Springtime begins on our little homestead while the snow shovels still stand ready for use. It’s not just the calendar that says spring is coming; the animals also know.
It only takes a day in the upper 40’s to allow the honey bees to come out. These warmer days allow them to take “cleansing flights,” for they never soil the inside of their hives. We can see how many hives survived this harsh winter by watching their comings and goings. We’re grateful to see that ten of twelve hives are still busy with bees. We know the queens are already laying brood, and so the bees are depending on sufficient food inside their hives until pollen and nectar are again available outdoors.
The chickens are also delighted to have days where the ground is free of snow. It may be too cold to forage for green plants and insects, but they are contentedly chattering around the barnyard. Although we have an “open-door” policy all year with the Dorking chickens, Ancona ducks and the Narragansett turkeys, the chickens have opted to stay indoors for much of this cold winter.
Having more daylight hours means we get more eggs. However, it won’t be long until some of the hens declare themselves “broody.” That means they will stop laying eggs in preference for sitting on their “clutch” of eggs. We humans may think of eggs as breakfast, but they are potential babies to a hen!
My contribution to the baby-effort comes soon. That’s when I haul out the incubator to help increase the number of these genetically-rare animals. Chickens take three weeks to hatch. Ducks and turkeys take four weeks. Anticipating the eggs becoming chicks, ducklings or poults makes me feel like an excited kid. Spring truly is a time of miracles!
There are plants that also need attention now. Pruning fruit trees is a great way to get outdoors on mild, late-winter days. Apple trees can usually be pruned throughout the winter, but that’s not been a good idea this year. The extreme cold and large-fluctuations of temperatures has made winter pruning too stressful for the trees. I’ve waited until it’s officially March to begin this task.
I’m not sure why I enjoy pruning fruit trees so much. It’s certainly not that I’m confident that I know what I’m doing! The more I read and the more advice I get, the more puzzled I am. My policy is to aim for trees that have good air-flow between the branches, strong limbs and aren’t too tall for me to get to the fruit.
Some of our springtime projects begin indoors. Our little sunroom has been the dog’s haven this winter, but it’s now rearranged for starting seeds. Being able to have our hands in the soil at the end of February is therapeutic! Most of our seeds have been stored in the refrigerator since drying last autumn. We use heirloom plants intentionally in our large vegetable garden so that we can save seeds.
This is too early to begin many crops, but the onions, shallots, leeks, cabbage and broccoli are begun indoors at the end of February. We can then set out the little seedlings before the final frost. We’ll begin another round of the brassica family later on; cabbage, broccoli, brussel-sprouts and cauliflower make wonderful autumn crops.
Towards the end of March, we’ll begin more seeds indoors. All farmers could use a crystal ball to predict ideal planting time, but we’ll begin on faith that those seedlings will be ready to be planted outdoors just after the last frost. Tomatoes and peppers come first to mind, but herbs like basil and fennel are also begun indoors. I admit that I sneak in a few more flowers each year with the excuse that the bees benefit from their pollen and nectar. That is true—but I also love having zinnias, cosmos, coneflowers and daisies for bouquets.
Our other spring project is playing “musical chairs” with the farm animals before their babies arrive. The first Dutch Belted calf is to arrive in mid-March, and so the first two mothers-to-be will move up to the front barn’s lean-to. That means the horses and two miniature donkeys get demoted to the back shelter barn. The two Red-Wattle hogs, Bonnie and Clyde, are again sharing quarters with hopes of piglets this summer. The Narragansett turkeys should begin laying eggs again soon and so we’ve returned their elevated nests to their coop. The two Ancona ducks have been told that they can’t use the greenhouse as their personal spa much longer—seedlings will need that space!
In the meantime, we two people continue to eat almost exclusively from last year’s harvest. Peaches, pears, berries and apples were canned, frozen or dried. The root cellar still contains potatoes, squash, onions, shallots, garlic and sweet potatoes. Meat, cheddar cheese and vegetables are frozen, but there’s always dried beans if we still get hungry! Eating from our small farm makes our work worthwhile because we eat healthful and delicious food. I have been grateful for the slower days of winter, but now spring tempts us to begin the growing cycle again.
Mary Lou Shaw homesteads with her husband near Washington Courthouse, Ohio. Her book, "Growing Local Food" is available from Mother Earth News.
