Category Archives: Gardens

December at Living Land

Holly Berries Brighten December’s Dark Days

December in the north… the natural world is quiet, dark, cold. Meanwhile, we humans whip up a frenzy of activity! Would we be better off letting go of our plans and our plans and resting, too? Or maybe we need all the excitement we generate to distract us from a primeval fear that the sun won’t return this time? I don’t know, but for us this year, our home lives were quieter while I spent more time out joining in activities, some of which did feel like they were making my world brighter.

Our Work in December

Outside

Thanks to the trees whose wood will keep us warm.

Here on the homestead where we are tied in to the seasons, we didn’t have a lot to do outside. We had two days when the snow melted enough and conditions weren’t too harsh that allowed us to nearly catch up on splitting and stacking wood.

Animal care chores of feeding, watering, milking and door and gate duty were as always. We also continued to give attention and thought to goat breeding. November’s pairings didn’t end up with pregnant goats. So, I gave up on trying to hit the exact right moment and just put Honey and Luna with Marley and Cocoa with Pan for most of the month. I don’t love doing this because the does seem unhappy not being together, and they get stinky living with the boys. Milking a stinky goat is less fun! But, I think it was more effective. This means I’m expecting May births again, rather than my preferred April. Well… next fall will be another chance to work on my timing.

Goat Romance

I reshuffled the goats Christmas Eve, putting all the girls back together and integrating the boys. The bucks, Pan and Marley, did spend a few hours pushing each other around. Literally – they would bring their horns together and just push each other back and forth. I guess it was a test of strength. Pan is bigger and seems to have proven himself in charge, so took over the prime girl-watching station. This made it hard for the other guys to get into the stall for water or shelter, so it spurred another project. Steve widened the stall and put in another entrance. We have since found them all inside together a number of times, so it is a success so far. Understanding caprine psychology is a big part of our job!

Last Leeks of the Year

I made one foray down to the garden to harvest the last of the leeks. They were wonderfully sweet and delicious after all the freezing weather we’ve had.

 

 

Inside

I caught up on some of this season’s harvest processing – cleaning up our dried beans, and canning the frozen strawberries.

Seminole Pumpkin Pie

Pie making continues. The winter squash are holding up well, despite the many gnaw marks on them. When they do start to show signs of rotting, we move them along as human or goat food. Very little has gone to waste.

I also spent time on the computer, planning 2019 programming for Seacoast Permaculture, True Tales Live, and NH Peace Action, and catching up on correspondence, reading and writing.

Off-farm

Over the past decade a number of deaths reduced my family commitments. Some of those family events were admittedly more stressful than fun, but somehow I still miss them this time of the year. So, it was worth it to venture out into the crowds of holiday-stressed people for a few meaningful programs. I was part of a True Tales Holiday Live broadcast, a NHPA sponsored showing of The Christmas Truce, I drummed for a Solstice Service at Portsmouth’s South Church, and I held my annual Winter Solstice Sacred Circle Dance. This is my “social permaculture” work – creating connections and building resilience in the human ecosystem.

December’s Harvest

Chickens Laying Again!

We brought in 5# of leeks, 16 chicken eggs, and 5.3 gallons of milk.

We collected three 5-gallon buckets of seaweed to feed to the animals. While at the ocean, we also brought home a 5-gallon bucket of sea water which became our first pint of homemade, wood stove dehydrated salt of the winter.

We made 165 kwh from the PV solar panels. There were more sunny days in December, but the sun is just so low and quick to leave the sky it couldn’t produce much.

Stored food that we relied on: winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, honey, canned peaches, blueberries and strawberries, dried kale, summer squash, nettles, beans and peaches. In the freezer we have: eggplant, broccoli, string beans, salsa, pesto, cheese, various kinds of berries, chicken, duck and goat meat.

Looking Ahead

A year ago I committed to posting twelve monthly reports of work and harvest totals and this is the twelfth! I hope that it has been interesting and helpful for those of you reading to get a better idea of what it means when we tell you we are “homesteading.”

