Archive for the ‘Growing Things’ Category

We Welcome Summer!

Even though we are experiencing our normal “June gloom” this time of the year here in Ventura, we are still ushering in our summer solstice on Wednesday, June 20th at 4:09 pm PDT. This is the moment the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator. This will be the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and then from here on out, the days will start to get just a bit shorter until the winter solstice in December. The north pole is tilted as far as possible towards the sun now, and those of us north of the equator get more rays of the sun in the summer months.
Every year when the sun finally does manage to cut through the overcast mornings we get our long, hot lazy days on the farm. The animals will be active in the cool mornings, and then again at dusk, but will spend the heat of the midday napping in the cool shade of the trees and shelters. It always makes for more work in the early mornings trying to keep everything watered down and cool, and we keep thick layers of mulch around the bases of the rose bushes and trees to keep their feet cool on these hot summer days. Each morning now I am greeted by small lizards basking on the back door steps and clinging to little niches on the wooden fences. Some of the more bold ones do little push-ups at me as I walk by but hold their ground. I can always tell a few of the slower moving ones by their stumpy tails –  courtesy of Lucy the farm cat.
The goats have shed their thick winter coats and are becoming sleek and shiny in their summer wear. The dog is enjoying once again raiding the berry patch, I think she loves this summer treat as much as we do! The chickens will soon be enjoying the leftover squash and other summer veggies as the warm season gardens are well underway now. I am longing for that first ripe tomato and looking forward to grilling some eggplant and squash. There is nothing quite like cooking summer veggies outdoors on the grill or sipping a nice cold glass of sun tea in the garden while sitting in the shade.

Welcome back summer!

Spring has sprung

… the grass has riz. I wonder where the flowers is?

The vernal, or spring equinox, is one of two times during the year when the length of day and the length of night are almost equal.  When this happens, the egg balancers and broom standers come out of the woodwork. As folklore would have it, this position of the sun and other planets on the equinoxes means that miraculous feats of balance can occur. True? Not! But two times a year, a few die-hards always try.

The vernal equinox occurs when the sun is positioned directly over the equator of our tilted Earth – at 1:14 a.m. EST on March 20th. The equinoxes and planetary alignments really have no physical effect on earthly objects. The whole egg balancing myth may have been started to fit into the springtime fertility theme, just like chicks and ducklings and baby bunnies at Easter. Nothing says springtime like fluffy little baby animals.

For me spring is very much like hope. It always comes anew every year, and brings with it the rebirth of the land. It starts off with silent messages, like the first bud breaking  in the vineyard, and the crocuses pushing their way up from the frozen ground. Then we we start to see the return of the butterflies and seasonal songbirds whose songs we have been craving all winter. Soon the fruit trees will blossom and the bees will come out from their winter quarters to revel in the splendor.  Everything that has been brown and weary will teem with new growth and be fresh and green once again with new leaf and flower.  The brooders and grow out pens that have stood empty all winter, will once again be habitats for new life born in the coming months, and we will count them all as blessings.

Yes, I am ready for spring this year, and even though I know it will still freeze for a few more weeks, I am happy to see it announce its official return on my calendar!

Daylight Savings Time and Ready for Spring

I have always liked the concept of daylight savings time, but when it actually comes around it always messes me up for a few days. First, I always have to remember the “spring forward, fall back” thing, to be able to remember which way to turn the clock. Then I have to fight with the VCR, microwave, clock in my dashboard and my cell phone- I am really bad with all things tech, so this is a problem for me every year. It always takes a few days for my body to adjust to the “extra” or “missing” hour-but I never did understand why they say we gain or lose an hour, when there are still 24 hours in a day. We did not “gain” an hour in our lives-if that really happened we could just give ourselves more hours in time and at some point I think it would cause some time warp in the universe. I guess it is just something that the government cooked up so we would not have to drive to work in the dark in the winter months when the days are shorter. Anyway, to me it just feels like jet lag, but without getting to go on vacation. I do like getting home and being able to get a couple of things done in the goat yard before it gets dark though.

