Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Barn Addition and Rain Barrels

The contractor finished up the work on the barn Thursday. This weekend Alan put the gutter back up, raked out the dirt and seeded.

Then the rain barrels needed to get placed. The two barrels on the other side of the barn weren't touched, but the side with the addition needed major work to get the barrels working properly. We nearly doubled the catchment area of rain water on the south side roof. We used to have two 50 gallon rain barrels, one at each corner, on this side of the barn. The corner closest to the house is now too low for a barrel so Alan pitched the gutter to the southwest corner and placed the barrel there. Last year the barrel in each corner would fill up with about one inch of rain. Tonight we finally had a good rain storm and this is what happened.
The barrels are all linked together with hoses and will seek their equilibrium, but there was a lot of air in the lines since Alan had just reconnected everything. And it was a very hard downpour. We were going to use three of the 50 gallon rain barrels and a 240 gallon tote as overflow, but the water doesn't move that quickly between barrels.  I think we need to use the 240 gallon tote on the southwest corner.
It was great using this rainwater to water the garden last year. Our well is not very deep and will run dry if I water everything in the garden, or less if I just washed a load of laundry.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Harvesting the Cover Crop

Sickle v scythe. The Austrian Winter Peas, approximately 12x12 feet, were harvested using a sickle I have had for years. The pea stem was pretty soft and cut well with the sickle. The main problem was the length of the sickle handle. I had to either bend way over or kneel to get a good angle on the cutting.

Then I tried a patch of winter rye, slightly larger than the patch of pea cover crop. The stems were much tougher and required a smaller "bite" with each swipe of the sickle. And I had to kneel for the entire patch.

Altogether it took me about 40 minutes to cut those two patches of cover crop using the sickle.

Then I cut the remaining patch of winter rye using the scythe. That patch was about 12x25 feet and took about seven minutes to cut down with the scythe. And I was able to stand the whole time! The definite winner is the scythe.

The sheep think the Austrian Winter Peas dried in the sun make a mighty tasty hay too.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I have wanted a scythe for a long time. I have a real aversion to loud equipment, especially if it vibrates a lot too. I like the idea of a gas powered trimmer but the noise and the vibration tire me out and just listening to it is annoying. Same goes for vacuum cleaners, dish washers, snow blowers, etc. If there is a hand tool to do the job I would rather use it. My husband is the exact opposite. He loves his power tools and motors!

Enter the scythe and snath. So you can't just use a scythe, that is only the blade. The snath is the wooden part you hold. This is the european snath from Lehman's. It is much lighter than it looks and is not tiring to use at all.
It makes a lovely quiet "swish" when it cuts. And no vibration! The rhythmic motion of scything is almost relaxing. My daughter likes using it too.
She scythed almost the whole orchard. Now we need to learn how to sharpen and peen it. There are great videos of the sharpening and peening processes on-line. This video is very informative on peening.  Scythe Supply appears to have the best selection of sharpening and peening supplies.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Barn Work

Thursday this pile of wood showed up. And yesterday the equipment arrived.
That could only mean one thing. We had moved up on the list of projects for our contractor. Sure enough, this was what I saw today when I got home from work.
This is just a simple shed roof on posts. It will be so nice to have a dry space outside the stalls for the winter. We will be able to keep the top stall doors open for ventilation and not have snow or rain come into the stalls. And the sheep and goats will have a dry place to hang out in the rain. But the best part will be not having to shovel the snow that slid off the roof before I can open the doors!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hay Auction

Every Saturday while we are out running errands we see large loads of hay coming out of the hay auction. We finally had a chance to go check it out. It would be nice to buy up a load of hay at wholesale prices in the fall.
The hay is brought in loaded onto pickup trucks and/or trailers and sold by the lot. It is listed as either number of bales or weight. We saw loads between 50-75 bales and 2000-3000 pounds. There appears to be a delivery charge of $1/mile and we aren't sure if that is from the auction or the farm the hay came from.  Some sellers had an increase in delivery charge to $2/mile over ten miles. We didn't talk to anyone in the office about buyer's premiums and other business. This is definitely something worth checking out next fall when we are looking to load up the barn with hay for the winter.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What's Blooming Now

The flowers are going crazy right now. So many blossoms! The plants around the front porch are a riot of color.
The bleeding hearts of going crazy! And I dug out quite a few last year.
The salvia is covered in flowers.
The rhododendron is also covered in flowers.
The comfrey and austrian winter peas are also getting in on the act.

