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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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September At Living Land

The Garden in September

Early September continued to feel like July here in NH, which kept us busy picking produce, especially beans and squash. When the temperatures finally dropped, I was both relieved and sad. On the one hand – enough of picking beans! On the other – I miss all those beans!

The month brought plenty of rain, with NH almost entirely drought-free by mid-month. Ideally, we would have seen more of the sun and fewer storm clouds, but given the floods elsewhere, I won’t complain too much.

By the end of September, there was still no frost. I guess that’s our new normal. It allows for a little longer growing season, although with the daylight waning we don’t get as much out of an extra month of growth as one might expect.

Our Work in September

September is another busy month, with harvests coming in, and some of my off-farm activities picking back up. Finding time to sit down and write this was certainly challenging!

Plants

Beans Climbing

Bringing in the harvest was on the top of this month’s list. Some plants were continuing to produce, like string beans, kale, celery and summer squash, while others ripened up this month, especially the winter squash. As they came in, many needed attention to preserve: freezing, lactofermenting and drying, plus making room for curing then storing the winter squash. We made pesto for the freezer and started hanging bags of beans up to finish drying. I have become fascinated with the great variety of dry beans that I can grow myself. I especially love the climbing varieties, which are so much easier on my back when it comes to picking!

We dug the rest of the potatoes mid-month. We ended up with disappointing numbers due to the extreme rodent pressure this year.  I averaged 4 or 5 pounds yield for every pound I planted – in the past I’ve seen up to a 15 to 1 return.  So, I am changing my potato planting strategy. The past few years I have planted very late – May 23 this year – in order to avoid the Colorado potato bugs. It has worked great at thwarting the bugs, but it has meant that we hit drier times when the plants are trying to get established, then the late summer rodent explosion comes along before they are ready. The plants look beautiful, but I don’t get as high a yield. Next year, I will plant early again, and see how that goes.

Leeks, Almost Ready – green tops loved by goats!

Going into winter, I do only minimal “cleaning up” of my gardens. I want as much plant material to stay put as possible, to add to the soil and to overwinter microbes. I do take out plants that are going by, but would still be enjoyed by goats! Such as: kale or collard leaves that are too chewed up by worms for my taste, broccoli and cauliflower leaves, and bean plants that aren’t producing fruit anymore. I cut rather than pull them out – the roots stay there to feed the soil. Some of the cover crops I also cut back to share with the animals while leaving all the roots. The goats love oatstraw and this year were very excited about the millet stalks.

I did a little more planting of radishes and greens. I want to do more later season planting in upcoming years, but haven’t gotten the timing figured out. I plan to make up a more extensive planting schedule over the winter that will help me remember at the right time next year.

Animals

Dominique Pullets

The animals have grown up by now, at least into teenagers – no more babies! We had one day of poultry processing for the oldest boys, before they got too rough with each other.

This is an otherwise easy, happy time for the critters, who still have plenty of forage of plants and insects, and love the cooler temperatures. We top off food and water, open and close gates, move fences and carry some forage to them, milk the goats twice a day and collect eggs.

I did a thorough hive inspection early in the month, determining that the hives looked healthy and large enough to overwinter with great queens, but didn’t have enough honey. They were making progress with storing some, thanks to the Japanese Knotweed bloom, but I fed them to make sure they’d have enough. Altogether, from late August to the end of September, each hive got about 20# of sugar made into a syrup. I won’t be going back in, because they were already touchy at the last inspection. I don’t want to risk inciting robbing and fighting between my hives, after all this work!

Curing Winter Squash

September’s Harvest

We brought in a lot of produce this month, which I’ll try to present in a readable format:

Summer Squash: 23.5# yellow summer squash, 10.25# zucchini

Other hot weather crops: 16.75# tomatoes, 5# basil, 2.75# eggplant, 11.25# cucumbers, , 51# string beans

Brassicas: 3.75# kale & collards, 1# brussel sprouts, 4.75# broccoli

Root crops: 5.5# carrots, 4# beets, 1# parsnips, 16 radishes, 40# potatoes (not really a root, but close enough)

Winter Squash: 145.5# long pie pumpkin, 41.25# delicata, 247# butternut, 10# pumpkin, 20# Boston marrow

Plus: 1# celery, 3 leeks, 1.5# grapes and 8 large sunflower heads

I know I saw raspberries as well, but they didn’t make it to the kitchen for weighing. I also started bringing in the drying beans, but those I don’t measure until I shell them, which will happen gradually over the fall.

I brought home from local sources 10 5-gallon buckets of gleaned apples for the goats, and 25 5-gallon buckets of seaweed for the animals and gardens.

From the animals we received 204 chicken eggs, 67 duck eggs, 10.5 gallons of milk, and about 15# of meat.

We made 485 kwh from the PV solar panels.

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

Seminole Squash Vines (see the blue of my shirt in the jungle?)

Looking Ahead

More harvesting, hopefully! I have barely touched the root crops which look promising, if the rodents don’t get them first. More dried beans will be ready soon. The Seminole squash vines continue to thrive and be impossible to see or wade through to determine if there are actually fruit ripening, so that mystery continues. We also expect 3 or 4 more days of poultry processing. I’ll plant my garlic mid to late October. That’s a task that has moved much later than when I first started gardening due to our warmer falls and later frost. Oh – and stacking wood is coming up!

We’ll also continue off-farm gathering – apple drops, seaweed, and, soon, bags of leaves packed up for us from city-dwellers. Another active month expected!

No September Frost Means Morning Glories Still Bloom

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August At Living Land

August brought us mostly July weather, kicking our plants into high production, but slowing us down. Hot, sticky, uncomfortable – I’d still take it over an ice storm any day! Regular, sometimes torrential, rains brought us out of the latest drought completely. Amazing plant growth, the song of crickets and cicadas, and the crowing of a few too many roosters marked the month for me.

