Category Archives: Goats

Another Busy Busy Season

I may have planted too many beans this year!

During growing and harvest time, its easy for me to feel overwhelmed. I have systems and plans and projects that are bursting with life as I’d hoped – but not always going quite as I had planned. Control is elusive… ok, impossible. I suppose the whole experience is a good lesson in how much control is an illusion (or delusion) of the human mind. At the same time, to have any success as a farmer/gardener is to be organized and proactive about taking care appropriately and with good timing.

It feels like a contradiction: I should not try to control life, but I can’t lose control. That edge is really uncomfortable. But, I have been trying to be more accepting of contradiction after hearing author John O’Donohue’s opinion of it: “We should allow the different sides of what is contradictory inside of us to come close and meet each other. There is a secret life in contradiction… it’s always a place of fecund energy. And where there’s energy, there’s life. The force of energy within your own contradictions can actually bring you to a new level of growth and possibility.”  Permaculture principle 11 does ask us to Use Edges and Value the Marginal for that same reason: “The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.”

Goats love to climb – it’s just who they are!

As I think about it, the goats are good at teaching me the difference between control and appropriate action. First of all, accepting that our land was not suited for the Jersey cow I had dreamed of was a way of listening to reality rather than imposing my will. Then, we heard so many distressing stories about the bad behavior of goats when we first started keeping them. Everyone wanted to tell us about how they escape, eat your garden or poisonous plants that kill them, violently butt people, scream all day, etc. We did have a few escape incidents early on.  But we studied goat behavior, talked to others, and through trial and error we created systems that properly channeled their normal goat tendencies in ways that help rather than hurt them and our homestead. It was a practice of observe, interact, accept feedback, self-regulate and respond to change (more permaculture principles). We learned how to channel the flow instead of fight against it.

So… what has kept us busy this year?

Our spring planting season was manageable, although we did have an extensive tree order arrive during April. At least it was raining back then.

It was when the drought settled in that we began to struggle to keep up.

Serious rain collection for a changing climate

That started in mid-June, adding daily (sometimes 2x a day) watering to our list of tasks. In what we used to think of as a “normal” year, we did almost no watering after plants were established in the spring. In the new climate of droughts here in New England, this becomes a necessity. We were grateful to have installed a robust rainwater collection system last year, able to hold over 1,000 gallons. We got towards the bottom of the supply a few times, but it rained enough to have continuous use of them through the summer.

Harvest time!

Being able to keep up with watering did lead to a prolific harvest for most of our crops. I had an especially good season for summer squash, snap beans, cucumbers, leeks and basil. Nearly every day I put something up for winter, which led to my next round of excess activity. I dehydrated peaches, apples, pears, grapes (raisins), kale,

Peaches! Not as many but super sweet in the drought.

summer squash, and winecap mushrooms. I froze beans, eggplant, summer squash, cheese, and pesto. I canned peaches and froze a lot of other smaller fruit that I will can now that it’s not so hot: strawberries, blueberries, grapes, currants, and elderberries.

 

As autumn settles in we fill our cold storage – garlic actually comes in earlier, then apples and pears, with the winter squash curing in the greenhouse first, and the roots are packed up for the root cellar.

Rotational Goat Grazing

There is always animal care to be on top of. Happily, that went smoothly for the most part. The goats had a good birthing season and our rotational grazing system is working well. I kept up with the heavy summer milk production by making (and freezing) mozzarella along with my usual yogurt and soft cheese. We had solid planned poultry hatches, and a surprise batch of 14 that one of our hens orchestrated out in the field without our noticing. We are now in poultry harvest and processing season, which is a lot of work, physically and emotionally. I took the year off from the bees which did free up some time for me.

The well-mulched annual garden needs very little weeding

There was weeding to do in the orchard and pasture areas, which is not a job I love and is always needed at the hottest time of year. Our annual garden system with my heavy mulching needs almost no weeding and that’s how I like it. But in other larger areas I am encouraging a mix of plants, mostly groundcovers or animal forage and still need to be on top of pulling out the plants that I don’t want there.

It’s really not until mid-October that I notice the pace slowing – and have time to start catching up on writing, reading and rest!

This year I had the added complication of deciding to continue extra off-farm work. Most years I suspend a lot of activities – True Tales Live takes a summer break, my drumming classes stop, Seacoast Permaculture offerings slow down, and I step back from activist work. However, this season I felt called to stay more connected to my work with NH Peace Action and the Friends Committee on National Legislation as it was an important moment in the struggle to end US involvement in the Yemen War – a war causing a terrible famine. So, I’m a little more behind than usual, but I am glad I did it. Underpinning all of our work here is the desire for a more peaceful and just world, and growing a little less of our own food to help others get any food at all was the right choice.

Packing carrots for the root cellar

Long Pie winter squash curing. We eat year-round from our garden with long-lasting crops and food preservation.

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Filed under Food Preservation, Gardens, Goats, Permaculture principles, Uncategorized

Springing Back

My favorite spring flower!

News and global issues are impossible not to stress about right now. Many of us are taking action for change, which I see as the best antidote to despair (as Joan Baez said). However, as is always the case, grief and joy exist side by side in the world and in our lives. So, I thought taking time here to marvel at the turning of the year to Spring and the reemergence or start of new life would be worthwhile.

