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Annual Thoughts about Perennials

March 13, 2015
Tristar everbearing strawberries

Tristar everbearing strawberries

A practice that has made me a “better” gardener is to treat some of my perennial plants as annuals.  I’m a lazy gardener, weeding perennials drives me crazy or just doesn’t happen unfortunately.  I’m just being honest.  I love looking at perennial gardens, they can be a thing of beauty.  Just not here under my watch.

My perennial favorites for annual cropping?  Strawberries, sage, thyme and oregano are what we worked on transplanting yesterday.  The strawberries got moved to a clean new row, and the baby herb plants were repotted to larger pots so they can grow large enough before garden planting time.

This may not work for everyone, but I find that the small amount of time tending a few new seeds each year of the smaller herbs or dealing with replanting daughter strawberry plants, is time well saved on the weeding end of the equation.

A Different Perspective

March 11, 2015
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photo credit R. Dennis Wiancko

photo credit R. Dennis Wiancko

Getting a bird’s-eye view of your operation is often helpful to give you an idea of the bigger picture, so to speak.  A friend sent me this photo that he took last fall on a flight over our place and the surrounding areas.  Pretty cool.  I’ve added some crude lines dividing our farm into permaculture zones so you can get an idea of how we move about our property.

This helps me too.  When you spend all your time on close work, seeding, weeding, milking, mob stocking, etc., it’s easy to develop farm or sense of place blindness.  I feel the same way when I quilt, I have this gigantic blanket but I concentrate on one spot.  It’s all zone one until you move zone one to zone two… .

I think I do a real good job showing zone one photos on the blog.

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And rightly so, home is where the heart is.

greenhouse 1

greenhouse 1

My life is pretty hands-on.

Turga parsnip

Turga parsnip

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Cascade Ruby-Gold

 

photo credit R. Dennis Wiancko

photo credit R. Dennis Wiancko

But seeing this view gives me a perspective I need to see.  I feel it, I just can’t always picture it.  Do you know what I mean?  Right now I spend all my time in zone one, the cows are in the barn, we are working in the greenhouse, the pastures are at rest.  When spring comes we abandon the barn in favor of moving the cows and we branch out into zone three and move through zone four occasionally to get to far off pasture corners.  Zone five never sees us unless it’s water system maintenance or mushroom foraging time.  Zone one always is very active with gardens, greenhouses and the house cow, but the other zones have a seasonal ebb and flow that is hard to describe.  I can see I’ll be referring to this photo often in the future for blog purposes.

Garden Notes – March 8th, 2015

March 8, 2015

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I hope you’re not getting bored with my Sunday/Monday garden note posts.  In an effort to combine some tasks, namely blogging and keeping my garden records up-to-date, it makes sense to combine the two.

greenhouse 1

greenhouse 1

Despite our wonderful winter that never was, I’m still a little on the fence about committing to much outside gardening.  I’ve done some preliminary ground work, but I’m willing to bide my time and proceed with the original plan which is using the greenhouse space as my first garden of the season.  It’s still frosty in the mornings, and the greenhouse is just warm enough to let me get going on some early crops.  The soil is perfect.

Sugar Sprint peas

Sugar Sprint peas

The first round of direct seeding went in today.  Sugar Snap peas, Nelson carrot, Touchstone Gold & Detroit Dark Red beets, Dark Red Norland potatoes, cilantro, and buckwheat cover crop in the half of the greenhouse I am reserving for fall crops.

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We seeded our first transplants February 15th, and today the Joi Choi bok choy, Basic arugula, and Space spinach were ready to be planted out.

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I can’t describe how good it feels to have my hands in the warm soil on a regular basis.  Lovely.

Kale, the Crop That Keeps On Giving

March 6, 2015
Kale raab

Kale raab

I pulled last year’s kale plants today so I could prep the greenhouse for planting new spring crops.  That kale has been plugging away since last spring.  All summer long we ate kale, all winter long we ate kale and fed the blemished leaves to the hens for winter greens, now we’ve been eating the flower stalks, kale raab. Better than the tenderest spring broccoli, we’ve roasted, we’ve steamed and sometimes chopped the raw raab into salads.  Today I harvested the last and pulled the five foot tall plants to make way for the first transplants of spinach and bok choy. Bye kale, your replacements are already in the wings.

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Progressing

March 4, 2015

T-shirt weather inside the greenhouse today.

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Chilly outside though.  I spent the day amending the soil in the greenhouse and doing an initial bed prep.  The tractor’s maiden voyage after some minor repair work.  Phew.  All is well.

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Pea planting tomorrow perhaps.

Garden Notes – Last Week of February

March 1, 2015
This flirty guy

This flirty guy – what can I say? He’s a tomcat

We got the garden prepped this past week.  We are in spring officially I think.  Kale raab and nettles the last week of February?  That’s spring folks, still freezing at night if it’s not raining, but we’re firmly on the path to spring planting.

Music garlic, weeded, cultivated, loved, 2/24/15

Music garlic, weeded, cultivated, loved, 2/24/15

I’m trying to stay on my schedule of seeding something each week.

