Saturday, December 1, 2012

Austin in December

It's December in Austin, which means it's 80+ degrees outside and we're harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes and eggplants.   There are two kinds of eggplant below, Black Beauty (the big one) and some other kind, I think it might be called Nadia or Fairy Tale or something.  The tomatoes are a mix of sungold, Sweet 100, yellow pear, early girl and a volunteer that seems like a cross between a roma and a cherry.  it's pretty good, I don't know where the seed came from though!  I've saved some as it is a good plant and relatively productive and tasty.

We have some broccoli coming in that should be ready in about 2 weeks, if it doesn't bolt from the warm weather.

The calendulas are starting to bloom!  I love calendula, with their bright orange blooms.

Here is the Bright Lights chard with Imperator carrots.  Imperator carrots are a risk in our area because the soil is pretty heavy, but I've had good luck with carrots and wanted to give it a shot.  Imperators are the long kind, like you buy at the store, and they need a deep, loose, friable soil to grow well.  They are in a bed with fairly sandy soil, and I added a lot of organic matter before planting them so I am hopeful.

Two butterflys going after the Mexican Sunflowers.

 A bee on the Mexican Sunflowers.

I planted these native perennials because the nursery was giving them away for free (they were almost dead). I want to establish a more permanent, low maintenance flower bed along the fence.  I planted them in the summer and now they are blooming!  Natives are so tough!

I think the Anacacho Orchid is confused.  Blooming????

Salad greens made up of old seed packets of kale, chard, bocchoy, beets, carrots, dill, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, turnips, radish, etc....  All varieties that I didn't find compelling as mature greens for one reason or another.  They make fine salads though!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

One Week of Groceries

Purely for the sake of (your) curiosity, here is (roughly) one week's grocery haul for our household of three.

The milk, eggs, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant are from the garden, the rest is from the grocery store.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Help Wanted - Milkers!

We need some help milking.  It's getting to be too much of a time and energy commitment to milk every day, twice a day, without any help.  I want to go camping!

Can you help?

This is a pretty unique opportunity and if we can't find anyone, I think we'll have to sell the goats because it's becoming unsustainable for us energetically. 

just post a comment if you want to come learn how to milk and we can go from there.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

cash money melons

Well, we sold the babies, finally. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good price. Two kids for $90, total. That barely covers the cost of their vet bill, and certainly doesn't cover the cost of Mabel's vet bills from when she died... But, that's not really relevant. Just for comparison: we paid $125 each for our does when we bought them. Last year, we sold four kids for $80 or $90 each, I don't remember exactly. This year, no one wanted to buy, so when I finally did find someone to buy them, I was soooo desperate to sell that I just took his offer. Hey, they are going to a good home and now I have milk. So, I shouldn't complain all that much.

The melons have been good lately, we are about done. There is one more honeydew on the vine; it should be ready in about a week. We have had a lot of melons: honeydew, gali, muskmelon, watermelon. Of all of them, I like the galia the best for its purely sweet flavor, medium size and full slip ripeness. It's like the muskmelon's ease of determining ripeness with the honeydew's flavor but in between the two for size. Perfect in my book. My wife likes the muskmelons better. I think next year I will just grow muskmelons and galia, and not mess around with watermelons (weren't worth the space) and honeydew (so hard to determine ripeness!).

A word to the wise: if you have a need for hundreds of cucumbers, grow armenian cucumbers. One blogger, in discussing how productive they are, described them as being like "rabbits on ecstasy". I can confirm this productivity... I grew 6 plants. I have been harvesting, on average, 5-8 large cucumbers per week for the last 2 months. That's a lot of cucumbers. But, they are tasty.

Anyways, things are going well on the farm. I've been making cheese, harvesting eggplants, planting fall tomatoes and generally biding my time till september for fall planting. Can't wait!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Peaches, Melons, Figs

The title says it all. Our little peach tree produced its first 'crop' of ripe peaches, and it's only in its second year! OK, it is just three peaches, but I can only imagine that will increase as the tree matures. Here's a picture of a peach.

We have also ben enjoying the first of our melons. I've counted about 10 melons of the cantaloupe/galia/honeydew sort and maybe 5 or 6 watermelons. The galias are ripening first, I think the cantaloupes then honeydews, followed by watermelons will be next, over the course of about 4 or 5 weeks. A really tasty summer! Here is a ripe melon.

