Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saving seed

One of the main reasons we are farming is to try and establish some sort of food security for ourselves.  We want to acquire valuable skills so we can be beneficial members of a resilient community.  Saving our seeds is perhaps one of the most important actions we can take.  Since this is fairly new to us, we are still discovering the best ways to harvest and store the seeds from each species we grow.  This week I decided to cut down some of the plants I had been allowing to go to seed, in order to make room for new plants.  The pods are not quite ready but I am hoping that if I allow them to dry in the sun they will mature nicely.  There are way more Siberian kale seeds here than we can possibly use so I will bring a bunch back to our local seed library, which is a satisfying feeling since our original kale seeds came from there.

Siberian kale seed pods drying in the sun
I am very interested to know some systems others choose for storing their seeds. At first we stored our seeds in paper envelopes in a special drawer.  Eventually this got messy and seeds were scattered all over. We have now opted for glass jars covered in paper and labeled, which we store in a dark cabinet.  This has been efficient but the glass is problematic (living in earthquake country). 

Our first season starting all of our plants from seed, almost everything we planted came from free seeds; either from our local seed library, a nearby ecology center, or traded from friends.  I also found out about the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN).  It is listed as a source for rare seeds in the back of Perennial Vegetables.  GRIN is a national collection of plant materials of hundreds of crops and thousands of wild crop relatives from all over the globe.  Free seeds and plants are available for research purposes.  What intrigued me about GRIN is that I could order seeds collected by hand in the forests of the Ukraine, some rare variety of quinoa from Peru, or a stash of corn seed that has been saved by some farmer's wife in Nebraska for decades.  The downside to GRIN is that you have no way to know if the seeds are organic so I tried to stick with the wild species that interested me.  To be honest, I have not planted many of the seeds I received from this source but the ones I have planted I am quite happy with, like the tree spinach (aka lambs quarters).  

It has been fun experimenting with mystery varieties but this year we opted to purchase specific heirloom varieties (from here) that we had read about and were excited to try; for flavor, size, appearance, and which are the best keepers.  Learning about the varieties that grow well in our micro-climate is taking our gardening to another level and teaching us yet another invaluable aspect of sustainability.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Infinite Uses of the Pallet

It seems to be all about pallets around here.  Why?  They are free, super strong, and weather resistant, plus they're everywhere.  And for us, it just makes sense to use what we have or what is easily accessible.  

The pallet chicken coop is coming along.  After a bit of a break to work on many other projects, we are returning to finish it up.  We still need to insulate with straw, seal up the walls and paint the exterior.  The chickens don't seem to care about the disarray, they have happily taken up in the shade and even started laying in the empty boxes.

Another recent project is our pallet stanchion with eucalyptus branches that function as the closure.  Ginger doesn't seem to put up a fight.

Our mini green house is made of pallet wood and recycled windows, while the seed flats are just shortened, re-assembled pallet boards.

As for the Warre hives, the top box which is the insulation layer is made from pallet wood while the rest is pine.  

The options for working with this abundant  and durable resource are seemingly endless once you put your imagination to it. Isn't that just about true of anything though? 

Top Photos 
by Lori Eanes

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Garden Mosaics

Yesterday, my Mom and I had a great time crafting and making some wonderful mosaic garden stepping stones.  This is a fast and easy project that appeals to my desire for instant gratification.  There are basically only four steps; mix the cement/concrete with water to the consistancy of a thick brownie mix, pour into a mold and smooth, design your mosaic, and allow to dry for about 48 hours. We used broken glass pieces, glass gems, and small mirrors as our medium but you can also use tiles, shells, beads, whatever is pleasing to your aesthetic.  After Father's Day breakfast this morning we presented our garden stones to Dad who was very pleased and excited at the prospect of doing a bigger mosaic project.  We are thinking bird bath, fountain, maybe even a garden wall.  

Hope you are enjoying this beautiful weather and happy Father's Day to all you Dad's out there!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Family Cow Chronicles Vol. 1

It never occurred to me that keeping a cow so close to the city would be challenging in the ways it has been.  Not that she is a challenge herself, or that we don't have enough space for her, it's just that it is extremely difficult to find the services we need for her close by.  And transporting a cow is not the same as making a quick trip to the vet with a goat.  Not the same at all.  Very few people keep a family cow these days so even just finding someone experienced to talk to was difficult, although I now have a small handful of wonderful people who have been so generous and knowledgeable, having patience with my unending questions.