If even half of the raspberry flowers turn into fruit it will be a very good year for the raspberry harvest.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Learning More About Rotational Grazing

The rams have done a pretty good job eating down their pasture, so it was time to move them again.
On the left in the photo above is the area they have been grazing for the past 5 days. Even though Alan was able to take a vacation day Wednesday I wanted to move the sheep without him. I need to be able to do this myself and always having him help me is not making me learn.
Anyway, Mackenzie, our youngest child is home from college for the summer and was a willing helper. Good thing too, since we had to move a calf hutch about 250 feet down the meadow. I wanted to start grazing the area at the other end of this pasture where it tends to get very wet. We have been seriously lacking in rainfall recently and this area is perfect for grazing right now. If we suddenly start getting a lot of rain this area will become off limits. Alan actually reclaimed this area last fall. It had been totally overgrown.
I actually set up two grazing areas. I want to try to always have the area they will be moving into next ready to go.
So what did the silly rams do first? They check out the calf hutch and ate some hay. I am still giving them a flake of hay daily until their rumens have totally adjusted to the grass diet.
After they ate some hay and the grass in their calf hutch they got to work on the good stuff!

I am learning how to make the electric rope fence work for me and the sheep have really learned to respect it. They won't get closer than a foot or two. I suspect I will be fairly proficient in fencing once I move the rams another three or four more times.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Happy Anniversary!

Yesterday was the three year anniversary of this blog. I started soon after we signed the sales agreement on our new property and wanted to chronicle our life here as we began our little farm.

In three years I have published 278 posts. Considering that I have never been able to keep a journal for more than a month I think that's pretty good. It helps to have children away at college or living far away. And other relatives across the country can keep up with what is going on here too. My husband also likes to show friends at work what projects he is working on.

Hopefully we have at least three more years of blogging to go!

Austrian Winter Peas

I spent some time on the internet trying to figure out when exactly would be the best time to cut down my Austrian Winter Peas. I read in a few places that the most nitrogen fixation occurs at full bloom. A few flowers have just begun to open so I will wait it out a little bit longer.
I found a great post about a "cocktail" mix cover crop of rye, Austrian Winter Peas, oats and Crimson Clover, vetch and lupines. The colors of everything blooming are just wonderful. Now that I know that the rye and peas bloom about the same time and the clover is still going strong with its bloom I definitely need to do some combo cover cropping.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Grafted Tomatoes

We have a great Mennonite nursery nearby that specializes in pepper and tomato plants. They have 200 varieties of hot pepper plants, some that they have developed; and over 100 varieties of tomato plants. They also grow and sell vegetables and we got the first strawberries of the season on Friday from them.
The past year or two they have sold grafted tomato plants. This year I decided to try two of the grafted Cherokee Purple, my favorite variety. Grafting is supposed to increase resistance to late blight which has really cut into my tomato harvest for the last few years.   If grafting does in fact decrease late blight I may need to learn how to graft!
The grafted plants were beautiful. Nice and bushy with strong stems. I just wonder how the size of the plant will compare to an ungrafted Cherokee Purple tomato. My plants usually grow about six feet tall. We'll find out in a few months! Has anyone ever grown grafted tomatoes?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Moving the Ram Lambs to New Pasture

We spent a part of the past few days getting things ready and then moving the ram lambs.  We moved the calf hutch to the pasture on the other side of the stream. Good thing we have the crane attachment for the tractor.
Then we strung up temporary fencing.
Yesterday afternoon Maddy and I were able to coax everyone mostly everyone over the bridge and into their new pasture. Ram 004 made it on to the bridge then decided he would rather stay in the old barn. Alan ended up picking him up and carrying him to the new pasture.
Once everyone was in the new pasture they took to eating right away. After a while they went into the calf hutch and saw they had feed and water and hay in there. Of course, we had our first rain in over 3 weeks that evening and they stood outside and got completely soaked. Good thing, though, as they are very dirty.

