Winter and the chickens

Our chickens have been living in too much mud, although they have a large, well strawed, clean chicken coop to consider.We have a bobcat that loves it’s weekly/bi-weekly organic chicken dinner, finally showing up in the middle of the day staring my husband down, has prevented the chickens more freedom. The only way we will let them out is if we are right there the whole time they are out.Luckily here in Calif. we still have all kinds of greens in the garden and I can feed them buckets of kale, chard, arugula and spinach daily My husband can just tell them firmly “get in the coop” and they all run back in. If I try that they just keep eating, they don’t even look up. Needless to say I end up there for long days when I let them out. Chickens automatically will go back into their familiar home when the sun goes down.

We started out with twenty five Buff Orpingtons. Beautiful, gentle as their reputation, large sized chickens. They are now three years old, and the egg production slowed way down after about two plus years.We don’t have the nerves developed yet to get the remaining few, about seven, to the stew pot. Need to work on that. We should have bought the next chickens earlier, a year and a half would be a good schedule. Our young Black Orpington’s are now really laying and we are starting to get almost a dozen a day. We were marketing some eggs and had a good trade system for some as well before the laying slowed down. Because we waited to renew our flock, we now have to develop new clients.The cost of the organic feed needs to be off set with some financial gain. It’s very expensive to feed all these critters, our monthly costs are a constant balance.
Baking with those eggs has spoiled me for good. Never have I tasted cakes, lemon curd, pancakes so good. During Christmas I baked a yeasted Challah bread. It called for a certain weight of eggs to the recipe. I ended up with nine loaves of 30oz. Challah and used 27 eggs. It came out so good! Baked in the brick oven.
One of my favorite authors and his weekly blog.

Motorcyles and stress relief

Okay , I get to admit I ride a motorcycle. I have since I was about twelve. Being raised with my brothers and Dad from age 13 on, I was exposed to many machines. I learned to drive towing a boat. My brother who I lived with the most, is brilliant as far as fun ideas go. He made sure I could change a tire and my own oil, fix a broken fan belt, drive without brakes, without a clutch, four wheel, etc. He didn’t want me growing up like no “Girl” . It was a great preparation to farming and being able to drive large equipment and not to be intimidated by situations especially in male dominated areas.

Anyway in trying to save money so we can live on a farming income, we are trying to get monthlies (monthly bills) as low as we can. This means no more paid storage for our bikes.So yesterday it cleared for a bit and my husband drove me up, leaving my two kids ( 15 and 4) two horses and thirty chickens all OUT and in the garden till I got back. FREEDOM, SWEET FREEDOM. Spoken from one whose been a Mom for way too long as my oldest is 22, then 15, then 4. Anyway I can’t say enough about the freedom you feel and that, cares blowin away feeling you get on a bike. I find over the years it’s been especially helpful when I had bad PMS and now with menopause and constant hot flashes… anyway you get what I’m saying.

So I start up my LOVELY BMW 1976 R90/6 and she throbs into action. This baby really gets going at about 85-90mph. Oh the roads were wet and my ever protective husband was following me, not for long- buuurrrrrmmm-buuuurruuummm-boorrooom!!.It felt like a vacation away and all stress dropped away by the time I got back. Ate more Christmas candy and worked away pruning our fifty fruit trees and transplanting rhubarb.
This is our beautiful coastline. My pick up with a load of plants.

Farming with Kids

Having my first child in a monastery where there were no other kids.We worked seven days a week and long hours each day. I started working again right after she was born . It never occurred to me to do differently, I loved it there, I didn’t want to live another life. When she was a few months old during the winter, my project was to design and build a large greenhouse 88’x25′.It had a propagation area, bottom heat, misting foggers, power and lights.With my daughter sleeping outside in the car near me, I helped to build this then spent the first year propagating over 10,000 plants with her right next to me .Over the years and each baby born I just integrate them into what I’m doing. My second daughter we built a house her first year.