I am ready for spring. We have had over 2 1/2 months of freezing temps every night and no rain (and remember, we get to complain because this is Southern California.) Everything has been brown and crunchy for a long time. I am starting to see little signs that spring is trying to peek out in a few places, hoping that the freeze is over. The last frost date for our area is April 9th – so we may still get hit with some low temps again, but it has been 38 degrees and above for the last 4 mornings in a row. So this gives me hope that the worst is already over. The plum tree has put out a timid row of blossoms and the mulberry tree has broken bud. I planted out some artichokes that we started in the greenhouse a few months back, and put down very heavy layers of mulch to protect them. I also put some rose clones into the ground that had been hardening off outside near the house, and have moved more from the greenhouse to the front garden to get them used to the outside temps. I have tomato starts that I am chomping at the bit to plant out but I know full well I will have to drag out the Wall-O-Waters and keep a close eye on them if I do.

I have been eying the boxes of seed packets on the kitchen shelves that I have earmarked for this planting season but I don’t want to jump the gun. I will not let myself be seduced by their glossy photos and promises of days to harvest. I know the ground is still too inhospitable to plant warm weather veggies, no matter how tempting it becomes. It will only end in heartbreak otherwise.

We are on the dark side of the moon cycle this week, so I will spend this week battling weeds, pruning the last of the frostbitten canes and branches and putting up bean poles and trellises.

The incubator is now full of eggs that are set to hatch the week before Easter and the fertility is up in all of the breeding pens now. I got the first turkey egg of the season yesterday so I am sure the other game birds will follow along soon. I have been keeping an eye on the nursery pen, and have my birthing kit cleaned up and organized, and a stack of clean towels at the ready.

Spring is always a crazy time on the farm, but I am ready!

Winter working and waiting

This was yet another busy winter clean-up weekend on the farm. Some very important things on the list got tended to- like cutting down the tree branches that were touching the roof so the insurance company would stop having a fit-and then some other less important work like pruning back more of the roses in the front garden. It was the perfect day for it. It was not too hot and the ground was still damp from last week’s rain, which made weeds with long taproots very easy to pull up. I love when I am able to get in “work mode” and really enjoy the pace of the day’s activities. Although I know we are still technically in the throes of winter – the night temperatures still drop below freezing and the days are still very short – but the gardening bug has bitten us early this year and we have a lovely raised bed of cole crops, garlic and onions planted now. We managed to plant a lettuce box as well. This will be a good distraction so we won’t be too hasty and try to plant warm season veggies too early. This year the greenhouse is full to the brim with lettuce and other bright green leafy things that can stand the low temps. It makes my heart feel full every time I open the door and step inside and see the benches covered with green, a real contrast from just outside its walls where the rest of the farm is still mostly brown and crunchy. There are also quite a few rose clones from fall growing out in a bright corner, and a few water baths with hopeful cuttings creeping along in the cold…..waiting.

The roses that were pruned back were in the “pink garden” next to the front of the house. They are mostly hybrid tea roses used for cutting and bringing into the house. This garden had been in a lot of shade until we cut down the big pine tree in front last winter, and now it gets a lot more hours of direct sun. The plants were scraggly and leggy from having to reach for the sun and it has taken the past few pruning seasons to try to get them back into shape. Some still look like they will take another couple of hard prunings before they will be just right. Right now they look like nothing but thorny brown sticks poking up out of the heavy layer of mulch around their feet…..waiting.

There are two does in the nursery pen this week, Quinn and Bunny. Quinn is dilating and has started to bag up so we keep a close eye on her these days. I am not sure about Bunny, I think she may fool us for a while still. This is Quinn’s first birth, so I am really not sure what to expect from her, but her mother never had a problem getting her kids on the ground, so we hope Quinn follows suit. The goat shed is clean and lined with fresh straw, the lights have been strung across the yard and set up in the pen, and I will make sure there is a stack of clean towels stacked and ready to go- but for now we just watch for signs and bide our time…..waiting.

Even though there are a few warm days here and there, winter still has a firm grip on the farm. There are only a handful of eggs each day and only the odd chick that hatches in the one incubator that we run through the winter months. We have eaten the last of the squash that was in storage, and feast sparingly on the jams and foods preserved from last summer’s harvest. We will be in full swing again before we know it, and looking for a chance to sit down all too soon, but for now we spend a lot of our time just waiting.

