With some help from friends this weekend we put the cover on one greenhouse so we could get started on the garden. If you’ve put on greenhouse plastic before, you know it takes many hands and NO WIND. Hitting the sweet spot of dry weather and no wind can be like playing the lottery.
Today I got some seeding done although adding a pup into the mix is like having a toddler around, with teeth. We’ve started calling Grady “the Grady Badger” since he’s somewhat like the Honey Badger. Luckily the big dogs know what is acceptable and what isn’t. It’s okay to scratch the house door to get out, but not the greenhouse door, do not steal plastic pots and try to bury them, don’t chew holes in the potting soil bags … . So much to learn and too much discipline, says Grady.
The dogs love the greenhouse, probably because on many days it’s warm and dry compared to outside.
Lettuce: Little Gem, Parris Island Cos, Thai 88 Oakleaf, Flashy Green Butter Oak, Red Salad Bowl and Simpson Elite.
Cabbage: Tendersweet, Charmant, Ruby Ball and Melissa – all F1.
Kale: Lacinato Morton, Rainbow Lacinato and Red Russian.
Mustards: Joi ChoiF1, Ruby Streaks, Yukina and Yokatta-NaF1.
Herbs: Sage, Greek Oregano, Garlic Chives, Krausa Parsley, Marjoram and a tiny bit of Genovese Basil just to push it.
Not much too exciting in that list, but it sure feels good to be back in the anticipation groove of gardening! Now we just play the waiting game. Waiting for the greenhouse soil to dry enough to work for direct seeding, and for germination of the seeds planted today. It’s official – our 2014 garden is well on the way.
When you can’t stomach one more root vegetable, carrot salad, or potato “something” you resort to folks more resilient and less spoiled.
In this case, I fall back on
dessert comfort food from my Mom. I’ll leave you to this old post from back when this blog was a newbie. The farmstead is still providing the same ingredients these days as it did in the Depression, although I usually have much more butter than lard or suet. The suet was saved for the mincemeat and I have squirreled away the tallow and lard for soap. Dried prunes and butter will act as stand-ins today.
hen we think of seed saving, most of us think of sunny days, and rushing to get the dry seeds harvested before the fall rains set in. Most of the seeds we save here fall into that category, but some of our staples need to pass the tincture of time and perform in the kitchen to become worthy candidates for seed saving. Farmstead seed savers have a luxury that seed sellers don’t. Namely on the farmstead you can select for the characteristics you want in a variety and time is on your side in that regard. It may be taste, cold hardiness, keeping qualities or productivity.
Winter squash is one of our staples. We like it so because it tastes good and stores with no added energy. One of my goals for our winter squash is that it tastes good and stores well. It’s not unusual for me to feed out the previous years winter squash stash just before we bring in the current harvest. Food that stores well for a year is definitely a plus for any homestead. Always plan for abundance in the garden, it’s better to have enough than fall short.
All year-long as I garden I am “seed saving”, planning my garden for seed saving, working in isolation distances, growing varieties that won’t cross, and roguing out plants that don’t fit. Diseased, odd-looking etc., to make sure my seed crop is as pure as I can muster. Once the stores reach the pantry, I began roguing again. With squash, each squash I cut open I save the seeds, making observations about flesh thickness, spoilage, seed number and appearance, and finally the most important is taste. We grow Sweet Meat and they do develop more flavor in storage. I go through the motions of drying down the seeds until the taste test is complete. If it has the taste and texture we like, I continue with the seed drying, labeling with the date I “harvested” the seeds and any other particulars of note. If not, they go in the scrap bucket for the chickens or we roast them and eat them. You never know when you’re going to get that stupendous tasting squash that will blow your socks off. (I really like winter squash…)
Other staple crops that we save seed from fall into the root crop category which are all biennials, meaning they have to grow a second season to bolt and send up a seed stalk. Summer roguing of those crops are important too to remove any undesirable plants you may see. Sometimes though that is how you find new varieties too, so you must pay attention, the plant may be different, but it may be worth keeping. That’s the fun of farmstead plant “breeding.”
