Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fancy Feet

Last week (or was it the week before?) Bella had her hooves trimmed by our traveling hoof trimmer. He pulls the table behind his truck, and it's pretty cool. The cow walks into it like a chute/ stanchion; he locks her in place, straps her in, and the table lifts her in the air. She most definitely does not appreciate this.

She doesn't look happy, does she? But see how those front hooves are starting to touch? That's not good for her feet.

Last year we had the trimmer out sometime in the summer, and I was worried the whole time that she'd miscarry from the stress. Neal said he didn't think she'd ever had her feet trimmed, so this was all new to her. This year, I knew I wanted to have her hooves trimmed before I tried to get her artificially inseminated (AIed). The fact that she doesn't walk on concrete here means that her hooves grow really fast.

She handled it better this year than last, perhaps because it was familiar to her. I kept telling her how lucky she was to be going in for a pedicure since I've never had one.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Independence Days Update

Weekly updates, it seems, are more than I can do in this busy, busy season. Besides, if I did hold myself to that standard, chances are I wouldn't blog about anything else! We have another rainy week ahead, so expect a spate of posts over the next few days as I run through my backlog of topics.


Direct seeded: 4 varieties of bush beans (provider, rocdor, royal purple, contender) and 2 rows of red core chantenay carrots down in the market garden.

Transplanted: ~ 300 tomato plants to the market garden (green zebra, Cherokee purple, striped German, Brandywine, sungold, sweet olive and gold nugget); Egyptian walking onions, shallots, thyme, citrus thyme, rhubarb, horseradish, and black raspberries to the front garden. Set in plants from Edible Landscaping—4 hops vines, 3 filbert trees, and 20 asparagus crowns.

Seeded in flats: calendula, evening primrose, pennyroyal, saltwort, fennel, lovage, peppermint, hyssop, arnica, marshmallow, paprika chili, Thai chili, and chamomile.


Spinach, lamb's quarters, kale, broccoli raab, lettuces, carrots, radishes, thyme, citrus thyme, oregano, tarragon, chives, rosemary, sorrel, horseradish, cilantro, parsley, eggs, milk.


Still eating down reserves. Made and froze butter.


With some volunteer help, we got one of the high tunnels cleaned out and ready for cover cropping, which I'll hopefully get done this weekend. Meanwhile I'm trying to stay on top of the weeds in the market garden with all this rain and dealing with flea beetles. Grrrrrr.

Continuing managed intensive grazing—this is primarily Jim's thing, and he gets total credit for staying on top of the frequent moves.


Our silver fox rabbit doe, Jewel, gave birth to 7 kits the other day. While she did all the work, it does bode well for the beginnings of our breeding program. Silver Fox are meat rabbits listed on Slow Food's Ark of Taste list. They will be both human and pet food, letting us reduce our dependence on commercial pet food even further, which should be healthier for both the dogs and the cats and lighter on the earth besides. I know some people will have a problem with that, but I can guarantee that these rabbits will have a better, healthier life than anything that goes into the commercial foods.

Set up three bee hives in the hopes of maintaining at least two hives on our property.

Continued working on our "insectary" around the gardens to encourage beneficial insects. ATTRA has a great pdf publication on "farmscaping" for beneficial insects for those who'd like to read more about this idea.

Our cookstove arrived this week, so we'll be working on the install over the next few months to have it up and running for fall burning season.


Added more bread flour, as we really blow through it quickly here. I still have my hi-gluten bulk flour, but it's twice as much as the King Arthur brand I use on a regular basis, so I try to stock up on K.A. whenever it's on sale.


CSA delivery to four families: eggs, mixed baby greens, lamb's quarters, head lettuce, broccoli raab, radishes, carrots, spring garlic, horseradish greens, oregano, sage, parsley, cilantro, rosemary.