Winter’s “Tween” Week

December 21st  brought us once again to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The good news is, from here on out the days will slowly start to get longer once again. This is that in-between week when we start to put away Christmas and look ahead to the new year. Christmas cards have stopped coming but the good news is now the spring seed catalogs are starting to fill the mailbox! All the beautiful winter scenes – snowmen, stockings hung by crackling fireplaces  – are now being replaced by glossy pages of colorful spring flowers and plump, ripe fruits and vegetables. Stirring our hearts and minds into that euphoric state of happiness that helps us cope with the now freezing tempetures outside. The nights have been well under 30 degrees for at least the last 2 ½  weeks now (and yes, I do get to complain because this is Southern California).

During the morning feeding I get to go crunching across the frozen grass and push my way through stiff cold gate hinges to be met by frozen hoses as I fill mangers and de-ice water buckets.  The tribe of goats stay tucked down in the thick straw inside the barn and they don’t even budge when I fill the feeders with fresh hay. Nikki (the LDG) is usually somewhere in the middle of the pile of goats, all keeping each other warm, and only just barely lifts her head and opens one eye when I peek in on the group. They all know their breakfast will be waiting for them when they decide to leave their warm nest and venture out into the morning. For now, they will sleep in until the sun crests the mountain and the day warms up a bit more. To be honest, I can get these jobs done a bit faster when the animals are not all underfoot, but I miss the sounds of them pushing and calling for their morning meals.

As I look across the gardens and raised beds most everything is brown and crunchy and weary from the cold. Most of the dead plant matieral has been pulled up and tossed into the compost piles. The pomegranate trees were pruned back hard in the last few weeks and the piles of leaves and clippings have been burned as kindling in the fireplace. This week we worked on pruning back the roses and berry canes. I cleaned out the barn and treated all of the animals for lice since they are all sleeping together in closer quarters now. We took advantage of some of our time off to trim the spurs on all of the roosters and everyone in the barnyard received a pedicure this month (I have the blisters to prove it!) This coming week I plan to clean out the nursery pen and get it fixed up for the first babies of 2012 (due the end of January). There are currently three does in the breeding pens, and four more will go in late Febuary or early March for summer babies. This morning I dragged the plastic boxes from the garage back into the house and started to pack up the Christmas ornaments. Tonight I will try to finish this job, and then start to toss out the leftovers that have been pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. I will eat the last of the christmas baked goods as I reflect on this season. Christmas is over, and the year is almost done. I am right in-between tired and happy this week. Not a bad place to be if you stop and think about it.

As Autumn Begins and a 12-Hour Road Trip

I picked the first ripe bright orange pumpkin from the garden today and brought it into the house. As I set it down on the edge of my dark brown wooden dining table, my eyes caught the two warm fall colors together for the first time. Very autumnish. Just at that moment I thought how the land is now signaling that we are officially headed for fall. It is funny how the plants and animals here seem to know this even before I became aware of it. The summer season had changed her gown before I even noticed. I just started to be aware of the fact that in the last two mornings it is still dark when the alarm goes off at 6 am. This is one of the first things that brings my mind to the awareness that the summer season is officially winding down and will began giving way to autumn.

The equinox was actually on the 23rd of this month (at 9:04 if you’re counting). All across the nation, folks will be wrapping up their growing seasons as they say goodbye to their summer gardens. Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of this passage for most of the United States. I guess it’s time for me to toss my white sandals into the back of the closet, and start to look for some of my sweaters now.

We are lucky here in parts of California, as we will still be able to plant in the fall, and coax at least one more round of summer veggies before the winter frost sets in. I am always thankful we live here in Ventura County because we can grow at least some veggies and herbs year-round! Onions, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, garlic are great for planting this time of year! We currently have bell peppers coming out of our ears, and much squash still going strong. Some years past we have had long “Indian summers” where the warm weather has remained – one year we had ripe tomatoes up until November!

The roses are all putting off a lot of red growth right now as they gear up for their fall blooms. These are the blooms they will set their winter hips with to save energy in to get them through the winter months, so these blooms will be large and longer lasting then most of the spring blossoms. I like my rose gardens in fall.

The poultry are about through molting, and it has been a real chore to keep ahead of raking up all the feathers every week. Egg production is still strong, and we are still getting a lot of nice chicks hatching in both incubators every few days. The game bird season is over, but we did have two turkey poults that hatched very late this year. We are still getting a few quail chicks.