If you live in a colder climate than I do, you may need to select your roots for seed saving n the fall and store them in a dormant state until planting time. I have the luxury of leaving mine in the ground, and can add cold hardiness to my selection criteria. We have had two significant freezes this winter, one in December, and one in February. There is a big difference in the what I am finding in the garden now in mid-February. Many roots have succumbed to the cold. Right next to a rotten root I will find solid hardy roots with growing crowns intact. Those are the roots I want to grow on to save seed from as they fit my criteria. They have survived my conditions in good form, and that is an important trait to consider.
Parsnips are a staple here for the milk cow, they are cold hardy, easy to grow and need no extra fussing for cold protection like the other roots we grow. I can dig them all winter as needed, and a big bonus, the voles do not like them. To get enough seed and to ensure good pollination I need to grow two dozen uniform roots out to seed stage. Parsnip seeds lose vigor quickly so this is a yearly task in the garden. Beets, and other roots are also biennial but the seeds keep for many years so I don’ t need to save seed from those vegetables each season.
By saving farmstead seeds with the traits you need and want, you can work resilience into your gardening activities. Seed saving is a worthwhile skill to learn, I do this to continue the thread of gardeners that mentored me and passed on their seeds, and to have at my fingertips, seeds that are acclimated to my microclimate.
Plus it’s fun!
2-12-14 – Amended greenhouse #1 & #2 - lime, dolomite.
2-16-14 Planted Turga parsnips for seed – 25 roots, row # 5.
2-16-14 Weekly root dig:
Red-Cored Chantenay carrot
Blau Gruener leek
Field notes: Napoli carrots about shot after the last freeze, Chanenay holding up well with some damage on the top ½”. Dogs and voles LOVING the Gilfeathers to death, not touching Joan. Cats in season – not hunting!
That about sums up how most winter pasture gets treated. Who cares? Throw out some hay and as long as the cows are fed, what’s the diff? Really, it doesn’t matter as long as you want to keep yourself locked into buying or putting up more hay. A little massaging the pastures in the winter is okay, especially if you have some stockpiled grass to spread out the impact of the cows’ weight. Or if you live where there is a lot of snow cover or the grass is dormant. Again, here’s another post for us who live where it doesn’t freeze very often or if it does, one day of warmer weather kicks the grass into gear. I want to present my view of the pasture and how it appears to me, then the cow’s view which may help you “see” your pastures in a different light. And why the feeding shed with deep bedding is a good tool to add to your grazing operation.
This is how I see the pasture, it looks bleak and nothing like the verdant green we associate with spring and summer around here.
This is how the cow sees it, tender little shoots of grass – to eat. We had temperatures down to 11°F just last week and once the temperature moderated the grass began to grow. I’m sure in some small way letting the cows on the grass could save on the hay bill. But not really, because this is when the grass needs the most “tending” or actually rest. Nipping this grass right now is the quickest way to less, or even very little grass come summer. I have read that you can set your pasture back as much as 30% by grazing too early. It’s hard to measure but that is a sobering thought. Thirty percent Gah! In the Pacific Northwest we have a “drought” every summer, so shepherding the grass right now is a great way to extend the rainy season via stronger grass roots and the resilient sward that is the result of proper pasture rest.
These photos are in the field we did a slow winter feeding rotation consisting of two weeks per paddock during December and January. Roughly twenty head on three acres, for two weeks, move and repeat. There was some stockpiled grass that was eaten and trampled in for carbon, but any longer than two weeks stay during our dormant season would push us in the wrong direction. A side note here too, we don’t really have pugging problems here in our pastures, well-drained soil is a blessing. Pastures downhill of our location aren’t so lucky. This practice is not a good idea if you have any issues with pugging or runoff. Period.
So in a nutshell if you want this:
You may want to do this during the winter:
We moved the cows in just before the last snow storm hit because we knew the grass would begin to grow soon after that. The hazel is blooming, and the day length is increasing rapidly. Time to start the deep bedding to allow for some rest of the pastures.
This is how the shed looks each morning. We add carbon each day and it’s a lot of work. Depending on where you live and what your carbon source is, you may be able to get by with less chores by using a higher carbon product like sawdust or shavings. We use straw so this is a daily chore for us. Once a week we add Azomite or lime too to supercharge the final material.
Besides carbon we add a dog for the “don’t make me get my flying monkeys” effect. This keeps the cows outside while we bed the shed, we’ve tried gates, and various other closures. But the dog works the best and is the least amount of work. Bedding with the cows inside is a nightmare and a good way to get kicked, so out they go so we can work.
