Category Archives: Gardens

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

A New Year Starts at Living Land

This has been a good week for reflection and planning. We’ve gotten out the new calendars, are noticing the growing light, and we’ve been driven inside by storms and bitter cold!

First, a look back to consider accomplishments on the homestead in 2017. I tend to push forward and move on to what’s next, but I know it’s good for me to take time to learn from successes and problems we had, and to allow for a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for what worked. I will make better, smarter plans coming from this place.

One of my bean plants produced this seed. I have no idea what it is – anyone know?

In the plant realm: we expanded our growing areas using swales, sheet mulching and hugelkultur. We planted 5 new trees, 10 new berry bushes, many new perennials, and a big garden of annuals. I tried some new crops: various heritage dried beans, a heritage variety popcorn, and 3 new types of potatoes. My records show that the Bora Valley and Nicola potatoes were my biggest producers this year. Yay for record keeping!

Beautiful Bug-free Broccoli

We had very few insect pest problems this year, other than some early squash vine borers. I had almost no colorado potato beetles, and the cabbage worms didn’t become an issue until much later in the season than usual. I planted both of those crops late this year possibly missing the first reproductive cycle for the pests. That was purposeful for the beetles, but accidental for the cabbage worms.

In our animal endeavors: We raised new chickens using 2 broody hens and 1 incubator hatch. None of our ducks succeeded in brooding, so we just had a few new ones from the incubator. We kept milking the goats, although the previous

Steve Building a Hay Shelter

fall’s breeding failure meant less of it. I built my apiary back up after a lot of winter hive losses. I did have one hive that overwintered well and had an amazing season.  Steve built a new shelter for hay and animals which I anticipate will help us get much more organized thus saving us quite a bit of work in the future.

This year I also taught classes in beekeeping, soil building, animal care and permaculture. I accepted the 2017 NOFA-NH Gardener of the Year Award. I wrote new blog posts to share here on our website.

Successful Bee Hive – Hope to Have More Like These in 2018!

In the new year, I look forward to more plants and animals and continued good work with the earth. Our seed, potato and tree catalogues are spread out to choose next season’s varieties. We did save more of our own seed this year, but not for all crops. We’ve identified where we want to expand to next and even got that started in the long, warm fall we had. I have learned not to order trees or bushes for the areas we didn’t finish yet! We have some unhappy plants overgrowing their nursery beds from the years I was too optimistic about how fast the work would go.

For my blogging this year, I am going to try something new. Often I am asked: “what do you do at your farm?” and “how much do you grow?” I never have great answers. Each season and every day is so different, in terms of what we do and what we harvest. In 2018 I am going to try to give a monthly update, summarizing what we did and what we harvested in the previous month. It won’t be a quick answer to those questions, but it should be informative.

I hope you’ll follow us and join me in charting the next year as we experience it!

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Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Poultry, Uncategorized

Permaculture Approaches: Problems into Solutions, Slugs into Ducks

I last wrote about a very appreciated and loved creature – the honey bee. Next up I want to tell you about a weird, wild, often reviled beastie – the slug!

Leopard Slug (Limax maximus)

Any gardener is going to have a fraught relationship with slugs, especially after a wet spring like we had. But before we get to that, let’s get to know them better.

As with any problem we face, permaculture asks us to observe first, to learn and understand what we can. This enables us to make better choices about how we react, sometimes even allowing us to turn our problems into solutions.

Aside from that, every creature we share this planet with is amazing and worth marveling at just to keep our sense of awe and humility intact.

My Slug Story

When I first noticed slugs, they were not a problem for me. I was living in Dover NH in a house with a tiny fenced in backyard. One summer we noticed that in the right light all the patio bricks sparkled. It looked like fairies had sprinkled their dust… but it was actually the dried slime from the trails of slugs which we were having an outbreak of!  At night they would appear and we started watching them.

Not a Small Slug!

They were big – maybe 3 inches long fully extended, and I couldn’t believe how fast they moved given that they have no legs. I wasn’t trying to garden back then, so could simply watch and admire and not get into any kind of battle with the slimy critters.

Around the same time the movie Microcosmos came out. I saw it on the big screen of The Music Hall in Portsmouth. This artistic documentary about life in meadows and ponds included an amazing mating dance of snails.

A few years later my best friend, Nicole, moved to California. We did some traveling in the state and I loved the northern woods with the huge majestic redwoods, shocking to a New Englander. Those woods held black bears to be wary of, herds of Roosevelt Elk, and banana slugs, which everyone wanted to see with their intense yellow coloring standing out against the browns and greens of the forest.

Slugs Are Cool

Slug in the Garden

Why respect slugs? The role slugs play in the ecosystem is to eat decaying plant, fungi and sometimes even animal matter. They are recyclers who fit well into the No Such Thing As Waste permaculture view.

Slugs and snails (scientifically classified as “gastropods“) have been on this planet since the Cambrian era (497 million years ago!) – clearly they are successful and important. Thousands of species live in all kinds of habitats (sea, forest, desert, pond, ditch,…), with different eating habits (herbivore, carnivore, detritivore), and such a diverse genetic heritage that we know they didn’t all evolve from one ancestor, but arose independently a number of times in different places.

The Problem

However, they can be serious garden pests, and they also can spread some diseases. In our case, the one we most worry about affects goats – meningeal worm.

Young Kale Plant, Vulnerable to Slug Damage

My relationship with slugs became strained when we first started gardening here on our Living Land property. We’d gotten some land cleared, sheet mulched, and I planted garlic in the fall. That spring it came up, and I started planting other crops. I quickly discovered that we had a tremendous slug population. Sure, they were eating my lettuce, kale & broccoli, but also my onions and garlic! I would go into the garden with a quart container and fill it with slugs within about 20 minutes. Yes, I handpicked them, despite the slime factor.

I consulted soil experts. For many pests, it is a soil problem that causes distress in the plant which then attracts predatory insects. But, not with slugs I was told. They weren’t indicative of a deeper problem, but simply liked to eat what humans do too.

Cabbage, A Favorite Food of Slugs

I brought my containers of slugs to our chickens. We had friends whose hens enjoyed these protein rich treats. But, alas, ours had more refined taste, I guess. They looked at the slugs, looked at me, ruffled their feathers and strutted away.

So, we needed other control methods.

 

The Solution

Indian Runner, From Our First Flock

Of course, permaculturist Bill Mollison‘s famous quote came back to me: “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” which he said to another struggling gardener.

We followed his advice, and got ourselves some ducks. They were not as easy to procure as chicks can be, but we found Indian Runner ducklings locally. There were just a few of them, but, wow, did they love to eat slugs! Before they were big enough to be outside we brought them in for them and they gobbled them up. That first year, we let them spend time in the garden itself. They are not as hard on a garden as chickens are, but they made a bit of a mess of my carefully placed mulch. Since then, we rarely let them in the garden, but they have access to a large area around it. That has been enough to keep the problem in check.

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Frogs in Our Pond

We also added elements to our garden and land that support wild predators of slugs: frogs, toads, and snakes.  (If you can’t or don’t want to keep ducks, this is what I’d suggest you focus on.)  We added a pond form in the garden and within weeks it was full of frogs.

Now that we aren’t overrun with them, I can again admire slugs as amazing creatures. In fact, as the slug population has decreased, our duck food bill has gone up… I now look at them as a resource not just a competitor.

We love our ducks. They are extremely entertaining, give us amazing eggs, and a small amount of meat. They have an important place here and we’re grateful to have turned our slug problem into such a great duck solution!

A “Brace” of Ducks

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Filed under Ducks, Gardens, Uncategorized, Weather