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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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March At Living Land

Here at the end of March it is starting to feel like spring, but most of the month was unmistakably winter, with four nor-easters hitting us over the course of the month. Although we didn’t love moving all that heavy snow or having the animals more confined, at least this puts us near the normal range for precipitation this year – no drought yet in 2018!

Garlic Emerging in Spring

Signs of spring include: songbirds returning (a flock of bluebirds and another of goldfinches frequent our yard), buds swelling on the trees, perennials greening, and spring bulbs, including garlic, emerging.

Our Work in March

Indoor work continued this month, feeding the fire while starting seeds and making salt. We also stack other functions with the wood stove such as drying all our laundry next to it and doing cooking and water heating on it.

Kale Seedlings

I started leeks, kale, collards, brussel sprouts, lettuce, and eggplant. Germination seemed slow at first, but is finally taking off.

March is the best time for pruning many of our fruit trees and bushes. Before all the storms we got much of it done, getting back to it after the significant melting wrapping up March. Pruning has been very intimidating to us. It feels like one wrong cut and that could be the end of the plant we already invested years into! And with such a diversity of plants here we have to learn how to approach each one. That includes: peach, nectarine, pear, persimmons, mulberries, blueberries, honeyberries, currants, gooseberries, clove currants, jostaberries, hardy kiwis, nanking cherries, sand cherries, beach plums, goumi, raspberries, and grapes. We re-read Lee Reich‘s The Pruning Book, watched a few videos, and got out there. Steve is feeling more confident about the trees, and I seem to be understanding the bushes and cane

Grapes in Need of Pruning

fruits well. The grapes continue to confuse us. They just never seem to look like they do in the books once we get out there! I expect that the more we do this and watch the results the more we’ll gain understanding and confidence.

The winter can be hard on our fencing, with snow load causing collapses, branches falling and animal incursions. Steve had repairs to do, then another line of fencing to add for another goat pasture. When we started with goats, we never intended to keep bucks. I planned to rent them for the breeding season. Now that we do have our own boys, we needed an appropriate area for them. The new barn has a stall for them and there is now a large, well-fenced area for their yard that shares no fence line with the females. We don’t have a rotation system for them in place yet, but we can add that. Their pasture is actually a young woody, brushy area with very little grass which means it will be slow to cause a build up of parasites for them.

Off-farm I spent time connecting with people in meaningful ways, on issues that matter to me. This felt especially important since my March reading included The Village Effect by Susan Pinker. It presents fascinating research and stories about how crucial and healthy it is for people to come together. I led a Spring Equinox circle dance, a performance of my frame drumming group, and an extra storytelling workshop focusing on immigration. I was happy to teach about soil building to an enthusiastic group at the NOFA-NH Winter Conference and hear other great speakers and teachers, such as Dr. Daphne Miller. I put in extra time with NH Peace Action and Seacoast Permaculture as well.

Harvest

Check out that deep orange egg yolk from our ducks!

We continue to get the most from our animals rather than plants at this time of year. We brought in 241 chicken eggs, 119 duck eggs, and 5.2 gallons of milk. It’s a high production time for the poultry, but a low season for milk. Usually we breed for kids in April, but Lily’s due date is in May this year.

Unexpected Parsnips

When we prepped the green house for planting, we discovered a crop of parsnips! These had seeded themselves last year and didn’t seem to be growing many greens, however they made these nice roots for us. I think we’ll try that on purpose this summer into fall.

Our shelves are getting barer. We finished the winter squash and carrots. We have enough potatoes left for one more good meal. We only have a few more birds in the freezer. Canned fruit and jam remains, as does dried beans, dehydrated kale, and popcorn.

Putting Up Salt

The salt making has been a lot of fun. I have about 3 quarts, plenty for daily use and lacto-fermenting. It inspired me to start reading Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A World History, which I’m enjoying.

Goats Sunning Themselves

March is a great month for solar gain. The sun has moved higher and stays up longer, and the trees haven’t leafed out yet. We made 435 kwh from our PV solar panels and had quite a few cold but sunny days when we didn’t need to start the wood stove until after dark.  The animals gain some heat, too!

Losses

We also have a loss to report this month… our duck flock shrunk from 9 to 8. One of the girls just disappeared. We searched, but the ducks cover a very large area so we definitely could have missed a dead one. We suspect, though, that a raptor took her. We’ve been on the lookout for other predators or issues but haven’t seen any. As long as it’s not a pattern that will decimate the flock we are willing to humbly accept small tithes to the other creatures who also have a right to live here. Still – I do love the ducks and was sad to lose one and really worried about those left. We could confine the ducks more for better control and safety, but we get so much more out of them this way for now, we’ll take the risk and let the ducks be ducks (as Joel Salatin might say).

Coming up in April

We’ll start many more seedlings, and even plant outdoors. Egg incubation is planned, including some under an already broody hen. My new packages of bees are due to arrive April 8.  I’ll be hoping to wrap up some indoor work, including getting most of Seacoast Permaculture’s events through the fall scheduled. As weather permits, we’ll be outside more and more, hoping that our winter work set us up well for a productive season.

A Broody Hen

 

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