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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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February at Living Land

Juniper is Shedding – see her horn tips!

Another winter month on our homestead has passed. It was unusually warm for February, with more rain than snow falling, leading to a mini-mud season, shedding goats and flying bees (video of the bees: Bees Flying – February Thaw 2018). But the days were still short, it’s not spring yet.

Our Work in February

Taking care of livestock happens every day, in every season. Feeding, watering, keeping their bedding fresh, watching out for health problems. Without much snow, the animals had a larger area, venturing out into farther yards. There isn’t much for them to eat out there, but I like it when they can get out and not spend so much time in one area, standing in their own poop.

Making Our Own Sea Salt

I have a new project that I am loving – making our own sea salt! When we collected seaweed for the animals recently, we also filled some buckets with water. I ran the water through a strainer to remove bits of seaweed and sand, then put that water in an open baking dish on our wood stove. Evaporating two gallons per batch, I’ve been thrilled at how much beautiful salt we are ending up with! Doing this on the wood stove means that I am not using any extra energy, and we are getting a humidity benefit as well – stacking functions!

I had a surprise task of honey harvesting this month. After bringing in the dead hives I found last month, I found more honey than I needed to get bees started in the spring. I decided to do an extraction now before the honey started to crystallize, which makes in harder to extract. It’s a sticky job, but so satisfying!

At the end of the month I started my first seeds indoors. Leeks and onions need to get going this early in our area if starting from seed. My onions have been disappointing in recent years, but my leeks have been fabulous, so I am focusing on them this year. I chose the variety Lincoln and have a flat of 100 seeded, hopefully germinating any day now.

I’ve been able to attend great films and workshops through our local permaculture group, exploring a range of topics including: complementary currencies, urine diversion to farmland, and social permaculture. I’m also trying to set up our calendar of events through the summer so I won’t have to do so during the growing season.

Honey (orange) and Lily (white)

I’m taking an online class about natural goatkeeping and kidding from Deborah Niemann, in preparation for our own kidding season. We have one pregnant doe, Lily, my favorite goat, who is due in mid-May!

My reading list is no where near done, but I have sent a lot of postcards to my representatives on many different issues.

Our Harvest in February

Egglaying really kicked in this month, with 156 chicken eggs and 34 duck eggs collected. Even with so little forage, the duck egg yolks are a deep orange.

Close up of curious Lily goat

Milk continues to just trickle in. After 2 1/2 years in milk, Lily was “dried off” because of her pregnancy. She really led the process. Before initiating the dry off myself, her supply just dropped off to almost nothing over a couple of weeks. Her body knew what to do! We did get 5 gallons this month, enough to keep making yogurt, which is the most important dairy product to me.

My salt making yielded 2 cups of salt in February. It’s delicious – extra strong salt taste for some reason. It should last even longer because we won’t need to use as much of it.

The winter honey extraction yielded 20 pounds.

Steve ate about a dozen lemons from his little potted tree in the living room.

We continued to eat from last year’s preserved harvest. We saw the end of our parsnips, dehydrated beans and grapes. All other supplies are holding out.

Our wood supply remains abundant, and our solar panel gain grows with the sun. In fact, I took some notes so I can tell you that we made 217 kwh of electricity this month. March should be much better.

We also started capturing another resource on the farm: our urine. I know, I know – ick, you probably say. But, let’s get past that and look at some information. We had an amazing presentation by Dave Cedarholm, the founder of Pee Local in NH based on the work of The Rich Earth Institute. We learned about the terrible effects of excess nitrogen running into Great Bay, a significant percentage of it from human urine. Wastewater treatment plants are undergoing expensive upgrades to try to remove the nitrogen, and typical home septic systems do nothing to remove it. However, if it is captured by itself rather than mixed with other waste, it is a safe, effective and cheap fertilizer. Applied to growing plants and active soil, it is happily and appropriately used.

Supplies for setting up our home urine diversion program

This is a perfect example of our permaculture tenet to Turn Problems Into Solutions as well as Principles 5 (Use and Value Renewable Resources) and 6 (Produce No Waste)!

So, we are collecting and storing our urine for use during the growing season. Steve is learning to make “sitz-pees” that make it easy for women to do so, since we don’t yet have commercially made urine diverting toilets available in the US. I can tell you that it felt weird to use for about 3 days, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. I feel bad when I have to use the bathroom away from home to be wasting this resource!

February is behind us and coming up in March, I will start many more seeds, prune our trees, bushes, grapes and brambles, keep making salt, and we’ll see what else comes up!

Goats returning to the barn after foraging

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