For this coming year, I plan to keep up with monthly entries, but on more varied topics (I welcome your suggestions!). I do have a plan for my next one – a summary of 2018 harvests, including reflecting on successes and failures. This will help me as I put in orders for seeds, seed potatoes, trees, and bees over the next few weeks.

Until then, Happy New Year! I hope 2019 brings us all good health and harvests, continued learning, and satisfying work building healthier communities.

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by | January 7, 2019 · 8:58 pm

November at Living Land

The early winter weather that arrived in November justified my hurried working pace this fall. I’d like to claim an ability to feel the storms coming… but, to be honest, I’m pretty sure that I rush around every autumn. Some years I feel silly for it, but not this one.

The harsh month with some serious cold, very little sun, and snow and ice cut short some of the outdoor work I’d hoped to accomplish and made what had to be wrapped up challenging. Here’s the story…

Our Work in November

Outside

Our first priority this month was bringing in the wood we expect to need for the winter. There was also more splitting and stacking to be done. We didn’t quite finish that before the snow made it too tricky to continue.

Garden Under Snow

I didn’t spend much time in the garden. We did create a few new beds and refreshed some of the older ones with seaweed, manure and our moldy hay. I can pick that work up again in the spring.

In many permaculture designs and zone maps I see the garden placed close to the house with animals farther away. This time of year I give thanks that I didn’t follow that pattern. I might only enter the garden a half dozen times between November and March. On the other hand, the animals need the same care now as they did in the peak of summer. Bringing them food and water, opening and closing gates and doors, milking the goats.

In fact, we spent even more time with the goats in November since that is our targeted breeding window. I observed them carefully, attempting to discern who was in heat and pair her with the right buck at the right time. This is not so easy. My first goal was to breed Honey, who didn’t get pregnant last year despite our efforts. She spent much of this month living with Marley just in case I was missing the signs. I put Luna in with them as well when she seemed interested. All of this reshuffling of the herd agitates the girls, who complain about it often.

Stinky Buck, Riding in the Car

Later in the month, we brought home our buck named Pan, who spent a couple of years with fellow goat keepers for their breeding program. Driving around with a stinky buck in the car is not one of my favorite things, but we did it! He has caused a great sensation here. For some reason, the girls find him appealing to the point of jumping fences to reach him. He also smashed through 17 gauge fencing and broke a few gates to reach them. He is only supposed to be servicing one of my does, Cocoa, this year but he may have over-achieved. Time will tell, coupled with the detailed notes in my Goat Sex Journal. (Pan Romances Lily – November 2018)

Pan Romancing Lily

He is an impressive guy, now four years old, with a long beard, gorgeous horns, and emanating a true stench. As far as his personality, he has actually mellowed some. When he was last here at about 2 years old, I was concerned he might be interested in challenging us humans, not just the other goats. He never did anything aggressive – it was more how he was eyeing me at times. But that seems not to have developed after all and he’s quite sweet in disposition now. I was afraid that putting him and our other buck together would be potentially dangerous for them, but in one of his escapes they ended up together for most of a day and no violence ensued, to my great relief. There was a lot of snorting, peeing and flehmening, but even less horn locking than the girls do with each other as a matter of course.

Which reminds me of another job that Steve has been hard at work at, even in the snow: fencing fixes and upgrades. Thanks to Pan, he knew exactly the weak spots in the system.

Most of our animals share our lack of enthusiasm for this early winter: the goats and chickens don’t like stepping on snow and the cats have given up on going outside to hunt. Even our cold-hardy ducks spent a few of the really

Winterized Bee Hive

cold, windy days in their coop!

We also shoveled out chicken and goat bedding, hopefully for the last time until spring since we use the deep litter method. I am still harvesting leeks every few days and we did harvest and process two goats. I finished winterizing the bee hives, with help from some beekeeping students.

Inside

We have been baking and cooking more elaborately. Given our large amounts of stored pumpkins, we have made a lot of pies. Forget dessert, we think they made a fine breakfast – milk, eggs, squash, a little honey… sounds like a good start to the day to me!

