Monday, April 14, 2014

Corn, Trees, a Cat, Soap and Pies

It's been a little while since I blogged. Like many hobby farmers, I have a 'day job' that supports my 'habit' and also helps pay the bills for living expenses. I have been busy with that. Also with my children's many goings on: 4H meetings and duties, chaperoning a band trip, shuttling to and from school and soccer practice. Whew.

So if you're wondering what's happening at the ranch, here's a little rundown...

Today I planted heirloom sweet corn. If it's successful, expect a harvest in 76-80 days. If it's not successful, expect the cows to be eating some dried-up, failed corn stalks. I filled in the first two rows in the Three Sisters Garden. I may do more in the other rows soon. That garden is meant to be low maintenance and has some experiments going on to try to conserve water and still get a good harvest.

My husband expressed the opinion that there were not enough trees near where we want to build our house (someday--who knows when that will be?). That's true. That section of our property is fairly barren. It's supposed to be the part that's riparian, but it looks like a parched, sad, overheated desert. In general when there is a wind coming through, it comes from west to east and it can be strong enough to knock things over. Since that section of the property is so barren, it can also stir up a vast amount of dust.

The poplar cuttings I ordered from Frank Gomez ( are doing so well, and are fast growing trees which (when strategically placed) can be used as a windbreak, so I ordered more. Behold, 100 hybrid poplar trees only about three inches long:

If all goes well tomorrow morning after chores, I'll dip them in rooting hormone, stick them in soil and watch them grow like the magical things that they are. As far as I know, we have plenty of time to grow some windbreak trees to have around our house that isn't there and may not be there for years. Time: waste not, want not.
In other news, although we have had no more farm animal deaths by predation, we did manage to capture a FERAL cat. This little guy/girl went off to Pima Animal Care this morning. Just a friendly reminder to spay or neuter your cats so they don't make more and more and more. If you can keep them indoors, do so. It's safer for them than letting them roam where coyotes and bobcats can get to them. Also, it keeps the odds in favor of small farm animals surviving, and limits losses to the native wildlife. Every year we seem to get an influx of feral cats in our area. I'm sure it's new litters born from those clever parent cats that manage to not get picked off by the packs of coyotes. And every year we see the evidence of their carnage on the quail, woodpeckers, doves, and whatever else used to wear all those feathers left in piles here and there. They kill lizards, snakes and many rodents as well. They are survivors.

If you've never encountered a feral cat before, you should be aware that they are not in any way shape or form like the kitties raised with a trust of humans. Feral cats can and will bite you or scratch you. They will do so with all the malice and intent of a wild animal that feels threatened and wants to get away from you. Don't reach down and pick up a feral kitten. It will bite right through your finger. True story. 

I wished the kitty good luck on his/her journey, but it probably will not be a happily ever after. This cat was older and did not like people at all.
I made some lavender soap. I was experimenting with a different kind of oil. It came to trace faster and hardened faster than what I usually use. I waited too long to cut it and was sad that much of it broke apart.  It's still going to be good soap but won't be as easy to sell since it's not in uniform shapes/weights.

I have been ever diligent about my manure maintenance plan and have discovered new ways to make the process easier. I may write a whole separate article about the process I use to get poo turned into black gold when I have more time. In the meantime, there are daily sweep and shovel parties as well as pie hunts in the cow corral:

Thus, I shall leave you with the above happy picture. 
Remember, if life gives you poo, make compost and grow flowers.
Chase your dreams and work hard. At least you will lead a full life.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Invasive at Last!

Since the beginning of the garden, there has been mint. It would not survive the winter and often would not live through the scorching Arizona summer. I kept replanting each spring. So many articles I read about this herb stated that it was invasive, but I never had that happen with mine. Until now.

For those that followed the prior post about this experimental raised bed, it works. Here is the one downside so far. Mint can sneak through the slats. For me, this is a happy moment. This mint survived the winter, took over this whole raised bed, and is reaching past that to invade elsewhere.

Go mint, go!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Greenhouse and Critter Update

Some plants have moved out into the garden. Some are still waiting, tapping their roots and rolling their buds at me when I don't choose them to move out. Most are ready to go. Some are still too small and delicate.

Here are some pictures of what's happening in there.

These little sticks have been fascinating to watch. They seem to grow right before my eyes. They came from Frank Gomez who runs and have, so far, lived up to the claims about them.

This tray contains starts of marigold, African daisy (none have germinated), green beans, and corn. I like these Jiffy peat pellet greenhouse trays as I tend to have success with germination. I don't like to plant a bunch of seeds and have to thin out plants. The pellets can be reused if a seed didn't germinate in them.

Last year I sowed zucchini seeds directly in the plots. Some grew, some didn't. I wanted to try starts this year to be sure that all areas were evenly covered. Here you can see half success on germination.

The most difficult to germinate are the bell peppers. I'm really not sure why. They are new seeds and out of 72 it looks like about 12 have started. Very dissappointing.

For those that check this blog for animal updates, the critters are doing fine. I'm still milking my Alpine and my Nigerain goat, although I'm drying off the Nigerian. I don't think the Alpine will dry up easily as she has not slowed at all in her production. She's a good girl and loves to be milked. Now that she is the biggest goat in the pen, she has claimed the matriarch position. She is not good with human children, so it would have been difficult to sell her to a family who wanted a milker. Most people wanted to eat her when they saw her, which to me, seemed a huge waste for such a prolific milker.

