Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring is here...?

The plan was to do this sort of transplanting and bed preparation last week but we had an unseasonable (though, not unheard of) cold snap with freezing temperatures and even snow! I'm so glad I had those row covers because I'm sure they made the experience much easier for what was already outside. Unfortunately, my poor leafy greens that were started in a shallow tray under the grow lamp were a bit root bound. I'm afraid their shallow root systems might not make the transition to the outdoors very well. We'll just have to wait and see.

First, I knew I needed more potting soil for future planter starts so I scraped off the top 1 inch off the largest bed which, incidentally, didn't get much use last year. What was below the dry cover layer was a beautiful, aromatic, moist, rich peat. The stuff you only wish came in the bagged potting soil! And once I took a generous two inches from the entire bed there was still two more inches of the amazing stuff below. 

Potting soil. It is even darker and denser than it appears. I may be white, but I'm not that white!

I then set my walla walla onion sprouts in rows and used the covering mulch to bury them appropriately. The roots are directly contacting the potting soil-like material for easy nutrient retrieval but the mulch on top provides the water retention and warmth for this year as well as the organic material to create perfect potting soil next year.

The only difficult thing about using the "Back to Eden" method is I've had to unlearn some of the things I was doing previously to "maximize my space." Intensive planting doesn't allow the room required for mulch to do its job. Therefore you must amend the soil with appropriate amounts of compost, peat, vermiculite, etc. because you are removing nutrients from the soil much faster than you are putting them in. If, however, you have the space to spread out your plants just slightly then heavy mulching will save you a lot of time and money, besides closing the nutrient gap year after year.

So far, I have saved money on water bills, compost, and potting soil.

 Mulching in progress.

 Walla Walla onions mulched!

Now that the broccoli and cabbage have grown a bit I can fit more mulch under the first leaves without suffocating them.

Transplanted and mulched spinach and kale.

 Peas are up too! (Notice the slug trap up top.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pasture Management

We have had milk goats on our (Zwicker) property for a few years now. As they made progress clearing out all the bushes and young trees I began putting thought to future grazing options. Since goats are browsers and interested in bushes and trees rather than grazers which are interested in grasses I either need to begin growing the sorts of things that provide high protein roughage that mimic bushy nutrients or spend ever more money on alfalfa which is getting more expensive every year. Now is the time to get started. Actually, last fall was the time to get started but we'll get to that later.

Last year at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup I attended a basic pasture management lecture which gave me lots of ideas on seeding methods, rotations, and fencing layouts. I bought a pasture seed mixture especially formulated for milk producers and a clover and vetch mixture to supplement. Since it is a relatively small pasture I planned to hand-cast the seeds rather than buy machinery. I also don't have the machinery to rough up the top inch of grass and make it more amenable to seeds so the idea was to top seed by hand in the fall and cover the seeds with a very fine cover of wood chips to hide most of them from the birds. Sowing in the Fall allows the new seeds to root and sprout while the grass is dormant which gives it a head start in the spring. Unfortunately, the combination of life circumstances and lack of wood chips prevented the ideal situation. So, instead, we're doing all this in the spring.

First we had to chop up two trees that fell over in winter, then cast the seed, then cover with wood chips. The first project day I couldn't cover as much ground as I had seeded due to time and energy levels (I was only recently on my feet after my second round of the flu this season.) Once I had a chance to return to the pasture today all of the uncovered seeds were gone except for the vetch which resembles a small pea. So I reseeded in smaller portions and managed to spread an additional seven wheelbarrow loads full.

So far.

A lot of area yet to be seeded!

Once the seeded portion is strong enough for occasional grazing we'll allow the goats into portions of the pasture at a time. I'm keeping an eye on CraigsList for fencing and gates so we can create those areas. One thing the lecturer emphasized was only allowing your animals to eat the plants down to about two inches and not any lower otherwise you risk the plant dying. However, If you don't allow the plants to be "harvested" they will get to a certain size and stall in their growth. Apparently you will get maximum forage from each plant if you keep cutting it down to between two and three inches then letting them grow for a week or so.

I enjoyed working outside, getting dirty, and sweating but doing all this by hand is a lot of work! But I am oh-so-excited to see what happens this year and next!

Introducing Chocolate and Mousse!