One of my winter reads was Sproutlands: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees by William Bryant Logan. It’s a beautiful book that teaches about the skills of coppicing and pollarding and other ancient tree management techniques while celebrating the people and cultures who live or lived in such a sustainable, symbiotic relationship with forests.

A Pollarded Red Maple Tree

In it I learned that May is “the time when the coppice springs.” Here is a condensed version of the beginning of his chapter The Spring: New-cut coppice springs. After you cut to the ground, the wood jumps back into the sky. A coppice wood cut down in winter comes up in the season of flowers. Springtime, the name by which every English speaker calls the May, means exactly that: the time when the coppice springs.

Here is some of what has been springing to life for us…

Plants, especially perennials, showing us how well they weathered another winter.

Rhubarb Rising

Asparagus Emerges

Garlic, planted last fall

Blossoms setting us up for lots of summer fruit.

A Lars Anderson Peach Tree in full bloom

Pear Flowers

Juneberry Flowers

 

 

  

 

 

Three baby goats from two successful births, leading now to plenty of milk for yogurt and cheese.

Lily with her two kids and Georgia’s kid (Lily’s grandson), too!

Nice green pasture to rotate for the goats to eat – grass into milk.

New pasture, just opened to the goats in our rotational grazing system

Lots of amazing eggs, bright orange from fresh spring forage.

Duck Eggs

Of course, the wheel will keep on turning and there will be endings and deaths, which are a lot harder for me to write about even though they are just as sacred and worth holding close. Maybe I’ll speak to that one of these Falls.

Meanwhile, happy season of growth and fertility! Let us remember to be grateful for living in a world that gives us so much. May we emulate the persistence and resilience of the trees springing back after a hard winter or an intense pruning.

Crocus, our earliest flower

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Filed under Gardens, Goats, Interdependence, Uncategorized, Weather

2021 On the Homestead

Our Best Peach Year So Far

As 2021 ends, I’m taking a moment to reflect and share about our year – to “observe and interact” as we permaculturists say.

Globally, it was another tumultuous and historic year. While the scary moments are what tend to be reported on, there were positive developments as well. I believe in facing problems in order to deal with them, but more and more I see the value in noting progress made, too, as it inspires me to continue working hard in the world and on the homestead (which is in the world, of course!).

Locally, in our homesteading adventures it was a solid year of growing for plants and animals here, details coming up. For consistency and building knowledge, I will comment on the same subjects as in previous year-end reviews, plus add new developments.

Starting Seedlings

I continue to have great results using the peat-free seed starting mix from Organic Mechanics. I mixed in some of our worm castings as well, so I have to buy less of the bagged product and to help with feeding the baby plants. I have also improved my ability to let go of old seed packets so, indoor or outdoors, my seeds are coming up more reliably.

One of our new “rain barrels”

Water / Weather

The 2020 drought continued through spring 2021, finally breaking in July. The rain was a welcome relief and great help, decreasing our work load and helping our plants thrive. Not all crops bounced back from the spring drought, though. We did get a much bigger water catchment system installed, with four 275 gallon totes. The rain water is also better for the animals to drink (especially goats), whether we are having a water shortage or not.

Rodents, Pests and Diseases

Sunflower Before Chipmunks

Rodents were back in force this year. Specifically, we had voles who took more than their fair share of our root crops – carrots, beets, parsnips and potatoes. There were also extra chipmunks eating in the garden (they loved the sunflowers, climbing up the big stalks to hang off the flower heads), and mice or rats going after the poultry feed. Two mild winters in a row and two oak mast years may have created a population boom. Likely there will be a rise in rodent-eaters to help balance this out. 2021 was not a mast year, so fewer acorns should curb populations, too. That’s the normal, healthy cycle at work!

We didn’t have many other pest or disease issues. There were squash bugs, potato beetles, cabbage worms… but not enough to take down yields significantly. I expect as the drought eased the plants were able to keep up their defenses to coexist with these other organisms.

Labor

Every year my belief in community land management grows as I experience how the individual, private property systems are so hard to manage and so much less fun. I miss the days of working on a farm crew that talked, laughed, and helped each other as we accomplished so much. But, as we figure out how to move back towards more commons-based living with land trusts, cooperatives and more, and while a pandemic limits group activities, we keep at it here, sometimes tiring myself out in the growing season. I have gotten smarter about what to focus on and what to let go, but in a good year, there is a lot of harvest to process.

On this issue, the pandemic has been a teacher. I now see that I was doing too much off-farm work in harvest season. Being able to attend meetings and offer classes on Zoom, thus eliminating all the driving around, is a great help.

Animals: Bees

As I had feared, I did lose many hives over the winter. I’m sure there are various reasons, but I continue to see a pattern of heavy losses in drought years. I did keep a couple hives going that look strong and healthy and I hope will live through this winter and get back to making us some honey.