I was riding my bike home from the library the other day and came across a fig tree (that I have admittedly gone past for this very purpose several times before) LOADED with ripe figs, in the front yard of a house being 'flipped'. No one lives there and the ground below the tree was covered in ripe and rotting figs. So, naturally, I spent about ten minutes picking figs to take home. I would say I picked about 2 quarts of ripe figs. If you have ever eaten warm, ripe figs right off of the tree, you will understand that 2 quarts (half a gallon!) of such fruit is a real prize.

It took about 2 days to eat them all. Here they are. Our own fig tree is still far too small to produce any quantity of fruit, but perhaps in a few years it will be loaded down, too.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Summer Sets Slowy In

Well, the first few eggplants have been harvested and eaten, along with plenty of green beans and tomatoes. We've been whipping up puree for 'you know who' (not Voldemort) from the beans and some carrots stored in the fridge. It's a very gratifying feeling to have grown food for a loved one.

All of the onions are harvested and are new cured. Total harvest: 24lbs of onions! According to John Jeavons, the low end of the yield spectrum for onions is about 1lb per square foot of bed space if you use his methods. Hmmmm.... I'm a bit under that... I figure I planted about 120 sq.ft. of onions, and only got 24 lbs... BUT, i did harvest a lot of spinach, lettuce, and carrots from the same beds, and I know that set my onions back pretty badly. So, I guess we'll still be buying onions from the store after a few months. I wonder how long 24 lbs of onions will last, anyways.

The garlic was much more productive, probably because I was more intentional about keeping other plants from growing up around them and choking them out. I think I had something like 32 bulbs of garlic, all pretty good size and healthy looking. Not bad for about 15 sq.ft. of bed. (Well, I don't think it's bad. Jeavons might. But I have never seen anyone get anything CLOSE to the yields he reports. Does he lie? Is he a god? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?)

The summer heat is setting in. Highs lately and for the foreseeable future are in the mid 90's.

The bugs, birds and blight have been attacking my tomatoes. :( I think i have another few 'big hauls' of tomatoes before they really poop out for the season. Oh well, I have had a lot of tasty 'maters already.

This post's pictures include:

All of the onions for the season piled up on the floor.
A couple of recent harvests from the garden.
The garlic hanging in the kitchen in a long chain.
The baby goats.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

So much news...

Tomatoes are ripe!  Baby goats were born (3 babies)! Onions and garlic are harvested. Peas are over and done with.  Green beans are ready. 

Wow, it's been busy lately.  Since last I wrote, PJ had her kids, 2 girls and a boy, all healthy.  The sugar snap peas came and went, beautifully, and the aliums have all been harvested. It's early for garlic to be done, but it was ready and is curing nicely in the shed.  Curing?  To get garlic ready to store, it must cure.  This means hanging it up in a dry, warm place with good air circulation for several weeks/months to let the skins form over the cloves.  The onions need this time to dry as well.

The sugar snap peas were a real success.  I harvested about 3.5 lbs of peas from the 6 ft of row, so that's a decent yield of a tasty treat.  They were only producing for about a week, and were in the ground for 3 months, but they sure were good!

The carrots have been coming out too.  I only have a small plot of carrots left in the ground, and with the thermometer hitting 97 degrees today, they are going to need to come out soon.  Summer is here already.  :^/
I think I'll have harvested a total of about 30 or 40 lbs of carrots from the various plantings this winter/spring.  The main lesson I've learned is to give them space and time, and grow a longer variety next year.

Wow, I can't believe it, but I harvested my first ripe tomato on APRIL 30.  Yeah.... an APRIL tomato!

I planted them a few days after Valentine's day, and with our unseasonably warm winter, they did just fine.  The Early Girl is the best producer, followed by Celebrity.  Better Boy is crummy, not a single green fruit.  All of the vines, however, are infected with early blight.  There are a few hybrid varieties resistant to early blight, which I may try out next spring.  I bought all indeterminate varieties this year with the hope that they would continue producing through the summer and into the fall, but with the disease pressure, I don't think this will be the case.

My experiments in the garden include an okra-long bean poly-culture.  While working on a local farm several years ago, I noticed that the best cucumbers were the volunteers growing up in the okra beds, where they had some shade and a good trellis.  I am hoping that the long beans, which are basically black eyed pea, will vine up the okra like the cukes did.  Black eyed pea can take a little shade, so maybe it will thrive amidst the okra plants.  I'll keep you informed.

Other new plantings are sweet potatoes, melons, watermelons and amaranth greens.  So, we're definately moving into the hot time of year.  Which in Austin, lasts most of the year!  Yay!  Swimming, melons and peppers!

