Friday, May 13, 2011

Our mini-farm

We have a little over three and a third acres, about half of which is covered in woods. Our house, the garage, smoke house, and surrounding yard and flower and herb gardens take up about half of the rest, and that leaves a largish open place at the back for growing vegetables, playing ball, and keeping chickens, and another spot to the north for other poultry and a goat pasture.

When we first bought the place, the civilized parts around the house and along the driveway were beautifully landscaped, but the rest of it was a tangle of wild rose, sawbriar, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle, wild grapes, and I don’t know what all. It was beautiful, but it was infested with black snakes and ticks, and the moths and June bugs were so bad at night that we couldn’t leave any outside lights on or stay out after dark.

My predecessor spent several hours a day maintaining the gardens but I don’t have the time or the talent for that, so the gardens aren’t nearly as pretty as they were six years ago, and we’ve had to remove several things that were just too labor-intensive. But having poultry has nearly eliminated the bug population plus they keep the snakes away from the house. The goats have eaten all the undergrowth so that we have a lot of clear land. The woods are more open to the sun and breezes now so it’s a lot more pleasant in the summer.

Our farm animal population right now consists of eight goats (a wether, four does, and three kids), some chickens (we already had a few males that were for meat, and we just got about a dozen hens and another rooster from a neighbor who is selling out and going to live like gypsies for a year or two), three turkeys (Thanksgiving dinner for us and a friend), a few ducks (for eggs and meat), a gosling, and one guinea hen that is sitting in vain on a well-hidden nest of unfertilized eggs.

Our goats give us all the fresh milk we drink year-round. The first few years we had them, we bred the does in the late summer, then dried them off two months before the kids were due, so we had a few weeks when there was NO MILK. It was awful. After you’ve gotten used to drinking raw milk it’s really really hard to go back to pasteurized milk. During the dry times we bought a few gallons of raw cow milk from an Amish farmer in Maryland, but it’s not only expensive, it’s just not the same as goat milk, which I’ve found I like better than cow milk.

For the last couple of years, we’ve managed this by not breeding all of our does. We have one in particular that “milks through” quite well. That means that she doesn’t have to be bred every year to keep her production up. Many goats are like this and will continue to produce high quality, good tasting milk, unlike cows which have to be bred every year or the flavor of the milk will deteriorate. Production does drop in the winter and I have to ration the milk, but then it comes back up in spring.

My 22 year old daughter has a salad and herb garden along the south-facing side of the house, and she’s moved our raised beds to a location that makes mowing easier for me. She put the beds very close together and mulched between them with old hay and straw from the barn floor, hoping that she can keep the grass out of the beds this way. The one old raised bed that’s still in place has a crop of garlic she planted last fall, so that has to stay until the end of summer. In the new beds she has cabbage, beans, tomatoes, and some herbs that make good companions and help repel pests. She also has a patch of Jerusalem artichokes.

We also have three apple trees, four peaches, and two pears, but the fruit is small and not very good. We have a nice patch of blackberries in the back yard, which finally started blooming a week or so ago. Here’s some folklore for you that has always been reliable: when your blackberries bloom you’re past all danger of frost and can set out your tomatoes. :-)

Well, this is a lot longer than I meant for it to be. I wish I had some nice pictures for you but I don't have anything recent. Even the pix in the mosaic in the sidebar are from a couple of years ago. :-p

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