Well, I’ll be flocked

We have two new members of the Bramblewood Acres farm family.

Bailey and Henry

Bailey and Henry

Baaa! I’ve wanted sheep for years, but never was able to find any I liked at a time when I had the space and resources to bring them home. These two are half-brothers: Katahdin/Jacob sheep. Henry (the white one) is 11 weeks old and Bailey is 9 weeks old. We started out with just Henry and discovered very quickly he was an unhappy lamb all alone. He cried all night and all day and didn’t want to eat or drink properly. So, back to the sheep farm we went to pick up a buddy for Henry and Henry is a much happier camper. I know sheep are herd animals and have a very, very strong flocking instinct, but I didn’t even think about our little lamb needing a buddy to be happy. Live and learn. I had sheep in high school as a 4-H project and remember really enjoying having them. I hope I enjoy it again!

I did my research before picking up my lambs. In fact, I’ve been off and on researching sheep breeds for awhile, narrowing down the breeds to match my needs. I figured out pretty quickly that I do NOT want wool sheep. I don’t want to deal with shearing and I don’t want to deal with the illnesses/infections/issues that arise with a wool sheep.

I want a good, sturdy, healthy meat sheep without wool that will grow well and do well on pasture with little to no feed concentrates. I don’t want to have to dock tails or be overly worried about fly strike (nasty maggot infestation where the little buggers burrow into the wool, the flesh and can kill the sheep if not caught in time), mites, lice or other pests that come alone with thick woolly coats. Hair sheep aren’t immune to fly strike or other infestations, but they are less likely to get it because they don’t have wool.

So, hair sheep fit the bill. But what breed? I like the way the Jacob sheep look and love their horns, but they are a smaller breed. I really like the Barbados Blackbelly, but, at $200 or more an animal, they are a bit out of my price range right now.

That left the Katahdin sheep, which seems to fit my needs perfectly. They are a larger sized sheep, with the rams growing as large as 160# and ewes up to 130#.  Production rate for ewes is around 200%, meaning most ewes throw twins. They are not as colorful as I would like. I kind of like a lot of color in my critters, keeps the farm fun.

But why am I even considering this stuff when I bought lambs for eating? Well, because if this goes well and I enjoy sheep as much as I remember enjoying it, I’d like to start my own small flock for both personal use and for sale. I might even try a few sheep shows if we get serious about it and buy blooded, papered stock. We’ll see what happens.

For now, Henry is destined for our freezer. We’re not sure on Bailey yet. He’s a better built sheep. He’s stockier and broader through the body than Henry is, straighter legged and just closer to the breed ideal than Henry is. His temperament will be the deciding factor on whether he gets to hang around as our first ram or also head to freezer camp. I won’t have a mean, nasty ram around.

What I’d really, really like to try my hand at breeding are these:

Hubba hubba!

Hubba hubba!

Huge, handsome and very colorful, the Painted Desert Sheep!

Or these:


Oh, so handsome and regal.

The regal Mouflon sheep.

Unfortunately, both the Painted Desert sheep and the Mouflon require more land than I have and an incredible investment in fencing to keep them from roaming. Maybe, one day, when I move out west.






That’s not a garden, that’s a rice paddy!

When it rains, it pours.

Literally! The drought of last year is officially over (I think it was officially over last month), but after last week’s torrential downpour, it is decidedly, without a doubt, over.

In less than 24 hours, 4.11 inches of rain poured down on Bramblewood Acres (and the surrounding counties of course). We had flooding. Mega flooding. The water at the lowest end of one of my pastures was nearly halfway up the fence posts and over the driveway.

We lost more of the pond. The runoff from all of the farm fields around us diverts to Bramblewood Acres and right into our pond.

The muskrats (nasty little critters) managed to weaken the spillway section of the pond dam and it collapsed a few years ago so every heavy rain we get, more of the dam erodes and the pond gets shallower.


Image from the Bangor Daily News.

Not only does it get more shallow, but that runoff from all the fields also brings with it tons of soil, which has completely changed the landscape of the pond. We are waiting for it to go dry, because once it does, we will hopefully be able to get some earthmovers in to dredge it, deepen it and repair the dam. I think we should just blow the whole damn dam, but, I think the runoff and erosion issue would be even worse with nowhere for the water to really go once it hits our place. Plus, I kind of like having a pond (when it’s a real pond and not just a shallow mosquito bordello like it is now).