Chicken tractors (or chicken arks, as they're known elsewhere) are small coop-and-run combos that make it easy for you to integrate chickens into a vegetable garden or yard. Although you can buy pre-made chicken tractors, kits, and plans, all of these options are pricey, so many homesteaders will choose to build their own. Here are some factors to consider as you design your flock's new home.
Weight. Making the chicken tractor too heavy is the number one reason homemade chicken tractors fail. My father once built a chicken tractor so solid that it was too hard for one person to move, so the tractor sat in one spot for the next year. Chicken tractors keep your hens happy only if they are pulled to a fresh patch of lawn daily, so pay attention to the weight of your framing material. We usually use cedar branches or two-by-two lumber, but this tractor is built around the aluminum framing from a recycled awning. Use your imagination!
Shelter. Your chickens will need a very basic shelter to allow them to sleep out of the rain and snow. A tarp covering a third of the tractor with a stick underneath for a perch is quite sufficient for most climates, but my husband added a carpet flap around the roosting zone for additional wind protection in his $20 chicken tractor. (Remember to provide one linear foot of roost per bird on the perch.)
Doors. Access is an essential part of a chicken tractor. If you want your chickens to be able to free range some days and to be shut into the tractor on other days, you'll want to include a chicken-sized door at ground level. Even if your chickens will spend their whole lives in the tractor, you'll need a human-size door to allow easy access if a chicken is sick or hurt. Finally, a door into the nest box will make egg collection simple. (Don't forget to include one nest box for every five hens.)
Wheels and handles. You need some way to easily pull your tractor to a new patch of earth, which generally means some combination of wheels and handles. If you make the tractor light enough, you won't need wheels, which is good because wheels allow room for chickens to slip out underneath, unless you build a wheel lift system like the one shown above. Handles, on the other hand, are quite handy. I like to have a strong rope on each end of the tractor, connected at each corner into a loop. I step into the loop and pull the tractor forward as if I was a horse in harness --- easy and fun!
Winter accommodations. If you have a large enough garden and few enough birds, you can keep pulling your tractor to a new spot of earth all winter. However, a small yards will turn into a muddy mess in this scenario. One solution is to make a winter base for your chicken tractor and to fill it with leaves so your chickens stay clean and dry all winter.
Watering options. In our small tractors with just a few hens, we love Avian Aqua Miser Originals since they're easy to hang from the top of the tractor and don't take up any floor space inside. If you're raising dozens of broilers in a tractor, though, you might want to make a PVC chicken waterer like this one, or even a gutter-filled waterer like this one. No matter what you choose, focus on keeping the capacity low so the waterer doesn't weigh your tractor down, and do ensure you select a system that won't spill on uneven ground.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to create a top-notch tractor for your new flock. Good luck!
In our last few posts, we’ve been looking at the various breeds of livestock guard dogs. This is an important consideration since dogs can vary in size, temperament, cost, availability, and style of working; as well as their suitability to their possible roles as a full-time guardian, a farm guardian, or a family companion. Different breeds do have very different strengths and tendencies. But before you start looking at advertisements or litters of puppies, there are a few more questions for you to ask yourself. They are centered on two broad issues – your predator problems and your farm or homestead.
Do you have an immediate predator problem or are you facing potential or increasing problems? What kinds of predators do you have? Do you need one dog - or two or more to combat serious predator pressure? Are you looking for a puppy or an adult? Are you committed and prepared to raise and train a pup for a couple of years before they are ready to be a guardian? What is your dog handling and training experience? Are you considering a rescue dog for financial or other reasons?
What is your farm or ranch’s physical situation? Consider your climate, your style of husbandry, and what kinds of animals you need to protect. How many animals do you need to protect? How large and rugged are your pastures? How well fenced are those pastures or other areas the dog will use? Do you leave your stock out 24/7 or bring them into barns or paddocks at night? Will your dog work as a full-time livestock guardian or as a general farm guardian? Do neighbors, customers or other people regularly visit your property?
When to Choose an Adult or Adolescent Dog
If you have an immediate protection from predators, an adult or late-adolescent dog is your best choice. This is also the most difficult dog to find. A good working LGD is highly valued by his owner. Occasionally these dogs become available when owners sell off their stock or farm. Be ware that some dogs are so closely bonded to their stock or territory that change can be difficult. The most successful moves are between similar situations and stock. A few breeders keep adolescent pups in training with stock and experienced dogs and then offer them for sale.