They seem to have bonded into their own little flock and all the head butting and posturing has stopped. And everyone tested the fence, some a few times, and we had no escapees over night. So far it has been a successful move!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Finished Bridge

Alan was able to take a day off this past week and finish the carpentry on the bridge. Then we bought a gate and hung that, and found the old planter we had floating around. Today I planted petunias and alyssum in the planter and we can now call the bridge finished!
It's very sturdy and hopefully will outlast us. We even were able to coax the ram lambs across it this evening, with the help of a scoopful of feed. The bridge is actually a very pleasant place to listen to the birds and the stream in the shade.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Weaning the Rest

Last night we put the younger rams, 0004 and 0006, in with rams 0001 and 0002. Well, that didn't go well at all. The older rams, who really aren't much bigger, gave the younger rams no peace at all. The pounding was made all the more pitiful with the younger rams' crying for their flock. I knew I could never sleep worrying about them so we let the younger rams back in with the flock. 

This afternoon I decided to give it another try. But first I closed the older rams up in their outer pen. Then I decided to also put Clara and the two younger rams into the older rams indoor pen. I figured maybe the greater numbers would help with the scuffling. After the three younger lambs had been in the indoor pen for a while I let the older rams into the indoor pen and closed the door to the outside pen. I read that it is better to have rams get used to each other in a more confined space so they don't have as much force behind their battering.

Well, there was a good bit of posturing and head butting. But everything went so much better than last night. Here we are winding up:
And after a good sniff of everyone's privates:
After nearly three hours the noise has finally died down. You would have thought we were torturing them before. I guess, in a way, we were!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mid Spring Cover Crop Update

The cover crops have taken off! The winter/cereal rye is just about ready to cut.
The best time to cut is when they are shedding pollen. The rye is starting to make its flower so it should be shedding pollen soon.
Once the rye is shedding pollen it gets cut, then the roots sit for 2 weeks. I am going to try transplanting right into the decomposing roots as in Cindy Connor's book "Grow a Sustainable Diet".
I am very interested in the results and will post them here.

The crimson clover that made it through the winter is beginning to bloom as well.
According to SARE, crimson clover flowers are great food for many beneficial insects and do well interplanted with winter rye. I definitely need to think about some cover crop mixes next.

My poor maligned Austrian Winter Peas have really come on strong with the heat. And don't seem to be minding the lack of rainfall. I take back just about every negative thing I said about them before.
All in all I can safely say I am happy with the cover crops I have grown so far. I have a big bag of buckwheat seeds waiting for cover cropping and I will definitely be using fall oats and radishes in my garden this year.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Baby Ducks' First Swim

Our chick order was missing the chicks, who will be ready some time this week. But we did get these cute Swedish ducklings.
Today was their first swim. It kept them out of the way while I cleaned out their pen. Hopefully we will have better luck this year with the ducks. I am hoping the perimeter fencing will help keep them safer.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Lots of little things going on here.
Alan has been working on the bridge. All that is left is the decking and a board along the top/railing.
The goats have been working on clearing brush.
They get quite acrobatic to get the tasty bits.
Mama Sadie is working on shedding, and looking quite shaggy.
The lilacs are working on perfuming the air with their amazing scent.
This long stand of lilacs is on the bank behind the house. With the patio doors open the smell of lilacs comes right into the house. It's heavenly.