On a related note, I'm listing our two weathers on Craigslist soon. Are any of you interested before I post them there? They are Nubian and Boer cross, hand fed, 10 months old. $75 a piece or $125 for both. They are friendly and silly and will either make good pets or delicious meals. Goats are very social and will be very unhappy alone. Prefer to sell them together but will sell individually if you already have companions like other goats, sheep, or horses.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Early Spring Planting

I cannot tell you how excited and how nervous I am about putting transplants into the ground already! Without some key pieces of equipment every previous attempt at extending my harvest season have failed. Now that I have seed tray warmers, grow lights, and row covers success is likely enough that I gambled and transplanted 32 cabbages, 32 broccoli, and about 20 golden beets. I also started another tray of spinach and a planter box of lettuce. The cabbage and broccoli have been hardened off in stages and for now will be covered at night with the row covers. That should help the ground stay a few degrees warmer than otherwise.

 Seedlings under a metal halide grow lamp in dad's wood shed.


 As they grow we will fill in spaces between the plants with more wood chips. Having wood chips over the soil protects it from water evaporation, keeps the soil insulated, and constantly feeds nutrients into the soil below as it breaks down. And, somehow, it magically loosens the soil below even if you have never touched it with a spade!

The current vegetable garden. From L to R: cold frame, various raised beds, a few trellises, row covers, along the fence are mostly raspberries. We will continue to propagate them until they fill both sides. Notice the raised bed that is almost black. I scraped off the wood chips so as to remove that darn vining grass stuff without mixing the new wood chips and the mature soil. Yes, it really is that black. Delicious!

And for your dose of cuteness, Abi being introduced to the three new "koo-aks". I love her word for duck! She won't say duck but she'll say quack. Goat was one of her first words but before she said that she called them "maaa". Katherine Hartt loves poultry but Khaki Campbell ducks in particular. Hoping for more egg-layers!

 Aren't they cute?!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Baby Goats! (2012)

[Originally published on my personal blog on May 21, 2012.]

Last Thursday I was making final preparations to head out to the gym and I decided to check on our very pregnant goat, Chestnut, "just in case." It's a good thing I did because she was in labor! I considered going to the gym anyway since I didn't know how long it would take her, but since I had to intervene in her labor last season I didn't want to risk her progressing quickly then getting stuck while I was out. I called my sister to let her know that this is the day and she is welcome to come over whenever she is able.

Chestnut's first labor, last year, stalled a bit after the birth of the first kid. In general, there should be no more than an hour between delivery of kids. After about an hour and a half of her ineffective pushing I decided it was time to physically help the kid advance. I didn't like causing Chestnut to be so uncomfortable but after a few attempts I got the harness around his front hooves and aided him out. She was pretty tired and was very grateful for the energy and vitamin supplements we had on hand.

Given that, I kept a close eye on Chestnut to make sure she was progressing consistently and not getting stuck at any point.

She did lots of arching, stretching, and changing positions.

At one point I got the impression that she was getting tired so I offered her warm mash and molassas water. She wasn't interested in the mash, it must have been too rich for her, but she gulped down the molassas water. About two hours after I noticed her contractions she started pushing.

She is much more vocal than Rosemary when in labor giving me a bunch of sympathy pains for her. She decided to delivery laying down this year. A dark kid came first.

As she was cleaning that one a second one started coming. Then it occurred to me: my phone can take video too! I asked Amanda, holding the phone, to switch it to camcorder mode while I continued to stand by and help out where needed.

You might want to turn your volume down. Pushing out a kid isn't called LABOR for nothing!

Video coming soon

Cute family photos!

Early Spring Chores

[This post originally published on my personal blog on February 1st, 2013.]

My favorite time of year just started with my first cups of dirt: gardening season!

Once again, it has been a long time since I've posted but this time for a different reason. On August 10 we had just returned from Children's Hospital for a lab draw to rule out rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, I got a phone call that said "I'm so sorry to tell you this, but we found some problems with your daughter's blood. We need you to come back to the ER to be admitted for treatment." Since then many things have happened including respiratory failure, intubation, a tracheostomy, and constant pain. If you aren't already familiar with the story and are interested in reading about the ongoing saga then please visit our joint blog called "Shoshana: Leukemia."