I think most mothers fear daycare. Well I was terrified of it. It’s important to be with your children especially the first four years , best if it’s both parents. Also I think it’s important for each person, a mother included, to contribute what they are meant to do in this life. I don’t think children’s needs should override this. Their needs are the most important priority, but there can be other priorities. I used to think my daughter would be damaged from this, but instead she felt well loved and included. I think our culture lately has focused all a mother’s attention on child rearing only, forgetting to develop other talents .But recently I saw an old farming picture, the young child, maybe three, was up on the horses back while the dad plowed the field.The child was happy and well taken care of yet in the middle of it all, feeling needed, yet not interfering with the work needing to be done.

The other day I was splitting wood and I stuck my head in the house and yelled for my daughters to help me. They came right out the younger managing the four wheeler we used to move the wood. The other older one hopped on the back. While I still split wood, they quickly and efficiently moved the wood to the porch. The littlest one coming out to stack.Hard work done quickly. They were confident in their abilities.Capable, I was so proud.

I think farming is the best of both worlds in this way. Kids can be a part of it all. Not that it’s not challenging and sometimes can seem unsafe. But the helpfulness it fosters, the work ethics learned, the creativity and problem solving ability the children learn. I think it gives the children invaluable tools to later cope and excel in life.

Striking a balance between work and play . Overwhelming tasks, financial worries and a small helper that wants to just be a part and learn to master their bodies. How to we learn to be kind, gentle, yet skillfully, creatively, direct our young charges. I still want to learn to play more, push less. Life is all about learning.

Becoming a real Farmer

I have this confusion about what the difference is between a gardener and a farmer? I’m not sure that people in Europe would say a gardener is not a farmer. I’ve maintained 4,000 fruit trees as a “gardener” not a farmer. Now that I’m choosing to primarily grow vegetables the job title has changed . Why is this ? I can still grow flowers and be called a farmer, it doesn’t even have to be more than half vegetable production, but you are no longer a gardener.Farmers market right ? I remind people that Alan Chadwick was trained and worked many years in the UK as a “fine gardener”. I’d like to add my vote towards getting more respect added to the word gardener. The new gardening/farming movement.Bring the victory “garden”(not farm), sustainability back to everyone’s yard.

We paced out and marked corners for the additional garden space yesterday.Our gardens here seem to be in constant battle with all types of animals. Rabbits such as the like of Peter and his cousin Benjamin. Deer, fox, raccoon, skunk, plus a variety of birds that are very happy here because of the organic chicken scratch on the ground. We fence these garden areas but still it’s constant defense. So our new area needs some hefty protection and the plan is to continue with more fencing around a large portion of the property, when we can afford to do this.

This new garden space, hopefully soon it will have a better name, will connect our two large vegetable gardens together in a ell shape. We’ll need to move about 18 fruit trees to make a tractor accessible garden space. We’ll move the trees to the outer edges of the fence line where we’ll have a deep 20′ border of flowers and perennials and fruit trees. My roses can go there, the ramblers and the shrub roses with vegetable beds in the middle. It’s harder here in California to have a tractor garden , none of the garden beds are dug up at the same time. It’s a constantly rotating cycle without hard frosts or snow to periodically kill it all down. The season here never really ends. So no rototilling a large swath that get’s planted from April till October. It’s year round for us here, baby.

It seems in every garden I’ve planted that I’ve put in plants, shrubs, and trees, that often later get moved. I never regret this, on the contrary later when I expand my gardens I usually have some larger plants that help make the new areas look like they’ve been established for a longer time. I get shrubs and trees I like and sometimes they don’t work where I’ve put them. But at least they’ve been growing in the meantime. It’s easier than you think to move these although you are talking to a woman with a backhoe . The fruit trees we need to move are about four years old now and still transplantable, especially with equipment.I like to do this in the winter months when they are dormant or late summer when they are going into dormancy.Evergreen shrubs I usually move after the rains start.

We will end up with about two acres of gardens in this one location with more around the house. I’ve been planting many shrubs and trees for the floral industry. I’ve found that the greenery and foliage is just as important as the flowers.Curly willow, Abelia, Weigelia, spirea, viburnums, osmanthus, English laurel, luma apiculata, proteas, hydrangeas, lilac, roses,Crabapples. Not to mention herbs, rosemary spilling down hillsides, oregano, sages.So many possibilities.Often I take cuttings of these plants to make it affordable, or small divisions. Other times I find a good deal on a small plant at a nursery. Or it’s a plant I purchased for a landscape job that just doesn’t fit or work. Sometimes friends are getting rid of a shrub or a tree, maybe it seeded in their yard. Recently during a wonderful Thanksgiving moment my Father in law, an old (sorry Pop’s) prune farmer, showed me how to bud fruit trees. This makes even more things possible, rogue seedlings, or old root stock can turn into a special tree. I’ve tried learning this from books, but so much better to get a real in-person lesson. Isn’t this why we need more jobs apprenticing ? Hands on learning.

