May at Living Land

The start of May this year brought warmth – 80F temps for the first three days. Leaves unfurled, flowers bloomed, frogs, toads and birds sang. Over the month we heard peepers, American toads, then wood frogs. All sorts of birds swooped in: bluebird, goldfinch, robin, phoebe, cardinal, chipping sparrow, and scarlet tanager. The hummingbirds returned to our land on May 11. Ah, Spring!

For all these creatures May is time to get to work, and the same goes for us.

Our Work in May

Indoors

Eggplant seedlings ready to plant

I started another round of seeds using a commercial seed starting mix after March’s poor results. It was too late for some crops, but the real heat lovers like eggplant and tomatoes I start around this time anyway. They did well. I think that I both over-fertilized and over-watered in my previous attempts this year. So, I haven’t found a homemade mix to rely on, but I have a better idea of what the issues are that I need to address.

Steve’s incubator worked! We had 12 chicks hatch and all are happy in the brooder on our porch, growing amazingly fast. We’ve set up another round, this time duck and chicken eggs.

Outdoors: Animals

Once I flipped the calendar to May, I knew that Lily was due to kid soon, so we began our constant watch and worry vigil.

Back in the fall, I had trouble getting clear on when she conceived, or if she definitely did. This was our buck’s first real test and I worried that he wasn’t getting his job accomplished. By April, I was sure she was pregnant, I just couldn’t predict exactly when her due date was more precisely than early to mid month.

We set up the baby monitor in the barn, which is better than having to sleep out there, but still disturbs my sleep. Even when not giving birth, the goats make noises – chatting with each other, chewing loudly, scratching themselves against the walls, head-butting. Every time I had to leave for previously scheduled commitments I rushed back as soon as I could. While goats rarely need any assistance with birthing, you don’t want to miss the one time they do. To add to the anxiety, this spring there has been a bear killing and eating goats not far from us, so I wanted to be sure to clean up any birthing fluids to not further risk attracting it.

Lily’s new kids

Luckily for my own health, she didn’t make us wait too long, giving birth in the early morning hours of May 6. Now that we are a few weeks out, I can calmly tell you that it was a perfectly normal birth, everything went just as it should, and she produced beautiful twins, a buckskin boy and a chamoisee girl! She cleaned up the kids within 5 minutes with minimal help from me with my towel, they were standing 5 minutes later and had figured out how to nurse in another 15. She’s a wonderful mom and giving lots of milk (most of it going to the kids at this point). If you’d asked me days after the birth I would have said all that, but I would have had much more to say about how completely exhausting and taxing it was – for me!

Curious kids, 3 weeks old

At the time of the birth, we also moved all the girl goats into the new barn. This again stressed me out more than them I believe. Many tweaks were needed to get the new systems working smoothly but I am now happily milking there, more comfortably than in the previous space.

Our chickens are enjoying their jungle of a yard and the long days outside. Egg production has dropped, though, because 5 of them have gone broody! Which means they have decided to try to incubate eggs rather than lay them. We are not set up to allow this many broody hens to raise chicks. We haven’t decided how to handle all of them yet. Likely, when this incubator batch hatches we’ll set up at least one of them with some hatchlings. No, she won’t care that they aren’t from her eggs or even ones that incubated under her. She’ll be raising chicks and that was her goal.

Ducks at rest after foraging

This is a time of year when I so appreciate our ducks. They are out all over our land every day eating slugs, mosquito larvae and hopefully ticks. Their eggs have deep orange, nearly red yolks, but not having to pick off slugs from my plants is alone worth all the feed they need to eat! We did finally find our missing duck from the winter. Down in the swampy area was a skeleton with a red leg band. We could see nothing from her remains that indicated a predator attack after all. She likely had an illness and went off by herself to die. That’s not unusual in many species, possibly evolved to protect the rest of her flock from what disease she had. We are happy to feel clearer on what happened and grateful the rest of them continue to thrive.

The new hives are off to a fine start, drawing comb, bring in nectar and pollen with productive queens. Their personalities are on the cranky side, though, causing me to need to put on gloves and light my smoker every time I check on them at all.  When my new northern-bred, Russian queens arrive from Cold Country Queens in about a month, rather than make spits I might simply re-queen these to have some safer hives to work in and around.

Outdoors: Plants

Peas germinate and grow even in cold spring weather

At the start of the month, although air temps were high, soil temps were not. There are not many crops that appreciate being planted into cold soil. I have often tried to stretch the season by earlier planting and seeding outdoors, but without great success. My March and April root crop seedings don’t germinate well even with all the great rain keeping them moist, and even hardy seedlings like kale and broccoli just sit there doing not much until it gets warm. Tomatoes, eggplant and basil lose ground if planted too soon. We were heading into the third week of May when conditions became good and we really got to planting… and planting and planting!

