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July At Living Land

July is a beautiful month on the homestead. Flowers bloom, attracting butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and more. There is life and growth, and not much is dying back yet.

Echinacea with bumblebee

Here at the end of this particular July, after a week of storms rolling through and with hot and humid conditions in the forecast, it’s already hard to remember that this month was drier and colder than it should have been. That made work easier, but ripening slower. At least the last week of storms did bring us enough rain to change our status from level 2 (moderate) to only a level 1 (abnormally dry) on the July 31st drought monitor edition.

Our Work in July

Outdoors: Plants

Most of this month brought us excellent working weather and we used it.

Our main annual garden I estimate needed about an hour a day of our attention. We had to keep up with daily watering during the dry weather. I did some replanting of failed or harvested crops. Failures were: I tried planting some corn with 5 year old seed with poor results, and my earliest plantings of root crops – carrots especially – germinated poorly. I have been asking around, online and in person, about my difficulties with early carrots and have a few theories about what I am doing wrong. First, I need to be sure the soil is warm enough for them to germinate in a timely fashion, and the seed bed needs to be kept more

Carrot Germination, July 2018

consistently moist during the germination window, which can be 3 weeks. For my most recent seeding, the soil was, of course, warm by mid-July and I put up shade cloth to help with moisture retention – and had lots of baby carrots appearing in under a week! That is more like it.

Other plantings included next rounds of bush beans, beets, and radishes. At the end of the month, I also started planting the fall crops of lettuce and spinach.

Garlic Drying

Throughout July I pulled garlic. The Russian Red was ready on July 14. I went ahead and pulled the Music the next day, and the New York Extra Hardy and Phillips around July 25. All varieties are beautiful and delicious, as always! They have been drying on our porch and are close to ready to trim and store. The beds I took them out of were replanted with soil building crops. Usually that means a cover crop, and I have one that is growing Japanese Buckwheat, but the others I decided to try growing bush beans in. A nitrogen-fixing crop after garlic makes sense to me, and I’ll get a harvest out of it. Since I always leave the roots and crop residue anyway, I think it will accomplish the goal.

Other garden work included hilling potatoes, tying up beans and cukes for their vertical climbing, pruning off tomato suckers, adding mulch to beds and wood chips to paths. I am not having many disease or pest issues this year. Even if there were, I wouldn’t do very much other than observe and record what I saw. I have hand-picked a few cabbageworms off of my brassicas, which the chickens were happy to eat for me.

Cleome, loved by pollinators

In the orchards I persist in my weeding in order to select for specific plants. I’ve allowed cleome, anise hyssop and calendula to fill in a lot of space. At dusk, it’s just full of foraging bees. I also need to take a daily walk through to redirect winter squash vines, which otherwise would completely take over all the paths, wind their way into the road, and pull down many of our young trees and bushes. I had to

Winter Squash Vines

find and free our beach plums the other day, and we noticed one vine has made it about 10 feet up a young oak! I’m letting that one go for it and look forward to seeing how high it gets.

We continued to bring in organic materials to create more garden beds and to refresh some that were getting low. We came home with the usual: cardboard, seaweed, manure, coffee grounds and wood chips. Then I sowed cover crops to top them off. The goldfinches and chipmunks helped themselves to some of the seeds but didn’t get them all!

Chickens growing, in “tractor” yard

Outdoors: Animals

All the spring babies are turning into adults. We have twice a day feeding, watering, and regular tending to their bedding. The young chickens need their tractors moved to new forage every couple of days. The ducks like some water for their bathing pleasure: Ducks Take A Bath – July 2018

Lily and her growing kids

We bring the goats plants to eat and give them new pasture regularly. They also have their regular hoof trimming and socialization with us.  This time of year, rain water and abundant food choices are reflected in their shiny coats and full tails. All of the blood testing came back like we’d hoped – no diseases or deficiencies found.

We have also taken time on really hot days to do some outbuilding organizing. Our jam-packed, impossible-to-use potting shed is now a well-organized tool shed and the hay trailer is clean and ready for the arrival of 150 bales of organic second cut hay the moment we can get it. I believe it was Scott Nearing who talked about how critical it was to maintain your space on a farm for ease of use and longevity of equipment. (If anyone knows this passage or if someone else said it, please share!) Every minute I am searching or digging around for some item is not time well spent and we just don’t have that to waste.