Sometimes a good dog can be found in a rescue situation, but you need to be aware that most rescue dogs have no livestock experience or may have working problems that caused them to be given up by their owners. If you prefer a rescue dog and are inexperienced with LGDs, try to choose one that has been evaluated or rehabilitated by an experienced LGD owner or LGD organization. You will still need to closely supervise adult dogs and, perhaps, re-train him. If you are inexperienced with LGDs or very large dogs, please take the time to meet the rescue or adult dog and assure yourself that you can handle him safely and confidently. In all cases, you will need a safe and secure area to keep the dog while adjusts to his new home. Both stock and dog need time to become accustomed to each other as well.
Guard Dog Puppies
Do not expect a puppy to be a reliable guardian until it is 18-24 months old, or longer. LGD puppies grow rapidly and look like adults before they are a year old and so their owners expect far too much from them. LGD adolescents are truly like teenagers. This is also the age when most dogs are turned in to rescue or abandoned by their owners, because of adolescent problems. They can play roughly with stock, causing injuries or death if they are unsupervised. They are filled with tremendous amounts of restless energy or boredom, which also leads to problems. Adolescent dogs should never be left alone and unsupervised unless an older, completely trustworthy, and experienced dog mentors them. Choosing the stock your young dog is raised with is also important. A very small group of older, reliable animals can be excellent mentors to young dogs.
Don’t be lulled into believing your dog is different because as a puppy he was respectful or gentle with stock. Sweet puppies can turn into difficult teenagers almost overnight! People often say that their dog is a completely natural guardian but this is generally not true. All LGDs need guidance and training from you. And never, ever leave young dogs alone with lambing or kidding stock. Young dogs can easily harm babies out of confusion about birthing or a misplaced sense of protection. Training dogs to be safe around poultry is even more difficult. Young dogs should never be left unsupervised with poultry. These challenges of adolescent dogs are the source of most dissatisfaction with LGDs and yet they are almost completely preventable with proper supervision and training by the owners. You can find advice and problem solving tips from experienced owners or breeders, LGD clubs, Facebook groups or email lists, and LGD books.
How Many Dogs Do I Need?
The question of how many dogs you need is complex. A general guideline is one dog for 50-100 animals in a pasture of less than 20 acres. If your pasture and stock are divided into several small grazing areas, you probably need more dogs. Very large pastures or rangeland, as well as very rough grazing, demand more dogs. Pastures far from your house probably need more dogs since you will be unable to come help when the dogs sound an alarm. Stock left out during the night is more vulnerable as well. If your stock does not flock well and spreads itself out over a large area, you may need additional dogs.
How many dogs do you need? Pairs generally work well, often dividing up duties patrolling and staying with stock or confronting predators and protecting stock during an attack. However, intense or difficult predator pressure may demand even more dogs. A single dog cannot deal with a bear or mountain lion, or a pack of coyotes or wolves. Single dogs on a reasonable amount of pasture can deal with small predators such as raccoons, opossums, large predator birds, and occasional coyotes. When coyotes are depending on small prey, such as rabbits or rodents, or scavenged carrion, their social units tend to consist or just two or three individuals. They may raise a litter of pups. But when coyotes have regular access to larger prey, their pack or family size increases on a home range or territory. Packs of animals are difficult for a single LGD to handle, since they divide their attack on stock.
Be aware that you may need to experiment with combinations of dogs to get the individual dynamics right. Dogs are individual beings not tools, and may have personality or dominance issues. Opposite sexes generally work well in pairs, although same sex pairs can also function. Neutering is important in running larger groups of LGDs, unless you are able to remove dogs in heat, etc. Older dogs usually accept very young dogs without problems, reducing the potential for conflicts as the dogs age together. Two puppies raised without adult dogs create additional challenges. While some of their excess energy can be channeled into play with each other, they can equally get into more trouble together. They may need to be separated in order to bond effectively with stock rather than each other, as well.