My yellow frying peppers, which were supposed to be sweet peppers, are extremely hot.  I mean mouth on fore hot.  This is a real problem because I didn't WANT hot peppers, but I'm not so keen to replace them now that they are cranking out peppers.  I started some pickled peppers today, if that works I guess I'll keep them and make a bunch of pickled peppers.  I did rip out two pepper plants and replace them with eggplants from Home Depot, at $6 per eggplant....  But, these are in 5" pots so I am hoping that, even though it's technically too late to plant eggplants, they will be far enough along and have a large enough root system not to die and to thrive and produce.  We'll see, I'm not too optimistic about Home Depot plants.

ok that's all for now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


From the voice of the one indoors, watching from the kitchen window as Greg tends to and cares for our little .17 acre and that which is nourished from it... I have been absent from our goats and garden ever since our own human baby was born, and that has been intentional. I have much less room in my consciousness for others' young. And I have been wary of this preparation for the goats' kidding, keeping a distance from it this year, having some small idea that bad things can happen (to other people's goats, of course).

I can't help but think about our child's birth since Mabel's early kidding and death. How forceful and sometimes violent entrance into this world can be, and how dangerous. How my child is such a miracle, as is each of us, who comes through that threshold safely.

Think of this: each one of us is here because a woman sacrificed her body's safety and comfort. There are no exceptions. And we are, each of us, before we are able to become anything else and from the moment of our first breath, evidence of astounding sacredness.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

more bad news

Mabel is dead. She developed a prolapsed uterus and serious infection. She spent the night at the veterinary hospital but we had her put down this morning on the doctor's recommendation.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sadness and Disappointment

(Warning, this post deals with death and has a sad picture)

Each morning I get up and put the coffee on to brew. While it is brewing, I feed the goats. This morning, my brief foray into the out of doors brought with it unexpected and very sad developments. Mabel was in labor, about six or seven weeks early. Given that goats have a roughly five month gestation, this is very premature. I'll spare you the truly gory details but suffice to say there was much blood, sticky icky and heart wrenching sadness in my day. All told, she had six(!) babies inside her, all but one of which were delivered dead. One had a weak heartbeat, which I could see though its tiny ribcage. Unfortunately, at such a young age the babies do not have the ability to breathe and thus cannot live in the outside.

I have spent the day searching around on the internet and reading about what causes miscarriage in goats and what to do. The internet is a great place to find terrifying information about diseases that can spread from goats to humans and hide in your brain tissue for years (true story), but a really bad idea on cold rainy days when you've just buried six baby goats in your yard and need to watch your own baby all day. I've never used so much purel in my life. I even pureled my cell phone.

It's interesting and unexpected how the more time I spend with livestock and growing/raising food at the small scale, the more I understand how we have come to have the gigantic scale modern american industrial food system. There are so many authors out there who decry corporate agriculture/factory farming/etc, but when you have animals dying in your backyard and you don't know why, reliance on expert opinion and powerful medicines is very appealing. In the least, this has been a very discouraging and frightening experience.

I am reminded of some dairy cows that lived on a farm where I once worked. The farmers loved their cattle and had been raising them for a number of years, and had two cows, a steer and two calves. One cow had a pendulous udder that would sometimes touch the ground and was prone to mastitis. This cow, had she been living on a big, heartless, corporate farm, would likely have been hamburger long ago, but on the small, loving family farm got an udder bra and special attention. Unfortunately, she also developed a botulism infection in the udder, which spread to all the other cattle and killed them slowly and horrifically. The week or so of decisions and dying cattle that I watched the farmers and animals go through is etched in my mind as a particularly significant and difficult time. Now one of my own dairy animals is out in her pen, having delivered six dead babies and still no placenta, and I am worried about toxosis and all manner of possible scary diseases potentially oozing out of her into my backyard.

Buying milk in a little plastic carton with a sealed cap and expiration date is so reassuring, so simple, so disconnected from the emotional and physical fact that this liquid is coming out of ANIMALS that have given BIRTH. There is blood, mucus, noise, sadness and joy, work and pain, hoping and waiting, and sadness and disappointment in every ounce of milk from your own animals. Now we have to make the decision of whether or not to keep Mabel in milk. She is producing milk now, since giving birth. Monday we'll take her and PJ to the vet to be screened for TB and Brucellosis, both potential abortive agents and milkborn diseases, but both very rare. If she is clear, will we consume the milk? Even if we know it is safe, it will never be cleansed of our knowledge of its origin: the body of an animal who had a miscarriage in our yard. When you remove consumption of something from the market you suddenly see the many complicated other costs and values associated with it, the multiple connections between where the food comes from and where it goes. It is more complex, more multifaceted, more interesting, but it is not easier and does not (always) bring peace of mind. It is richer, but more costly.