In researching cancer and cancer treatment we have started Shoshana on a strictly vegan diet and the rest of us are transitioning to a vegetarian/vegan diet. Since I already have a garden it was natural to brainstorm of how to expand our harvest season to help supplement the massive amounts of vegetables we are going through. Step one was to build something to expand our growing season since so often seeds and seedlings rot in the ground with our wet, cold Springs and refuse to grow in the wet, cold Falls. First thing to do was build a relatively inexpensive cold cover: 

This is the PVC pipe frame. After that we'll drape it with the 6 mil. greenhouse film from our local hardware store and snap it on with special clips made just for this (the only thing I had to order online). When "all danger of frost" has passed in the PNW the growing conditions are still pretty bad for most vegetables and by the time actual summer has rolled around in mid July they are too small and stunted to mature by the end of summer. The sorts of veggies I would love to grow every year but are super difficult in this climate are tomatoes, peppers, some species of corn, and winter squash. With a mobile greenhouse cover the build is only a fraction of the cost of a full sized greenhouse with nearly all the benefits. Additionally, I bought a T-8 fluorescent grow lamp from a guy on Craigslist. Thanks, man, but I don't need your "How to grow medicine" book thrown in the package. I'm just growing boring vegetables and herbs. Herbs like basil, rosemary, parsley, and thyme. Thanks anyway.

The other thing I need to expanding my grow season is to warm the soil. Buying a heating mat for sprouts is at least $40. But thanks to a DIY article online I built my own heating mats for only a couple of dollars. Take plastic bins (I had one in stock and bought two more), lay a layer of outdoor (non-LED) Christmas lights in the bottom, cover with sand or cat litter, and set seed trays on top. 

We will have to be careful to not allow the soil to get too warm or we'll dry them out or even scorch the seeds. We could invest in a soil thermometer or even a thermometer circuit breaker combo to both monitor and manage the soil temperature. But at this point I think we can manage by keeping a close eye on everything. We set them up in my parent's second story/attic so the lights are only turned on at night. Once they sprout I will set up the grow lamp and that could theoretically take the greens all the way to maturity though fluorescent lamps don't have the ideal light spectrum for mature growth. Either I could harden them off and put them in natural sunlight for the last part of their growth or set up a different grow lamp with the other side of the spectrum. Those run a couple of hundred dollars for the whole system and you have to take into account electricity bills and heat output. I found some bulbs for the system super cheap on Craigslist (again, the buying process was a little sketchy) but I figure I won't really need the rest of the system until this winter when I hope to continue growing certain veggies and herbs all year long.

Here are all my early veggie seeds planted and set on warmers (except for the spinach, kale, and onions which will do fine with the overnight temperatures indoors, even in the attic). 

From top down: Cabbage, broccoli, beets, spinach, onions, leeks, and kale. 

Next month will be more of those plus some other, warmer climate veggies. I'm so excited!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Saturday Work Party

On Saturday March 2, 2013 we scheduled a work party and Dave Hartt, Scott Harris, Elizabeth Zwicker and I showed up. :-) I took some pictures of the trees I was able to prune. Boy, I am not at all sure of what I'm doing. I read up some on the internet and worked off my memory of what 'professionals' have told me. Lets hope they have a healthy production this season.

Scott and Dave did an incredible job of reducing a large pile of limbs and branches from some past trimming. They separated out the fire wood size and piled the smaller stuff for chipping. Great job guys.

Elizabeth was busy with the garden and the individual seedlings, sprouts and small plants. She worked hard to get a second stage set up in the shed for hardening off the seedlings and small plants. It is a large circular shade with metal halide bulb.

Our pear tree before pruning
Our pear tree after pruning

Apple tree before pruning
Apple tree after pruning. W/helpers :)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Very Tall Tree

It dwarfs our little house.
This shows its full height.
We love our trees but this one has always made me nervous in a wind storm or the ice storms we have occasionally had in Puget Sound. We have lost several branches but luckily none have ever landed on the house, however, branches have landed on the wires leading to the house. Scott removed the branches and reconnected the standard to the house that was bent away from the house by the weight of the branches and the ice.

As you can see in the first picture, it truly dwarfs our little house and stands 80'-100' into the blue sky.

One of our first goals in maximizing our productive space was to bring this tree down. We needed to save up for the money to pay for the felling. The Lord provided a wonderful service that we would be happy to recommend. I will add their information to the post as soon as I have their permission. They actually donated some of their time to the project so our out of pocket cash was a lot less than the other quotes we had been given.

Looking up the tree
Looking toward the neighbor to the West
Check in tomorrow to see the actual video of the felling.