Category Archives: Weather

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

Leave a Comment

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

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!

2 Comments

Filed under Ducks, Gardens, Uncategorized, Weather

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Poultry, Soil, Uncategorized, Weather