Little is just too little to do much more than observe.
After about a week things start to cook, the deep bedding won’t fully compost, but it will reach about 115 degrees or so, and will be stable. It seems after a number of years our compost thermometer is now reading ten degrees colder than the actual temperature. But it’s still serviceable for this use, we just need to know if the bedding is heating up yet. It is!
Thank you for watching the latest episode of “As the Compost Turns.”
The thaw has arrived, and despite the half inch of ice we didn’t have too bad of time. This post will be of no use to folks who live in a colder climate. I assume all you cold winter people have all your water bugs worked out and your ducks in a row. Here in our maritime climate we don’t usually experience much more than a week of freezing now and then during our wet winters. So it’s pretty easy to let your guard down and work yourself into too many water chores. Those four, one hundred foot hoses come in pretty handy as long as it isn’t freezing, when they freeze you’re as good as out of water. This post may be of more use to folks looking for land, or adding animals to an existing homestead. Water availability is pretty important.
There are no foolproof ways to keep water flowing all the time when it freezes, but you can certainly make life easier in a number of ways. I don’t know about your place, but extra cold weather here means more chores instantly, more feed to up caloric intake so the stock stays warm, and more bedding to keep animals dry. Adding the chore of packing heavy water just makes life pretty dreary.
One way to keep water from freezing is to use tank heaters, heated hose, or electric hose tape. All good as long as you have power. Usually here a winter storm means a loss of power sometime during the duration of the storm, then you need a generator to keep the power on, and you also need fuel for the generator. All complications when all you simply want is water for your stock. I like electricity as much as the next guy, but it’s not a very resilient way to live. So we try not to depend on it too much and treat it more like a luxury.
I’m lucky in some regards, we have kept our gravity water systems that have been in place here since the beginning of this homestead…say about 130 years give or take. At that time everyone had gravity water, and gradually modernity and convenience has taken over and those simple ways went by the wayside. Our municipal water available in this “town” is also gravity, so geographic luck maybe? No matter, this is where I live and have to adapt. Blending old and new isn’t always the easiest thing to do. We’re not starting out with bare ground and building a system that we think is best, we have to fit in with what my ancestors thought was best at the time. That can be confounding at times, sometimes what works doesn’t have to be reinvented, it just is.
We do pump water since our farm land is such that our flat ground is at the highest point, and the water is located at the lowest point. The key here is that we use water power to pump the water using a hydraulic ram. The ram is pretty simple with just a few moving parts. Yearly maintenance may mean a new leather gasket. Otherwise the system is pretty foolproof. The ram pumps the spring water to a holding tank at the highest point on the farm, from there the water gravities to the house, barns, and greenhouses which are all sited below the highest point. I can take no credit for this system other than not ripping it out and going all modern. It’s a low pressure system so we rely on volume by way of a larger delivery pipe to give the illusion of pressure. It’s plenty, no worries about pressure.
To drought proof our farm somewhat we have hooked up to the municipal system also, being a gravity system it’s there if we need it, and can be a lifesaver if something fails on our ram system. To avoid cross contamination it is designed as a separate system. Our untreated water cannot mix with the treated “city” water, and we have to have a yearly backflow test due to having livestock and greenhouses.
My point of explaining all this is that to bring home the idea of having ample water that can be delivered in the simplest form possible. Winter chores are hard enough, the less worries you have the better. Build resilience into your systems, think of, and use the grid as a backup instead of the end all. Dual systems work really well, our thermosiphon hot water heating is a perfect example, our hot water system has two tanks, one electric and one heated from the wood furnace. All the water is preheated when we have a fire during the better part of the year, and when it’s too hot to build a fire the electric takes on the full job. It makes no sense to build a fire in the summer just to heat water, and it makes no sense not to take advantage of the electricity that is already at my doorstep. I can be miserable or comfortable. It’s easy to choose.
A newish addition to our water lineup is frost-free hydrants placed strategically at the barns and greenhouses. I can pack a gallon of water to the hens each day pretty easily, but watering 22 head of cattle by hand is a nightmare. So by investing a few hundred dollars in hydrants we have saved a ton in aggravation. The farthest run for a hose is 150 feet, which is doable as far as draining the hoses before they freeze up goes. The goal here is to carry as little water as necessary, after milk, water is about the heaviest and most awkward thing here to move.
