Saturday, April 25, 2009

Grow Your Own

I'd venture to guess that most folks reading this blog have a pretty good grasp of why buying local food is good for the earth, good for your health, and good for the local economy. Many probably even buy into the whole food security issue. Now, here's one more good reason to grow your own.

California is dealing with serious drought conditions. If it continues to worsen, food availability across the nation may be affected, considering that California supplies about half of the nation's produce. The governor declared a state of emergency in February, as three years of low rain and snow fall have produced one of the state's most severe droughts on record. 600,000 acres have been taken out of production in Orange Cove, California, alone, where the unemployment rate is at 25%. In the Westlands Water District that includes Fresno and Kings County officials estimate that 300,000 acres of lettuce, tomatoes and other crops will not be planted this year due to drought. Some experts predict that the total acreage left unplanted this year may go even higher than 850,000.

A recent release of federal water supply to ease drought conditions has brought the area water allowance up to around 30% of its typical allowed water usage under existing contracts, up from the 10% it was getting before federal intervention. Still too little, too late to help most farms in the region, which could seriously affect pricing and availability of produce and other products like orange juice or wine.

To read more, check out California's Department of Water Resources and this article in the New York Times. I'll be following this story closely. Seems Great Depression 2.0 also has a ready-made Dust Bowl 2.0 in the making.

It's not too late to start a garden for those who haven't gotten around to ordering and starting seeds. Buying vegetable seedlings from the nearest garden center is a great way to go, especially when just starting out, as it frees you from starting those seeds in the depths of winter when few folks are thinking about gardening at all. Most of the garden centers around here are watching their vegetable starts fly off shelves, as more people turn to gardening as a way of easing grocery bills. Turns out, the summer garden may be a good plan in terms of availability as well.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bustin' Sod

More than a year after making my front garden plans, we've finally broken ground. Below is my sketch, which is not drawn remotely to scale. It's more of a vision than an actual plan, and I've already made several changes, but hopefully this will give you a sense of what I'm going for with the herbs and edibles. Our front yard is fairly shallow, sloped, and close to the street, making it relatively useless as yard space. My goal is to eliminate as much of the turf as possible, but I'll be leaving all the paths in grass.

Jim brought the tiller around to break up the bigger areas, but the spiral paths require quite a bit of hand work. We tilled several bales of peat moss into the bed closest to the porch to lower the ph for the blueberries and cranberries. I planted five blueberry bushes there this weekend that I purchased locally—Sunshine blue and Bluehaven, varieties that will stay more compact than most, topping out at around 4 feet. We already have six bushes that I planted along our property line when we moved, so hopefully we'll have plenty of blueberries! I've also started to transplant strawberries for ground cover, and I have four hop vines on order for training up the patio pillars. Up towards the house in between the Hollywood juniper and mugo pine, I planted two ground cherries, pretty flowering shrubs that produce a profusion of sour cherries.

In the bed toward the street, I divided and transplanted several lavender plants, and I ordered some rosa rugosas to fill the area between them. I miss my roses from the old house, and I'm so excited to have some again. I ordered one "new dawn" climber for against the house; two gallicas—"apothecary's rose" and "rosa mundi"; and three "jens munk" rugosas.

We transplanted three of our grapevines that weren't performing well in the kitchen garden out to the front and set in some oregano for ground cover. We'll also be transplanting lots of raspberries and blackberries to create a hedge along the property line. The center of the spirals will feature a sage bush, and I have several starts from last year that I can transplant once I get the soil conditioned. I'll also be spending most of today and tomorrow seeding flats for out front. Tree-wise, I planted a witch hazel this weekend, and I have a weeping mulberry and a dwarf patio peach on order, as well as three varieties of filbert to anchor the front left corner of the yard.

Should keep me busy this year, huh?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Too Late!

Madeline wrote: "I get an apron?! I had forgotten that beautiful offer. :) Listen, as someone who hates her sewing machine more than you, you are off the hook (or tension:) if you want. Play with all those animals instead."

Well, my dear, it's too late. They're already done, or nearly so. I still need to get ribbon or some such to make the tie.

For those outside the loop, Madeline had this beautiful skirt that she picked up somewhere but was not happy with, so she wanted to pass it along to me. I also thought the skirt was lovely but knew from many fitting room experiences that these style skirts always look much better on the hanger than they do on me. But I took it anyway because I thought it would make a beautiful apron, and I liked the idea of sister-aprons on two unschoolin' farmin' mamas.

When I got home, I picked out the stitches along the side seams of the skirt to create two apron bottoms. I chose some vintage chenille fabric that I salvaged from an old bedspread. We don't know where it originally came from, but we found the spread in Jim's grandfather's old boarding house at the beach just before he sold it. I worked parts of it into Julia's baby quilt and the quilt square we made for Hannah Jenner's quilt.

The lace was hand-tattedcrocheted by my great-grandmother, who would be tickled, I think, at the idea that her lace now graces two farm-house aprons made from scraps of an old chenille bedspread from a boarding house and a re-purposed skirt. And Madeline, if you give me any grief about using the lace, I shall assign you to read the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker if you haven't already, in which case, there you go.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Independence Days Update

The older and wiser(?) I get, the more my mantra becomes "everything in its own time."

