The calendar says March 4th. The ground says early spring. I’ve got chives coming up, California poppies reseeding, daffodils pushing up flower buds, violets blooming, fruit tree buds swelling, silver maple blooming. There is the faintest tinge of green, if you squint and get the light just right, on the line of “wind break” willows that line two sides of our property.
It’s been a mild winter. We really had almost no snow, and no accumulation at all. Hallelujah. After shoveling snow for many many years in multiple states, I’ve had enough of snow tires and winter driving and power outages and digging out, only to have the county plow dig you back in by putting a 3 ft high berm across your driveway with road accumulation. We are LOVING being in zone 6, a full month ahead of where we were in Colorado. Who wouldn’t want more spring?
We’ve been busy getting some long overdue projects off the ground. We’re finally installing electrical and a pump and pipe to tap into the existing irrigation ditch. We currently pay for the water, but have had no way to use it. Getting all of the infrastructure installed is no easy or inexpensive feat, but when it is finished, we’ll have water to irrigate our back pasture. This will help turn it from rampant weeds (mostly star thistle) to forage, or possibly orchard. It will also allow us to switch over from using well water for most of our yard irrigation. The garden will remain on the well, for health & safety reasons. (Even though you expect people to wash your lettuce before eating it, that doesn’t mean they always do – so no ditch water on the greens please).
We’re also finally making progress on getting our quonset hut built. We purchased it for $2,500 last fall. It had been purchased at a county fair booth for $5,000 some 15 years ago, loaded onto a flat bed, and then never erected. The company that made it has since gone out of business. What a screaming deal, we thought. Well, that is until you factor in the county building permit, the review by a private engineer to convince the county that yes, if it is constructed as specified in the plans, it will meet all snow load and other requirements, and the cost of putting in the foundation. Yikes. But when it is finished, the ducks, turkeys, chickens and rabbits will have a new place to call home (along with all of their feed), and more room to spread out, and the sheep and goats can utilize the horse stalls when the weather is bad, or when they are having babies, rather than just braving the (admittedly mild) elements.
I attended a Women in Agriculture conference on February 23rd. This great conference is held all over Washington, via webcast. The networking with other women farmers is the best part. I drove over to Prosser to attend, so that I could also pick up a couple of goats from a friend. One of the goats, Frick (renamed Fiona) was here last summer. We wanted her because she’s a good sized goat, she’s not overly demanding, she doesn’t stick her head through the fence as often as her sister Frack, and she will eat most anything. I learned last summer, when the 8 goats were visiting, that like people, they all have their own particular tastes for food. And while some goats will turn up their noses at wilted chard or kale or overgrown summer squash, Fiona was game for whatever you put in front of her. AND she’s pregnant. We expect her to have twins, sometime after March 13th. (Goats have a 5 month gestation, and we returned her to Prosser on October 13th, so she could not have gotten pregnant before that time). I brought the goats home in the back of my van! We just lined it with a tarp and a bunch of grass hay, and then put two stacked bales of hay between the front seats and the back so they couldn’t help me drive. They happily munched their way through the 1 1/2 hour drive, making very little noise or mess.
Fawn, the second goat, is a trade for some six-week old chickens I’ll be raising later this spring, because she has demonstrated that she is not a good Mama, and so will not be bred again. She is likely going to get fattened up over the summer, and then butchered in the fall. Goat meat, by the way, is really yummy. Kind of a cross between beef and lamb. We’ve been eating it all winter.
Our neighbor just bought the foreclosed house behind ours. It’s been slowly falling into disrepair for over a year, and the weeds were getting out of hand. We’ve arranged to put the goats out in one of those fields this spring. It’s a win-win. They will take care of some of the weeds that are no doubt going to be coming up in impressive numbers for years, and we’ll get some free forage. Sweet!
The sheep are doing fine. We actually pastured them in the backyard for a week or so recently, using net fencing to keep them out of where we didn’t want them to go. We expect them to start giving birth sometime between now and mid March as well. We go look at them a few times a day and wonder “is today the day”? Some are carrying low, and look quite uncomfortable, and waddle when they walk, and we watched them pee about a million times yesterday, just like pregnant human Mama’s, so it won’t be long now. We are hoping for smooth easy births. It’s part of why we chose this breed of sheep (American Black-belly cross) to begin with. I want no part in perpetuating a breed that needs human assistance to give birth more often than not. That, in my opinion, does a disservice to both the animal and the human. So, fingers crossed for healthy babies and mammas and humans staying out of it.
One of the best parts of early spring is waking around the yard and garden looking for signs of life from your old friends. “Well, hello there horseradish. Did you have a nice winter sleep?”. “Oh, look, the tarragon is starting to come up”. And the best part of all of this has been seeing the garlic come up. I had garlic that I had grown in Colorado for years, saving some of the heads each summer for planting again in the fall. But then I had to skip a season of gardening, and so needed to start over last fall, buying new garlic from a couple of sources. There is something so satisfying about growing garlic every year, from the flipped planting cycle (you plant it in October and harvest it in June/July) to the security of knowing that once you have it, you’ll never need to buy it again.
Fingers crossed for no late spring frost wiping out the plum harvest this year. It’s supposed to be in the 50’s this week, so that’s not going to slow anything down. The pear and nectarine trees won’t be far behind.
I threw in a gratuitous picture of Charlie, the Bourbon Red Turkey, who is almost a year old and probably weights about 25 lbs. It’s been a while since I’ve posted any pictures of him. We’re kind of amazed that he’s been able to gain weight at all, given that all he does all day every day is show off his feathers, boom, and gobble. He’s freaked out a few after dark visitors, because he will gobble at any sound, even in the dark, which includes a car door slamming. If you don’t know he is there, it can be quite startling (and quite funny when it’s a grown man who about has a heart attack at the unexpected greeting). We have fingers crossed that his two girlfriends, Gracie-May and Peggy-Sue, will choose to lay some eggs and hatch some babies this spring (assuming they have a place to do that – come on quonset hut).
Lastly, we’ve seen a couple of these in the last few days. We think it is a Pacific Tree Frog. They are such a lovely shade of green. Nothing says spring like a tree frog, right! They are only a couple of inches long.