Watering cows is the biggest chore but knowing that cows don’t have to have water on demand is helpful. When we free-ranged our cattle, they watered themselves at springs in the canyons. Once a day in the winter. We would feed out the hay and in a few hours, you would see all the cows trailing, single file to the water holes. With that in mind I can schedule my watering to fit in with feeding, warmest part of the day, and the cows needs without worrying too much if they are going to have water 24/7. Cows like to eat to rumen fill and then add water. I just have to use this knowledge to my advantage. These folks cut holes in the ice once a day in frigid Alberta for 300 head. Once a day watering, it can work. The exception to this would be for producing dairy cows, milk is mostly water so take this once a day watering advice with a grain of salt. My goal is always fresh water at least once a day or more if the situation allows.
For our laying hens, I usually cave and pack them water. Eggs contain a lot of water also, so no or low water translates to less eggs. The bright side is that a gallon a day for 18 birds can hold them, and if it’s really cold, I just water them several times a day. When we had our pastured commercial size flock, we drained their water system each night and restarted the flow each morning.
Just a few ideas to toss around when designing, or redesigning your livestock water systems:
♥ Plan seasonality into your water system by carrying less high production animals during the cold months. Here pigs and meat chickens are done before the cold sets in. Dairy cows may be the exception, but planning in spring calving helps on the water end too, a dry cow requires somewhat less water than a producing milk cow.
♥ To keep your water system potable make sure you use vacuum breakers or some kind of backflow prevention from your stock tanks which can be contaminated with manure from time to time.
♥ Place watering systems, troughs etc., on south facing parts of your housing. Most days, our chicken water system thaws by mid-morning in their hoophouse.
♥ Frost-free hydrants strategically placed can be a lifesaver. Make sure to fence them out of livestock areas though to avoid animals rubbing on them. Make sure to unhook hoses from your hydrant when it gets cold, if the hose is still attached and freezes your hydrant may too depending on how cold it gets.
♥ Have several different lengths of hose available. The less hose, the less time spent draining hoses. Have a plan for draining your hoses. Our ground at the barn is basically flat, so I use a tree limb or the hay elevator for a high place to fish the hose through to drain it. My husband is always “talking” about rigging up a pulley, but I end up draining the hoses so that little tidbit is likely to remain just an idea.
♥ Roof gutters to a water trough are a good idea as long as you make sure you dismantle the gutter before freezing so you don’t make a potential ice hazard in your barnyard. Cattle can slip easily, splay and break their pelvis. Despite our high rainfall location, I’m not much of a fan of gutter to trough applications unless you have a good way to divert the extra runoff away from the barn. Others may find they work well in their situation.
♥ Tapered water troughs are nice too in the freezing weather. We’ve used these Rubbermaid troughs for quite awhile and they are virtually indestructible. When shopping at the local feed store leave the galvanized straight troughs there for display, they don’t last and if they freeze with water in them, the seams usually burst. A splitting maul works good for busting ice too, much easier than an axe. Once you break the ice you can remove the pieces.
♥ If you have to hand water small stock, the flexible rubber feed tubs with tapered sides make good waterers too. If they freeze you can turn them over and remove the ice fairly easily.
♥ Have a plan B, or C and D too, it may be that you have to leave your water running enough to keep a trough full just for the duration of a cold spell. Plan B here usually means bringing animals closer to a more convenient water source. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it may only be a week of frigid temperatures, better to run up your water bill than injure yourself carrying water. Muscle strain, or falls are real hazards and often make the cold weather harder to bear.
♥ Finally, plan your system as a whole making use of natural energy when possible. Our system relies on gravity to work, which frees our minds up for more important tasks when we have freezing weather. If you rely on electricity for your pump, or heaters, make sure you have fuel for your generator and that your generator does indeed work.
I know there are no earth-shattering ideas in this blog post, and for seasoned farm folks a lot of this is rote and can be done in the dark. But I think lots of folks who have just recently moved back to the land have no idea. It’s pretty easy to stock up on animals during the good weather, but keeping them watered when it freezes once in a blue moon is pretty difficult.