Feral or roaming dogs can be a major threat to stockowners and they may be very difficult for single dogs to deal with. Dogs do much more damage to stock than wild predators because rather than taking a single animal, they often chase and mutilate many animals. The other reality of this problem is that the roaming dog or dogs are generally pets and not truly feral dogs. If the roaming dog doesn’t heed the LGD’s warning to stay away, they may fight your LGD unlike most wild predators. The real threat of stray dogs is the reason why we advise LGD owners not to allow them to play with other dogs, especially neighbor or strange dogs.
In our next post we will talk about the actual selection of your LGD puppy or adult dog.
The biggest question garden-loving Californians are asking right now is, “Should I even grow a garden this year with this drought?” It’s a responsible, well-meaning question. I asked it myself a few weeks ago. I went back and forth about it. A garden increases your water use, but at the same time, you don’t want to let all of your hard work die.
And then it dawned on me, as I was driving by agricultural fields being irrigated by overhead spray in the middle of the day: I’m going to be eating food that requires water use anyway.
If I grow it, I can control how much water is used. In fact, I can actually reduce my water use through food consumption if I grow it myself. The LA Times recently had an article about how much water is required to grow certain foods. If you eat meat, goat needs the least amount of water per pound of meat. An apple requires 18 gallons, and an orange requires 13 gallons. That’s quite a bit of water for just one fruit. Potatoes require 119 gallons of water per pound. Yikes.
My guilt of growing a garden subsided a bit. Now it was time to figure out what I can do to reduce my water footprint even more. I hope these tips help you as well.
Know Your Soil
One of the keys to water-wise drought gardening, and gardening in any conditions, is to know what kind of soil you have. If you have raised beds, you most likely have a soil that is high in organic matter and maybe even has a bit of topsoil. If your beds aren’t brand new, you’re going to want to get your soil tested so you know what nutrients you need to add. Plants that are getting enough nutrients are going to be hardier and will weather the drought better. If you plant in the ground like I do, you are also going to want to know the soil’s structure. How much sand, silt, and clay does your soil have? Sandy soil doesn’t hold water very well, while clay soil has a tendency to hold onto water too well.
In addition, you can check out the Web Soil Survey through the USDA (push the green button). This will give you an idea of how deep your soil is, which directly affects how much water it can hold. It will also tell you the water-holding capacity of your soil. For the record, our soil is 20 to 40 inches deep but only holds 4.5 inches of water, which means that if it rained 6 inches, the soil would only be able to hold 4.5 inches, and the remaining 1.5 would run off, or flooding would occur. Also, the water table is more than 80 inches deep, so I can depend on trees being able to access it, as most tree roots only go down 2 to 3 feet.
Amend Your Soil
Starting from the ground up, we first want to make sure our soil is well amended with a lot of organic matter. Organic matter will help absorb and hold onto more water. It will also help provide enough nutrients for the plant to develop strong root systems. Organic matter helps fast-draining sandy soils hold onto water and helps heavy clay soils distribute the water deeper to the root zone, making it more available to the plant. If you have tested your soil through A&L Agricultural Laboratories, as I recommend, they will offer suggestions of what to add to your soil to grow your desired crops. You can read more about developing your own organic blend in the Composting 101.
CONTROL YOUR WATER
Fortunately for us, we are already on the right track. Our entire property is on drip/micro irrigation. If you don’t have your vegetable beds on drip, now is the time to invest. A drip system does several things.
It reduces the amount of water you use while watering by 50 percent or more.
It reduces diseases caused by overhead watering.
It reduces problems with weeds.
It reduces the amount of time you spend watering.
It reduces runoff and erosion.
If you don’t have a drip irrigation system yet and don’t know how to put one in, I’ve got a pretty thorough Drip Irrigation 101 that can help you. Once you have your driplines in, situate your plants near emitters so that the plants fully utilize as much water as possible. Instead of watering a little bit every day, water heavily but less often. You want the roots to travel as far down as you can get them to go. Plants with shallow roots are more likely to get dried out and stressed. Most plants require an inch of water per week. My aim is to water with drip 30 minutes twice a week. Of course the length and frequency of watering depends on the drip components you use. Many manufacturers offer calculators to determine how long and how often you should run your irrigation. To reduce evaporation, schedule your irrigation to turn on between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Early morning hours are preferable.
