After a good night's sleep following a date in town with my hubby, I rose early and set out granola, blueberries, and fresh milk for everyone to eat when they got up. Typically I fix a hot breakfast and get everyone up to start the day together. We have been so busy lately, a lazy morning was in order. I had my bowl of breakfast, along with 2 cups of hot coffee and fresh cream, and headed outside to start a long day of outdoor chores - my favorite way to spend Saturdays in the Spring.
First, I raked grass seed into one of our 3 small orchard areas. Eddie and Destiny had turned the soil over last week, the little ones spread rabbit dressing on top, and the snow this week broke it down and softened it up. Yesterday's sun had dried out the wet soil just enough to be perfect for raking in grass seed. The seed was a turf mix I bought at at Lowe's for 'landscape professionals'. I wanted something different from the drought tolerant pasture grass seed I put in the first of the 3 areas, and the cover crop grass mix I will put in the 3rd area next week.
Seeding grass into these 3 areas will hopefully be successful. When we first planted the orchard areas, we didn't put down groundcover and the weeds took over with a fury and we couldn't keep up with them. We had to spend our time weeding the veggie gardens instead, and just didn't have the time for these 3 spots. The next year we thought we would be smart and lay-down black fabric mulch that we had leftover from conservation tree planting. Well, the weeds couldn't get through, but the black fabric was so hot it took its toll on the fruit trees. That was a lot of work wasted! But, on the farm you learn from mistakes, and keep problem solving until you get it right.
We are to have rain mixed with snow several times over the next week, so this is the perfect time to get the grass seeded. The green blades will emerge in the next few weeks, and once they are lush, we'll let poultry into these areas to graze, manure, and lay eggs in small, portable huts on mini-pastures.
After I got the seed raked in, I headed to the next problem area. We have what we call the
small triangle paddock (we name each spot so we all know where we are talking about!). It had the worst soil of the land surrounding the alleyway, that surrounds our house and yard. We built lots of small paddocks radiating out from the house so we could view our animals from the house windows. We rotate the small livestock around in these paddocks for their winter quarters and spring birthing. Once we move them to other pasture/paddocks, we plant gardens in these areas.
Well, this triangle paddock didn't grow a thing the first time we planted veggies in it. So, we planted a barley cover crop the following fall, and last spring the sheep grazed that down nicely. We let it lay fallow last summer and fall during the drought. We decided we didn't need another veggie garden there this year, but had an idea to grow vegetable fodder for the pigs instead. The pigs could then harvest mangels and peas themselves in late summer, if we planted them in spring. This is a traditional farming practice a farmer friend in Ohio mentioned to us, and we read more about in a book from the 1800's.
A couple weeks ago we moved Dude and Red Elsie - 2 of our breeding Tamworth pigs, off of the triangle to another paddock. They had spent the winter in the triangle, tilling up the ground every time it snowed. They also mixed their forage and bedding hay into the soil, increasing the organic matter. The snow had softened it all to be 'just ready' for seeding.
The big kids moved the 2 portable pig sheds for me - one to the far end of the triangle, and the other to an area where we will move some sheep next week. When I looked at the triangle's soil, it had lots of high and low spots from the pigs digging and nesting. I took a shovel and leveled out the soil so it was flat enough to walk on. One spot was like adobe it was so hard - this was where the pigs water had been, and they mashed their hay into it. I literally had to dig and chop to get into the soil. Nothing like a bit of farm gardening to replace going to the gym for a work-out!
Unlike vegetable garden rows where you drop seed into a furrow, I broadcast seed over 6' wide swaths, and walked along raking in the seeds as I went. This kept me from stepping on the area that had been seeded. (I did the same thing with the orchard grass). About halfway through, I ran out of my 5# of mangel seeds. Mangels are a livestock fodder version of beets. They are super-sized, weighing up to 15 pounds! Perfect for pigs to eat the rich green and red top leaves, and then root down in the ground for the treasure of nutrition below. I got out my 5# bag of Dundale peas, and started broadcasting them over the second half. Destiny joined me at that point and helped me finish raking them in. Perfect timing as I was growing weary from the raking!