I found a bag of roasted red peppers in the bottom of the freezer, so I made some roasted red pepper cous-cous to go with an herb roasted chicken and sauteed lamb's quarters seasoned with sea salt and spring garlic. Quite tasty.


Julia and I learned more about rabbits and "kindling" (what it's called when rabbits give birth). Did you know that baby rabbits only nurse about 5 minutes a day and that mama doesn't sit on them or near them for warmth? Neither did I, but we do now.

I'm hopeful that our first time mama knows what she's doing. She's pulled off some fur for the nest, but not a ton. The babies seem to have nice, rounded bellies from what I can see, so that's a good sign. I'll continue to monitor them over the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I can bring home the bacon...

Fry it up in a pan....

This is Jules's first rabbit of the season; she's quite a good shot.

Last year she got one while wearing a bikini:

And here's one of my favorite photos—target shooting in a leopard suit:

Julia plans to sit for her hunting license this year and head out deer hunting on kids' day. Jim has modified a deer rifle for her (or some such thing). I really don't know what I'm talking about, but since he's not posting these days....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Busy As A Bee

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, both my hives from last year were deadouts this winter, which really sucked. They starved with frames full of honey just inches away, so bee numbers rather than honey stores was the culprit. Thinking I wasn't supposed to open the hives until the first nice day in late winter/ early spring, I missed the opportunity to move full honey frames in closer to the brood nest where the bees could reach them, likely preventing them from starving as they refused to leave the brood nest.

There were a couple other things I could have done, too. First, knowing that one hive was weaker than the other, I could've combined the two hives and their honey stores going into winter, and there's a good chance that I would have had one strong overwintered hive this spring. Second, although my mentor suggested that I could leave the screened bottom boards all winter, I could have put the IPM board in to reduce drafts, especially considering the way the wind whips across the pasture up there. Third, we could have parked our mobile coop on the west side of the hives for the winter, creating a bit of a windbreak for them. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and the only way I know of gaining experience is by, well, gaining experience, sometimes the hard way.

The good news is that my bee inspector checked both hives and declared them free of disease, which means that I now have all that stored honey (probably 70 lbs or so, all without any artificial feeds or treatments) to help establish the new packages I installed last weekend, eliminating the need for any artificial feeding again this year. So, all is not lost, though the nucs I got last year were a much better start than packaged bees, and I'm sad to have lost them.

The packages I installed have a couple of things going for them, however, even if I do need to be on the lookout for mite and beetle problems. First, the bees themselves supposedly came from a bee yard that hasn't been treated in 7 years—I'm not sure exactly where, but I'll post once I find out. Second, the queens I installed come from hygienic queen stock from Bee Happy Apiary in Vacaville, California, which will hopefully give the hives a leg up against mites. (For a list of hygienic queen dealers click here.) I'm considering requeening either later this year or definitely next year if they overwinter with a local source of hygienic queens: VP Queen Bees, who raises without treatments and, I think, using small cell, which I use as well.

Installing the package:

I installed three packages last weekend using a place and wait technique that's a bit gentler on the bees than shaking them into the hives. Basically as you can see, you remove five of the frames in a deep box and place the package directly inside, place your queen cage between two of the center frames, open the package, and close up the hive. Come back in the late afternoon/ early evening and most of the bees will have moved out of the package and into the frames on their own. Remove the package and set it in front of the hive overnight if there are any remaining bees, replace the remaining frames, close up the hive, and you're done. Easy on bees and beekeeper alike.

Installing the queen cage:

Opening the package:

Closing up the hive:

Finishing touch, a brick on top:

We use an old piece of carpeting to set our hives on for weed suppression; it makes maintenance and mowing easier. When I came back that evening, I installed five frames of new small cell foundation. The five frames that were in the hive when I installed the package included both open brood comb, pollen, and plenty of capped honey. Between the queen and the frames of honey, I'm hopeful that the bees will want to stick around. I'll be checking on them today to be sure that they've freed the queen from her cage.

