Sunday, November 7, 2010

We're going to have a kid (or maybe up to 8 kids)!

I was actually quite nervous to introduce a buck to our sweet little does. PJ and Mabel are, of course, our pets, and though he seemed sweet enough, I had fears of incorporating this large, smelly, head-butting, big-horned creature into our herd. Especially for the reasons we intended.

Mabel has wanted nothing to do with him this past week, running up on top of the roof of her little house whenever he comes too near. But this morning, things changed. In addition to going at it a few times, Mabel and Eli have spent much of the morning nuzzling heads, while Eli "sings" a quiet, high-pitched noise and Mabel flags her tail.

The gestation period for Nigerian Dwarf goats is 145 to 153 days. So in early April, we may have two to eight babies arriving. (We anticipate hoards of people wanting these little ones, so put your name on the list as soon as you can!)
(Note: That was actually half marketing gimmick/ half daydream.) Apparently, goats typically come into heat in autumn, as day length decreases and the threat of melancholy sets in. It's perfect, this master design. We don't see it as well in our warm climate - we are actually experiencing a marked increase in garden production and don't feel the lack of creation and productivity yet - but we can feel the darkness creeping up all the same. We'll plant our flower bulbs soon, and then we'll wait for spring. Like the bulbs, and other unnamed dreams, the baby goats will develop in secret and in darkness, hidden away until spring, which teaches us year after year that life wins. That if we wait in joyful hope, we'll see birth and rebirth and reclamation of dreams.

These Advent musings, I think, are premature. Here in Austin in early November, we're still experiencing the giddiness of crisp, 65-degree afternoons. And we have many overt and sometimes noisy signs that life is winning. Several of our (human) loved ones are announcing pregnancies and having babies, and we get to observe the rush of hope (and, as aunt and uncle, avoid the sleepless nights) of new life.

Here are some pictures of a quilt I just finished for one of these important babies, machine-pieced, mostly machine-quilted (but with some hand-quilting) and hand-appliqued.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Eli The Goat



Well, we have a billy goat. Err.... a 'buck' in goat parlance. Sorry goat lovers
In any case, he's pretty cool. Eli came to us from a family up near Georgetown. Eli, like our little does, is a Nigerian Dwarf goat, and has pretty blue eyes. Apparently that's quite desirable among Nigerian Dwarf goat breeders. I don't really much care personally.

Although he's been with us for a week now, he has already begun mating with one of our does, PJ. It's a sight to behold, to be sure. When the does go into heat, they make lots of noise "baa! baa! baa!" all day long and wag their tail rapidly. Honestly, this isn't so different from their normal behavior, it is just greatly increased. When Eli and PJ are feeling romantic, they make quiet chirping/burping sounds to each other and kind of nuzzle faces a few times, then Eli will paw at her with one leg. If PJ sticks around and lets him, he'll hop on top and give it a go a few times. If he's on target, and everything has worked out, PJ will sort of squat down afterward for a few moments. I know this because I saw it happen yesterday morning as I was making coffee, then twice today. So far, Mabel has not yet come in to heat, so Eli takes little interest in her.

Don't worry, no pictures of that. (We couldn't get the camera on fast enough...)

Elsewhere in the garden... I took the okra plants out. They're gone! I also harvested the sweet potatoes. So, in the space where those two venerable summer crops were, I have planted: spinach, turnips, peas, garlic, radish, chard and arugula. Here are some pictures...

And, finally, just for fun, here is a picture of me that Sarah took before Halloween. I grew a mustache for my Halloween costume, and when I put on all my gardening clothes, I really looked the part...I'm not sure what that part was, though! Maybe we've been watching too much 'All Creatures Great and Small", because I spent the better part of that day talking to myself and Sarah in my best imitation of a rural Yorkshire accent.

Happy afternoon to you all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy Anniversary Fig

Here we have it, the anniversary fig!
OK, it's a Brown Turkey fig. But, we planted it in celebration of our 2nd anniversary, so that makes it the Anniversary Fig in my book. My grandparents had a Brown Turkey fig tree at their house in Houston, and one of my best memories of childhood is climbing up into the tree when I would go visit and eating the figs out of the top branches. I felt like a monkey!
Maybe one day this little tree will be big enough that some as yet unborn child could climb up into its branches to eat figs.

Artichoke in the zinnias. I have planted four artichokes, along the side/back of the garden. Here's one of them.