Retain Your Water
If you do go the drip irrigation route, mulch the hell out of everything you plan to water. And I mean MULCH. Lots of it. Go for at least 4 inches, if the plant’s height allows. Straw is a cheap mulch that you can use, although it does get slick when wet and has a tendency to blow around. Bark mulch is heavier and longer lasting but can be expensive, unless you get it from a tree service. Getting it from a tree service, however, can limit you to mulch from whatever tree they just removed, and some tree species, such as black walnut and eucalyptus, can cause problems in the garden.
So far, one of the best mulches I have found for water retention is old livestock bedding. It’s heavier because it has absorbed urine and feces (which also increases its fertility), so it doesn’t blow away. It’s also finer in texture from being broken up by hooves, so it doesn’t have as many air spaces to allow evaporation. If you don’t have livestock, you can get old bedding from horse stables, which often give it away for free. Just be careful about weed seeds. Horses that are stabled tend to have fewer weed seeds in their feces than pastured horses. I’ve used rice hull bedding from a local stable before, and this stuff was fantastic. You can also save up dried leaves and use those as well. We tried out plastic-mulch sheeting one year and found that it helped hold onto more water than expected. It also helped heat up the soil for plants that preferred warm ground temps. Melons and watermelons really thrived with the black plastic. The more drought-tolerant plants, such as tomatoes, didn’t fare quite as well.
Whatever you use, make sure to lay the mulch over your irrigation lines. You don’t want to water the mulch because it will absorb all of the water and not allow any to reach the soil and your plants. You also don’t want to have mulch right up against the stems of most plants (the onion family and potatoes plants tend to be the exceptions), as it can cause problems with rot. An inch or so away is fine, though.
Choose the Right Plants
Not all vegetables are created equal. Some, like celery, onions, green beans, carrots, lettuces, and melons require a lot more water than other vegetables. Squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, chard, arugula, and dry beans, especially Tepary beans, are better choices for drought gardening, when water is restricted. Most plants have critical periods, when they require more water than normal. This is usually during flowering and fruit production.
If you really want to grow some of the higher-water-need plants, put them together on a separate water valve. That way you can have part of your garden getting more water than the rest, rather than the entire garden getting more water than some plants need. Also, space the plants farther apart, so they aren’t competing with each other for every precious drop. You may end up with fewer plants, but you won’t have to water as much.
The picture above of all the squash is a perfect example of how water-wise gardening can be productive. All of that squash—each weighing approximately 20 pounds—came from a single volunteer plant. It sprouted in our old chicken yard, so the soil had lots of organic matter and a high nutrient content. Because it was a volunteer, we didn’t have irrigation going to it and only ended up giving it two deep waterings early on in its growth. That year was wetter then this one, so the soil had a larger water capacity than this year, but it goes to show that, if done correctly and mindfully, very little applied water can result in a big harvest.
We have a lot of volunteer vegetable plants that grow in our yard. Most of the time they are in our beds, but sometimes they grow in spots that don’t get any supplementary water. These vegetables are the ones that do best in drought conditions because they don’t need the extra water. Chard, squash, arugula, and tomatoes are the most common drought-tolerant volunteers growing in our yard. Artichokes are very drought tolerant as well. Their growing season is in the winter and spring, and then they die back in the summer and go dormant until the rains return. We rely nearly 100 percent on the rainy season for our artichoke plants. We’ve never watered them until this year. They and the trees are now getting the water we save.
A Word on Container Gardening
If you have a small yard or balcony and still want to grow some of your food, you can go the container gardening route, even in a drought. You’ll follow many of the same guidelines as outlined above, but you also want to take care regarding the type of container you are using. Terracotta planters are going to dry out a lot faster than plastic or even glazed pottery. You’ll want to set saucers under your pots to catch excess water. An even better system would be to invest in or make self-watering containers. These only release water as the plant needs them and are low-water use. For instructions on how to set up your own system, check out the Self-Watering Container (aka Subirrigated Planter) 101.