Rest in peace, little goats.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Non garden related posting...

I promise i will never do this again.

But.... here is a link to an article from "The Onion".

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Varietal Comparison, Winter Harvest

I wanted to take a brief minute to compare two garden crops on the basis of variety

For many years, I was of the belief that, while the particular variety of a crop you grew mattered, it didn’t matter as much as the quality of your soil, the care taken to provide ideal conditions, the vagaries of weather and pests, etc. in terms of your final yield. Obviously, such a belief flies in the face of seed catalog promoters, university extension services, and the process of species domestication generally but, if there is any trait common to organic homesteader types, it is a willingness to discount conventional wisdom in favor of gnostic revelation as regards science. I was/am by no means immune to the siren call of cheap, and have on numerous occasions favored inexpensive seed when planting my garden.

Now, this is by no means uniformly a bad thing. Though quite stringy, the grocery store pinto beans I planted last year were quite high yielding and tasted great, while the fancy yellow fleshed stringless French beans were terrible. Likewise, the ‘Hales Best’ muskmelon seed purchased for $1.29 grew healthy vines and fruit, but said fruit were not as flavorful as the Charentais melons grown from seed that cost a staggering $2.79. Needless to say, the amount of work, time and resources invested in producing a melon far outweighs the extra buck and a half that the different seed cost, so it PAYS to grow good varieties. Shocking, I know.

These experiences and others have led me to change my outlook somewhat, but this year I did a little more scientific experimentation and have decided to grow two varieties each of chard and spinach at the same time.

Here are the results…

Chard “Bright Lights” (on the left) vs. “Fordhook Giant” (on the right)

Spinach “Oriental Giant” (on the left) vs. "Bloomsdale" (on the right)

As you can see, the chard varieties are pretty different. While the Bright Lights does have interestingly colored stalks, the Fordhook Giant leaves and plants (not shown) are so much more productive that it hardly seems worth it not to grow them instead. Just for a sense of scale, here is our friend Nicole holding some chard leaves.


Here are some nice pictures of harvested vegetables from the past month or so. I'm quite proud of them.

Unfortunately, I don’t like these turnips very much. They aren’t very sweet. You know, that reminds me of another variety related comment. Don’t buy Shogoin turnips. Well, don’t buy them if you like turnip roots. They are passable greens, if you like such tings. I found them to be a bit fibrous as greens and kind of bitter as roots. I’ve had great experience with Hakurei turnips on some farms I’ve worked on, but the seeds are fairly expensive, and since these were also all white roots I thought it might be similar. They aren’t. Though highly productive and large, vigorous plants, the end result of growing Shogoin isn’t worth it to me.

Just if you want to know, the cabbage is “Early” (not sure if it’s early round dutch, jersey wakefield or what, the tag at the nursery just said Early). The carrots are Red Core Chantenay. The beets are Detroit Dark Red. Anyone who has spent much time looking at seeds will immediately recognize these varieties as being among the most common, cheapest seeds available. The carrots, however, I chose because of the Chantenay’s purported ability to grow in heavy soils, an advantage in the black clay I have in my garden. However, I have added so much compost, and the particular bed I grew in this year is quite sandy, that I think I would have been better off growing a longer variety, like Kuroda or Danvers, as it would likely have done well and produced more. Nevertheless, the yield and quality of these carrots is perfectly acceptable and I am happy with them for the most part.

I think the biggest determinant of yield in carrots this year has been my thinning regime. I have two carrot beds right now, a winter bed and a spring bed. The winter carrots were planted in late October, while the spring bed were planted in late January. Maybe that’s more like Fall and Winter according to the calendar, but in Austin we don’t really have seasons according to the calendar. Anyways, the winter bed (sandy soil mentioned above) was not thinned as aggressively as the spring bed. The carrots in the winter bed consequently have relatively tall tops (possibly also due to over fertilization with nitrogen), while the roots are sort of scrunched together. I thinned the spring bed furiously in reaction to the overcrowding in the winter bed, spacing each carrot about 4 apart compared to the inch and a half or so in the winter bed. The tops are much shorter and thicker, while the roots are already overtaking some of the winter carrots, despite having been in the ground for 3 months less time. This is in the heavy clay soil, too!