I inspected the hives a few times in July. First, I had to assess them. I made the decision to requeen both. This required hive visits to prepare for her arrival, then to ascertain that she was accepted. Both hives did allow the new queens to get established, which means that these hives will go into the winter with young, northern-bred Russian queens, which gives them a good chance at living through this winter.  And now that the drought has lessened, maybe we’ll have a strong fall nectar flow from which they can put up lots of nutritious honey.

Indoors

Food preservation has begun! So far I’ve been freezing berries and dehydrating summer squash and kale.  Much more to come.

Off-farm

Since our blueberry bushes are still young so giving little fruit, we have been picking at Tuckaway Farm. I am thrilled to have this access to organic fruit. Some of my early jobs at farms included a lot of berry picking and I still love doing it.

Royal Burgundy Bush Beans

July’s Harvest

As I mentioned but you may not have noticed, July was not as warm as usual, with some especially chilly nights. This slowed down production, especially of heat loving crops. There have been green tomatoes on the vines for weeks, waiting for the heat that will finally ripen them. Here’s what we did bring in from our gardens: 4

Summer Squash

pounds of peas, 65 garlic tops, 4 pounds of a mix of kales and collards, 1 pound of cauliflower, 2 pounds of broccoli, 30 pounds of summer squash, 10 ¾ pounds of beans, 1 ½ pounds of basil, 1 radish, 12 pounds of red and white currants and quite a few hand-fulls of various herbs. I also began gathering fallen apples from some area trees for the goats, a total of 20 pounds so far.

 

We collected 224 chicken eggs, 87 duck eggs, and 11 gallons of milk.

What we are still eating from previous years: honey, canned peaches, blueberries and strawberry jelly, dried kale and beans, frozen eggplant, pesto, and salsa.

We made 678 kwh from the PV solar panels – a very good month. That’s the upside of all those sunny, dry days!

Looking Ahead

Beans growing up

August should be full of food preservation: drying, canning, freezing. It looks like I’ll start curing winter squash for storage very soon as well. There will be plenty of upkeep to do. We will enjoy the bright, bountiful summer, but it’s time to be planning for winter as the days grow noticeably shorter. The cycle continues!

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June at Living Land

Borage Flower

June is one of my favorite months. Warm but not too hot, hearing bird song, frog song and breezes in the leafed-out trees, witnessing the plants grow, the animals thrive and the fireflies flashing at night. The downside is the number of biting insects! Insects do speak to the health of the environment, though, and with the modern invention of window screening, we can escape them when needed.

So, even though there is a ton of work to do, I make sure to stop and appreciate living in this beautiful place.

This particular June, weather conditions weren’t ideal for growing, being mostly cooler than usual and having little rain. On June 1 NH was drought-free, but as of June 26 all of Strafford county NH was classified as in a “moderate” drought. However, cool and dry is excellent working weather and we had lots to do!

Our Work in June

Outdoors: Plants

June brings us the longest day of the year, which means there is plenty of light for working outside, early and late. I often feel this time of year like when I’m not planting or tending the plants I am losing out on future harvest. It makes it hard to remain calm for all the other parts of life needing attention! That’s a good time to practice appreciation, as I mentioned above.

Planting continued. Very early in the month, I planted 25 eggplant seedlings, of three varieties: Purple Pickling, Nadia and Diamond. This used one bed in the main annual garden, plus I placed some in the front orchard. I reseeded winter squash varieties and cucumbers that hadn’t germinated well. In our newest hugel area I seeded melons (Escorial, Montreal Market, Savor), more Delicata and Butternut squash, and cover crops of Japanese

Bush Beans

Millet and Japanese Buckwheat. Steve drove more stakes and ran wire so I could plant more climbing beans: Turkey Craw and Good Mother Stallard. I also seeded another area of Pinto beans. Mid-month I planted more root crops: Andover parsnip (it was actually a little late to start them), various carrots and beets. I had been late starting my basil indoors, so I gave that a good long time in the greenhouse before transplanting it on June 24. At that time, I also started my next round of bush beans. 