In the goat yard, we have weaned the babies, and it has gone well this year. I think the moms were ready for this to happen, even though the babies complained a bit.

We welcomed a new face here a month ago – a young herd sire to replace the two older bucks we lost over a year ago. Desert Sun’s Royal Demand came to us all the way from Desert Sun Pygmies in Klamath Falls, OR. Linda Colville has been a breeder and pygmy goat judge for many years and has a beautiful herd of animals there. I had owned a buck from her for many years and already know that this bloodline mixes well with mine. Although young at 8 months old, Royal Demand has already done well in the show ring, has good structure, strong caramel genetics in his pedigree, and to top it all off he has a sweet personality. What more could we ask for in an upcoming herd sire! The only trouble we had with this buck was the actual act of getting him from Klamath Falls, OR to Ventura, CA. The airlines charge over $300 to fly an animal in the baggage compartment so we decided to try a different way. Linda had a friend who lived about 3 hours away, and she was headed from Oregon to a pygmy goat show in Watsonville, CA on August 19th. We would be able to pick him up there the next day on the 20th. Watsonville is about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Ventura. Woo Hoo- ROAD TRIP! A very dear friend of the farm learned about our plans and decided to make it an exciting adventure for us. We were provided with a beautiful new rental SUV to use, and enough gas and food money for our journey. Christy and I packed up a cooler full of food and drinks, and we hit the road at noon on Saturday. We drove all day, stopping along the way every two hours or so. We took Mandy (Christy’s dachshund) with us and enough CDs to keep us entertained the whole trip. We left right around noon, took turns driving and oddly enough, got back to the farm just about midnight-twelve hours later, even after being a bit lost once or twice. We made very good time. The new guy has settled in to the farm well, and we are enjoying this new addition to our herd.  Welcome to Blue Hill Farms, Royal Demand, we hope you will be very happy here!

Summer daze and a few very lucky chicks

The Summer Solstice is the day of the year with the most hours of daylight. In the Northern Hemisphere, it always occurs in June between the 20th and the 21st. The Sun will reach its highest position in the sky on this day north of the Tropic of Cancer (23o26’N). Even though we have been experiencing a certain amount of “June gloom” in our area, my thoughts are starting to turn towards long, warm evenings, mint ice tea brewed by the sun and setting up the hammock for lazy naps.

We spent this last weekend working diligently in the vegetable garden, digging competing weeds, planting out starts, watering all the crops in well and then applying a thick, heavy layer of mulch from the goat barn to keep all the root systems moist and cool. It looks like we will be getting a bumper crop of plums and grapes again this year and the pomegranates, bursting with their bright red flowers, are keeping the hummingbirds very busy these days. Most of the roses are repeating their blooms and the house is filled with their beautiful colors and fragrant essences. The smell of the Scotch broom in the riverbed behind us, blooming in its full bright yellow splendor comes across the back field on the evening breeze, sending our senses reeling. The plums from the trees are so sweet they almost hurt your teeth to eat them and we have even caught the dog raiding the blackberry patch a few times.

Summer daze is upon us!

All the poultry pens are in full production now and both of the incubators are running with full trays of eggs. We are hatching many nice chicks, turkeys, and pheasants and selling dozens of hatching eggs to people who want to try their own hand at it. So far all of the new poultry families that have bought our birds have reported success and here are some photos of some VERY lucky chicks that became members of the Shahin  family a few weeks back – what great digs they ended up with! WOW!!!

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Yes, that old saying is so true, all the rain we experienced in April has done a world of good for the roses this May.
I had a 60 foot pine tree (that had a bad case of bark beetles) removed from my front yard last winter, opening up a huge area to full sun now. The “pink garden” (the rose garden with only pink shades of roses in it) that has always only had half a day of light, is now reveling in the sunshine and blooming like crazy. I have put a heavy layer of mulch  from the goat barn down around the roses’ feet to keep them cool and damp now that the days are long and warm. All of the heavy pruning I did back in February has paid off and the plants have good shape and nice air circulation all around them. A lot of the clones from last year are producing buds for the first time and it is rewarding to see these new varieties in the garden. Moonstone and Mint Julep are  newcomers welcomed in, as well as Secret and Topaz Jewel. I am still waiting for Butterscotch and Dream Yellow to put out buds. Here are some photos of some of my favorite ones so far…..