Save Your Water
We now have several 5 gallon buckets in our kitchen and bathroom to collect water that can be used for watering perennial plants and trees. One of those buckets is in the bathtub, specifically to catch the cold water before it gets warm. This is perfectly fresh, clean water that shouldn’t be wasted. In addition, we are now saving some of our kitchen water. If you cook pasta, don’t salt it. You can use that water in the garden. If we’re rinsing off produce, we save that water. We also save some dish-washing water, based on what we are cleaning and what soap we’re using. If it has touched raw meat, raw eggs, etc., it goes down the drain. (You can also save laundry water if you aren’t washing diapers.) All of this water is getting used on our artichoke plants, fruit trees, and various shrubs. I don’t use it on annual vegetables whose leaves or roots we eat.
Besides saving water, we’re also reducing the amount we use. The saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down,” is heard quite often around our house now. We also turn off the water when we’re brushing our teeth, which we all should do anyway, and turn it on only to rinse the dishes. Also, while washing dishes, we run the water a lot lower. The tap seems to rinse them just as quickly at a lower flow than at full blast, so I hope to see a savings there. We’ve also shortened our showers to just 5 minutes. I’m planning on getting a valve to attach to the shower head so we can turn it off while we’re soaping up.
By reducing the amount of water your garden and your household use, and by saving some of that water, you can reduce your overall usage enough to not have to feel guilty. If you’re growing your own and following water-wise guidelines, you are helping reduce more water than just what you see on your bill. Whether or not your area is experiencing drought conditions, following these methods will conserve water, which is always a good thing.
This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.
Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of arts and crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!
Photos by RACHEL
It was past dark, but then again dark had come a bit earlier today. The steady snow and grey skies had shadowed out the sun before it had fully set. Neighbors and co-workers alike were speculating about the potency of the storm. On the roads, flurries had quickly accumulated. From highways to town roads, the plows couldn't quite keep up. Arriving home, my little vehicle valiantly made it through the unplowed snow of the last few hundred feet to where we park. I was hopeful that I'd be able to extricate myself as easily the following morning.
From here, though, is where the real charm of the snow begins. By headlamp, I stepped my way through the snow, left right left right, the third of a mile to our property and into the drifted clearing around the cabin. Beauty. And such silent noise.
It's akin to walking between two worlds, joined by the tunnel of our path. The elegance of the evening's snow and shades of grey fill the senses. There is the whispered cacophony of thousands, millions, billions of flurries blanketing the hillocks and tussocks of our woods. The heavy, muffled plops of hemlock boughs throwing snowballs to the ground drown out the creaking of the trees and the scraping of a distant plow. An inconsistent wind blusters down the way, the dull, deep rustle warning of its approach. I ready myself for the chill of flurries and snow pellets on my neck, head, cheeks, the cuffs of my wrists.
Those who find complaints in winter are not unknown to me, though, and I recognize the challenges this season offers up - the perpetual need for heat, the short days, the difficulty of moving across the landscape, the scarcity of work...but a winter wonderland is our trade-off. This is where we live, and this weather is what defines our region and forms the character of us who call here home. So we relish these months for what they provide. The nostalgic aroma of wood smoke, the warming crackle of a fire; the gratitude that a hot meal summons and the restfulness of early nights; the wonderful cocoon of a few extra morning minutes tucked snug under the covers. There’s, too, the creativity forthcoming from time at home: little projects take form, and energies that go outdoors in other seasons are directed indoors for these months. A length from a young ash tree becomes a pull-up bar and drying rack while socks are darned, books read, and letters written. A new piece of calligraphy art dons the kitchen wall.
There’s also the crispness of early mornings when we get our exercise early, breaking trail, then shoveling our vehicles clear to the town road. While sleep may still be in our eyes, and the cold biting at our gloved fingertips, we must smile at the invigorating start to the day. For after each fresh blanket of snow that touches our cabin like tinsel, there’s also the adventurous challenge of making our way out of it. So with shovels and snowshoes, we greet daybreak as we head to where we need to be.
Start planning your spring plantings now! Contact Beth via firstname.lastname@example.org to design your herb garden, vegetable plantings, or small orchard (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).
This video shows cows jumping for joy when they are released out to pasture from winter confinement. Humans can never really know what animals are feeling, but these bovines certainly appear to be very excited and happy to be outdoors.
YouTube video posted by thefunkyfarmer
The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.
Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one of North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on Google+.
