Friday, February 20, 2009

A Goat that Plays Turtle?

What a morning!

I got up a tad earlier than usual to make sure I was at work by 8 am. I took care of the chickens, and then fed and watered the goats. Then I grabbed my milk gallon filled with water and headed out to the greenhouse to make sure nothing was drying out. It all looked good, but I gave everything a small drink anyway. The temps in there are perfect right now. We've rigged a long outdoor extension cord to the greenhouse and have an oil-filled radiator in there set to low. It's got a thermostat on it, so it keeps the greenhouse from dipping below about 55 F. It's working well so far.

Anyway, I thinned a few tomato plants from the shelf and set them down. Then I watered everything and then left. I got almost all the way back to the house before I remembered the plants I'd clipped. I went back to get them so that I could give them to the goats while they were still fresh. I'm glad I did, otherwise I would not have still been outdoors to hear Sass. She was bleating quite loudly. When I looked, she appeared to be annoyed at Buddy. He was in one of his rambunctious moods and was butting her, presumably trying to get her to play with him. She butted him back, but when he wouldn't leave her alone, she got loud. She was running away from him and he was chasing. When she started coughing from breathing too hard, I immediately went in to break it up. While I was facing Buddy, I heard Sass jump up on the table we built for play purposes. When I turned around, she was actually lying on the ground, on her back, legs in the air. She must have jumped and fallen! She was squirming around and I assumed she was trying to get up. She's kind of large right now (being pregnant and all) and she couldn't do it herself. I helped to partially roll her over, and she managed to get up the rest of the way on her own. Then Buddy started in again! She followed me out of the gate (not something she normally does in the morning) , so I let her wander around a bit giving Buddy a chance to calm down. When I brought her back in, I calmly stood between her and Buddy until he got the picture and seemed to relax. I wasn't sure if it was ok to leave, but I had to get to work! I kept an eye on them both while I finished getting ready and everything seemed calm enough that I felt ok leaving.

Luckily, I think she's fine. I just keep thinking how awful it would be if she hurt herself either trying to jump on the table, or trying to get herself up, and no one was around to help. I think that this weekend, we are going to have to make adding additional fencing to the goat pen a priority. We need a way to separate them if necessary. We may also have to look into getting Buddy a friend that he can rough-house with...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Confused plants or is it Spring?

German Extra Hardy, Siberian and Chet's Italian Red are the varietys I planted. I picked them at random - so hopefully they are all suited to our environment!

Last fall I planted garlic. I've never grown garlic before, so I just followed the directions and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it works. I planted three types in one bed, and then covered the bed with about 6 inches of pine needle mulch (since that's what I had in abundance at the time). The garlic bed is marked with stakes and is residing in a corner of our row garden where the sprinkler system doesn't really reach. This was intentional because at a certain point (and I have to do some reminder reading!), you have to stop watering the garlic. Hopefully that point is after June 1st, or mother nature is going to keep watering despite my need for her to stop! I was surveying the row garden area (still full of worms!) over the weekend when I noticed that the garlic is sprouting. I've heard that's normal...but it seems awfully early to me. Of course, we have all kinds of things sprouting around the property. The plum tree is budding, the roses are throwing off new shoots, and all the bulbs are just peeping up. I need to make note of where things come up so that I know where things are when I go to plant my own bulbs next fall. My guess is that these early ones are likely daffodils or crocuses (is that a word?).

Either way, I plan to get tulips in the ground for next year - so I need to map out things this spring. :-)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Building a Greenhouse

The 'site' before we'd done much of anything at all.

My husband unpacking the box that the greenhouse kit shipped in...

Here the frame is assembled and we started putting in the polycarbonate panels.
I skipped taking any photos between unpacking and getting the frame to this point because that process took us a couple of months. A part got broken, we tried to glue it, then we had to get a new one sent, etc. It was a mess. We were begining to think that we'd never get this thing built!

Here you can see the building within a building (or a garage). It was helpful to have a solid flat surface on which to work.

The greenhouse was pretty much completed while still in the garage.

The base. We leveled a spot, laid down the weed cloth and then...

staked the base frame into the ground in the corners.

Then we got a truck load of river rock gravel to cover the weed cloth.

The base with the gravel - awaiting the greenhouse.

This is the frame we built from 2x4's so that we could carry the greenhouse out to the site without dropping it (or torquing it). We set the greenhouse on top of this frame and successfully carried it to the other side of our property.

After we fitted the greenhouse over the base, my H installed all the little locking screws that hold it in place.

The finished greenhouse!! There is a vented widow on the north side of the greenhouse and the door that you see is a split door so that the top can be left open for ventilation.

We bought this shelving for organizing the basement, but for now, it works as a plant shelf. The first seedlings are already happily enjoying the sunshine.

We also put our two dwarf citrus trees flanking the doorway. One is a meyer lemon, the other a navel orange.

