is true, even when they know you. YouTube is filled with videos of humans being incredibly stupid with animals: poking, teasing, taunting, daring one another to go in with them, and generally assuming animals are like the goofy characters in cartoons. Everybody laughs when they get a reaction, but that only teaches critters that humans are not trustworthy. And once a bad experience imprints on an animal. it is near impossible to train out of them.

So that's the newest addition to the homestead. We haven't seen turkey eggs yet, but our hens are finally coming into mature, and turkey breeding season is just arriving.

March 4, 2023

Twin Girls for Caroline

And here they are! They're 14 hours old in these photos.

This little girl was first born.

Her sister followed soon after.

Happily, the weather was mild and Caroline kidded during the day. It happened going on dinnertime, between making the salad and mixing the main course in the skillet. Fortunately, I checked at the right time and didn't miss it because it was amazing how quickly it went. Within 30 minutes both kids were born, on their feet, and finding milk all by themselves.

What do the other kids think? They aren't impressed at the moment.

River's twins, Mosul and Saluda, 5½ weeks old

Sky's Willow, 4½ weeks old

Ursa's twin boys now have names.

Orion on the left, Buster Brown on the right. They are 1 week old.

Nap time is about the only time they're all still anymore. LOL

So that's it for this year's kidding and I won't have to get up for night checks until next year. We ended up with four does and three bucks. Not bad.

Parting shot