Well, after about 2 1/2 months of no rain, we’ve had more than 2 inches in the last few weeks. Aside from the wet, the weather has generally been in the 60’s to 70’s during the day, which means that lots and lots of cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) and storksbill are germinating like crazy. Areas of the pasture that were totally brown a few weeks ago now look like a golf course.
The common storksbill, also called cutleaf filaree (Erodium cicutarium), is coming up in astonishing numbers. This isn’t all that surprising if you are familiar with this low growing plant. The seed comes attached to a long wispy tail. The tail curls up into a cork screw when dry and the seed has a tendency to work its way into socks and animal fur. When exposed to moisture, the tail straightens out, and if it is lying on the ground, it twists around as it straightens and “drills” itself into the soil. Quite a brilliant system, planting yourself only when conditions are optimal for germination. Evidently, the conditions have been quite optimal of late. Wow.
In researching this plant, I discovered that “the presence or absence of cutleaf filaree pollen in fossil records, sediment lakebeds, and artifacts has been used as a dating technique in paleobotany and archeology. Cutleaf filaree was one of the first exotics to invade North America. It was apparently introduced in California during the early 1700’s by passing Spanish explorers.” How cool is that? No doubt it was in the Spaniards’ socks, or in their horses tails. Filaree is edible by both people and animals, and makes a pretty good livestock forage. Unfortunately, it’s mostly coming up in places where we don’t graze animals, and so it won’t do us much good, other than as a sock hitchhiker.
Other happenings? We finally got the “Miles Away Farm” sign up that my dear friend Lauri made us last year. I also got up on the barn roof and cleaned out the rain gutters in an effort to keep the poultry yard from getting even more muddy. The turkeys watched with interest when I was up there, inspecting the wads of leaves and germinating seeds and the occasional wasp I threw down with a splat into the yard. Then, as soon as I got down, they went up to inspect my work.
We’ve let the sheep into the garden area, where they are mowing down the grass, finishing up the Swiss chard and kale, eating the seed heads on the carrots and onions I meant to save, chowing on the volunteer arugula, and generally enjoying access to a new area.
I finally got next year’s garlic and shallots into the ground. A little later than I had intended, but hey, I don’t think I’ve EVER managed to plant garlic at the BEGINNING of October. I planted three kinds; two hard necks and one soft neck. Looking forward to eating my own garlic again. Because of the strange time that garlic is planted (in the fall) and two moves in two and a half years, I haven’t harvested any of my own garlic since 2009. Once you get it going, you never have to purchase it again, which is a good thing, as buying it from a seed company is surprisingly expensive.
We’ve been getting grape pomace (the left over stems, seeds and skins – after the grapes are cleaned and pressed) from Skylite Cellars up the road. They are such great people. My garden space is set up so we fertilize every other row each year. We’ve got three 100 ft rows done (three pickup loads). Only three more to go. The hope is that the pomace breaks down over the winter, and then will be tilled in in early spring to further decompose before planting. Because grapes are quite acidic, and my soil is on the alkali side, I’m also hoping for a slight drop in pH. What I DO know is that it is free, and my garden smells like a winery, which I, for one, think is fabulous. Thankfully, the wind doesn’t blow it directly onto my neighbors, who may not be as giddy about free smelly compost as I am.
We’ve also discovered that the sheep LOVE to eat the grape stems while they are still fresh. The other day they were munching as fast as they could while I was unloading. (I had a few good pictures of this, taken with my old blackberry phone, but I just upgraded to a smart phone, and forgot to take the pictures off the old phone first. Tried to email them to myself, but that never seems to work – which was yet another reason to get rid of the blackberry. I’m also looking forward to being able to take credit cards at the farmers market now with the Square – lets hear it for technology). There is a different local winery here that also raises beef cattle. She calls them Cabernet Beef because she feeds them the grape pomace from her winery. So I’m thinking Syrah Sheep and Malbec Mellons will be in the offerings next year – ha.