And Stumpy is working on getting to used to her crate. She has been eating in it for a few days and has even gone all the way in. 
The hard part is figuring out the best time to catch her and her kittens. She moved them a few days ago and I know the general vicinity but I think I'll let her raise them up a little more. But we can't wait to see them!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Sure Sign of Warmer Weather Ahead

I love those changes in the seasons that precipitate changing from flannel sheets to cotton or vice versa. Thursday was the day change to cotton sheets. All the flannel sheets were washed and hung outside then put away and the crisp cotton sheets were put on the beds. I love a really nice 100% cotton sheet that's been hung outside to dry. I dream of owning a set of linen sheets. Maybe someday!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ready for the Chicks

I spent part of today getting everything ready for the new chicks. We should be able to pick them up on Saturday.  All the equipment was scrubbed and sanitized by the sun. The heat lamp was hung and just needs an extension cord from the house.
The heat lamp is from Premier 1 and is so much sturdier and safer than those cheap metal ones. The picture doesn't show it but the cord coming from the base has a metal coil for about three feet to keep critters from chewing on it. It worked great in the barn during lambing.

And yes that is a toilet seat. The best space to have the chick brooder, other than under a broody hen, is the outhouse. It usually just gets filled up with all kinds of gardening paraphernalia so brooding the chicks is a good reason to clean it out.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

Over the years I have heard many good things about the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival but had never visited. Now that we have sheep it seemed like a good time to go. Maddy and I spent Sunday there and found it very enjoyable. First I would like to commend the festival organizers for an amazing job. Everything was very well organized, from the parking, to the brochures, to the number of bathrooms. And the amount of lamb you could eat! Yummy! We started with a lamb kabob when we arrived, then had a lamb burger and lamb sausage for lunch. We tasted sheeps' milk cheese and came home with two different types.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived on the festival grounds was all the beautiful colors of yarn. It was a feast for the eyes, and the fingertips. Definitely sensory overload after a while. And I don't even knit! Maybe I need to learn.
And the raw fleeces! So many beautiful fleeces! Don't want to process a fleece? You can drop your raw fleece off at the wool processor's booth and they will ship it to your home when it's all processed. Or you could buy some roving ready for spinning. Don't want natural colored roving? Well then here are tons of different colors of pre-dyed roving! One could literally go crazy trying to figure out what to buy. Luckily, I had a pretty specific shopping list. We needed a couple of boat shuttles for the loom and I found some pretty cheap ones that weren't made of beautiful cherry. Until I know more about weaving I really didn't want to spend too much money on these. I also bought a ball of Coopworth roving to try spinning. I have two spinning wheels that I can sort of make work (not their fault, entirely mine.) If I add a couple of wool sheep I am leaning heavily toward the Coopworth breed. So I thought it would be nice to see how I like to work with the wool.
The sheep barns were a treat too. I just wish there was more signage about the specific breeds and more people around to talk about their sheep. The festival is definitely geared toward the wool breeds though. There were no hair sheep to be seen anywhere!
Where else can you see a couple of gals taking their sheep for a walk! I would imagine that these sheep have been trained since they were lambs to walk on a lead.

Maybe my favorite part of the day was watching the auction of shepherding equipment. We need to bring the van next year. They sold off some nice used equipment at decent prices. There were no great steals but the prices were very fair for used equipment. Saturday there was another auction of spinning and weaving supplies that I would have liked to have seen too. And we missed the workshop on Friday on Basic Shepherding. Next year it looks like we'll try to spend the entire weekend at the festival.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A New Bridge!

Maddy and I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival today and when we got home we found this nice surprise!
According to Alan, who designed the whole thing, it is a Howe Truss bridge, a design seen in covered bridges. Hopefully in another weekend the bridge will be complete. Do you think we can bribe the sheep to cross it? The rams will be spending the summer in the pasture on the other side of the stream so they had better be able to navigate this bridge.

Stumpy Update

I haven't seen Stumpy since Friday evening but we have been able to hear faint meowing at the burrow where I thought she was sleeping. Alan saw her in the late afternoon today coming out to eat and looking deflated. So now we wait until they come out of the burrow!