The road to our house is under several feet of water and will most likely be that way for at least another week, maybe two. Fortunately, we can still get home, we just have to take a more roundabout route. Of course, I drive home from work on autopilot and forget the road is flooded until I top the last hill leading into the bottoms and see nothing but water spread out before me. Turn around, add another 20 minutes to my commute, curse my faulty memory.

Despite the rain, my garden isn’t looking too shabby. Onions are coming up like crazy, spinach and lettuce has sprouted, too. Wildflowers are starting to pop through and I’m hoping the asparagus isn’t drowning.  I’m glad I haven’t yet put out the tomatoes and  yet because we’ve had a couple of below-freezing nights. Potatoes are waiting to go in, but, I’m not getting much planting done with the earth more soupy than earthy.

I am, however, contemplating planting rice.

Dreaming of chainsaws

Some girls want diamonds. Or new shoes, maybe a new designer bag or some jewelry.

I don’t shop at the mall…instead, I drool at the farm supply store and run my hands longingly over shiny, new power tools and equipment. (yes, I know, it’s an illness.)

This girl is seriously coveting a new chainsaw. And a tractor would be the icing on the cake. But, we’ll start small, I’ll be happy with a chainsaw. I have/had a chainsaw, but, it is a “light duty” model and has not stood up well to the chores we’ve put it through, here, on the farm. It finally gave up the ghost this fall and of course, now that it’s spring, we have a LOT of wood and trees to cut and no chainsaw to cut them with!

Winter was not kind to my trails in the woods and we lost several trees….right across the trails. I have plans for that wood (which involves a natural fence, many climbing rose bushes and a plethora of native wildflowers) and would like to get to work getting it cut and out of the woods before the leaves and poison ivy are in full bloom. Naked woods make the work easier.  Plus, there are a few more trails I’d like to add, and that requires a chainsaw. I COULD use a handsaw, and I’ve resorted to using a handsaw in some cases, but honestly? It’s more work than I’m willing to do!

I’ve managed to plant 24 asparagus crowns and some more lavender and herbs, but, in doing so, I must now face a problem head on. A problem I’ve been able to ignore over the years.

The problem is the chickens. I love my chickens. I love watching them and talking to them and I love the freedom they have at the farm. They keep the bugs in check and keep the horse manure in the pastures manageable. They also hunt mice, snakes, moles and voles, so they are paying for their keep not only in eggs and meat, but in pest control, too.

What I don’t love is their incessant, destructive scratching and dust-bathing in EVERYTHING. And that includes my herb bed. The flowers, I don’t mind so much. But the herbs are tender and we use them and those darn chickens scratch and rip them right out of the ground without a care in the world. So, I have to figure out a way to keep them out without putting up big, ugly, metal chicken wire or mesh. I’m on the hunt for a light, plastic-type netting/fence than can easily be put up around those beds. If I can find what I’m looking for, that will be added to the ever-growing list of projects I must get done.

Itching to plant

The 2013 gardening season is here.

Oh sure, there is still some snow on the ground, a chill in the air and every square inch of Bramblewood Acres is a boggy, soggy, swampy mess, but no doubt about it, it’s time to get planting.

For the first time ever, I am completely ready for spring planting. I have all my seeds, all my equipment and have even started a garden log. I am ready to GROW!

I have started tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, a variety of herbs, and eggplant. Each one I logged into my book on the date planted, the variety, and the number of plants started. I will log again when they germinate and the date I plant and harvest for each variety.

I’ll be starting several flowers this year, too. So much cheaper to grow your own than buy them already grown.

I even have my garden plan on paper this year, something I’ve never done before. I’ve always been a “yep, this looks like a good spot” kind of gardener. And every year, mid-season when all the plants are big and producing, I realize I planted things WAY TOO CLOSE to each other. I couldn’t get down my tomato rows last year they were so close. This year, that won’t happen. I have everything measured out, the number of plants estimated and beds plotted according to how well each plant “gets along” with another.

Doing this made me realize I need more garden space! So, as soon as I can get out there without sinking up to my hips in boggy, sticky mud, we’ll be moving fence and adding quite a bit more space.

Last year, I had several varieties fail. But, I can’t remember which varieties did well and which did not. I’d prefer not to continue to grow plants that will fail so this season I will be tracking everything, from plant vigor to production. It’s a waste of time, money and precious gardening space to plant varieties that don’t do well. I had too many of some plants (OMG, cherry tomatoes out my ears. I started feeding them to the chickens we had so many!) and not enough of others. We definitely needed more green beans and more spinach.