The corners of the greenhouse all have little downspouts so that it's easy to set up a system to collect rain water. We are going to start with 5 gallon buckets, but depending on how much rain we get, we may have to install some real rain barrels.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sweet Potato Squares

I think I've mentioned this recipe before, but I don't believe that I've shared it. When my H and I first thought about setting up our own homestead, we signed up for an organic gardening class at a local farm in NC (Frog Pond Farm in my side bar - I would highly recommend them for relevant classes and we'd be attending if we still lived in the area!). When we were there, Libby served us these sweet potato squares. They were delicious, so we all asked for the recipe. When she emailed it to us a few days later, I saved it to my hard drive and then forgot about it.

Fast foward to Oregon. We had quite a few sweet potatoes in storage, so I thought about this recipe. I pulled it out and lo and behold - discovered that it came from the Victory Garden Cookbook. I LOVE this cookbook! I've been using it as a gardening reference as we plan what we want to grow this year and if I'd just flipped through the sweet potato section, I would have seen this same recipe.

This is a spicy, moist and delicious snack cake. I've made a few slight modifications and Libby added the ginger which I think it just perfect for this snack cake. Give it a try!!

Sweet Potato Squares
Modified from the original included in 'The Victory Garden Cookbook'

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 cup oil
1/8 cup applesauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup splenda (or just use 2/3 cup of brown sugar - I was trying to save calories)
1 egg
1 large apple - peeled and shredded
1/2 lb sweet potato - peeled and shredded
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Stir together flour, soda, salt and spices in a small bowl. Mix oil, applesauce & sugar. Beat in egg. Add vanilla, apple & sweet potato to oil/sugar mixture and mix. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Mix in nuts. Spread in a greased 8x8 square baking pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool before cutting into squares.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Pruning Continues

The three biggest fruit trees that needed pruning - 'before'.

We have been using the pruning that we need to complete as a 'fill in' when we take breaks from other chores (like building the greenhouse). So far, we have completed 7 apple trees and 1 prune tree. We still have quite a few left to get done, including all the pear trees, but it's a start.

Same three trees - 'after' and much shorter!

Here you can see the before and after of the two biggest tree projects we had. The third one (on the left) is a plum tree that we still have not yet tackled. The two apple trees had to be done right away because the area in front of the tree on the right is where our greenhouse is going to go. We wanted to get the BIG branches down before we put the greenhouse in to avoid the possiblity of a rougue branch taking out our new greenhouse. It took us more time to clean up all the branches (and it's still not done!) than it did to cut them down. The good news is that our wood pile is a bit replentished (for next year) with the big limbs we took down.

Before this weekend is over, we hope to get a few more apple trees and the pear trees completed. We also still need to take on the remaining grape arbors. It's a never ending battle!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The 2009 garden begins

Seeds just starting out in the basement. You can see the heating pad used to keep the soil warm under the base.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we started seeds in the basement. My husband put together a grow light on a workbench down there, and then we decided to use a seed starting kit we'd bought and hardly used last year. We planted 3 types of tomato, 3 types of pepper, leeks, kale, celeriac and onions. We had the rows numbered and all the varieties listed in a notebook. Because we hadn't yet purchased a heating pad that didn't have an auto-shut-off, we had them sitting on the top of a space heater in my husband's office. Unfortunately, due to the small size of his office, it wasn't long before he'd knocked it over. Every single seed pod was knocked out of it's space before anything had sprouted. We put it all back and moved it to the basement, but we no longer had any idea what was what.

We still don't! Things are sprouting like mad and while we can tell a tomato plant from a pepper plant, we don't know what variety is what. We've also never grown kale, celeriac or we aren't exactly sure what they look like as seedlings.

The first tomato transplant.

We did some transplanting last weekend nonetheless. I had saved a few small pots from last years tomatoes and pepper starts, so we filled those first. Our greenhouse isn't ready yet, so the new transplants are lining the window sill in our dinning room. It's not a south facing window (we don't have any of those), so the sooner we get the greenhouse assembled, the better. I only transplanted the largest plants, but now the ones I left behind are larger and need to be planted as well. Instead of buying more pots, I dug through all the containers I've been collecting and managed to find 12 that were suitable. I cleaned them out, punched holes in the bottom, and they are sitting on the bench downstairs awaiting transplants. We'll probably try and get those done tomorrow.

Our seedling keeping one of our citrus trees (dwarf navel orange) company in the dining room.

While we've started a few veggies and have plans to add additional fruits including blueberries and strawberries, I've never done very well with herbs. I've planted them in pots before, but I think I either underwater or overwater them and kill them. This year, I have a different set of plans. I'm still going to do invasive things like mint in a big pot, but I'm going to fence off a small section of our backyard and do a herb garden. This area is just off the deck, so it's extremely convenient. The fencing is necessary because without it, the dogs will wreck havoc on the garden.

The future location of our herb garden.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Snow, a 100-mile breakfast and birthdays...

No biking for me today - this is the view out my back door when I went out to feed the animals.

So today is my birthday. I'm getting older. For the most part, it doesn't bother me. I mean, my mom used to say that getting older was better than the alternative, right? But occasionally something will remind me that I'm not the 26 year old I think I am...that I don't have infinite time left to accomplish the things I want to accomplish, and that no matter how much biking I do, I should never, ever wear a mini-skirt again. Ha.

