Archive for August 9th, 2010

Independence Days Update: The Deluge Begins

Sharon August 9th, 2010

We’ve hit the high season for produce, which is a good reminder that once harvested, you cannot screw around.  When the peaches need canning, they need canning.  Trust me, you won’t like the fruit flies and the mold.  Ask me how I know this!

We’ve also hit peak goat birthing, with Eric delivering five babies on Saturday while I was on a train back from Maryland.  Three does and two bucks – and bucks from Bast, who I was hoping would give us one.   Maia’s two girls are “Licorice” and “Marshmallow” (remember, we have an herb them going this year, the first baby was Meadowsweet), Bast’s little doeling is “Calendula” and the two boys are “Basil” and Goldenrod.”

 Frodo, our herd sire is getting on in years for a buck – with all luck he should have 2-3 more good years of fathering babies, but bucks don’t live as long as does (the physiological stress of rut) and just in case, we wanted one of his sons.  Bast, whose sire is Gilgalad, Frodo’s nephwe, is about as closely related to Frodo as you can get, and she delighted us by giving us two boys, so at least one of them will be a keeper.  Hard to prefer between them as yet, but I’m leaning towards Goldenrod, who is slightly longer, and has a studly name (we cracked up when Isaiah suggested it).

Mina, Jessie and Selene have yet to kid, along with Tekky, who is way behind the others and may birth in September, October or never.  We think she probably aborted the first time, but aren’t sure.    But Selene is due tomorrow, Mina and Jessie early next week (Jessie possibly earlier, but probably not).  So we are on goat watch.

While I was on the train to Maryland, I did some of the math on the break-even point for our farm, including one scenario that used only goats, and found that we could achieve our ag exemption and our goals for net sales if we upped our goat production into the low thirties with does – we have the land base for that (and more, but I want to stock pastures at well below the maximum), and we love working with the goats.  So we’re thinking of expanding the herd into the thirties, and possibly replacing the sheep with fiber or meat-fiber cross goats – angora, pygora or perhaps kiki meat goats.  Still mulling the details on all of this.  But in general we like goats better than sheep. This has had the advantage of making it easier to eat the sheep – but I don’t think it compensates for the fact that most of the year we don’t find the sheep nearly as much fun or as interesting as the goats.

And I think the goats are more likely to turn a profit, particularly the small goats – bringing small scale production of meat, milk and fiber into people’s communities has a lot of virtues, IMHO, and the desire for it seems to be there – small goats can be maintained in a lot of neighborhoods.

The herb and vegetable plant business has more imponderables in it – our estimates on sales and costs are pretty preliminary and still in the experimental stages.  We’ll just have to see how that works out.  Look, over the next few weeks, for a big expansion of this website and the farm materials.

The main goal is for us to put our own subsistence first at every stage – that is, all of our forms of agricultural production have to feed or serve or help us first – that is, I want to sell dairy goats only over and above our production of our own milk.  I want to produce vegetable plants as a by-result of also raising my own seedlings.  I want to produce medicinal herbs and herb products over and above our own use of the herbs.  Any other way just doesn’t seem to make sense – growing food to sell and then using the money to buy other food –  that’s the failed model of agriculture that has cost us so much.

That means that what we do can’t take away from our subsistence activities too much, and ideally, is integrated into them.  It doesn’t, however, mean that I feel a need to produce everything I use.  We have in the past cut a portion of our own firewood, but last year I didn’t cut any – whch means this year I’ll buy all of our wood from neighbors.  I didn’t grow any sweet corn this year, since we were working on the bed building, much less as much as my kids would like to eat.  We don’t produce our own (traditional) hay on any scale, and we probably won’t do so – four of my immediate neighbors sell hay as a main portion of their living, and I’d much rather work with them.  But that doesn’t stop me from experimenting with woody crops for winter hay as well.

Doing the calculations on how to make the farm profitable and successful for us involves balancing on three legs – maintaining and increasing our subsistence activities, the things that get us further along in meeting our own needs.  Expanind the production of things that are both needed in my area and also concordant with my basic values as a farmer – that is, I want to produce things that people need and that enrich my community.  And finally, building strong relationships with both other growers and producers and also customers.    The great thing about havintg three legs is that is way more stable than two ;-) .

Meanwhile, the subsistence preserving is going apace – and I’m working on getting the small kitchen ready to be a preserving kitchen for the production of syrups and jams for winter.  

The peaches are ripe, and the early cabbages are ready to be made into slaw.  The first peppers are in, and I’ll be making hot sauce soon.  We’re eating the eggplant so fast I doubt I’ll freeze much, but I’ve had some luck with freezing eggplant purees like baba ganoush and chinese style strange flavor eggplant.  The heat and drought have been good for crops that don’t usually grow that well for me – I’ve got an abundance of okra, peppers and tomatoes, and even a few small watermelons looking hopeful.

It is time to plant the last round of fall crops, excepting spinach and arugula, and I’m looking forward to getting those in the ground.  Meanwhile, we’re in that stage where everything is rich and abundant and hey, what’s not to like about that!

Plant something: Beets, arugula, pea shoots, kale, turnips.

Harvest something: Eggs, milk, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, beans, beets, onions, garlic, cucumbers, zucchini, peaches, blackberries, kale, chard, many herbs.

Preserve something: Peach salsa, mint sauce, rosemary-lemon jelly, dried peaches, salsa, dried various herbs, tinctured various herbs, made pickles.

Waste Not: The usual

Want Not: Nothing unusual

Eat the food – corn, tomatoes, green beans, eggplant… in every conceivable combination.

Build community food systems: Attended a meeting with Poverty agencies on adapting to peak oil, food was a major component, including advocacy for urban small scale meat production on city food waste, and, of course, more gardens.