**UPDATE: Only one of the hives had released the queen, so I released the other two into their respective hives and closed up. I'll be checking on them in a week or so, depending on the weather, to look for signs that the queens are accepted and laying.

Also, by way of clarification, it was the queens who came from a yard not treated for the past 7 years, so all those good genetics will be passed on to my hives.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Independence Days Update

Sharon over at Casaubon's Book is starting a new Independence Days Challenge for anyone who would like to sign up, though it's run pretty informally. I'm not going to keep count, personally, since it's really an ongoing thing and the counting just adds pressure.

It's been two weeks since I last posted an update, and we've gotten lots accomplished. And many more things have been left undone due to rain, illness, and just lack of time! We had a quick cold, which knocked me out of commission for a couple of days, not to mention a week of 90° + days. Though I gave it a valiant effort, working in 90° weather with a fever of 102° just didn't cut it. I gave up and sat on the couch watching Battlestar Galactica, my new favorite netflix get.

I also managed to travel up to Lebanon, New Jersey, to give a talk at an unschooling conference, which was loads of fun. I got to talk farming with folks from New York state and a woman from Trinidad y Tobago. Very cool. Hopefully we'll have lots of farm visitors over the next few months. I learned about qigong and even had a brief healing massage. Yet again I discovered the truth of the notion that we are always exactly where we need to be. I got home in time to harvest for my CSA and transplant some more herbs to my new front garden before the rain set in. Whew! It's been a full two weeks!

Transplanted: chives, sage, thyme, salad burnet, yarrow, heartsease, echinacea, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries to the front garden. Set in roses that arrived and some rhubarb that I bought on the spur of the moment at the feed store. Divided and dispersed wormwood, bee balm, lemon balm, horehound, feverfew, and mullein in the front from last year's plantings. I had more stuff planted, but unfortunately Jim, in his overzealous desire to try out his new tiller, tilled it under in the kids' garden where I'd healed them in last year. *sigh*

Seeded in flats: Amish paste tomatoes, basil, dill, parsley, borage (both white and blue), calendula, lemon grass, nasturtium, asclepius, winter savory.

Asparagus, lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, kale, carrots, radishes, turnips, endive, tarragon, sage, cilantro, thyme, sorrel, chives, eggs, milk.

Still using down stores. Kids found some frozen strawberries, which were a great treat as we impatiently watch the blossoms turn to tiny green berries. Made butter.

Continued to work on front herb/ edible garden, spreading ~5 yards of topsoil/ compost mix to ammend the soil and mixing peat moss where the blueberries and cranberries will grow. Ordered 2 varieties of cranberries, 3 varieties of filbert, 20 asparagus crowns, weeping mulberry, and 4 hops vines from Edible Landscaping in Afton, Virginia. My patio peach was out of stock, unfortunately. They're a great little company that I've been ordering from for about 6 or 7 years now, and they've always made good on their plants.

Potted up about 150-200 tomato plants and have about 100 more to go, but I ran out of yogurt cups.

Found the market garden again, which is being taken over by chenopodium seedlings. Guess what CSA will be getting this week? Also sprayed and covered crops to combat those damn flea beetles.

The first of our asparagus has come in, and we've been loving every bit of it! In fact, I loved it so much that I added 20 crowns to my order for the front garden. The ferns are so pretty, and one can never have too much asparagus!

We had chicken, asparagus, chevre sandwiches on homemade bread—all zero mile. The chips are store bought, as we've run out of our storage potatoes and the store bought potatoes just don't fry up well for chips. Or anything much for that matter. Yuk. I'm always reminded how easy it is to eat seasonally when you're used to fresh food.

CSA delivery to four families: mixed greens, spinach, chard, head lettuce, radishes, carrots, turnips, spring garlic, chives, thyme, tarragon, cilantro.

Shared bedding plants and berries with neighbors.

Learned about qigong, an Eastern meditation through movement practice that focuses on energy flow in the body.