I processed goat fat, and started to clean the dry beans.

I started to catch up on correspondence, get back to writing stories and plan for the new year for Seacoast Permaculture.

We also voted and have spent time reading and thinking about the results. One thing I can say I was pleased about was the increase in the diversity of people elected to office. Understanding the importance of diversity in nature leads me to believe diversity in our human-created systems is a positive step.

November’s Harvest

Leeks for Winter Harvesting

We brought in 3/43 kale, 63 (37#) leeks, 1# celery, 1# brussel sprouts, 1/8# spinach, and 1/4# broccoli from the garden. No eggs at all, 6 gallons of milk (milking just two does now), 62# of meat and 8 pints of high quality rendered lard.

I collected 6 5-gallon buckets of seaweed which the goats have been eating right up (Goats Eating Seaweed).

Not Much Sun, But a Beautiful Full Moon in November

We made 175 kwh from the PV solar panels. One of our least productive months since their installation. Wow, we miss the sun!

We found sources for more hay to re-fill the barn. We were able to bring home about two dozen bags of raked leaves from town. We usually bring in a lot more than that, but there was so little dry weather and wet leaves don’t work well for our uses.

The updated list of food from previous seasons that we continue to eat from is now very long and includes: winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, honey, canned peaches and blueberries, dried kale, beans and peaches. In the freezer we have: eggplant, broccoli, string beans, salsa, pesto, cheese, various kinds of berries, chicken, duck and goat meat.

Looking Ahead

I hope to complete a few more projects to wrap up the season, like goat breeding, bean cleaning and wood stacking. A summary of this year’s garden would help me in planning for next year. And the seed and plant catalogs have arrived so it is time to assess and choose! I especially look forward to the coming of the winter solstice to mark the growing of the light and maybe even a sunnier year ahead.

Witch Hazel – One of a very few November Blooms

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Filed under Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Uncategorized, Weather

October at Living Land

At the end of September’s post, I predicted October would be another busy month and it met – maybe even exceeded – expectations, including some big jobs and heavy lifting. Once Autumn arrives, the anticipation of winter and snow cover creates a certain drive to get the work accomplished which can be stressful. I suppose I am like my bees who become hurried, wild and intolerant of interference as the days grow shorter!

The wet, dreary weather and some unforeseen setbacks didn’t help either. All that said, there were many successes and harvests that it will do me good to reflect on and hopefully be fun for you to hear about!

Our Work in October

Carrot and Parsnips

Plants

Harvest this month consisted primarily of a few big days of work. The root crops – carrots, beets, and parsnips – were pulled and packed in sand in buckets to last us longer. For now these buckets are outside the back door. If we get a deep freeze before we eat them all we can move them into the house.

I brought in the dried bean crop, now hanging in big paper bags in our living room.

Then there was the winter squash. We had a very successful season with our final totals indicating we ended up with 1,200 pounds. While I love winter squash for us and the animals and did want a lot, I definitely did not intend to grow this much! We had to come up with a lot more curing and storage space, which proved challenging because of this year’s rodent population explosion. I’d set the squash up somewhere in the greenhouse, thinking it was out of reach of critters, only to have bite marks appear on all of them! I have been carting these hundreds of pounds from here to there to yet another place! This is not the smart, efficient, permacultural system that we strive for, to say the least. But then again, there will always be surprises and challenges no matter how well-laid our plans.

Seminole Squash Hanging, Not Quite Ripe

The mystery of the Seminole squash ended after the arrival of the first frost, causing the leaves to wither. Hiking through the large amount of plant matter – vines and leaves – I found 414 # of squash. However, none of it was truly ripe. We can still eat it, it just isn’t as sweet as it could be, and it won’t keep as well.

I love planting garlic and did so this year on October 22. One hundred and seventy-five cloves of four varieties: Music, NY Extra Hardy, Philips, and Red Russian. Exactly when to plant garlic is a topic of debate lately since the timing has become harder to get right. For the biggest, healthiest plants next year, they should have time in the fall to set roots but not send up green shoots. About a month before a hard freeze is ideal. When I started farming in 2008, we planted in late September. But with the shifting of our climate and seasons, it’s much harder to anticipate when the freeze will arrive.