Part one of the joint collaboration between Ed Essex and Bruce McElmurray dealt with the question how does the weather impact your life and homestead. Ed and Laurie live in Washington state and Bruce and Carol live in Colorado. Both live remotely in the mountains with Ed living at 4,200-foot elevation and Bruce living at 9,750-foot elevation. While they live several states apart and at different elevations they both share similar weather experiences along with a few variances as well.
In this the second part they will answer what is their most difficult weather season and what their greatest weather experience has been. Both Ed and Bruce living at different elevations and different western locations have similar but slightly different concerns with the weather they experience. Their respective answers appear below.
What is the most difficult season you face each year?
Ed Essex Winter has to be the hardest season for us. We’ve already mentioned the extra work taking care of the animals and our road. We also spend more time indoors. To combat cabin fever we built one extra room just for Laurie and one for Ed. If either one of us needs to “get away” we can go to our special hideouts.
Laurie uses her room for her many crafts. Sewing quilts, weaving and felting. She even has a tapestry loom in there. Ed built a typical man cave complete with sports, martial arts, outdoor sporting equipment and a TV.
Due to passive design features in our home we don’t heat or cool the house from July through mid September but all of the other months we heat with wood. We heat with a masonry heater. When the temperatures get below 15 degrees Fahrenheit we also fire up the custom masonry kitchen stove. Maintaining a fire for that many months can be a lot of work. The masonry heater helps with that a lot because you don’t have to tend it all day and all night long. You just build a fire every 12 hours. It will burn for about two hours and you shut it down and enjoy the radiated heat for the rest of the 12 hour shift.
Even though winter is the hardest we are most physically active from April to October. Property maintenance, gathering wood and gardening are quite time consuming.
Bruce McElmurray While winter is 7 to 8 months long and we are involved with an average of 264 inches of snowfall per year, I believe the other three seasons are more labor intensive. In the winter we plow and throw snow with our small Kubota tractor coupled with considerable shoveling. We heat our small cabin with a Jotul wood stove and while we carry in firewood each day the more intense physical activity is the cutting, splitting and stacking the 9-11 cords of firewood required to see us through the winter season. As soon as the snow melts we initiate cutting firewood and usually stop around the first of September.
Between doing house/property maintenance, growing a garden, walking our three German Shepherd dogs and working in some recreation the other three seasons are far more physically intense than winter. Winter is actually quite pleasant with the low humidity and temperatures between 0 and 30 degrees F. Our cabin is pretty small so we spend a lot of out time outside comfortably. We live pretty close to nature and Carol makes most of our meals from scratch and what we have grown during the summer.
Since we live where wild predatory animals also live we have our back yard fenced with a 6’ high fence. Therefore much of our time is “let the dogs out, bring the dogs in, let the dogs out, etc” While we have never had a serious close encounter we prefer to err on the side of caution and keep our fur friends as safe as possible. Summer thunder storms can be loud and intimidating for our fur friends even though they are indoor most of the time. Thunder echos though out mountains and can even intimidate us. The Winter is a quiet time of the year for the most part and the quiet can be daunting but we have TV, books to read and enough outside activity to keep us busy plus we get along together very well.
What is the most difficult weather you have experienced since living in the mountains?
Ed Essex In our four years here we’ve had a wildfire, an earthquake and record wind and rain storms. The fire was the scariest. If we had not taken all the precautions we did we would have lost our home and everything else.
Bruce McElmurray In the 16+ years we have lived here we have had unusually heavy snow storms (6 feet in one storm), a 4.7 magnitude earthquake, a lightning strike very near our home, and several micro bursts that broke off several trees about half way up. We also had a wildfire that came within about 15 miles from our home. Other than that our weather is usually very nice and with low humidity it is easy to be outside without feeling chilled to the bone in the winter. We have a lot of sunshine and our temperatures range between 50 degrees F in the summer to 80 degrees. The earthquake was the first one anyone recalled in the past 100+ years and the micro bursts have been very rare. While the weather controls much of what we do and can regulate our outside time for the most part it is mild and pleasurable weather.
In the next parts Ed and Bruce will discuss their greatest weather fear, how they would change their homesteads differently due to the weather, how often they deal with bad weather and being self reliant considering the challenge of mountain weather and what they have learned dealing with the weather in the mountains.
For more on dealing with weather hazards in the mountains or about Ed and Laurie Essex go to: www.goodideasforlife.com For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their weather challenges go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com