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.

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Who needs health class? We have a farm!

We spent part of Saturday and Sunday breeding rabbits.

Down to our last package of rabbit from the last round of breeding, I decided it was probably time to get those bunnies producing. I wasn’t quite sure how well it would go because we needed to “break in” a new, young buck. Last month he showed no interest in the does and didn’t really know what to do, so, nothing got done.

What a difference a month makes! Fudge (a New Zealand/Flemish Giant cross) knew EXACTLY what he was expected to do and hopefully was able to get three of our does successfully bred. Cookie, Misty and Applesauce were bred. Cross your fingers that they took!

Apparently, breeding three does is quite exhausting for a buck. We gave Fudge a couple hours break between breedings just so he could catch his breath as he was quite enthusiastic about the process once he figured it out. We repeated the whole process Sunday, just to increase our chances of pregnant does.

We have four does, but only bred three because the fourth one is being treated for ear mites. Fortunately, the mites are confined to just her right now and I didn’t want to risk passing it on to the buck or any of the other other does. It’s enough of a pain in the butt to treat just one, much less four more.

Kayleigh helped with the whole process, retrieving the does from their hutches and delivering them to Fudge’s house, then pulling them back out and putting them back in their own homes with a big handful of fresh clover as a reward. She’s pretty excited about being a “grandma” to new kits once her doe, Misty, kindles, but understands they aren’t going to be pets. She’s more excited about adding a few more rabbit pelts to her collection with the ultimate goal of making a rabbit pelt blanket.

She watched the breedings, laughing at Fudge when he couldn’t figure out which end was the “proper” end of the doe and encouraging him through the whole process. She knows what’s going on, not just with the rabbits, but with the chickens, too, when the rooster gets particularly randy with the hens. Her reproductive education has been pretty explicit, out here, on the farm.

Which is a darn good thing, in my eyes.