We had enough decent weather to work on soil building in our new garden and orchard areas. We haven’t gotten as far as we’d hoped because this Autumn mud season makes driving the truck on the land difficult. Using buckets and wheelbarrows takes longer, but keeps the job moving along.

Animals

As I mentioned before, we had some problems this month, and this was probably the worst – all the beautiful, organic hay that we put up for the goats molded! Anyone else notice that we just had an incredibly humid late summer and early fall? I don’t know if we broke any records, but it was not our norm, and many people experienced issues in their gardens. My garden was fine, but not our hay. So, we had to pull it out, spread it around for mulching, and we’re now hunting for more hay. We had one lead, but that turned out to be moldy, too. Tough year here for hay.

We had two more days of poultry processing, then integrated the birds we’re keeping. Our young rooster has not settled into his role, pecking at the hens rather than romancing them. One of the young females is still small and a good flyer, so most nights she needs to be collected from a shelf in Steve’s shop and put into the coop.

Chickens Are Molting!

Hopefully everyone will settle in soon.

For the first time, we had NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Program) testing of our chickens. There is currently a free program in NH for having your birds tested for Salmonella and Avian Influenza. Having a proven clean bill of health (which we did receive) for these is a good idea since we sell birds at times. It also means we could bring our birds to shows if we ever wanted to try that!

I did the first level of winterizing the bee hives by adding an upper entrance and insulation on top. Late November I’ll wrap them up as well, but it’s still a little too warm for that now.

Tabitha and Bella, our cats, got to work once the heat died down, and helping to bring the rodent levels down before we are completely overrun, we hope.

Also Outside

There have been a number of repairs and refinements needed on our various animal houses and outbuildings. Moving the winter’s wood supply onto our porch is about halfway finished with a cord in place.

Inside & Off-farm

We are turning more of our attention back to community involvement. I attended permaculture, political, storytelling and Samhain events. All were important to me, even if they pulled me away from work here.

October’s Harvest

Leeks, Still Happy in the Garden in October

Although we didn’t get a frost until mid-month, the lack of sun and warmth meant much lower yields for most crops:

Last of the warm weather crops: summer squash: 4#, 10# tomatoes, 2.25# eggplant, 10# string beans

Brassicas: 2# kale & collards, 2.75# brussel sprouts, 1.5# broccoli

Plus: 1.5# celery, 12 leeks

It was time to bring in the root crops and winter squash, before the rodents ate them all!

Root crops: 15# carrots, 9# beets, 14# parsnips

Winter Squash: 36.5# long pie pumpkin, 20.75# delicata, 60.5# butternut, 23.5# pumpkin, 414# seminole. That’s 555.25# winter squash harvested this month.

I brought home 8 5-gallon buckets of gleaned apples for the animals and 20 5-gallon buckets of seaweed for the animals and gardens.

From the animals we received 72 chicken eggs, 1 duck egg, 8 gallons of milk, and about 60# of meat. Eggs are done for the year while the older birds molt and we wait for the young ones to start laying.

We made 238 kwh from the PV solar panels. I talked with an employee of a local solar company a couple of weeks ago and he confirmed that it wasn’t my imagination or a problem with our array, it has actually been dark! They have had inquiries from many people thinking that their systems weren’t working correctly, but they were just under-performing due to all the clouds we’ve been experiencing.

From previous years we’re still eating: honey, canned peaches and blueberries, dried kale and beans, and frozen eggplant.

Looking Ahead

November is goat breeding month here, so we’ll be moving animals around, pairing them up, and listening to them complain about the changes. Our buck, Marley, has been ready for a couple months as evidenced by the amazing smell he cultivates. Finalizing wood placement is on the top of our list. Then, we have a lot of projects we hope to make progress on before the weather really turns to winter.

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Filed under Chickens, Gardens, Goats, Poultry, Weather