I would have liked to get it all in the ground in just a day or two, but the realities of energy levels and back pain don’t allow for such an overly-ambitious, possibly insane plan given the current size of our growing areas.

This year, I am working harder on record keeping, in part to be able to share here. I still need to work on getting even more specific, but I can give you a fairly detailed report.

Beans are up!

I started off mid-May by planting 30 brassica and 15 lettuce seedlings. A few days later, with Steve’s help, we put 12.5 # of 5 different varieties of potatoes in. I then moved to seeding, first 33 locations for winter squash (about 4 seeds per spot, 6 varieties), and 6 for 3 types of summer squash and a dozen sunflowers. The same day I did a bed of bush bean seeds of 3 varieties, 3 dry bean types and a row of 10 cucumbers. My next planting session I transplanted leek and onion seedlings, celery, parsley, more beans for drying and 5 varieties of tomatoes. I started seeding root crops, too. I had put those off because they are demanding for even a healthy back and I’ve been dealing with pain for a few months. But, it was time so I carefully got to it with parsnips, carrots, beets and radishes. Those seeds took me a few days, a little at a time, to get through. Corn, both Tom Thumb popcorn and Abanaki Calais Flint corn went in after that. My eggplant and basil should be in during the first few days of June. We also completed some more garden bed areas with sheet mulch and hugelkultur techniques, which I seeded with more winter squash, sunflowers and beans.

I’ll continue with successive plantings of beans and root crops for the next couple of months.

Now we hope for appropriate weather including precipitation, and not too much predation by our local wildlife!

Currants

Our perennial crops have a real head start on any of the annuals.  Examples of these are rhubarb, asparagus, nettles, and herbs which we ate lots of in May.  Many of our fruit varieties flowered this month and look to be set up for a productive season.

The sheet mulching and hugelkultur bed making also took some of our time – gathering the materials from off-site especially: manure, wood chips, seaweed, mulch hay and cardboard.

Harvest

We brought in 176 chicken eggs, 132 duck eggs, and 6.8 gallons of milk.

I continue to make cheese and yogurt with the extra milk coming in.

Rhubarb, planted last spring

Outdoor harvest has started. We picked 7 pounds of rhubarb, 3 pounds of nettles, and lots of pinches of chives and oregano.

There are still canned fruits, frozen and dried veggies.

Our solar production was down from other years because of how many cloudy days we experienced (no, it wasn’t your imagination, it really was another grey month!).  We made 614 kwh, which covered our needs and did start adding to our credit line with the power company that we’ll draw from during the shorter days of winter.

Looking Ahead to June

Everything will grow! What look like empty garden beds now will fill in, animal babies will be teenagers and I’ll be fighting back some plants threatening to overwhelm their neighbors. Great abundance expected!

Peach tree in early May

Peach tree in late May

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April at Living Land

The chilly, dark April makes our entrance into May all the more welcome!

Nanking Cherry In Bloom

The weather has slowed down the start of serious gardening. It really feels more like the end of March. Both outdoor work and early harvests are behind schedule. There has still been plenty to do, however, and plants have been slowly appearing, some even blooming.

 

Our Work in April

We tackled some indoor projects this month, with mixed results.

First, seed starting. I have been unhappy buying seed starting mixes. They generally have ingredients that I don’t feel good about using – such as peat and mined products like vermiculite – and come in a plastic bag. I feel like I ought to be able to make my own here. I have been growing amazing soil in our gardens, why not make this? Well, I guess I need to do a lot more research before I get it right. Last year I added worm castings from my indoor bin to a commercial mix. About ¼ castings. This meant I needed to use less of the mix. It went well. This year I did about half and half, and have not had good results, although I’m not sure it’s because of the amount of worm castings. Germination was mediocre, then the plants just aren’t growing straight and strong, and there was some yellowing of the leaves. There could be other reasons for the problems. For instance, I suspect I may have over-watered them early on. Still, I am going to have to rethink my soil mix for next season. All that said, I do have some seedlings growing well: lettuce, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, and eggplant.

Radish, Carrots & Lettuce Emerging from Seed in the Hoophouse

I directly planted into our hoophouse beds: lettuce, radishes, and carrots. These were slow to come up with so little sun and warmth, but look great now.

 

 

 

 

DIY Incubator (we’ll let you know if it works)

April is also a great month to incubate eggs (many people start earlier, but then have a bigger struggle keeping the brooder warm enough).  However, the egg turning function on our incubator stopped working properly last year. The problem with these machines is that they sell cheap, small, plastic, flimsy models or large, expensive ones. We couldn’t find one in between. So, Steve set about making one for us.  I’ll share a picture with you now, and if it actually works then I’ll tell you more about it!