I have been learning ALOT about cows lately.  Like how they bellow their heads off when they are coming into heat (every 21 days).  Yes, our beautiful Ginger, who was bred in February to a strapping Jersey bull, went back into heat!  We have learned that it is not uncommon for this to happen when a heifer is bred so young.  All in all, it was best for Ginger to grow a little more before we bred her again and best for us because we could breed her to a mini jersey bull, which is what we wanted.  So, with alot of research, I found a very
knowledgeable artificial insemination technician who came up from Hollister to breed her last week.  Artificial insemination is a whole world of information...where to purchase the semen, whether to breed on the natural heat or do a fixed AI, these are all things we have been discussing and feeling rather like cow nerds.  But oh, it's all so fascinating.

hoof trimming at the Cotati Large Animal Hospital
Meanwhile, before we bred Ginger we took the opportunity to get her all ship shape with vaccines, a little hoof trim, and the not so little procedure of removing her horns.   The horn removal was traumatic for her and a hard, emotional decision to make.  But since I'm the one who is working with her on a daily basis and her horns were only going to get bigger, I opted to have them removed.  She was already beginning to push up against my legs and those horns hurt! The first day or so after the procedure she was not quite herself, but it's been several weeks and she is almost all healed up.

Getting Ginger in the stanchion
The artificial insemination was quick and went smoothly.  We ended up using semen from here.  Bob Honey is the sire.  Supposedly he passed away years ago but his semen lives on in a liquid nitrogen tank. Ginger was bred on her natural heat so we will wait 21 days and if she does not go back into heat then we can safely assume she's pregnant. If she does go back into heat we will do a fixed AI, which is where the technician inserts something called a CIDR.  After seven days the CIDR is removed and then 54 hours later the cow is inseminated. Most people who practice fixed AI do so to synchronize estrus in their herd, causing the whole herd to go into heat at the same time, making insemination easier for the farmer. 

AI technician inserting the semen
Like I said, we are learning so much and falling deeper in love with Ginger every day.  Stay tuned for more Family Cow Chronicles to come.  

PS.  A special book given to me...Caring For Cows, by Valerie Porter.  (Specifically about holistic and organic animal husbandry.)

Photo By Lori Eanes

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fly Predators

I realize that on this blog we are mostly sharing the enthusiasm and fervor we feel about farming and living a natural lifestyle.  Well of course that makes sense, since we want you to be inspired and excited with us.  The reality is, however, like anything else in life, there is a down side.  And for me right now, superficial as it is, that dark side is the army of flies we have breeding and hovering on our property.  I suppose it can not be helped.  We try to clean the goat stalls regularly, compost all the manure and keep things moving around here.  But I am learning it is just a law of nature that with livestock, manure and warm weather come flies, lots of them.  We tried sticky fly paper as our initial method of eradication.  Strands and strands of it hang from the barn ceiling and in front of our porch, (the worst two areas because of the shade).  Not a very zen approach I know, the flies get stuck in the paper but soon the papers are full and the flies keep on coming.  

Second approach...the wand zapper.  It's really terrible, like a big tennis racket for electrocuting flies.  

Our third approach the liquid fly bait, which smells like death, is not really what you want hanging on your front porch.  It is supposed to trap up to 20,000 flies but after almost a month now it has trapped a grand total fly.  

The fourth approach arrived in the mail this week.  5,000 fly predators from Spalding Labs.  I must say I have very high hopes for this one, it makes sense and seems holistic/sustainable.  I am supposed to wait for a dozen of the 5,000 to hatch inside the package then release them around the most problem areas on our property.  The nocturnal fly predators proceed to eat the fly larvae nipping the problem in the bud.  The Spalding Lab people are very friendly and after asking you how much land you have, how many animals, and your zip code, they quickly configure how many fly predators you need for your individual situation and for how many months you need to order.  

I will receive a shipment of 5,000 once a month for five months.  Tomorrow is the day to release them, I can see a bunch of them wiggling around in the package.  I'll let you know if it works in a month or so.