Homesteading means a never-ending list of tasks that need doing. My to-do list never gets shorter—the moment I cross off one item, at least two more are added. Some things, like getting to the post office to mail out several packages that I owe folks, seems nigh on impossible because it means leaving the farm and all the things that need doing here. And, of course, why go when I still haven't finished that one thing that I need to mail out—might as well wait and mail everything at one time. I'm getting there, plugging away, and Madeline's pretty Easter apron has re-motivated me to finish the apron I'm making for her.

The rainy spring days are helping as well. Although I admit to secretly hating to sew. Well, not so much hating to sew as hating my machine that always bunches up because the tension isn't right or some such issue. The minutiae and the attention to detail drive me batty. But rest assured, I will be seated at the sewing machine over the next week, trying to complete all the projects I've been putting off because what else is one to do on rainy days while waiting for the plants (and weeds!) to grow?


More direct seeding in the market garden: leeks (which I accidentally dug up and planted over because they didn't get written on my garden plan. grrrrrr.), batvian endive, red Russian kale, Swiss chard, rouge d'hiver lettuce, salad bowl lettuce, drunken woman lettuce.

Jim got ~ 75-100lbs of potatoes, Yukon golds and red nordlands, in the ground with some help from the kids.

I transplanted ~ 500 seedlings to the market garden: napa, savoy, early Jersey Wakefield and red acre cabbages; windsor and de cicco broccoli; radicchio; red giant mustard; black seeded simpson, winter density, red salad bowl, red lollo, and speckled bibb lettuces.


Red Russian and vates kale, lettuce, spinach, endive (batvian and frisee), escarole, swiss chard, cherry belle radishes, turnip greens, green onions, spring garlic, carrots, arugula, thyme, citrus thyme, tarragon, oregano, sage, cilantro, parsley, chives, early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, milk, eggs, last 2 geese.

Here I am during evening milking. We use a milk machine and milk twice a day, approximately 11-11.5 hours apart.


Mostly still working at using down our stores, but I preserved a couple pounds of butter.


Not much on this front. Mostly, we're in the process of pulling together some orders for the farm, so I should have more to report on the next update.

We've been without our second fridge for a couple months now, and that's going surprisingly well. Our inside fridge is packed, and it can be annoying trying to find things, but the stuff outside in our big cooler is doing quite well. The frozen juice containers keep things nice and cool; the trick is remembering to swap them out. Of course, the garage still stays pretty cool because the nighttime temps are low. I'll let you know how things go in the summer.

Our first round of turkey poults will arrive later this week, so I'll be prepping the brooding equipment for them.


As you know, I've sheared the sheep, and we've taken down the high tunnel plastic.

Big Boy and Maya, our tamworth pigs, are out on their first pasture paddock, which they'll till up over the next month or so. They're so good at rooting and plowing that we use them for tilling new garden beds and for rennovating our pasture. We put them in places that are overrun by weeds or generally not doing well. They till, and then we replant with a pasture mix.

Before pigs:

After pigs:

We've also moved Bella and the goaties out on pasture, though Bella is still splitting her time between there and the barnyard, depending how wet the pastures are and how quickly the paddocks recover. The sheep and chickens will go out this weekend, I hope.


No good photos this update. I'll try to be better about it!


CSA delivery to four families: eggs, spring salad mix, escarole, spinach, kale, carrots, radishes, thyme, citrus thyme, tarragon, oregano, chives, green onions, spring garlic, baby cabbage, sorrel.


Julia and I have been learning about breeding bunnies, and we put her Silver Fox rabbits together for the first time on Easter. With any luck we'll have our first litter in about a month.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On Lambs and Lawnmowers

Early spring rains and everything is finally greening up around here. While the neighbors were firing up their gas guzzlers this holiday weekend, we had a little help from our furry friends. Yes, that's Daisy in the background, and little ram lambs kept trying to run her off, feeling all big and bold until she turned and looked at them. Then they'd bounce back to mama with silly little jumps that put Pepe le Pew to shame.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Shearing Time

And every muscle in my body is sore. Wrestling three sheep will do that to a body. Some readers might remember that I took a shearing class last year in the New Zealand shearing method, so that's kinda, sort of what you're seeing below.

Okay, now I'm starting to work up a sweat! Time to shed some layers. Esther's not very happy about shedding her extra layers right now, but she will be soon enough.

You can see Esther's neck and head behind my leg. Her fleece is very nearly off by this point, as I work on her last leg:

Two shorn sheep back in with babies and feeling much happier:

And then, there was Candace, who flat out refused to cooperate for a second year in a row. She stayed on her rump about long enough for me to trim her hooves, and then it was a friggin' free for all!

It took both of us some serious wrestling to get her shorn, and I ended up shearing quite a bit with her standing up.

We did finally get her shorn and back out on the winter pasture as we wait to see whether she will lamb or not. She didn't look terribly pregnant to me, but she has another month or so within the realm of possibility.