Animals: Goats & Pasture

Diana with her Mom, Luna

We had a great year with the goats. After Honey’s difficult birth in spring 2020, I worried as our three bred does approached their due dates. Happily, all three kidded with twins when expected with no problems. Phew! We are keeping one of the doelings for our herd: Diana, daughter of Luna who is proving to be an exceptional animal with a calm personality, excellent health, easy breeding and birthing, and strong milk production.

This year we got more serious about rotational grazing. As we have removed trees to open up our land to more sun, we have grasses springing up creating actual pasture that needs management for the health of the plants and animals. Our electric fencing was in full use finally, and we saw serious improvement in keeping the pasture plants alive and covering the soil. This was especially important with the torrential rain storms we had, which caused erosion problems in any ground not protected, highlighting the benefits of perennial plantings, and appropriate animal management. This is a huge topic I plan to say more about in a future post.

Animals: Poultry

The New Rooster

We had a slow start to our chicken flock expansion in the spring as our rooster was getting older and less fertile. Between other local chicken keepers and an order to a hatchery (something we try to avoid) we were able to raise new stock, including a new rooster.

A friend of ours had amazing results incubating some of our Indian Runner duck eggs (15 out of 16 hatched!) and we welcomed back two girls to take the place of a couple older females. I am more seriously managing the duck breeding with two males here, so I will be able to keep this flock going with less in-breeding or need for outside animal genetics for quite awhile.

Harvest totals

Here’s what we recorded (note that this is what came into the house to be weighed, so misses what we directly fed to the animals or what Steve ate in the field), with some comments:

One bed of Leeks

Alliums – garlic – 35.25 pounds(#) (173 heads); garlic tops – 150; leeks – 41.75# (and more leeks still in the ground for winter harvesting), perennial onions – 10#

Beans & Peas – 45# snap beans; 12.5# dry beans; sugar snap peas – 7#

Brassicas – broccoli – 8#; brussels sprouts – 17#; kale/collard – 18# (there are at least 10# of brussels sprouts still outside for us to pick)

Popcorn, drying in the living room

Corn, popcorn – 7#

Cucumber – 30.73# (many, maybe more, went straight to the animals – the chickens LOVE overgrown cukes!)

Eggplant – 17.5#

Greens – lettuce – 7.75#; nettles – 3#

Herbs – basil – 6#; dill – 1# (it was an excellent basil

Wine Cap mushroom (Stropharia rugosoannulata)

year)

Mushrooms, winecap5.75#

Potatoes – 129# (which broke down to 6# per 1# planted – it would have been much better if the voles hadn’t taken so many)

Roots – beets – 21.5#; carrots – 20#; parsnips – 14#; radishes – 87 (the carrots were especially decimated by voles, and parsnip seed germination was poor)

Squash – summer – 36.25#; winter – 712# (butternut, delicata, long pie and Seminole)

Tomato – 42#

Fruit: crabapples – 10#; currants – 6.5#; elderberry – 1.75#; grapes – 18#; honeyberry – 1#; mulberry – 1#; peaches – 347.5# (from 4 trees); rhubarb – 27#; strawberry – 2#; 100s of # of gleaned apples which we didn’t weigh

We brought in 104 gallons of goat milk and 117# goat meat.

Our poultry harvest came to: 1,549 (129 dozen) chicken eggs from 12 hens; 840 (70 dozen) duck eggs from 7 ducks; chicken meat – 74#; duck meat – 15#

Food Preserving

Dehydrated Foods

Some of the food we ate when it was ready, but preserving for the off-season is important to me. Here’s a summary of what I put up:

Canned: 87.5 quarts peaches, 7 pints pickled beets, 21 pints of strawberries & 12 pints strawberry jelly from berries picked at East Wind Farm

Dried: 7 gallon bags kale/collards, 2 pounds nettles, 1 pound wine cap mushrooms, 1 pound raisins, 1 pound tomatoes

Refrigerated: 10 quarts lactofermented cucumber pickles

Frozen: 5 pints peach juice, 5 pints tomatoes, 10 pounds of snap beans, 10 pounds of eggplant, 12 pints basil/garlic pesto, 8 gallon bags of other fruits I will pull out of the freezer to can soon, 10 pints chevre cheese, a few pounds of mozzarella cheese and most of the meat.

Butternuts spend a couple weeks in a warm place before coming in to our house

Also, there are many crops we are storing that didn’t need to be preserved exactly, just handled and stored properly: garlic, potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, winter squash and apples.

Looking Ahead

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but I do make plans. Given the high demand the past couple years, I have already put in my seed and tree orders, a commitment to next year’s gardens.

We have a new area where we have worked on soil improvement for a few years which I will plant this spring when my Fedco order comes in: fruit trees & bushes, perennial veggies like asparagus, and grapes.

In an effort to bring down the vole numbers I am going to try planting fewer root crops and moving them completely out of my annual garden up to the orchard area by the house. I hope they will have trouble finding them and that our huntress cat will have a better chance of catching them closer to her regular patrol area.

The bell on her collar protects birds from becoming her prey so she focuses on rodents

I plan to keep writing, too, a challenging task for me to find time for, but staying connected to folks beyond our borders is important. Many thanks to you for being one of those people!

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Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Food Preservation, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Permaculture principles, Poultry, Soil, Uncategorized, Weather