I covered the eggplant and basil with row cover for a little extra heat retention since they love heat and it wasn’t a consistently warm month.

Kale getting crowded

Most of my crops are looking good so far. My earliest root crop plantings germinated poorly – maybe because of too low soil temps? It’s very frustrating to carefully hand sow those tiny carrot seeds with poor results.  Heat lovers like tomatoes and eggplant grew slowly without much heat.  My brassicas, beans, potatoes, leeks and squash look gorgeous! No disease or insect problems to speak of so far this season, although I am starting to see white imported cabbageworm moths fluttering about!

With the drought, there was watering to do for all the newly planted crops. The rain barrels empty quickly in these conditions. The ponds last longer, especially the one fed from our overflowing wellhead. We mostly did spot watering rather than using automated systems. It takes time, but is the most efficient in terms of water use.

We also brought in materials (hay, wood chips, cardboard) to mulch with for moisture retention and soil health. In many places the mulch had gotten thin, being digested by the soil. That’s great – we just need to remember to refresh it.

Speaking of feeding soil, Steve continues to experiment with diluted urine as fertilizer, especially on our alternate pasture areas. After the animals eat the vegetation down to the ground, we fence it off again and he fertilizes. He managed to overdo it in one area so we saw what “burning” the plants looks like. Other than that, it’s going well as far as we can see and smell. The grass is truly greener. Steve is also preparing to launch a line of urine diverting “toilets” for sale soon!

Our elderberry bush is 10 feet tall and spreading – the goats love the leaves I prune off

I have done quite a bit of what I guess we can call weeding. Because of how much I mulch, my established and annual gardens have almost no weeds. Where we are expanding, though, there are plants to cut back, often resprouting from stumps. Also, in the orchards, I am trying to get particular plants established as the layers of mulch break down. The best ground covering is always plants. At this point, I still need to go through and pull what I don’t want there (wild lettuce, thistle, pigweed, bindweed, crabgrass, brambles, excess mullein, chickweed and plantain) to make space for the spread of my chosen species (red clover, lupine, dandelion, calendula, echinacea, borage, cleome, globe thistle, angelica, valerian, nettles, and comfrey). At a certain point, even these need to be hacked back in order not to affect my food crops.

Everything that I take out, with scything, pruning or hand pulling, goes to the goats. It is very satisfying to watch them devour what otherwise seemed like waste. Well, it would have been composted or used for mulch, but still – it feels even better to turn it into milk!

Grapes Developing

Other miscellaneous work included tending grape vines, adding wires forpole beans, digging up and replanting some perennials, thinning the peaches, gathering manure and seaweed to create new growing areas.

Outdoors: Animals

Chicks in Tractor

The chicks that hatched last month from Steve’s DIY incubator grew quickly in the brooder and were moved outside mid-June to a chicken tractor. They were especially excited to start roosting versus sleeping on the floor. They quickly learned to love eating plants and bugs, scratching on the ground, and dust bathing as well. Strangely, from what I can tell, we have 11 female and 1 male in this batch. We’ve never had such an unbalanced gender percentage – I have no idea what that might mean, if anything!

Our big excitement with goats this month was Lily’s trip to the vet (video here: Lily Goes to the Vet). Every year we bring one of our goats to be tested for: CAE, CL, Johne’s, selenium deficiency, TB and brucellosis. We have never had reason to think we have these, but they are serious issues and regular testing is important to keep up, especially if selling animals. In fact, we implore people not to bring home goats from untested herds or breed to an untested buck. Always ask for copies of paperwork first!

Steve repaired and added more fencing, to keep in our livestock and to exclude predators. I am happy to report few losses so far this year. We’ve

Tabitha… her belled collar stops her from catching birds

rarely lost animals, but some years groundhog and deer have wreaked havoc on our poor plants. This year I can really only complain about the chipmunks. What destructive little beasts they can be! We are indebted to our huntress, Tabitha the cat, for keeping all our rodents in check to some extent at least.

My two hives are doing fine, but aren’t impressing me. Both have cranky personalities and aren’t growing very quickly. I plan to replace these queens with northern stock in July.

