Wednesday, July 25, 2012

To Do List:

Not necessarily in order.
-  build a Salatin drop cage for the meat birds before they get much bigger
-  plant the rest of the late season garden
-  prepare for the arrival of the new Rhode Island Red chicks
-  put up the invisible dog fence
-  install the charge controller, batteries and inverter for the PV system
-  build a stand for the 275 gallon water tote
-  pipe together the 55 gallon rain barrels
-  build a perimeter fence on the back property line
-  disc wheat field (more than once)
-  trim pony's hooves
-  get the kids some mud boots
-  get me some mud boots
-  start shopping for a new straw hat before this one rots off my head
-  buy spelt seed
-  plant spelt
-  plant Kamut
-  stop adding too many items to the to-do list
-  clean out the freezers
-  make a space for the mason jar shelf
-  plant some more veg winter garden
-  plant veg yet again (succession plant winter garden)
-  plant the garlic

I will only have 10% of my running to-do list ever completed.

The Oxacan Green corn above was on the to-do list, but was and epic to-do list failure, or was that a triumph of luck?

Seeds for Tomorrow

I was very pleased when Bear came up to me this weekend, his little hands outstretched, face beaming.  In his palms he held some small squash seeds.  He was so proud.  I asked him where he got those.  He told me that the dried gourd on our mantle had fallen down and broken, and that he was saving the seed from inside, because it grew more food, and that it was important to save seeds.

I am proud of my Bear, very proud.

Monday, July 23, 2012

We are born not knowing anything.

Isn't it great?


The nightshade plant family is as varied as large family full of relatives can be.  Many of our favorite vegetables are nightshades;  potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra.  Even the habit forming tobacco plant is in the nightshade family.  In addition, there are quite a few unsavory characters lurking around the family reunion; belladonna, ground cherries and horse nettle to name a few.  These plants are toxic.  And wouldn't you know it, some of the horse nettle variety are lurking around the farm. 

A "diva of dirt" gardener friend has often said to me that a weed is just a plant that is in the wrong place.  This definitely applies in this situation.  A toxic weed is taking up residence near my gardens, and even in them.  Wrong plant, wrong place.  Unfortunately my organic eradication plan is going to take some time.  I have been selectively cutting these with my scythe wherever I can find them, but it seems hopeless, they are persistent, mostly where ground has been disturbed, like my garden.  They are especially dangerous to small children whom may find their bright yellow berries to be appealing and eat them.

I feel very little attachment to these wicked little plants.  They are bold enough to sport thorns on their stems and on the undersides of their leaves.  I have to suppress the urge to lean over and pull them with my bare hands, an act that leads to instant punishment.  My drive to remove them often outweighs my fear of thorns, and I have been known to gingerly move the plant stem around looking for a place to get a purchase on it and pull without being bitten.  I rarely succeed.

I have noticed this year, that these plants are under particular stress.  Pests have played havoc on them, nearly all are blighted and suffering.  The drought conditions of June really stress these plants out and to top it off, the potato beetles and flea beetles love them.

Take a look at how utterly wasted this plant looks.  The leaves are all thickened and scarred from repeated pest attacks, leaving the plant susceptible to viral and bacterial attack.  BONUS! 

Then there is the organic gardener's principle of trap crops. Should I even be pulling this plant out at all?  If they are so tasty, and in such a weakened state, perhaps these little buggies will leave my beloved nightshades alone, and only harass these ugly nightshades?

I know last year that I was astonished at the speed with which the Colorado Potato Beetles reached my potato plants.  Almost immediately upon emergence, they attacked.  Within a couple of weeks my poor taters were shredded.  It was all because this plant acts as a harborage plant in addition to its trap crop duties.  I have squished many a Potato Beetle as it perched on these plants and munched.  Glass half empty/glass half full quandary. 

Since I seem unable to get totally ahead of the nightshades near the garden, I can always dump the dang glass out and make sure that my desirable nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes)have all of their immune systems functioning, and that they resist pests with full strength due to good cultural practices.