Monster Eggplant!! Doesn't that look good! Eggplant is definitely the most voluptuous vegetable.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What We Need Is Here

Greg woke me up one day reading this poem by Wendell Berry.

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to
be quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

After this, ideas for the blank canvas that had been waiting for some months quickly arrived. I covered the canvas with interior latex paint I had left over from painting a wall. A few days later I glued on some fabric bird outlines I made using enlarged stencils from a borrowed beautiful book on hand printing , and then painted the fabric birds with more leftover wall paint.

PS: We have a couple of tiny persimmon trees and hope to plant grapes within the year...

PPS: The night summer left us here, two or so weeks ago, it did so suddenly, as sometimes happens, and was replaced by cirrus clouds in a gray sky, a dusk with the unmistakably autumnal quality of light, and a chilly wind. When I saw a flock of birds in the sky, enraptured as I was (enraptured as I always am this time of year) I called out to Greg to look! at the geese flying south above us. He simply and dryly informed me that they were the same grackles always squawking around and that they were bearing east. But I don't know if grackles are clear in the ancient faith, and I want to know what is.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Make hay when the sun shines

Hi Mom! Happy Birthday!

So, in my last post, I think I mentioned that I have been making some hay for the goats. Here are two pictures of the hay drying. Very exciting, I know. The hay is Johnson Grass, a plant described as one of the most pernicious weeds in the world. In addition to choking out nearly every other kind of plant, it has a tendency to produce lethal amounts of cyanide in its tissue. Consequently, there are a lot of warnings NOT to feed it to animals.

On the other hand, it is also one of the most nutritious forage grasses around, if you cut it when it doesn't have the cyanide. How do you know when to cut? Basically, it is very hot weather, young growth, growth after a protracted drought and crushing that are associated with elevated cyanide levels. By cutting the hay at boot stage (just before the immature seed head emerges), and drying for several days, the initial levels of cyanide or low to nill, and they dissipate as the grass dries. Actually, Johnson Grass is one of the most widely cut coarse hays in Texas, and is commonly grazed as well. You just have to know when it is safe, and when not. Thank goodness for the internet.

I wanted to give you all a sense of scale when I talk about the goats, so I took pictures of them with chickens on top of them. Really, it's just a purely practical thing...

Hybrid Vigor
Wow! Look at the difference between these two pea varieties. The big ones are 'Little Marvel', while the small ones are 'peas that I have saved from past pea plantings year after year'. You can clearly see that the 'Little Marvel' plants VASTLY outperform the tiny saved seed plants. This is a disappointment for me, as I had really hoped that my little saved pea seeds would be more vigorous. I guess I have been harboring Mendelian Delusions or something. The small peas are a much darker green... Hmm, maybe it's just the difference between a bush vs. climbing habit. Ideas????

Some more pictures...

New growth on the Avocado tree (variety 'poncho').

Finally, the poblano peppers are putting on fruit.

Home-made milking stanchion.

Cute chicken picture.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Hi mom,
Well, as mentioned on the phone today, I planted some rutabagas in the garden. I also planted some carrots and beets though, which I don't think I mentioned. I had to take out the big okra plant that I had been saving in order to keep the seed, but I just came to the conclusion that, realistically, I was anxious to plant the rutabagas and there wasn't any room in the garden to plant them unless I took something out. As it is, I planted the beets where I had previously planted some carrots and lettuce, which had shown an unsatisfactory germination rate.

The flower patch that I mentioned in the last posting has had a second wave of germination! I am pretty sure the seeds I thought were poppies last week were actually the flax, and that this second wave is the poppies, as well as some other flowers mixed in that I don't recognize. It's always fun to try growing new things, as it is a chance to learn some new thing about the world.

A few weeks ago, I saw a giant earthworm crawling around in my cucumber patch. It was, by leaps and bounds, the largest earthworm I had ever seen. It was about the diameter of my pinkie finger, and probably 12 inches long. Well, while moving the banana tree to the corner of the yard (oh yeah, I moved the banana tree to the corner of the yard), I accidentally cut in half another giant worm! I was really sad, but also excited because it meant that there were (probably) multiple giant worms in the garden. Amazingly, I found another one later that day (though this one was dried up in a sunny spot by the corn). So, two amazing dead worms. I really hope that there are more around, as it was one of the highlights of my month.

