Monday, October 25, 2010

Repair Work

Ever wonder what a patch of land that's had its topsoil stripped and been used as a dumping site for junk and commercial waste looks like after it has had some time to heal?

This space was stripped of its top soil roughly two decades ago, then used as a junkyard until the late 90's. Since then it has been allowed to rest, being not quite abandoned, but far from actively used. The growth you see above has been allowed to grow freely for over a decade. It is still slightly less than barren. Patches where leaves and pinestraw have fallen or been washed into their current location have allowed some new growth, but even that is minimal. It is all hard clay mixed with sand and sun baked to a consistency reminiscent of bricks.

This is where we intend to grow our food.

Sometimes even I think I've lost it when I'm looking at this mess. It is going to take some serious effort to get anything growing here, much less producing enough to feed our family. Despite how daunting it looks, I do have a plan to fix this.

Step 1: The painful part we've been working on.. clearing off the junk and debris. We've been at this for months now. There is such an ample supply that we can load the truck for a run to the landfill in less than an hour, and that includes taking time to sort out anything that can be recycled, composted, or reused. I'm really hoping we can at least have the small stuff cleared off by the end of the month. I'm not optimistic, but hopeful.

Step 2: Cutting down the little pine trees that have popped up and turning them into mulch. We have a large pile for this already started (well, two actually, but someone else thought it would be a helpful thing to do to push the trash pile into the first one we made so we could burn it all.. I had to explain why I wasn't interested in burning it, especially things like tires, old batteries, random buckets of unknown substances, etc... we've not yet got those two piles separated again.). This clears the site and gives us some lovely mulch to start composting.

Step 3: Lay out mulch, shredded junk mail, old goat bedding, manure, kitchen scraps, etc. out into garden rows. Do this while house is being built so that is has time to turn into happy, fertile, usable soil. I'm not going to worry about the space between rows at this time.

Step 4: Attempt to grow food!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Goat Tractor

I am not the biggest fan of chickens, but I've been very interested in the concept of a chicken tractor (a portable pen in which the chickens can be moved around outside to forage, enjoy grass under their feet, and fertilize the soil while also being kept out of things they don't need to be into and safe from predators). It occurred to me that goats have, in many ways, the same basics needs as chickens in so far as needing a little shelter from the elements, space to move around, fresh water, things to nibble, and safety from predators. So why not make a "goat tractor"?

The result of this idea isn't exactly aesthetically pleasing, but it is effective. The "tractor" is basically a mid-sized premade dog pen that was leftover from the puppy era of a the family pet of my childhood, but with one side enclosed to create a little shelter, a tomato cage rigged up to hold hay on the side of the pen, and a raised feed and water set up made with a dirt filled bucket and feed bowls. Let me reiterate that this is -not pretty-, but it works. I have visions of one day building something that doesn't look like it could have come straight out of a "You Might Be A Redneck If.." book, but until the more pressing building projects are completed, this gets the job done.

Our little boy and not yet producing dairy girl are truly amazing at turning this:

Into this:

Yay goats!

The Fall Garden

I'm taking a little vacation from birth doula'ing that I had planned for November (all of my October clients delivered early, so vacation started early). I'm hoping to use it to catch up on sleep, make some solid progress on the house before the weather truly turns cold, get some craft and art projects finished up, and finish setting up the garden for the winter. So far, so good.

The garden is currently planted with a mostly leafy green variety of plants including kale, swiss chard, spinach, onions, broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce (buttercrunch and romaine), cabbage, mustard, beet, radish, and turnips for the fall. If we decide to (and find time to) set up a hoop house, there will be more for the winter as well. A bit later this autumn we will also be adding shittake mushrooms to our list of homegrown yummies.

There are still a few hangers on from the summer. The tomatoes are still yielding the odd tomato here and there, the peppers are still loaded down with produce, and the eggplant are suddenly bearing better than they have all year, even as everything around them puts out seed and withers away for the winter. After they decide to finish up, I'll mound up some mulch on their garden rows and let them rest until it's time for spring planting, but there is no rush. They can keep our kitchen busy as long as they like!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cold Goats Aren't Happy Goats

Most of the effort around here lately has been directed towards making sure the goats have a warm, secure place to sleep on cold nights (that will also be a nice, shady escape from the heat next summer). We've swung full force back into work on the goat shed.

There was a brief side project related to entertaining Mellie so we could work. She received a ton of beach and sandbox toys for her birthday back in April, and my mother found my old covered sandbox from when I was Mellie's age. Those things have helped create a great setup where she can play within line of sight of the shed while we work.

She was ready to dive in before everything was finished, and was happy to play for hours, so we left her to it.

The structure went from skeleton to recognizable as a shed faster than expected with some much appreciated help from my father.

Almost ready for goat move in!


October is here! The evenings are chilly, the nights are cold (by local standards), but the days are the perfect temperature to work outside. The house is on temporary hold again while cold weather lodging for the goats is being arranged. We expect to have the goat shed winter-ready very soon, after which it will be back to the house. I've lightened my work schedule for a few months in order to focus on building. With a bit of luck, we'll at least have an enclosed structure to show for our efforts by the time my workload picks up again. I'm hopeful!