We lost one ornamental tree and a pear tree during last year’s drought, and I’m hoping to be able to replace both of those and add a couple of apple and plum trees.

I’ll also start an asparagus bed this year. I’ve never grown asparagus before, and I know it’s a long-living plant, but it might be trial and error. I haven’t decided yet where to put the bed, but it’s location is going to have to be well-considered and well-placed due to it’s expected longevity. Close to the house, too. If you place edibles too far from the house (as I did with my strawberries. Huge mistake. Birds, bunnies and squirrels got to them before I could), you tend to forget about them.

So, here’s to a bigger, better, more productive garden this year. I’m off to a good start!

They’re here! They’re here!

For about a month now they’ve been marching through my door. They arrive curled in the mailbox, exploding with colorful, exciting promises of spring. So many promises, so many options provide such welcomed relief in this, the darkest, grayest part of the year.

The seed catalogs have begun making their annual appearance and with them, my dreams of bigger, better, more colorful gardens spring to the forefront. Why yes, I’d sure like to plant more of that and that, maybe try some of that this year, oooh, a new flower bed full of nothing but red and yellow flowers is definitely what I need!

And I start picking from the pages. A little of this, a little of that, who doesn’t want to try a purple carrot or a row of kohlrabi? Who says I don’t need 12 varieties of tomatoes and 16 varieties of beans and peppers and melons? I go a little crazy when I start picking out the seeds I’d like to have. I want to try EVERYTHING and the descriptions of the flavors and the smells of each delightful fruit, vegetable and flower does not help keep my enthusiasm in check. Buttery, nut-flavored squash? Yes, please! A melon with an exotic flavor that hints of banana and pineapple? Absolutely!

But, eventually, as my want-to-have seed list grows and grows and grows, reality sets in. I’d need five acres of tilled, amended soil to even begin to plant what I want to grow. That’s a lot of work, and all that work requires time I know I won’t have. So, I scale it down. Purple carrots are fun, but they aren’t a necessity. I decide what we will definitely eat, how much we’ll need, in reality, and add maybe one or two fun crops just to keep things exciting. Last year, we planted way to much chard and way too much lettuce. We had salad every. freakin’. day. I love salad, but trying to keep up with a bed that’s going to bolt if you don’t eat it can become tedious. I did not plant enough beans and I went overboard with the varieties of peppers and tomatoes. We needed more potatoes and more onions, so I’ll increase those this year and cut back on what I went overboard on.

Simplicity and feeding my family through the winter months is the goal. If I can’t can it, freeze it, dehydrate it or otherwise store it, forget it. Lettuces, while I can’t preserve it, I will plant it, but much, much less of it.

The biggest mistake most new gardeners make is too much, too big, too soon. It’s easy to plan it all, it’s easy to plant the seeds or tenderly transplant young vegetables and flowers with great plans of big, beautiful, productive plants in mind, but, within a month, the truth is evident in the weeds choking out the crops and the flowers. Weeding is time-consuming and is usually the biggest reason to be in the garden, aside from regular plant checkups for health and insect infestation. Ninety percent of my time in the garden is to pull weeds and attempt to keep them under control. The other ten percent is for harvesting, amending the soil, working the soil around the plants and watering. The weeds always seem to grow about 20 times faster than the plants! When you don’t use any kind of herbicide or insecticide, gardening can be very, very labor-intensive.

It is a labor of love. I love being in the garden, I love spending time with the plants, watching my hard work flourish as the tiny seedlings thrive and grow and produce. I like keeping things orderly and healthy and bringing in buckets of fresh produce to feed my family. But, I also know how much time I have and how much time it takes. I’d love to be able to dedicate a couple of hours to my gardens and flower beds every day, but I know I can’t make that kind of commitment.

It’s easy to dream big, but when it comes to the reality of it, it’s far easier, and more rewarding, to keep things under control.

Sorry, beautiful little purple carrots and blue squash, you just aren’t on my list of must-haves this year. But that buttery, nut-like squash? Most definitely!


Year-end roundup

We got through the summer, despite the heat and drought. We had to have water hauled out to refill our dry well a few times, but thankfully we saw some rain raise the water table towards the end of summer. Too late to save my squash and melon and bean plants from turning to crispy bits of formerly living things.