Our Work in August

August can be overwhelming with so much to do. It usually coincides with milder weather which helps, but not this time. We just can’t move as fast when it’s 90F and humid. But, we kept on, and a lot did get done, with harvesting and food preservation taking center stage.

Plants

The Garden In August

Upkeep continued in the gardens. Tasks like trimming tomato suckers, thinning root veggies, keeping the beans on the trellises, and redirecting winter squash creeping over other crops. Planting for fall harvests of greens, radishes, and beans plus more cover crops.

And, picking! Here in our gardens, beans, summer and winter squash have been coming in strong, along with cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, radishes, greens and more. I’ll give you exact numbers in the harvest section coming up.

Canning Peaches

The big question is always how to stretch this bounty into the colder months. Some crops store well with simple methods, others need more investment. The kitchen and I were occupied often with freezing, lacto-fermenting (using our own salt this year!), dehydrating, and canning. The weather made those last two harder and I put off what I could for when the heat subsides.

Dragonfly Eating a Cabbageworm Moth

A few pest problems did catch up with us in August: imported cabbageworms and rodents. This year I didn’t cover my brassica crops to guard against the moths. It was partly out of curiosity… and I did discover that the worms really proliferate later in the season. They definitely preferred some plants (collards) and areas (too shady) over others, which I’m noting and thinking on for future planning. Next year, I will add row cover again for a break from picking them off, which does get tedious. The rodents are harder to address. To some extent there are larger cycles that I don’t control that make for better and worse years. There have even been articles about this year’s

So Many Squirrels!

squirrel population explosion and resulting problems on roads. Our cats help with their hunting, but squirrels are too much for them. I see how those little terrier dogs can be valuable, but we’ll stick with cats for now.

We continued with weed management in the fields, particularly keeping an eye on wild lettuce and thistle from which one flower can yield tens if not hundreds of plants.

Animals

We had regular upkeep and tending of our critters, especially keeping their water access constant in the heat. Hay came in mid-month. We don’t make our own, but get it locally. It was a big job just to pick up and unload the two hundred bales we could cram into our various outbuildings. All our reorganizing paid off by allowing us to store that much – about 50 more than we’d thought we could fit. What a relief it is to have a good crop put up for the coming year!

The bees aren’t having a great year. There seems to be a nectar shortage, noted by many beekeepers in the Seacoast. I have great new queens and busy bees, but without more food access they are limited in raising brood and are not able to store for the winter. They were also exhibiting robbing behavior when I inspected, which again pointed to not enough food. Mid-month I decided to start feeding them sugar syrup. I just didn’t feel I could count on a great fall flow to make up for the poor season. The good news is that the last time I opened them up, I could distinctly smell Japanese knotweed nectar. I know that knotweed is a plant that causes some problems and I promise I haven’t planted it, but I have to be honest: it is a huge boon to the bees. Good or bad, black or white, one or the other are dichotomies that don’t hold up that well in nature. Life is complicated!

I guess I am grateful that I didn’t try to grow my apiary this year. A few years ago I was trying an expansion project when we got hit with that intense drought and I ended up buying more sugar for those dozen colonies than I had over all my previous years of beekeeping combined.

Our Animals Deserve a Good Life

A difficult task this month was harvesting the young boy goat. For those of us who didn’t learn that skill when we were young, it is a tough part of farming to get used to and honestly makes me wonder if I can keep doing it some years. But then I see a film like “Eating Animals” which Seacoast Permaculture partnered with The Music Hall to show in late August. It looked at the cruelty and negative environmental and human health impacts inherent in modern, industrial animal keeping for meat, eggs and dairy. Truly, deeply upsetting. Death is the kindest thing that happens to these creatures. I think only people who care about animals and find it hard to take their lives should raise them, and this strengthens my resolve to keep at it. It’s a good reminder as we move into our season for harvest of meat, and probably a good topic to write about more often.

August’s Harvest

Elderberries

Here’s what I brought in from the gardens this month: 79.25# yellow summer squash, 12.75# zucchini, 47# string beans, 16# cucumbers, 6.75# kale & collards, 75 radishes, .75# celery, 1# broccoli, 9.25# tomatoes, 5# basil, 2 leeks, 2 carrots, 190# long pie pumpkins, 1# delicata winter squash, 22# peaches, 1.75# elderberries, and 5# clove currants. There were also grapes and raspberries, but they didn’t make it as far as the kitchen for weighing!

Our Own Peaches!

I brought home from local sources 23# of blueberries, 11 5-gallon buckets of gleaned apples (wild in public places) for the goats (I got tired of weighing them so started measuring them by bucketload), and enough peaches to can about 50 quarts.

From the animals we received 181 chicken eggs, 105 duck eggs, 10.9 gallons of milk, and 16# of meat.

We only made 421 kwh from the PV solar panels because there was a problem with our inverter resulting in the system being off for a week. There were a lot of cloudy days as well. Even though the days are getting noticeably shorter now, I think September will still be a better month.

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

Looking Ahead

Pinto Bean Plants Flourishing

Given the current forecast for an abnormally hot month, I expect to bring in a lot of produce and be working to preserve it. We have tremendous winter squash vines that I hope will set a lot of fruit – it’s hard to tell under the dense foliage – and the tallest sunflowers I have ever grown. I expect I’ll have to compete with the squirrels for those. When it gets cooler I can get back to canning and we can work on harvesting meat.

It’s also time to start paying more attention to larger world issues with elections and other excitement coming up… so, yes, I expect it to be busy but I still plan to enjoy the warmth and the sun and the sounds of summer all month long.

Monarch In The Garden

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