Welcome to the Farm

When I first moved to the farm I was operating a dog training business and had a sign at the end of the driveway. When I closed the business and removed the sign I decided to put a farm sign on the gate so that the (now occasional) visitor could find me. I bought a sign that turned out to be a plastic foamcore. While the sign was attractive when first installed it did not hold up well to the weather and after two occasions of having the Fed Ex driver leave packages at my neighbors (despite a phone call where I gave him directions) I decided I needed a new sign and one that had my address.

The original gate sign had photos of sheep, dogs and a goat but I decided to use a photo of an oil painting that a former dog training client had painted for me the year I first ran the business here. The three dogs are the ones I had when I moved here in 2007. Sleet – a failed foster from ARPH – who is now spending most of her time sleeping and eating; Jet – an Australian Shepherd who I lost a few years ago; and Tuck – who was six months old when I moved here and who I lost in June – way too earlier.

 

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Tuesday Takes

Oddly I have a plant that is producing two different colored spaghetti squash – one started as a green stripe and the other as a light cream. I have been checking daily to see if any were mature enough to cut off the vine and today the rind of the green one finally seemed hard enough. I’ve never seen a spaghetti squash this color before so it will be interesting to see what it tastes like.

Three of the chicks are still alive and growing rapidly. It looks like one is a Delaware cross (the rooster is a mix) and the other two look like Australorp crosses.

Sunday Snaps

The squash is doing well and after several days of only male blossoms, I finally started getting some female blossoms. I currently have three squash developing.

Spaghetti Squash

 

 

 

 

In ten summers I have yet to actually eat a single apple . . . this year looks to be no exception as I can’t reach the apples that the squirrels and birds have left.

Apples

 

 

 

Finally, not all UV protection is equal. I put a “farm” tarp from Harbor Freight on the sheep shelter last October. I replaced the billboard covers I had on the goat shelters a couple of months ago because I wasn’t able to secure them during the high winds. I used tarps from the local True Value which were (allegedly) UV protected. I removed the shreds of both tarps a few days ago and replaced them with “farm” tarps from Harbor Freight this morning. The tarp on the sheep shelter looks almost new.

 

 

Sunday Snap

I first posted a photo of the spaghetti squash on June 3. This photo was actually taken yesterday, on June 30, so just shy of a month later.

Actually I’m sort of surprised . . . temperatures have been soaring in the last few weeks with more days breaking 100 degrees than I would normally expect. Even with a shade cloth over the garden, many of the plants have been showing signs of heat stress.

I’m being optimistic that this garden, originally designed to work in drought-stricken areas of Africa, may be the solution to my gardening woes. The hardware cloth is keeping the moles and gophers from eating the roots, the raised bed is keeping the rabbits out and the center compost tube appears to be providing sufficient fertilizer. I’ve started watering through the compost tube so that the plants are being watered from the roots as opposed to the top and that has cut the amount of water necessary considerably.

“Surprise” Survivor

My two Buff Brahma bantam hens started setting weeks ago. Long past when I could reasonably expect chicks to hatch (average of 21 days), both hens were still broody and I left the eggs under them in the hopes that they would still be setting when the Icelandic chicks were expected to arrive. To my surprise, three chicks were actually hatched although only one survived. The hens came off the remaining eggs a couple of days after the surviving chick was hatched. I removed the remaining eggs and hauled them out to the front pasture, far from the coop and animal pens, to be left for the wildlife. Since I no longer had expectations that the bantams would raise the additional chicks, I cleaned up the brooder and prepared it for the expected Icelandics (which didn’t arrive and may not come this season after all). Then, unexpectedly, the bantam chick died about a week after hatching.

In the meantime, two of my young full-size hens had gone broody and were sitting on eggs. One, an Australorp, was in an upper nesting box while the other, a Buff Orpington, was in a lower box. I went out a few days ago and heard cheeping. The Australorp was off the nest and in the main coop with a small little black chick. When I set up a dog house in another section of the coop and moved the hen, I discovered a second little black chick under her. I transferred a few eggs into the dog house on the off chance she would continue to set and proceeded to put the remaining 38 eggs in a bucket in anticipation of hauling them out to the front pasture. I decided to leave the bucket and eggs in the coop overnight and see if the Orpington was still setting the next day as she had been sporadically coming off the nest. She was off the nest in the morning and again in the evening so I proceeded to collect her eggs as well. All told the hens were sitting on a combined 86 eggs. However, when I removed the bucket from the coop I was hearing cheeping that didn’t appear to be coming from the section where the one hen and her two chicks were safely ensconced. As I carried the bucket down the drive I continued to hear cheeping so instead of just throwing the eggs out, I picked up each egg out of the bucket and placed it in the brush pile where I toss old eggs. At the very bottom of the bucket I found an egg that was cracked and when I picked it up I heard very clear and loud cheeping. I carefully peeled the egg open and found a bedraggled chick. Not expecting it to actually live, I carried it back to the coop and put it in with the hen and other two chicks. I was very pleasantly surprised this morning when I went out to the coop and saw three chicks running around.