At that point, I went in the house and made BLTs for lunch!
Refreshed from lunch, we headed to the greenhouse for our next project. We built a wonderful greenhouse from mostly free, recycled materials about 5 years ago. It was wonderful for 3 seasons, and then a horrible windstorm broke most of the roof panels. We put turkeys in there for one year, let it sit fallow a year, and then over the winter Zane, my 23 y.o. son, started dismantling all the broken panels. Zane is a craftsman, and so is his dad, my husband Cary, so the two of them decided to gut the whole structure down to its frame. With Cary's architectural background, and Zane's construction expertise, they added more wood members to help the plastic panels stand-up to the wind better. Then, they created a system whereby the panels would be mounted with strips to hold them in place, so no screws would go through the plexiglas. All the panels would be the same size, pre-cut all at the same time, then mounted in assembly line fashion. On Thursday, after spending a week getting all the plexiglas cut and prepped, and the cushion strips in-place, Zane started mounting the panels. I thought it would be a week before he was finished. But, his brilliant system was so precise and quick, he finished this afternoon!
That meant Destiny and I could clean out all the interior of the greenhouse. We had to do this as we are going to put turkeys and geese in there for a few weeks until all the snow and cold is over. We threw out all the trash which included broken tools, pots, stakes - endless things that collect over 5 years time. We moved out a large multi-shelf metal unit, and replaced it with a metal cabinet with latching door. All of the gardening supplies were reorganized and neatly placed inside the cabinet. No poultry will be getting into my gardening stuff!
We emptied out the water barrels of their old, rank smelling water, and filled them up with fresh water - there was so much water pressure in the hose I couldn't believe it! With all the recent snow and rain restoring our water table, and the outside line fixed that was leaking, it was wonderful!
The next thing was to put up some shelves that could hold our seedling pots. The seedlings have been growing in our living room window, but they can now be moved to the greenhouse. We'll take all the peat pots with the emerging plants, and put them in larger pots with more soil so they can grow much bigger before they are set-out after May 21, our last possible frost date.
More than a dozen seedlings each of 10 kinds of tomatoes, 3 kinds of peppers, 2 kinds of eggplant, a dozen assorted herbs, and a dozen annual flower varieties will soon be growing in the restored greenhouse. The next very exciting thing to be put in-place in that warm environment will be our aquaculture fish tanks!
We will have 4 sets of 2 tanks along the north wall of the greenhouse. One of each pair will be for the fish, and the other will be the filter system with plants growing in styrofoam rafts on top. Cary and I learned how to do this in Florida back in December when we attended an all day workshop at Morningstar Fishermen in Dade City, outside Tampa. Instead of tilapia, we hope to have Colorado native fish such as bluegill for a meat product. We will grow these seasonally as the greenhouse is not heated. We'll see how big the fish get in 3-4 months from June through September. Like many things on our farm, it is a research project that we can tweak as we go - if something doesn't work, we'll modify it and try again.
With aquaculture, you grow fish and plants together, in a simbiotic relationship. We'll have herbs growing there, as well as tomatoes, and kale is a super easy to grow aquaculture vegetable. Did you know kale is 100 times more nutritious than lettuce?. By mid-September, when we host our 4th annual Homestead Bootcamp for CHEC, we hope to have a successful, biodiverse environment to show others that they can do it, too!
Well that ends my tale of Saturday chores, except for saying I am so glad I put dinner in the crockpot before I headed out this morning. I am worn-out and stiff from all the work. But, it is so satisfying seeing good change and progress on our farm. I enjoyed a beautiful day outside with family, and have something to show for it. BTW, Eddie removed the black fabric on Orchard #3, and Cary worked on the digester toilet facility all afternoon. More on that, later!