Category Archives: Gardens

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

January At Living Land

January is one of the quieter months on a New England homestead. Let’s take a look.

Snowy day, viewed from our kitchen window

Our Work in January

The ground is frozen, the gardens and orchards at rest. Nothing for us to do there. I kept an eye on our tree guards after some heavy snows to make sure no drifts had covered them, allowing vole access.

The bee hives were wrapped up in November and there’s not much I can do for them in the winter. However, we maybe should have tried. The deep freeze that started on December 27th and lasted until January 8th was deadly for my smaller nucleus hives. When it’s that cold the cluster of bees is unable to move around to get to their next meal. Sadly, I found several lovely clusters of bees had starved just an inch away from more honey. My big, strong hive did great – I guess they could generate enough heat to move the cluster. On the first 50F day that came along – our January thaw – there were so many bees in the air I first thought all the hives must have survived, but most returned to that one as it sun lowered.

At least I was left with a few supers worth of honey to start off the new bees I ordered for the spring with some good nutrition. We are researching hive warmers. We figure that if after a week we’d given each hive just a couple of hours of extra heat they could have re-positioned themselves and survived. Who knows if this will happen regularly in the future or not – now that the climate is becoming more variable it’s impossible to predict and plan. It’s stressful on us agriculturists.

Our goats just need some shelter from the wind and their thick coats even in extended freezing temps.

The other animals did great in the cold. We chose breeds that were known to be winter-hardy, and they have lived up to their reputations. We still needed to do basic care – keep feed and water stations stocked for them, open and close doors, milk the goats in the morning and collect eggs when there were any.

Inside, however, there was work to do.

We used Fedco for our seed order this year, including seed potatoes which will arrive in the spring. It was a good sized order for us since some of our seeds were a few years old and not germinating well anymore.

The winter is time for education – both for learning ourselves and teaching. I have Bee Culture magazines and a stack of books to catch up on. Through Seacoast Permaculture I’ll get a chance to watch some documentaries I’ve been excited about, discuss social permaculture with a small group book study, and take a few classes. I am teaching about beekeeping right now, and will give workshops on gardening later in the winter. I’m also teaching frame drum classes and cirlce dances, working on a writing project, and active in our local storytelling community.

This is also a good time for us to be civically active. The NH state house still goes by an agricultural schedule, doing most of its work in the winter. Works great for us! Steve has a lot of planning board meetings, and our town deliberative session is in early February. I’m catching up on some national issues I care about as well, and contacting my reps about those. So, while the weather drives us in on the homestead, it also gives us a chance to look at a bigger picture and try to have a say in the larger world.

Our Harvest in January

The chickens are laying!

The work is minimal and so are the rewards this time of year. A few things did come in.

A hen in the nest box

Our chickens began laying again after we added supplemental light in their coop at the end of the year. In January we collected 48 eggs.

 

Our milk supply is very low at the moment. We make some choices that mean less (but healthier, we think) milk in general. But, we also had a breeding failure in Fall 2016 so none of our girls had kids this past season. We are milking 2 goats who gave birth in Spring 2015 and 2 who did so in Spring 2016. We find that breeding every other year works well, but once we get beyond that, they don’t produce very much.

Winter forage for the goats – hemlock boughs

Also, 2 of those goats were first fresheners, thus not going to be big producers yet. All that said, we still brought in 6.6 gallons of milk in January, which I made into plenty of yogurt and soft cheese for us.

 

We harvested no new veggies, but continue to eat from last year’s excess. Potatoes, garlic, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash from our makeshift root cellar; dried kale, summer squash, peaches and grapes (raisins); canned

Garlic in storage

blueberries, strawberries and peaches; frozen eggplant, salsa, pesto, berries and meat; honey, dry beans, popcorn, and cornmeal. Nothing has run out completely yet! Steve has also enjoyed a few fresh lemons and herb cuttings growing indoors in pots and the aquaponic systems.

 

The woodstove needed feeding a lot this cold January so we were glad for all our stacked wood. Our solar panels didn’t do well for us between the low amount of sun and the coatings of icy snow that wouldn’t budge for days on end. We’re thrilled they are clear by now and heading back into a productive time as the sun returns to us.

That’s our January update… February should see an increase in animal products and possibly the end of the supply of some of our stored foods. I’ll tell you about it in a month!

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