Autumn Olive

Think of it as our version of Kudzu. A nuisance plant that the government, displaying a great interest in farming although not a great knowledge thereof, encouraged people to plant for some reason now forgotten. Given that this is the same government that brought us the Dust Bowl, I suppose it is no surprise that Autumn Olive really isn’t that wonderful. 

It is quite prolific in our hills and as a would be optomist I have found some good points about it. Firstly, it prevented runoff from the higher slops after the last logging, helping to keep the topsoil on our land. Secondly, it is a nitrogen fixer so the soil is far richer than it otherwise might have been, the sheer quantity of Autumn Olive testifies to how badly the soil here needed enriching. And thirdly, it grows bushlike in clumps. Much easier to remove than say bamboo, another Federal favorite.

Daddy has been out several days this week cutting down bushes. From him I have learned that Autumn Olive is a thorny bush and that they are growing so thickly in places that the cut branches cannot be pulled from their living companions. Removing them will be quite the chore. For one thing we need to keep them from growing back. The current plan is to plant a variety of clover, tall and short, which are also nitrogen fixers, to try to get the ground to the point where the Autumn Olive looses its advantage. 

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Holiday Weekends

Are wonderful for visiting the neighbors. Not so great for getting things done. It also did not help that I worked on Saturday. So this weekend I trimmed my hair, cleaned my windshield, and put two rows into my rag rug. I also got a bit startled by Teddy.

For background, our house was customized by the previous owner who was quite short. Since no one in my family is that short all the banisters are a bit hazardous. Therefore David and Amanda got some dressers to lift the barrier and provide much needed storage. It has also provided an eye level cat roost which Teddy and Leo have taken quite a liking to.

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However, eyes in the dark, first thing in the morning, before coffee is not my favorite way to wake up. Although Teddy didn’t seem to mind at all.

 

 

Early Bloomer

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This fruit tree, I will admit to having no idea what it is, has not produced fruit in years, according to Bobby. Mom and I reached the theory that is is because this tree is apparently an early bloomer. Where we are, we have altitude and high enough latitude that we can potentially keep having hard frosts all the way into late April/early May.

When we bought seeds for the garden, one of the things I watched for was mid to late season crops as they are less likely to be frosted out here. We also tried to get entirely organic heirloom seeds as we want to eat foods that have not been tampered with. Also we feel that plants with a history of success should be favored and encouragesd to remain.

So some of our plants do not look like the food they are, at least not to me. For example the parsnip we bought is a large black root, not the little red things I am used to. However, I could not find any of the small or red roots that are more than 50 years old.

It made me wonder if a person from the 1920s would even recognize the foods we call natural today.

Skye’s Confinement

Skye has certainly reached the point where she is entirely at home on the farm. However, as her comfort levels have risen her willingness to return to the house when called and her fear of wandering alone have vanished. Since we have coyotes and since we live in an area where people shoot dogs who get into their chickens, Skye is going on a leash.

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I set this up yesterday. It is a 20 ft red leash that runs between to stakes. To this a 15 ft green leash is clipped. For convenience, I installed a hook on the inside of the back door so we can hook her up and release her inside the house.

This is quite important as her latest wander happened between the green leash, which had been tied to the end of the porch, and the front door. Skye was quite pleased with herself when she came back from her hour long romp in the wilderness. I was not. Particularly since I spotted a coyote in our driveway the night before.

I made sure that Skye has spots of shade throughout the day. Skye got used to the leash quickly. She was not particularly happy about it, until Puddy found her. Once Puddy showed up, Skye returned to her usual chipper state. I don’t know why they are such good friends. But it is adorable.

Learning Resources

Given the impending deadline of the planting season. I’ve been revisiting/finding a bunch of new study material. We are using Permaculture on our farm as much as possible.

What is Permaculture? It is the study and nourishment of natural cycles to include human habitation. If you want to put it in Biblical terms, it is the loving dominion of the earth to bring forth a multiplying fruit. Leastwise that is my definition, there are several and each farmer seems to have a personal definition of the same concept. The basic principle is to create a permanent rejuvenating agriculture. Most land desperately needs nourishment because of the conventional agricultural systems which strip the ground of its nutrients and frequently compound the problem by poisoning the land to discourage insects drawn by mono cropping.