The chick in the center is the “surprise” survivor

 

More of Nature’s Camouflage

The other evening when I was working outside, Fix started showing a little too much interest in what appeared to be a patch of grass. Hoping he hadn’t found a snake, I investigated. I have seen an increase in lizards this year and Fix has had a great time chasing them (though since he hasn’t caught one I suspect he is just enjoying the chase and happy to let them find a safe spot.) This is, however, the first time I have seen one of these on the property. Can you identify it?

My Last Attempt. . .

at gardening. Over the past ten years I have spent considerable time researching gardening techniques best suited for my location. One of the methods I discovered was a “keyhole garden” which is used in drought stricken countries with poor soil conditions. A few years ago I bought the necessary cinder block to build one but never was able to find the time to build one in time for spring planting. Finally, this year I was able to do so. Of course I had misplaced the book I had purchased on the subject (Deb Tolman’s Soiled Rotten) so was working off what I remembered from reading the book — as usual, a huge mistake. I marked the center of the garden.

I then marked off a circle six feet in diameter using the center as my guide.

The next step was to lay down hardware cloth (I have a serious gopher/mole problem). Even though I didn’t have enough on hand, I wanted to get an idea of whether or not I had enough cinder blocks (over the years the cinder blocks had migrated to other projects and while I had collected up as much as I could find I wasn’t sure if it was sufficient). So I laid down what I had of hardware cloth and then started building the base of the garden. Here is where I made my first mistake. Without the actual instructions I built the base layer trying to abut the cinder blocks flat against each other. First, that makes trying to create a circle very difficult and second, it uses more cinder block than what I had initially purchased. After counting the number of  blocks used in the first layer I decided I was going to be woefully short and needed another 30 blocks. So a trip to town (in my new used truck) took me to the building supply business for 30 more cinder blocks, to the hardware store for hardware cloth and then to another store for a cheap and lightweight garden cart for moving manure, etc.

After unloading the cinder block from the bed of the truck, I realized that the new cinder block was much wider than the old block which meant that I couldn’t stack it on top and that I would have to dismantle what I had done and move all the old block out of the way. After moving way too many blocks, I finally got smart and started looking on-line for pictures of key hole gardens using cinder block and found a decent enough photo to show how to actually set the blocks. Once I set the new blocks correctly, it transpired that I didn’t really need the additional blocks and that my original amount would have been sufficient. Oh well, cinder block is always useful and if this is successful I may build another garden next spring.

So after putting the hardware cloth down and building the garden three blocks high I then pulled some tin cans from recycling and put some cans on the bottom. While the compost tube in the middle is usually made of wire, I was concerned about it collapsing when I filled in the garden so since I had an old trashcan around that I had cut holes into to make it into a goat hay feeder, I decided that the trashcan would work if I drilled more holes in the bottom and all around the side. (This is why those on farms rarely throw anything away – almost everything can be repurposed at some point in time.)

 

I then lined the inside walls of the garden with cardboard, set the compost tube (trash can) in place and covered the bottom of the garden with old hay raked up from the floor of the barn.

 

Now I was ready to start filling in the garden. One layer was old cardboard and then I layered in compost (manure from the sheep and goats mixed with old hay), followed by another layer of cardboard and then compost again.

Starting with the base layer of just hay, I heavily watered every layer before adding more. The compost tube had old hay put in first and watered well and then I added some food scraps. I am going to let the garden settle for about a week before either adding another couple of layers or just finishing it with top soil and then planting it.  I need to cut some rebar so when I pound it in, it is just a few inches above the top of the garden. I will then bend some pvc pipe over the rebar to create a frame where I can put shade cloth or later in the season create a cold frame. I still need to clean up the hardware cloth around the edges as well, but if the garden works as advertised, I have a “keyhole” or cut out that allows easy access to the compost tube, the garden is designed to be drought resistant – initially it is watered on top but as it matures, the water will go into compost tube and percolate into the garden as needed, and everything planted can be easily reached. With luck I’ll have some great photos – and more importantly, great produce – from this garden over the summer.