I canned what I could: Several quarts of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, rabbit stew and shredded rabbit (mmmm!) and chicken broth. We harvested many huge, tasty, sweet potatoes and a bucketful of late season turnips. The late-season beets did not do well and the late-season spinach did not produce enough to bother with. My garden is currently wintering beneath a layer of rabbit manure mulch and garden leftovers, waiting for the first bite of the tiller to dig in as soon as the ground is warm enough to get out there.

We are in the middle of winter now, and so far, it has been significantly milder than I expected. We’ve had some moisture, not much. We’ve had a few below-freezing days, but not many. I am worried this could be a precursor to a dry, warm spring and another hot, dry summer.

I think I will approach keeping my garden watered a bit differently this year. I learned the hard way that the overhead watering system (a sprinkler) cannot compete with dry, windy conditions and the plants fail. This year, I think I will invest in a good quantity of soaker hose and nestle the hose near the neediest plants. I am also going to reduce the number of tomato varieties this year. We had WAY too many cherry tomatoes and not enough good, meaty canning/eating tomatoes.

The spring seed catalogues have begun arriving and I am drooling and ready to start ordering. But before I do, I need to sit down and design my garden, decide what I’m going to plant and where, maybe try some companion planting this year. I do know that although I thought it was big enough last year, I need to add a few more feet this spring. And cattle panels will make better vining bean supports than strings between posts. For sure.

What are your “must have” veggie plants?

A few things have happened since I last posted (forever ago, I know!)

1. I got married to a good ole farm boy who has no problem doing some of the heavy lifting around here.

2. I somehow managed to acquire two more horses, bringing my herd up to five plus one boarder. Six horses takes a lot more time to care for than three! Just sayin’.

3. We started breeding/raising/butchering rabbits. We are working on perfecting the process so we can make the venture worthwhile. So far the meat we’ve gotten from the rabbits is yummy, but about as pricey as a filet mignon, pound for pound. I’m working on ways to reduce our costs (feeding), otherwise, it’s just not worth it. I would also like to figure out how to market them, and that requires some FDA research. I’m not sure if we can sell them dressed, or live only.

4. There are more than 20 homegrown, free-range chickens in my freezer. I will be doing the chicken-raising venture again! Aside from the initial expense of buying the broiler chicks and feeding them a high-protein diet for the first few weeks of life, the meat and effort was definitely worth the end result.

5. I’m down to only about 20 egg-layers, so much for having enough to sell some of the eggs. We get more than enough eggs to keep us well-fed, but not enough to sell. If I get a good broody hen this spring, I’m going to let her set and see what we get.

Crazy is…

Planting peppers with a headlamp on at 9:30 p.m. just to get ’em in the ground!

So far I’ve managed to get planted: Red and yellow onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, sugar snap peas, snow peas, green peas, purple podded pole beans, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, a gourmet mix of green and yellow bush beans, Swiss chard (twice!), spinach, an Italian mesclun lettuce mix, sweet potatoes, California Wonder bell peppers and Quadrato D’asti Rosso bell peppers.

Still need to plant: Anaheim pepper, jalapenos, cayenne peppers, roma tomatoes, Beefmaster tomatoes, Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, sweet 100 cherries, yellow cherries, Paul Robeson purple tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, Orangelo watermelon, a variety of fall squash, a variety of summer squash (scallop squash) canteloupe, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme and beets. It may be too late for the beets, but I’ll plant a few and see what happens. If it doesn’t do well, it will go in the ground again closer to fall along with turnips, garlic and more spinach, swiss chard, lettuces and broccoli.

I feel the summer coming upon me FAST and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time between working, school, stuff around the farm that needs done, spending time with my kid and riding the horses to get it all done!

Crazy, I tell ya, crazy! Crazy is as crazy does I suppose. I WILL get this garden done within the next two weeks, even if I have to plant by the pale moonlight.

In other news we’ve lost three meat birds over three consecutive nights. We believe the culprit may be a raccoon who has figured out how to open the little door from the coop to the chicken yard. It has swollen over time and doesn’t always want to close all the way so it can’t be locked any more, making it pretty easy for a resourceful (or determined) ‘coon to just shove it open and have his pick of the flock. The Man is hopefully working on a solution to get that fixed today so we don’t lose any more meat birds.