Anyway, this morning I'm sitting here enjoying what turns out to be a 100-mile breakfast with very little effort (good, this is becoming common place!). My eggs are from the back yard, the sausage is from a ranch down the street where they raise grass-fed beef and pork. My toast is from homemade bread using Bob's Red Mill flour which is produced just on the other side of Portland. Even my blackberry jam is from our own blackberries. There are still a few holes in this meal, though. The jam has sugar in it...and that's not locally produced. I do need to find out if you can make jam with honey. We do still plan on getting eventually we can produce our own sweeteners. I also am drinking coffee and it's Colombian. My coffee from far away places will be the last thing I give up when 'local' becomes the only option. We do the best we can, but some things are just too good to give up! ;-)

So today I am off from work. All employees at my company are being forced to use 10 days of PTO (paid time off) in the first quarter. I figured that my birthday was a good day to take off, since I was looking for reasons to choose one day over another. My plans for today are simple...some 'self-improvement' work (I can be a hippie-farmer, but I don't need to look like one!), some cleaning around the house, transplant some seedlings, bake some bread, and go for a bike ride. The bike ride is going to have to be scrapped. I awoke to snow on the ground and heavy rain predicted for this afternoon. The weather is NEVER nice on my birthday. So instead I'll make the inside of our house all cozy and clean...and wait for a nicer day to ride my bike.

I also plan to upload about a billion photos from my camera (the one above being the first one so far!) and organize my thoughts for future blog posts. I feel like I have so much to say/write about that it gets overwhelming and I just opt out. Once spring rolls around, I'm going to be overwhelmed with work I need to get things in order before then. Spring...I can't wait!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Eminent return

I know that I've been very sporadic about posting over the past week (9 days, actually). While things have been happening on the little farm that are reasonably worth posting about, I've been swamped at work. I had to work late a couple of days, and while I had some time to update over the weekend, I felt the need to leave my computer in it's bag. After I left work on Friday, I did not use a computer even once until I got back to work on Monday morning. That's an extremely rare occasion for me!! At the very least, I'm using it for recipes or to look up how to do some farm task or other.

Anyway, we actually got quite a bit accomplished. In a nutshell, we cleaned out the chicken coop and moved it, cleaned up a lot of the branches from last weekends pruning, laid out and leveled the base for our greenhouse, filled in the floor with gravel, tried to finish building the greenhouse and broke the repaired connector again, baked bread, pruned two more apple trees and one plum tree, transplanted a few seedlings into larger pots and grafted a few apple branches to our red delicious tree.

We have a new greenhouse piece on it's way to us to arrive tomorrow, so we hope to get that thing built (finally!) before next weekend. I have been taking photos all along the way, so once it's done, I'll have a full pictorial version of our efforts to share.

My plan is to return to regular blogging very shortly. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Weekend of pain

These are the three trees we worked on this weekend (one is partially blocked by the ladder). The middle one is now about 1/3 it's size and the right one is even smaller. The left one still needs more work done. In the foreground, there are two small trees that both produce delicious apples that we prunned last weekend.

I'm sitting here, on the couch, making typing errors and periodically moaning in pain. It's been one hell of a weekend!

On Saturday, we tackled the pruning again. We have three trees in the far back yard that don't look like they've ever been pruned. Two are apple trees, one is a plum of some sort. None of them produced anything edible last year, so we hope that pruning will help. Additionally, two of the three trees are in close proximity to where we plan to erect the greenhouse, so cutting them back some is critical. The last thing we need is a big branch to break off and fall through the polycarbonate roof! All three of these trees are about 30-40 ft tall. We had only hand tools to take them down to a more manageable size. My H spent most of the day on a ladder or climbing through the trees with a saw in hand. I was on the ground with a long rope, ready to assist by pulling branches down or out of his way. I was also in charge of using the big clippers to cut all downed branches into manageable lengths. Near the end of the day, my H made a trip to a local discount store and purchased an electric chain saw. That made a HUGE difference and we were able to make a good dent in the clean up. We cut down so many branches that we easily had more wood on the ground than was left remaining in the trees! By Saturday evening, my wrists, my back and my shoulders were screaming in pain.

Sunday, we had plans to go for a bike ride in the morning. The weather cooperated, so we headed out around 11:30 am after doing some morning chores. I planned out a short 20 mile loop that kept us off the main roads (we rode those last weekend and the grit/gravel remaining from the December snow storms made it rough going). Unfortunately, I don't know the roads in this area all that well, so I wasn't 100% sure what types of roads we were going to be riding. Turns out, not good ones! About half our route was on dirt/gravel roads and about 1/2 of that was some serious climbing! Oops. After 4 miles of slogging up very muddy, dirt roads that probably had an average incline of about 7%, we were totally spent. We'd picked a 20 mile route because we are out of shape...a tough climb was more than we bargained for...though we did get some nice views for our effort. And the descent was paved (thank goodness - I am terrified of descents in mud!) and probably would have been fun had it been a little warmer. 40 degrees is too cold when you aren't actively pedaling!

Anyway, tonight my legs are joining my wrists, shoulders and back in the pain department. I'm glad we got so much done on those trees (we still have more to do) and I'm glad we rode - but I'm looking forward to starting the work week so that I can recover!