So I think that will be about as much vegetable production as we will be doing for a while.This should be enough to do a moderately sized CSA operation with flower production as well as, eggs and bread.Small perennial plants might also supplement our income although probably not veggie starts till we get a greenhouse going. I’ve been really happy to sell veggies to local restaurants . We will be selling bread in this year to come, although to legally sell it we have to make it in a commercial kitchen. There is one in our community center we can rent space in. So my new year plan is to grow and sell lot’s of good food. We will be making more CSA announcements on this site as to how you can buy a share of veggies. Locals if you want to discuss trades or labor for veggies contact us.Classes are also on the calendar for next year, to be announced.

Plant Propagation

One of my favorite things about plants is the unbelievable abundance in nature. If you know, or if you look closely you see babies everywhere. Seedling maples, sarcocca, digitalis, perennials that can be divided. Flowers that have reseeded in the garden. Pumpkins in your compost and other volunteers. Overgrown iris, huechera’s, sage’s, dianthus, daylilies, agapanthus that just need dividing. Then there’s the whole range of plants that can be easily propagated. Hydrangea, old roses(I don’t recommend cuttings from grafted roses, so much mosaic disease), viburnums, buddleia, willow, lavatera . Other plants can be readily propagated as hard or soft wood cuttings. The best time is October and November here in Northern California, by now in December you can still transplant and divide plants. But cuttings will just languish in cold soils and not start to root until it starts to become warmer and the days longer, that happens here about Valentines day.

What I also love about that is later you remember where and when you took those cuttings. The coral bells from my grandmother’s garden, I’ve had in all my gardens. The roses growing all over the place started from cuttings. I have the rose Le Marque growing right now propagated from Mark Lappe’s yard about fifteen year’s ago. It is a huge rambler growing about 20 feet up his deck. My friend Sherry and I started it for our wholesale rose business, later I planted one in the garden I built at Odiyan. Now I’ve taken a cutting from that rose last year and it’s growing here in my yard. I always remember the rose it came from in Mark’s yard. Next I can offer it to his children for their yards.It’s the memories that makes gardens so special. Also now at a gift giving time a very inexpensive gift.

One of the best books I’ve ever found on propagation is by the Royal Horticultural Society. I have an older version of this but have referred to it for twenty years. Very worthy book for your gardening library.

Greg Lowry at Vintage Gardens, the worlds best rose nursery, recommended taking cuttings from blooming wood. That otherwise the subsequent plants would have less blooming vigor. I usually take a 12″-16″ piece cut from bud to bud. Newer wood seems to more readily root. The idea is to keep these plants alive until they root. They might loose leaves, especially if they are deciduous. I usually try to root soft wood cuttings outside in good garden soil. Right now I have an area in my vegetable beds. Lately I haven’t used rooting hormone, preferring not to use chemicals. My success rate is not as good, but I’m just rooting for myself now, I can always plant more.

One time I visited my neighbor who was a well know plant woman in our area. Building a large ornamental garden at a time when people were still traveling up here in boats. She was 92 at the time and asked me for cutting of a dwarf hydrangea I had. These are very slow growing. I loved that enthusiasm and optimistic approach. I later worked in this garden after her death and the hydrangea is there. Growing slowly.

Farming as a paying job

I’m sure you all have heard this all before . But do you really realize that most small farmers are making under twenty thousand a year? These are creative, intelligent, dynamic entrepreneurs who have risked everything for that.They are subsidized in parts of Europe, be it as forest stewards or farmers on government land. Is there any other way to bring back rural America than to make farming a fairly paid job ?

I’ve read if you have a mortgage-less farm , you might be able to make a living farming. We have been working hard to do this. But now at fifty years old , can I wait till I can afford to farm that?

This was an inspiring article hopefully will help us get through the next few years.