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Livestock in the garden

August 7, 2010 in General Info

The first thing many people may think of when they hear the phrase “livestock in the garden” is something along the lines of “The goats got through the fence and are eating all the peas!”. At least that’s what pops into my head if I get a call like that in the middle of the day. But I just wanted to share a few words today on intentionally allowing animals into your gardening space.

I became a fan of using animals to help with farm chores years ago after reading in one of Joel Salatin’s books about how he used pigs to turn his compost. Have the animals do your chores, while reducing feed costs and doing so in a environmentally friendly way? You bet I’m in on that idea.

Now most of our animals contribute to the farm in several ways, with the most common being the contribution of fertilizer. During the three warmer seasons the sheep fertilize the fields and in the colder months it concentrates in the barn where we gather it for the garden. The rabbits also provide top dressing for the garden as well. But I want to use the animals in a way where I’m not just picking up manure and moving it around. I want to use them so I do less actual work.

One way we do this is to let the sheep graze the yards around the house from time to time. It keeps the grass down and spreads around the nutrients around. And the small pellets they leave behind are not a big mess and breakdown after just a few rains.

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We’ve also penned them into the garden after the end of the season with pretty good success. They cleaned up the grass and weeds that had gotten a bit out of hand, cleaned up the raised beds and saved me a bit of trimming. There was a bit of a downside as they scattered the raised beds without hard sides on them. But a few minutes with a rake and everything was tidy again. And believe me re-shaping the beds was a heck of a lot less work than all the cleanup the sheep did.

This year we went a step further. Samantha had several hens that were broody so we located one with her eggs into the garden. Chickens will pull up any small seedlings so we waited until the garden had some good growth on it and set her loose with the chicks. They nested in a small cat carrier at night, but as you can see below during the day they quickly moved in under the plants. (They are there, right in the middle of the squash.)

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The plants provided shade for the chickens and they did what chickens do best. They scratched up the soil keeping it aerated, pulled up any small weeds, and ate every bug they could find. As a matter of fact we didn’t lose a single squash plant to pests this year in the entire 4 foot by 32 foot bed. That alone ensures this has just become an integral part of our gardening going forward.

- Tom at the Broken B

Relishing time with the Family

August 6, 2010 in General Info

Well it’s Project season at the day job. Everyone is in high gear and the days are getting longer as the first few whiffs of panic hit the air as people start to realize the fall deadlines are approaching. It’s the time of the year where I always wish I was spending more time with the Family. But my time seems to be split between the day job, and the work on the farm on the weekends. The kids are full on into their activities and we seems to spend an inordinate amount of time driving them about.

So I try to take whatever opportunity I can to spend some time with the family and this weekend it was pickles to the rescue! I had planted a nice size batch of pickling cucumbers on my trellis in the garden and they had come on in full force the last week giving me 20+ pounds of cucumbers.

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While I searched through my recipes, Samantha pulled out the canning jars and got them into the dish washer. I explained to Miranda the intricacies of washing pickling cucumbers (knock all the little black things off the bumps, get the blossom end well), armed her with a vegetable scrubbing bush and sent her to work.

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Meanwhile, Tommy and I set up the “tools”, consisting of the sausage grinder, various pots, pans and cutting boards. We got the pots of water on the stove and the peppers and onions cut. We identified the larger cukes as candidates for relish and I put the boy to work running the grinder. And once he was on it I couldn’t pull him off. He would just keep switching arms as he got tired and refuse to let me help with anything other than feeding the cucumbers through.

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The relish had to sit overnight so we turned our attention to the rest of the pickles and we spent the afternoon slicing cucumbers, packing hot jars into boiling water baths and watching timers. The next afternoon it was a couple more canners of relish and finally we had our work on display.

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So we worked all weekend, but we worked as a Family and built those ties and connections just a little bit more. The kids were able to become a bit more familiar with a skill we are quickly losing and hopefully understand a bit more about from where food actually originates. I’ll take spending time with the family to develop that knowledge over an expensive day trip to Sea World anytime.

Dill pickles = 5 quarts
Bread and butter pickles = 7 pints
Sliced sandwich stackers = 2 pints
Relish = 26 half-pints
Time spent with the family = Priceless

- Tom at the Broken B

Eating out of the garden

August 4, 2010 in General Info

Well I got home tonight from the day job and my wonderful wife had made a stir-fry dish using vegetables from the garden. She had picked corn, yellow squash, and green beans not 50 feet from the house. There is just nothing like vegetables from your own garden and I have to admit I even picked around the chicken to get more of the veggies.

I don’t know what it is about enjoying the fruit of your own labors, but there always seems to be a deep sense of satisfaction that makes it better. Take the corn in the dish. It wasn’t one of the “Super-Sweet” varieties, and it didn’t do particularly well this year. I planted late because we are surrounded with fields of GMO corn and I didn’t want cross pollination with ours. High winds knocked over a good portion of our small patch and of course trying to do this without chemicals means we shared most of our small ears with the bugs. But seeing the corn in my bowl, knowing that we had prepared the soil, planted the seed, cared for the plants and then harvested it ourselves, that made all the difference.

There is a lesson there I hope to instill in my children. In our automated pre-packaged and pre-prepared world there is still a desire, and truly, even a need to be able to do things for ourselves. It integrates us, makes us a part of the process and helps us root ourselves into our lives. It is what builds family traditions and experiences and becomes the stories told to the next generation. It isn’t always easy or convienient, but it is fullfilling.