Indoors

Unfortunately, our second round of egg incubation was unsuccessful. We’d set both chicken and duck eggs. Just one of each hatched, and neither lived beyond a few days. It was disappointing and sad. Steve is investigating and reading and thinks that the temps got too high this time around. He has some new designs to try next year, and we also plan to buy another incubator. The commercially made ones do work, they just break down much faster than we approve of.

The other possible issue, although less likely, is that we haven’t replaced our rooster or drake for a few years so some inbreeding could be impacting our hatch rates. There isn’t much evidence of this being our problem and birds can tolerate quite a bit of inbreeding, but it did motivate us to reach out to find new stock. We don’t have connections to many others working with our

Indian Runner Ducklings

breeds of poultry, so I searched not-quite-frantically online. We found nice folks in Pelham NH with four black Indian Runner ducklings, old enough to move right outside rather than deal with brooding them in my tub (video here: New Indian Runner Ducklings – June 2018). Now we just have to hope there is a male in the batch. It will be a few months before we can tell gender. Then I tracked down a woman breeding Dominique chickens only a few towns over from me at Just A Notion Exhibition Poultry. In fact, she shows at the Deerfield Fair and we bought our last rooster from her, without ever meeting. She’ll be a great resource for information and help as well as new stock. Phew!

Open Homestead

The twins entertained at our Open Homestead Day

On June 2 we held our first Open Homestead Day. We had some big goals for organizing ahead of time that we mostly met. We so enjoyed showing people around and reflecting on our decade here and future plans. It was especially gratifying to have some friends come who hadn’t been here for awhile and could remind us of how much had changed. It’s hard to notice progress happening over years without such a reality check.

Off-farm

Since most people don’t live by an agricultural calendar at the moment, plenty of activities continue as summer arrives (not schools or the NH Legislature, which still follow a farming schedule!). I did spend time off-farm even though I limited my commitments. I was glad to make it to a few NH Peace Action events, our True Tales Live storytelling workshop and performance, and even to the SoBo Story Slam at The Sarah Orne Jewett House in Maine. I told my Bee Moving story there, and met another serious organic gardener, Mort Mather, whose book, Gardening for Independence, I am now greatly enjoying.

We also went strawberry picking at East Wind Farm since we don’t grow enough here for our appetites. They have amazing organic berries. I’ve put 5 gallon bags into the freezer, which I’ll process into preserves and jelly when the cooler weather arrives this fall.

June’s Harvest

We brought in 155 chicken eggs, 70 duck eggs, and 11.1 gallons of milk.

Red Currants Ripening

From the garden we brought in: 5 heads of lettuce, 7 pounds of rhubarb, 95 garlic scapes, 10 radishes, 1 pound of kale & collard leaves. Plus, “handfuls” of: oregano, garlic chives, chives, sorrel, mint, peas, honeyberries, strawberries, red currants and blueberries.

From previous years, the garlic ran out this month – just in time to start eating the garlic scapes. Still remaining: honey, canned peaches, blueberries and strawberry jelly, dried kale and beans, frozen eggplant, pesto, and salsa.

We grew fodder for the animals as well, many kinds, some tossed to them and some we let them pick themselves by using portable electric fencing.

We made 550 kwh from the PV solar panels. You’ll notice this is less than the past couple of months because, despite even more sun, the trees leafing out reduced how much sun reached the panels. It is still more than we used, so our “carry forward” account with the power company is growing.

I am also moved to put in the harvest column: beauty and rewarding work!

Looking Ahead

Pea Flower

There is plenty on my to-do list coming up. Here’s a sampling: hill potatoes, train beans and grapes, more sheet mulching, trim overgrowing trees, repair shed, cut problem weeds before they go to seed, successive plantings of root crops and beans, and learning to make frozen yogurt or ice cream/milk. And, soon, harvesting and food preservation will take much of my time, I hope! I can already see peas, beans and more berries forming.

July’s weather forecast is predicting seasonably hot and humid conditions coming up, which will slow down the heavier work. Thus, there will be some time to catch up on email, reading, and writing.

I’ll close this entry with a quote that speaks to this time of year for me: “The earth loves us back in beans and corn and strawberries.” -Robin Wall Kimmerer

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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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