My pregnant cow is developing a lovely rounded bag. I am a little frightened since her mother, who only had three good teats, was a prolific milker. Four good teats is well...gonna mean more milk. Since her calf will be half mini, I wonder how much milk it will take. Jerseys have been bred to make more milk than a calf needs and my cow will need milking twice a day. She's a feisty girl and always has been. But today, she let me rub her all over and even touch her udder. She will need milk training and that will likely start soon. The cow corral was moved some time ago and it's not in the best location relevant to the cow milking area. My cows are not halter trained and not good at taking directions unless they are very hungry and feed is in my hand. Even then, I do not completely trust my Jersey. She has horns and she knows how to use them on anyone who isn't doing what she wants. It's never a good idea to piss off an animal that can squash you.

The alpacas are fine as well. Quiet, peaceful, not a bother. They need a nail trim soon which will require a child to hold the halter while I wrestle with making the alpaca realize I'm not going to hurt them. My goal is to get their fleeces from last year spun before I sheer them this year. It may or may not happen. Some fleeces are dirtier than others. They were sheared in May last year before they came to us. I had contemplated hand shearing but I'm not that good at it and the fiber is so freakin' awesome that I would hate to lose length by doing a bad job. I will likely have the same shearer come out to get things done as she was very efficient. My one alpaca with the face wound has cleared up for the present. He wears a fly mask to protect him from the nasty buggers which as yet, have not been too bad. I do think he'll be needing his front teeth trimmed this coming year as they are quite bucky, more so than any of the others. That is another thing I will need help with.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Things to Think on...

Imagine you had this place that you could go to where you felt at peace, where you had friends who were always happy to see you when you arrived, where you could do what you love to do and no one would bother you or tell you that you had to stop. Imagine that you went to this place and did what you did there just because it was fun and it made you happy. You didn't have to do that fun stuff for money. You did it because that was what your heart and mind told you to do. You loved that place, your very own garden of Eden complete with plants and animals.

Raspberry, Thai Basil, Tomatoes

I found a place like that. Made it my own. Shaped it and nurtured it, filled it with things that make me happy. Like the movie Inception though, perhaps I have been too caught up in my dream world of creation, joy, change and creation again, that I have slipped too far from reality.

Willows and Poplars

I have always known that happiness is all around me--every day. I have only to look for it in the small things: the laughter of a child, the smile and wave of a friendly neighbor, the way a hawk cuts across the sky, the colors of a desert sunset, a line of quail chicks darting across the road behind their parents. The promise of new life, growth...

The taste of tomatoes to come:

And eggplants as well:

The miracle that seeds more than three years old that were forgotten and thought lost could somehow be brought to sprout:

I have often heard the expression that God gives us what we can handle. I think that's true. I think I was given an opportunity to have a place where I could be happy during a time in my life when there was a great deal of darkness and uncertainty. Today I am thankful for the good times in my happy place where I saw babies born and raised, I watched plants sprout, bloom, bear fruit and dry up with the end of the season, leaving behind their seeds of hope for the next year.

And I know that if I want to make a place like this again, the seeds for it and many others are buried deep within my soul, waiting to be planted when the time is right.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Planting Journal

Today I planted bamboo. Four of my nine phyllostachys rubromarginata, green bamboo that is grown mainly as a privacy screen, and one phyllostachys nigra, a black bamboo that is just so beautiful I couldn't resist it's charm. I also placed the snapgragons in the ground. This is all around a hugelkultur bed I built on Monday which is spot planted with lavender, chocolate mint, and purple lantana. The hugel was heavily sprinkled with a variety of flower seeds. This bed is located at the north of the property near the chicken coop and run. That side used to be where we kept Lucky the ram, so it was pretty bare and in need of some green.

After Lucky and his entourage of wives moved away, I began tilling over the ground. They'd been on it for some time and left their nitrogen rich manure. I mulched over it all with spent straw and there are already things growing in it, mostly wheat and alfalfa.

Here is a photo from Monday of the hugel:

A pathway lined with Christmas tree trunks meanders along that brick wall and I think it will be beautiful once everything is set in and fills out--a little outdoor nature walk.

I checked in the greenhouse and discovered that the cucmber seeds are already beginning to sprout:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Planting Journal

This morning I planted cucumber and bell pepper seeds in the peat pellets/Jiffy seed starting kit. The tomato seedlings are tall enough to have their lid removed. They're reaching for the sunlight from the window.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Planting Journal

This morning I hauled the last of the Christmas trees to the second unfinished hugel bed. They were all quite flat from sitting so long and still smelled of fresh pine. The better trees were tossed into the goat pen as snacks--and those three ruminants got to munching right away!

The remaining de-needled trees will be de-branched and used as fence posts or garden bed/path edging. They are beautiful and straight when done. What a shame it would have been if they went to the landfill. I've gotten so many uses out of these free trees even though they delivered way more than I expected.

My next task is to find and bring in some good compost. I know where there is some free, but it will be a chore to get it to the ranch. I would need to haul it myself and that takes time and hard work. But like anything, a little bit at a time can accomplish big things eventually.

My greenhouse has a small collection of plants who, like me, await spring warmth before they can get into the garden. I puchased the last three bareroot trees for the Three Sisters Garden (all apples) and will need to rebuild the bed where they'll go before I can set them in place. I have two six-packs of snapdragons and have started soaking the peat pellets to start some vegetable seedlings. Maybe cucumber, maybe eggplants... Maybe both.