Today's harvest was another highlight. After two months of okra okra okra okra okra, I today harvested cucumbers, eggplant, Malabar spinach, green beans, and okra. It's such a wonderful feeling to bring a big shirt full of vegetables into the kitchen and make dinner. Which, tonight, was roasted eggplant on freshly made rosemary bread (hurray bread machine!) with white bean sauce and parmesan cheese, pan grilled okra on the side. mmmmmm

let's see.... what else.... Oh, this weekend was our friends' baby shower, which we hosted. Sarah made some squash bars with a few of the Hubbard squash I grew out at 'the land' this summer. Oh boy they were good. And, on an unrelated note, I brought home a bunch of Johnson grass and made hay! The goats go nuts for this stuff, but when freshly cut, it can have dangerously high levels of cyanide. When you dry it, the cyanide 'goes away' (I don't know where, but everything I've read says it's safe...and anyways, even when green it's safe except under specific circumstances). So, I thought I had hay averse goats, but actually, I have discerning goats. And, of course, those are the only kind worth having.

Sorry...No pictures today.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Goats, The Garden

Here are some pictures of PJ and Mabel...
PJ is the black and white one, Mabel the brown and black.Here's PJ...

Here is a papaya tree that sprouted up in the compost. Cool!

Actually, we have had about 5 or 6 papaya plants come up, and a mango. I put the mango tree and 2 papayas in pots, I'll put a few more of the papayas in pots this fall before the freezes come. In the springtime, I'll plant them out in the yard, with the hope that by overwintering them, they will be old enough to produce some fruit next summer. Apparently, they need a little under a year of frost free weather. In Austin, we get about 20 freezes per year, between December and March. If I can put a 10 month old tree in the ground in April, then I could, theoretically, have ripe papayas in the summer. I have seen other papaya trees in Austin with green fruit on them, so I know that a single season is long enough to get a tree to the point where it is at least blooming and setting fruit, I think it is the extra time needed to get RIPE fruit that is the rub. Anyways, we'll see how it works. It's a lot of trouble to go to for a fruit that costs $0.89/lbs, but of course, that's not really the point....
Here's the Texas A&M home fruit production guide to papaya:

I also recently planted a flower mixture in the 'wild' patch. I included a number of cool season traditional cut flowers, a native wildflower mix, rapeseed, flax and poppies. The flax and poppies are from the grocery store, just exactly what you would put in a muffin or your granola. I want to create bee food by having these flowers around, and have also planted some other things around the yard to encourage bees to visit. Apparently, bees need our help and one of the best things to do is plant nectar producing flowers to bloom year round. So, that's what I am going to attempt...a year round bee garden! We'll see.

Just so that you all get a sense of what the yard looks like, here's a panorama. The goat pen is behind where I was standing to take the picture.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fall Arrives

Fall is here!!
The first cold front of fall has passed through, which means temperatures have PLUMMETED. The high today is only 85, and our low is an incredible 59 tonight. It makes for a welcome relief from the humid, tropical weather pattern we have been having lately. It's hard to complain about rain, though. September has given us almost 13 inches of rain, and the garden looks amazing for it. Okra, eggplant and tomato plants that in August were on their way out, now seem to be growing visibly each day, and one of the eggplants has 8 fruit on it. Yesterday I planted a relatively large area behind the vegetable garden with a mixture of native wildflower seeds, poppies, flax, peas, hollyhock and rapeseed in the hopes of creating a bee habitat. Fall is the ideal time for planting wildflowers in Texas, as the cooler temperatures and rain from now till May encourage vigorous growth of many such beautiful and delicate plants.

PJ and Mabel, our lovely Nigerian Dwarf goats, are rapidly approaching 'maturity'. We hope to breed them in November or December for a spring kidding. I was looking at some pictures of them from April and May, when they were still babies themselves, and was amazed at how quickly they have grown. I have been feeding them more grass and weeds lately to supplement their otherwise monotonous diet of pelleted feed, but I still can't get them to eat hay. Who ever heard of a goat that won't eat hay!? Well, I have tried grass hay, alfalfa hay, coastal Bermuda and even homegrown hay of cowpeas and garden clippings, dried in the sun on our porch. They just don't like it. They sure like the fresh stuff though.

Indoors, Sarah recently made a pair of baby booties for a friend's baby. They are just about the cutest things I have ever seen.