And finally, the chickens in their new budget chicken tractor, and some awesome bread I made using some wheat that I malted in the fall.
The budget chicken tractor is made of old scraps of chicken wire and some bamboo stakes that I used for tomato supports last year. It allows me to put the chickens out in the garden or yard without having to worry about them getting into stuff I don't want them in. It is about 5 or 6 feet long and is fit to the width of the garden beds. This allows me to put the chickens onto a recently harvested section of the bed, where they can scratch around for the bugs and little weeds, while fertilizing the top layer of soil. They especially love to eat baby snails, which are very nutritious for them and a pest that I would like to keep somewhat under control. I like snails, and don't want to exterminate them, but some predator pressure is good. I put the chickens on the first bed for several days after I removed the spent broccoli and boc choy, before planting tomatoes. So, we'll see what happens.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Huge Earthworm

I forgot to post this picture the other day.

It is, as the title suggests, a huge earthworm. Now, I've done some digging in my day, and seen a lot of earthworms, but the worms in my garden the past two years are really something else. I have regular little ones, but sometimes, when it rains, the big worms come up to the surface. Have you ever seen one like this? Do you know what it is? I am serious, I have no idea what kind of worm gets this big. I have heard of night-crawlers, sure, but they aren't supposed to live this far south...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

leaves and compost

So I wanted to give some pictures to go with my last posting. Here is the wonderful broccoli that I mentioned harvesting. It weighed in at over 1.25 lbs! Sorry for it being rotated sideways...

And here are some of the cabbages that I mentioned. I'm eating one for dinner tonight, it isn't pictured. Unfortunately I don't remember the variety, I bought them as transplants and threw away the little tag.

This picture shows some interplanting of garlic and arugula. About half the garlic is a Czech heirloom that a local farmer grows, the other half is from another local farmer but I don't know the variety (I bought the cloves in the summer and stored them till fall). They are already doing better than last year's garlic, which was chocked out by way too much lettuce. I've been more careful with my interplantings this season. But, I think the soil is also more fertile.

It's leaf season, which means I've been collecting collecting collecting to put them in the animal pen. They stay in the pen for a year, slowly breaking down and absorbing the urine and manure. The two or more feet of leaves rapidly break into little pieces and compact into about 10-12 inches of organic matter, which acts as a sponge for all the animal waste as well as habitat for bugs and microbes. The chickens eat the larger bugs and larvae, keeping flies down, and continually aerate the litter, mitigating odor. By next fall, the leaves have been converted into a great deal of wonderfully rich stuff, ready for a final composting in a pile. The pile I made of 2011's leaves has been curing for about 3 months now, and is ready for application this spring. I have, however, been using it already for the winter plantings. Here's a closeup of the compost.

Finally, here is a snapshot of the 'shogoin' turnips. They are described as a sort of dual purpose turnip, meaning they are good for both greens and roots, but I think they are mostly good for greens. I pulled these to make roasted roots, along with some beets and carrots, but the roots lacked the sweetness I was hoping for from turnips, and weren't as good as the beets or carrots. I'm growing chantenay carrots and detroit red beets, both widely available varieties, and while they are good, I think I will be switching back to a danvers type carrot next planting, as the chantenays are just too short for my taste. I like a long carrot, and with all the organic matter I've been adding, I think I can pull it off. (Chantenay carrots are short and fat, recommended for heavy clay soils, while the danvers are a bit longer)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Freezes and Rain

Well, it's winter now, which in Austin means it's sunny and 60 degrees most of the time, but over the last couple of months we've had both rain and freezing temperatures. I bet we've had around 7 inches in the last two months or so, a real contrast to the rest of the year. This has shifted the drought status from Exceptional to Extreme! Yay! Freezing temps in November wiped out the last of the nightshades, so it's cool weather veg from here on out till, oh...March maybe.

I harvested a broccoli a while back (var. Marathon), and will be harvesting another this evening. It's beautiful. Unfortunately, my camera card adapter is broken right now so I can't upload for the time being. Sorry.

I threshed the Tepary beans and got about 2.5 lbs of beans from roughly 45 sq ft of bed space, though they were in the ground from about May - November, so it's a big investment of time and space for not much beans. Let's see.... I've estimated the garden has 600 sq ft of bed space, so 2.5/45*600= 33.33 lbs of beans, if I dedicated the entire garden to tepary beans. That's about how much beans I could eat in a year, if I were careful. Maybe with the drought I'll do that, or not. I haven't tried eating them yet so I don't know how they taste.

Varieties to avoid in the garden:
Marathon Broccoli
Shogoin Turnip
White icicle radish
Danvers half long carrot

Varieties to seek out:
Oriental Giant Spinach