1)  shallow tilth, keeping the nutrient rich topsoil ON TOP
2)  additions of rotted manure, and compost to encourage a lively microbial life in the garden bed
3)  additions of lime to straighten out the pH of the soil.  Acid soil binds the minerals and prevents plants from using them.  Maintaining the proper pH gives the minerals mobility and they can be used by the plant to build their biological defenses.  Oh yes, and store these minerals in their fruit, which we humans like to eat. More nutrients for us bipeds.
4)  proper watering these weed plants do not get the benefit of water during the drought conditions

Another neat observation;  with the stress and possibly disease going on with these, the horse nettle may be its own worse enemy this year.  They are potentially, in their weakness, spreading disease amongst themselves. Self annihilation. 

Now if only crabgrass could annihilate itself from my garden, we would be on to something.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fancy Chicken

Label Rouge is what they're France.  They are called that here too.  But mostly, they are known as "pastured poultry" in the US.  These are some pretty unique birds and we received them via mail on June 27th.  Since that time they have grown to four times their original size.  This is not the typical growth rate of your standard barnyard chicken.  These chickens grow to full size in about 12 weeks, at which time they are ready for processing.  A typical laying hen can take 6 months to reach full maturity. 

I have to preface the following by mentioning that I have no affiliation with the hatchery nor any connection to them.  These birds in particular come from the JM Hatchery in PA. They are called "Freedom Rangers".  They are a true meat type. One can tell from simple observation that they are bulky and thick in the legs.  They have been really interesting to raise so far.  While in the brooders, they did not seem to fear humans like other egg breed chicks do.  These chickens quickly learn that humans = food.  They eat; a lot.  And, they grow; fast. When I reached in to place the refilled feeder, some would leap up and try to peck the freckles off my arm.  That dear friends, is a sassy chicken.

Today, as I tended them, I watched as they aggressively hunted for the bugs in their pen.  Let's face it, when your body grows that fast, you'd better be eating something to fuel it.  I saw one chick take a hop-flight in pursuit of a scarab dung beetle that haplessly flew into their pen.  The chick caught it, and in doing so alerted his pen mates to the tasty treat.  Then, the chick with the bug did the typical chicken with a bug prize evasive maneuvers.  About 4 chicks were in hot pursuit.  Just in time I set the feeder back in the paddock and the chasers left the chick to his bug snack.

More on these later, I am sure that they will more than keep us amused. These photos were taken last Sunday afternoon.  And today the chicks are noticeably larger.

Runneth Over

What an upside down weather pattern we have had this summer.  We recorded .65" of rain for the entire month of June, and were down to the last 8 inches of water in ten rain barrels. This was all that was left to water the chickens. Indeed, the weather was so hot that I heard of someone's potato crop getting partially cooked in the soil due to nearly two weeks of 100+ temperature.  The humidity was ultra low for East TN, where the rain probability was at 10% chance daily.  That is horrible I tell you, when you have plants trying to grow.

We used irony to break the drought, and our friends Tim and Kim helped us haul 3 barrels to the lake to bucket-fill.  It is this act of desperation alone that caused it to rain two days later, and we have got about 3 inches total this month since then.  It is amazing how this works. Hand bucket 165 gallons of water, only to get effortless water just two days later.  I cannot complain.  I have some really happy tomato plants and about 100 grateful chickens. Not to mention two very hairy dogs whom were very pleased to see the weather change.

Renewed Purpose

As a mom is has been always somewhat bittersweet to purge the house of old baby items. Pacifiers here, jumper suits there.  I have a little longing for the baby that once was, at the same time reveling in the child that is.  Here is a bit of fun with some of my first son's baby overalls, re purposed into a clothespin bag.  This way they aren't wasted, they aren't discarded and are not forgotten.  On my pilgrimage to the clothesline, my little one is with me, and I can remember his sweet little time.

In case you are wondering, it is the easiest project ever. Just sew the legs closed and trim the pant leg off about 1/2 inch from the seam.  Voila!  Clothespin bag.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Get Your Ducks in a Row

Off in the distance, a thunder of webbed feet. Duck parade.  They travel this way, criss-crossing the farm. Usually follow the leader. Always greeting us looking for food. When they discover that we aren't going to feed them again, away they go, single file back to the pond.