2/22/15 Seeding

Leeks – King Sieg and Bandit
Onions – Guardsman
Herbs & Flowers – thyme, oregano, sage, marjoram, parsley, and marigolds.
Vegetables – Brilliant celeriac and Red Russian, White Russian, Rainbow Lacinato, and Lacinato kale.

Everyone is up except the late shows – celeriac and parsley, but that is to be expected.

future herbs and flowers

future herbs and flowers

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Thinning is also a weekly chore.  I’m trying to use up my oldest seed first, so I did seed a little heavy since I wasn’t sure how good the germination would be.  These early plantings aren’t quite so critical, if the germination is spotty I know the next week to use fresher seed.  If germination is good, I’m ahead of the game or at least moving right along on schedule.

Other chores right now – tying up raspberries.  Check.
Side dressing garlic.  Check.
Plant parsnips and leeks for seed production.  Check.

March is here.

Flipped Out

February 28, 2015

Having the cows in the barn for feeding requires us to be present in mind, and with pitchfork.  In this post I’ll give a little overview of what goes on in the personnel side of the barn.

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three tined hay pitchforks, straw and grass hay

Keep in mind we deal with small-squares.  In hayspeak that’s actually a small, two twine rectangular bale, approximately 14″ x 18″ x 36″ weighing about 50 pounds give or take.  It may be a fortunate thing that livestock farming has left the building in our area or not, depending on how you look at it.  You have to travel a ways to get a round bale around here, or even a large square that weighs a thousand or more pounds.  Which means on the luck side, we can make and buck 50 pound bales all day, and not need a tractor with a bale spear or round feeders to feed with.  Or have to deal with dismantling a large round bale by hand.  I’m comfortable with the handling required to put up, store under cover, and feed out small-squares.  But if you’re new to farming or live in an area that only has round bales or large three tie bales, you may be more comfortable with that because that is what you know.

What I do know is how cows eat.  And how to keep them from wasting hay.  I do not want to use expensive hay for bedding, and it bugs me when I hear people say they don’t care if hay is wasted for bedding, or that their bales are so crappy or rained on that a third of a bale is bedding material.  A ton of hay to me, is a ton of edible hay.

Cows really enjoy their food, they sniff out the best morsels first, clovers, plantain and dandelion before diving in for the bulk of the leaves and stems.  The baler compresses the dried grass, cuts it and stuffs it into bale form so we can store summer in a bale for feeding out in winter.  These cut flakes the baler makes are lovely for us to handle and use for figuring, but they annoy the cattle.  They shake and toss the flakes much like shaking out a pair of jeans to put on the clothesline.   Depending on how much they shake and sort, about one-fourth of each feeding ends up out of reach of the cows.  That’s where we come in.  We flip it back for them.  Zero waste.  They flip it out on the clean people side of the barn floor and we put it back within their reach.  It never sees the manure side and we don’t walk in the feeding area with dirty boots.

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When the cows are in we feed twice a day, it’s comforting sitting in the barn listening to the cows chew.   I like to think about the sweat equity of investing a few minutes a day with a pitchfork instead of counting on a certain amount of hay wastage.  That slippage has to hurt somewhere.

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A few things to help you save hay:

♥  Quality hay, cows will clean up good hay, if they are rejecting a fair portion of the hay, listen to them.  They know what is good and what isn’t.

♥  Enough feeder space and barn space for all the cows to eat at once.  You remember musical chairs in school.  It’s pretty humiliating and nerve wracking to be the one left out.  Timid cattle will go hungry before they risk getting beat up.  Or they quickly stick their heads in the feeder and pull out a mouthful in case they have to fend off an attacker.  Which then means they drop hay on the manure side and may be tempted to eat that.  The cow in the photo above will be the last cow I have that has horns. Even her own calf is staying one slot away from her.  In the video taken a few minutes after this photo, her calf had moved, so you watch her, she is threatening (o:15) a different calf next to her.  She’s not mean, she’s just got an advantage.  I know horns evoke a wonderful image in homesteaders minds, until you are on the end of that stick either literally or writing out a check to the vet for damage to another cow.  Keep the playing field even.  All horns or no horns.  I am done with horns.  Most of my cows are polled naturally but since I persist with at least one dairy cow, I have to deal with the horn issue when I breed for full dairy offspring.

♥  Build or buy the feeder and manger setup that suits the stock you have.  If you have cattle with horns, allow for that, you’ll need to double your feeder space to keep everyone comfortable.  Even metal feeders get mangled, so buy heavy duty if you can afford it.  With wood, I would use small smooth round poles or saplings about 6″ diameter if you have them available, or at least 2″ x 6″ dimensional lumber if you’re going that route.  Build the feeder hell for stout, or you commit yourself to rebuilding fairly soon.  Cattle love to rub, they fight, they play, and they have a lot of muscle to back all those activities up.

I like having the cows in for a bit in the winter, it’s not all work that needs to timed and plugged into the labor column.  It gives me a chance to observe them and their habits up close and personal.  I can work on taming the calves that at first regarded me a little warily, and I can just generally chill with the cows unlike during summer when I need to scurry off to work in the garden or …  winter barn feeding is worthwhile on many counts.

 

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