I kept up with salt-making whenever we had the wood stove going. Right now there’s a half-dehydrated batch waiting to be finished to wrap up the season. That’s the beauty of the salt – timing is not critical. Drying fruit or vegetables or meat can’t take too much time or non-beneficial microbes can take over. But this is filtered, concentrated salt water – what’s going to grow in there? (If you do have an answer I’m missing, let me know!)

Moving outdoors…

My new bee packages came on April 8. I installed them promptly, in close to freezing, windy weather. I have never hived a package when it was so cold. This was also the first time my packages came in “bee buses” so I had to figure out how to use those. I didn’t find them easier than the wood ones, and afterwards had a lot of plastic I had to send to the land fill. I’m not a fan.

Rhubarb Coming Up, Well-Mulched with Goat Bedding

We cleaned out the barns and coops. We use the deep litter method, so this happens seasonally rather than as a weekly chore. It does make it a big job when the time comes around. All that material – manure and bedding – we use in our gardens and orchards. From the goats we have a lot of bedding hay, with the little goat poop pellets and urine mixed in. It makes a great top-dressed mulch around the fruit trees and some perennials. Poultry manure is higher in nitrogen, a bit messier and can smell, so I either use that in creating new garden beds or put it into the compost to break down some before going to the garden.

Steve is still repairing and adjusting the fencing systems. There have been reports of black bear predation of both bee hives and goats locally, so keeping the electric functioning well has been necessary.

The Peas Are Coming Up!

He has also returned to finishing construction of our newer outbuildings, getting them set up for shuffling of the goats into the new configuration. We moved the boys to their new area which they took in stride. I expected some bleating and running around, but they just slowly checked out every inch of it, then took advantage of the small trees in there to rub in between their horns. The girls’ new area should be ready soon. It has to also have my milking area, so is a lot more complicated. We plan to have it done in time for Lily’s kids to be born there.

Spring is my favorite time for building new soil for garden beds through sheet mulching. We harvested all our compost, plus brought in cardboard, manure, seaweed, coffee grounds and wood chips to continue the process. I have had great success with this technique and love to teach it to people. I have a soil building class scheduled for May 26 here at Living Land which still has plenty of room for more students.

Early spring is also a great time to weed. With all the mulching I do, I don’t have that many weeds, but some sneak through and are easy to spot and pull in their early days.

Off-farm in April, I continued teaching and hosting educational events. I was invited to talk about permaculture for beekeepers to the Winnipesaukee Beekeepers, which I really enjoyed. Through Seacoast Permaculture I helped bring Dr. Fred Wiseman to Portsmouth to discuss his important work and wonderful new book: Seven Sisters and the Heritage Food Systems of the Wabanaki People and of the Chesapeake Bay Region (2018) .

Harvest

We brought in 252 chicken eggs, 72 duck eggs, and 5.7 gallons of milk and made 2 more quarts of salt.

Stinging Nettles – the most nutritious spring green!

From the gardens we’ve enjoyed nettles, chives, savory and sage. While we can see the rhubarb, it’s not big enough to take yet. Any day now!

To prepare for the new bees, I cleaned out the hives that had died and found there was plenty of honey left. I put aside enough to get the new bees started and then extracted about 40 pounds for us. I’d rather have had the living bees, but that much honey eases the loss.

Last year’s bounty is down to garlic, canned fruit and jam, dried beans, dehydrated kale, popcorn, and some lacto-fermented pickles in the fridge. There’s still frozen food that I’ve been forgetting to mention: blueberries, eggplant, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, basil pesto, salsa, and chevre cheese.

This year’s cold April weather kept the leaves off the trees, but brought us few sunny days. We made 574 kwh from the PV solar panels, which did cover our needs but was less than we expected.  We are now back in to the part of the year when we are making enough power for our needs and should start putting some in our electric company account for the winter.

Looking Ahead to May

We’ll be welcoming new kids here with Lily expecting in early to mid May. She sure is looking ready! We hope for chicks and maybe getting some duck eggs started. And planting – lots and lots of planting.

We will also be getting ready for an Open Homestead Day in early June that all of you are welcome to attend. Happy Spring!

Jostaberry Leaf Opening

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Filed under Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Poultry, Soil, Uncategorized, Weather

March At Living Land

Here at the end of March it is starting to feel like spring, but most of the month was unmistakably winter, with four nor-easters hitting us over the course of the month. Although we didn’t love moving all that heavy snow or having the animals more confined, at least this puts us near the normal range for precipitation this year – no drought yet in 2018!

Garlic Emerging in Spring

Signs of spring include: songbirds returning (a flock of bluebirds and another of goldfinches frequent our yard), buds swelling on the trees, perennials greening, and spring bulbs, including garlic, emerging.