Because of our budding friendship with Skylite, when one of their staff was looking for a new home for four chickens that she could no longer keep due to a move, we volunteered to take them. They are Light Bramas, a breed I have wanted to raise, but never seen for sale at a feed store. Murray McMurray hatchery says:
“the Brahmas are a very old breed from Asia, probably originating in India and brought to this country about 1850 by Yankee sailors on their return from trading in Far Eastern ports. Because of its massive size, full feathered shanks and toes, and striking black and white plumage pattern, it has always been one of the most interesting varieties to work with. Brahmas are exceptionally quiet, gentle, and easy to handle. Their small pea comb, great size, and heavy plumage make them almost immune to cold weather. The hens are good layers of brown eggs, especially in winter, and will also set. Cockerels develop a tremendous frame, grow rather slowly, but when fully fleshed make a beautiful roasting chicken.”
True to the description, they are gentle quiet birds, with very silky feathers and are slowly fitting into the flock. So for those of you who are playing along with the word problem “how many chickens does she have now?” the current count is 33 hens and 2 roosters. (I lost a hen to drowning in the duck stock tank a few weeks ago. Freak accident. There is now a cinder block in there, so anybody who freaks out and flies into the tank can find their way out again. Given the cold water, short time line [less than 12 hours] and lack of physical damage – we did what any good farmer would do. We ate her.)
Lauri, the same dear friend who made my farm sign, is starting a blueberry U-Pick business. She’s putting in thousands of bushes. So she and I made a deal for a few blueberry plants (20). Since I live three and a half hours away from her, I won’t be competing with her if I sell the fruit, so it was ethical to work a deal (something some of her local vendor friends don’t seem to understand when they ask her if she can get them 500 plants on the cheap). We have planted 10 of them, and will mulch them with grape pomace to help with soil pH. (Blueberries like acidic soil, and so can be very hard to grow if your soil is alkali). We also planted them with some sulfur, which should help lower the pH as well. I had forgotten how pretty blueberry bushes are in the fall.
The eight goats we’ve been keeping since early May went back to their home a few weeks ago. All but Molly, the one that had been gifted to us because she couldn’t have babies for some unknown reason. (We’ll buy one of them back after she has been bred, and have a goat mama and baby in the spring.
We have an oak tree on our property, and we’d been picking up the plentiful acorns (they tend to reseed otherwise) and feeding them in handfuls to the goats and sheep, as a treat. And then, thanks to our friend Google, we discovered that acorns are toxic to livestock. More so to cattle and sheep than goats. More so in large numbers. More so when the nuts aren’t ripe. More so depending on the variety of oak blah blah blah. But we had a serious moment of panic when we thought maybe we had poisoned our friend’s goats just as we were about to take them home. The goats and sheep LOVED the acorns, and ate them like candy. One of them had managed to get into the bucket that we were storing them in and ate a bunch at once. In Colorado, the scrub oak (Quercus gambelii) is about the only oak tree you encounter, and the scrub oak is one of the few oaks in the United States where you can eat the acorns right off the tree without feeling like all the spit has been sucked out of your mouth. They are very low in tannins. So we just weren’t thinking. Everyone is fine. No harm, no foul. But take note if you have livestock and oak trees. Don’t let them eat the acorns. The end result can be very bad indeed.
We did, as intended, have Molly butchered. She went to the great goat heaven in the sky on Halloween, which somehow seemed fitting. We paid to have her processed, and she only had about 30 seconds of “hey, wait a minute, something doesn’t seem quite right here” before she was dead and gone. Goat meat is quite lean and tasty, and we’ll enjoy the meat all winter. We hope to make some goat jerky, and perhaps some goat chorizo as well. I had the butcher take a look at her organs to check for parasite issues. There were no obvious problems (phew) and she had big cysts on her ovaries, which is why she could not conceive, and perhaps why she had the fastest growing hooves on the planet. We trimmed her feet three times in 5 months, and she still looked like she had clown feet. Between the goat, the roosters and the rabbits, we have a well stocked freezer right now full of the ultimate in local meat.
While I miss the fact that we don’t have a big “autumn blaze” maple in the yard, we HAVE had some nice fall color.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re miles away from that first snowfall, but are preparing as fast as we can. Sprinkler system blown out, check. Propane tank filled, check. Firewood in stock…not so much.