Anyway, I’ve been doing a bunch of research. Given that our budget is pretty low, I’ve been looking for as much free information as I can find. I started with Geoff Lawton’s site. From there I revisited the Duck Chronicles on YouTube, admittedly because the ducks are adorable. Then I discovered that YouTube has an incredible abundance of seminar videos if you search for Permaculture. Frankly, I got overwhelmed and went looking for something more organized. Like maybe a permaculture seminar.

What I found was the Open Permaculture School: Regenerative Leadership Institute. You have to subscribe and the teacher rambles a bit. However, I’ve found the amount of information in each course to be rather staggering and there are 41 courses. Oh, did I mention it is entirely free? You can pay to take extra courses to get certified. But, as I learned from college, paying for a piece of paper that says you can do something doesn’t make sense. So this will keep me occupied for a bit.

Spring Design

Perhaps a bit premature given that I’ve woken to a hard frost every day this week. However, the afternoons are definitely moving toward summer. Since we won’t be having any more snow, I hope, I decided to celebrate the return of the birds with this season’s revamp. The most unexpected bird is the Red Winged Blackbirds. We had them at the lake I liked in the D.C. area and I felt wonderfully welcomed by their presence on the farm.

I checked my tap holes yesterday and did not find evidence of sap runoff so I felt a bit vindicated for my decision to pull the taps.

Garden Rethought

On my post regarding the garden layout I received a comment from UrbanHomesteadNZ suggesting I look into Mandala Gardens. Given that my Mom has been following this blogger for ages and has a huge respect for their experience. I hopped right into research and found that it made a lot of sense. Particularly since we want a design that older or younger people can work with and that can be expanded as necessary.

So after some revision, I came up with this.

gardenplain.jpegIt is plotted to be 33 feet across and broken into cells as this year is the year of experimentation. Oh boy, are we experimenting.

gardenguilds.jpegI’m going to convert it using Adobe Illustrator, funny how useful a graphic design background can be for farming. Here we have a combination of 17 plant mixed and matched in groups of 3 to allow for that highest combination of mixes as possible. Why? Because we want to find the plants that optimally nourish each other so that we can grow those next year.

I’m leaning vey heavily upon a companion growth chart my mom found on PermacultureNews. Which I copied out into the card you see in the lower right for the 17 species we are working with.

The downside of doing it this way is that we will have high yields of some thing that may be harder for our family to eat. Things like Brussel Sprouts, which 3 out of 6 people like. It also means we will have to can. Particularly the tomatoes since we have 2 kinds.

Houston, We Have Syrup

  
I boiled it down a bit too much and had both the hot and cold marks above the syrup. So I added a bit of water back in until it was here, right in the goldilocks zone.

Having done that, and eaten dinner, the next step was filtering. Now I didn’t buy a syrup filter this year, our batch is too amateur for professional equipment. So first I tried a coffee filter. 

  Not a success. It filtered extremely slowly and was taking out too much of the sugars.

So I tried a cheese cloth on a funnel.

  Which worked quite well. I let it sit overnight and had good separation between the syrup…  And the solids. Which would be extremely tasty, if it had less flies. In hindsight, filtering before would have made the solids more useable. The solids also have the bonus of extremely high vitamin and mineral content. I made myself some raspberry tea and rinsed the utensils to sweeten it. I am pleased to report that it was delicious. However I couldn’t finish the mug as it was too filling. 

Garden Planning

One of our weekend projects was laying out the garden. We have a basic layout marked out by the stakes.

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We will be building up the ground with a layer of compost into ridges along the outside of the stakes. You may have noticed that the stakes are not straight. We are following the slope of the hill to keep the water in the garden as long as possible. We do have a good amount of water and silt runoff.

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Which we want to catch and keep in our land as long as possible. We plan on doing this long term by use of mounds and channels to get the water to places where it can seep into the soil. Keeping soil is really important because we are well blessed with rocks.

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Behold a very well aerated soil. But one that tends to wash away and should be encouraged to stay.