Our Work in March

Indoor work continued this month, feeding the fire while starting seeds and making salt. We also stack other functions with the wood stove such as drying all our laundry next to it and doing cooking and water heating on it.

Kale Seedlings

I started leeks, kale, collards, brussel sprouts, lettuce, and eggplant. Germination seemed slow at first, but is finally taking off.

March is the best time for pruning many of our fruit trees and bushes. Before all the storms we got much of it done, getting back to it after the significant melting wrapping up March. Pruning has been very intimidating to us. It feels like one wrong cut and that could be the end of the plant we already invested years into! And with such a diversity of plants here we have to learn how to approach each one. That includes: peach, nectarine, pear, persimmons, mulberries, blueberries, honeyberries, currants, gooseberries, clove currants, jostaberries, hardy kiwis, nanking cherries, sand cherries, beach plums, goumi, raspberries, and grapes. We re-read Lee Reich‘s The Pruning Book, watched a few videos, and got out there. Steve is feeling more confident about the trees, and I seem to be understanding the bushes and cane

Grapes in Need of Pruning

fruits well. The grapes continue to confuse us. They just never seem to look like they do in the books once we get out there! I expect that the more we do this and watch the results the more we’ll gain understanding and confidence.

The winter can be hard on our fencing, with snow load causing collapses, branches falling and animal incursions. Steve had repairs to do, then another line of fencing to add for another goat pasture. When we started with goats, we never intended to keep bucks. I planned to rent them for the breeding season. Now that we do have our own boys, we needed an appropriate area for them. The new barn has a stall for them and there is now a large, well-fenced area for their yard that shares no fence line with the females. We don’t have a rotation system for them in place yet, but we can add that. Their pasture is actually a young woody, brushy area with very little grass which means it will be slow to cause a build up of parasites for them.

Off-farm I spent time connecting with people in meaningful ways, on issues that matter to me. This felt especially important since my March reading included The Village Effect by Susan Pinker. It presents fascinating research and stories about how crucial and healthy it is for people to come together. I led a Spring Equinox circle dance, a performance of my frame drumming group, and an extra storytelling workshop focusing on immigration. I was happy to teach about soil building to an enthusiastic group at the NOFA-NH Winter Conference and hear other great speakers and teachers, such as Dr. Daphne Miller. I put in extra time with NH Peace Action and Seacoast Permaculture as well.

Harvest

Check out that deep orange egg yolk from our ducks!

We continue to get the most from our animals rather than plants at this time of year. We brought in 241 chicken eggs, 119 duck eggs, and 5.2 gallons of milk. It’s a high production time for the poultry, but a low season for milk. Usually we breed for kids in April, but Lily’s due date is in May this year.

Unexpected Parsnips

When we prepped the green house for planting, we discovered a crop of parsnips! These had seeded themselves last year and didn’t seem to be growing many greens, however they made these nice roots for us. I think we’ll try that on purpose this summer into fall.

Our shelves are getting barer. We finished the winter squash and carrots. We have enough potatoes left for one more good meal. We only have a few more birds in the freezer. Canned fruit and jam remains, as does dried beans, dehydrated kale, and popcorn.

Putting Up Salt

The salt making has been a lot of fun. I have about 3 quarts, plenty for daily use and lacto-fermenting. It inspired me to start reading Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A World History, which I’m enjoying.

Goats Sunning Themselves

March is a great month for solar gain. The sun has moved higher and stays up longer, and the trees haven’t leafed out yet. We made 435 kwh from our PV solar panels and had quite a few cold but sunny days when we didn’t need to start the wood stove until after dark.  The animals gain some heat, too!

Losses

We also have a loss to report this month… our duck flock shrunk from 9 to 8. One of the girls just disappeared. We searched, but the ducks cover a very large area so we definitely could have missed a dead one. We suspect, though, that a raptor took her. We’ve been on the lookout for other predators or issues but haven’t seen any. As long as it’s not a pattern that will decimate the flock we are willing to humbly accept small tithes to the other creatures who also have a right to live here. Still – I do love the ducks and was sad to lose one and really worried about those left. We could confine the ducks more for better control and safety, but we get so much more out of them this way for now, we’ll take the risk and let the ducks be ducks (as Joel Salatin might say).

Coming up in April

We’ll start many more seedlings, and even plant outdoors. Egg incubation is planned, including some under an already broody hen. My new packages of bees are due to arrive April 8.  I’ll be hoping to wrap up some indoor work, including getting most of Seacoast Permaculture’s events through the fall scheduled. As weather permits, we’ll be outside more and more, hoping that our winter work set us up well for a productive season.

A Broody Hen

 

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Filed under Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Uncategorized, Weather