Learning from past mistakes and achievements, farming can become easier and more productive.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/DAVID ESPIN
Hey, we've been here a year! It's passed very fast, but it's passed very slowly . . . if you know what I mean. We've been so busy, but it doesn't seem like we've accomplished much of what we had planned. Now THIS year, we want to grow enough garden to supply our own needs plus some surplus to sell. We also want to get our pasture seeded and get the gullies slowed down or stopped. Then when we get time—we'll rebuild our crummy old house . . . IF we can solve the problem of the rotten sill board.
We finally decided not to risk a dome and it's potential leaky seams. We'll wait until more have been built in this climate and, in any case, we're already experimenting at too many other things right now. Our outdoor gardening is off to a very slow start. Since our patch is on a slope, we left wheat growing on it all winter to keep the soil from washing. Trouble is, it also keeps the earth from drying out . . . and we're still waiting to till the vegetable plot. Now we know that it's important to prepare a garden site early—like the fall before. You can't work wet soil!
I started a lot of seedlings (cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, flowers, etc.) indoors this spring in milk cartons that I'd been hoarding all winter. I cut the cartons off about three inches from the bottom and saved the tops in case I needed emergency frost covers after I set the seedlings outdoors. Because our dirt was frozen when I started, I used vermiculite (fairly cheap at the garden supply store) in which to start my seeds and I got so enthused with baby plants that I soon rah out of cartons.
I went scavenging in all our trash piles—and found a lot of things to start seeds in . . . plastic bleach jugs (cut off), rusty old pans, tin cans . . . Even some cardboard boxes can hold seed beds, if they're stapled rather than glued. Especially good are tin cans with plastic tops (like coffee and peanut cans). Cut off the bottoms, put the lids on, turn the cans upside down and then-when re-planting outside—snap off the lids and plant the cans and all.
After my seedlings got a good start under the gro-light, I moved them out to a cold frame. Cold frames are easy to build with plastic sheeting or old window sashes. If you use the sashes, though, it's a good idea to at least hinge them on one side. We just set windows into our frame without fastening them down . . . and the wind blew off and broke three of them.
Spring brought us one new baby goat. We had expected more, but a goat we thought was bred apparently wasn't. We took her and two of the others to visit the bucks again during March . . . so maybe we'll have more fresh goats in August. Isadora managed to kid by herself without complications . . . for which we were grateful! We were needlessly apprehensive about our first farm birth (not counting kittens) and now look forward to more.
For the first two days, I emptied Isadora's udder twice a day, because the single kid wasn't taking very much and I didn't want her to get an udder complication. When the kid was a little older, Isadora's udder didn't feel so hard and full so I started milking her just once a day. It was a week after the birth, by the way, before the milk tasted normal to us. I don't milk until about nine in the morning, so the kid has a chance at breakfast. When he's two months old, I think I'll get some calf feed for him and separate him from his mother at night. That'll give us a bigger morning milking for the kitchen. Since the kid is a buck, we'll probably raise him to four or five months, then take him to the butcher.
Our ten month old pullets are laying well. We don't even feed laying mash and we get 12-15 eggs a day from 18 of them. We use all we want and have three to six dozen eggs left to sell every week. Our four Araucanas lay well over a dozen little blue and green eggs each week, too. We've eliminated all our roosters except for two Araucanas. Now we can be sure of pure chicks without separate penning and both the fertile Araucana eggs and the started chicks bring a very good price. Another reason for butchering our other roosters (big Delaware Hamps) was that every one here had been attacked by a Delaware . . . but no one could tell for sure which one it was.
After the chickens scratched up our early garden, we went to work building a chicken fence. The last one we built sagged to about half it's original height so we're stretching the wire with the tractor and being very thorough this time. We also intend to clip one wing of each chicken to keep them from flying over. We've already completed one section of what will be a double chicken yard. The birds will be fenced in one section while we sprout oats and other green feed for them in the second. By then switching around we hope to supply the chickens with the green nutrients they need . . . without having them ruin our garden and yard.
Last summer we bought an ancient crank start tractor. Because it doesn't run very well—and since the crank nearly broke Keith's arm a couple of times-we purchased a slightly less ancient tractor this spring. Our advice is not to buy a crank start tractor. You can't hardly give them away. Now that we have a tractor that actually runs, we'll be able to start some soil in our pasture. I say start some soil because there is very little top soil there. The gravelly clay supports only a sparse crop of milkweed, goldenrod, and several species of sour-earth-loving plants. This latter growth such as sheep sorrel and croton-tells us that our pasture needs limestone to alkalize the soil. So, after we've applied ground lime and ground raw rock phosphate, and some Hybratite (if we can afford them) we'll plant some hardy leguminous hay . . . maybe soy bean. If the hay grows well—we'll have it cut and baled in the fall and plant some better quality grasses. But if the hay shows a poor stand, we'll disc it in (or plow if we have to) and plant rye for the winter. This to be disced or plowed under in the spring . . . to begin again. Thus we hope to improve the texture of the soil and add humus.
I'm glad we have only 12 worn-out acres to think about right now. It's a big job to revitalize land run down by corn. It's an especially big job for us this year because Keith is working 6 days a week at a nursery. He likes the job and wants to learn the business . . . but it sure limits what we can get done here at home. I set out the 125 strawberry plants I ordered and it looks like I'll get to set the 1000 pine seedlings (yeah, we ordered 1000 pine trees from the State Conservation Dept.), too. The pines are very cheap (1000 for $20) and are sold to Missouri residents for conservation, beautification, or crop purposes. We also ordered a Beautification Bundle for $4, which includes redbud, dogwood, and deciduous holly. We're going to grow our little trees in a nursery bed for a couple of years, because we won't use the herbicide that is recommended to keep weeds from smothering them. We aren't even sure yet what use we'll make of the pines . . . Christmas trees, balled nursery stock . . . or maybe just our own pine forest.