Butterscotch bud


Chris Evert

Mint Julep bud


February, the calm before the spring

Although it is still pretty chilly in the mornings, the outdoor chores have begun in earnest the first week in February. Since Mr.Groundhog has announced that spring would come early this year, I have been up in the wee morning hours to grab a nice hot cup of coffee and venture out to examine the gardens. I am always glad to welcome the longer hours of sunlight on my morning rounds, as the dark winter months slowly give way little by little. I have stopped by the trellises, and unused water containers that were emptied, and most of the outdoor furniture to check for damage. I also have begun the task of removing old branches and pruning back fruit trees, rose bushes and berry canes. Two mornings in a row I felt brave, and tackled the huge Joseph’s Coat rose that has climbed all the way up the rebar archway in the lavender field, and has begun to pull it over. I have not cut this rose back in years, and it was quite the battle to get him back under control again. In the end, he got a severe lopping back, and I am covered from the elbows down in pokes and deep scratches. The hazards of owning rose bushes I guess. I will get to the vineyard soon (I hope). I put my used feed sacks to good use, filling them with the pruned branches, canes, and garden debris and hauling them off by the bag load. Leaves and things that can be put through the chipper will go into the compost piles and worm bins. Every once in a while I peek under the covered raised beds to see how the weed eradication is progressing. All of this starts to rekindle my interest in the garden’s design, and my head starts to reel with visions of the spring planting just around the corner.

I also use these fallow days to clean the chicken coops down to the dirt – when they are dry enough in between storms. Sometimes it is all I can do just to keep ahead of the mud this time of the year, and just when I get everything somewhat cleaned up and dried out, it rains again. It seems like I am forever changing the straw in the nest boxes and scrubbing muddy water buckets. The goats are still sporting their heavy winter coats and long beards. We had two days of much protesting as they were all tricked into a pen with a bucket full of sweet grain, and then systematically captured, removed one by one and secured on the milking stand strategically placed in front of the pen. Here they are each checked over and given their vaccinations, wormed, checked for lice and have their hooves trimmed. You would think they would be wise to this tactic by now, but they seem to fall for it every time. 14 goats times 4 hoofs each, makes for a lot of work and a few blisters later. We are all glad when this winter chore is done. So are the goats.

Not much new life here now, only a handful of eggs have been collected and put in the incubator lately. Just a few chicks and game birds have hatched in the past few months – we’ve watched them closely to make sure they are warm enough to make it in this off-season. It looks like most of the molting has stopped in the breeding cages and a few of the pens are even producing a couple of eggs a day now. This time of year the flocks are at their bare minimums, so as not to have to feed as many birds through this non-productive time. I even put the geese out to earn their keep by weeding the back field.

The new calendar page of set and hatch dates was taped to the clear door of the Sportsman incubator to remind me to note the days until Easter. I would remind my hens of these dates as well, but I doubt they would listen.

There is a bit of lettuce growing in one of the raised beds but everything else is still too cold and weary under winter’s firm hold. We will be gearing up for spring soon, but for now we can enjoy some lazier days, pruning back with not much to water, fewer animals to feed and tend, and a bit of time before spring hits us full force. In the meantime I will enjoy having a fire in the fireplace, time for a good book, and the house smelling of something baking in the oven. I will enjoy this time of calmness February brings.

Winter Solstice/Lunar Eclipse 2010

December 21st is the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere. With the Winter Solstice comes the longest shadows and the day with the fewest daylight hours – this is due to the northern hemisphere being tilted farther from the sun then at any other point in the year. This day in 2010 is a landmark for a few other reasons going on in the heavens as well. There will also be a full moon in Cancer on this date, at 12:15 am (PST) and to top it all off, there will also be a full lunar eclipse. It might not sound like a big deal, but the last time this happened was over 400 years ago, so I think it is noteworthy. The full moon is very much at home in the position of Cancer. The energy is feminine, fruitful, moist and very strong. It is a very good time when you want to grow things – flowers, fruits and vegetables for example will all do well now. It is also the moon associated with mothering, so make sure you check twice on that overdue goat, sheep, horse or cow that has been holding out on you this fall.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon, earth, and sun are all lined up with the earth in the middle. Lunar eclipses occur twice a year, but some are only partial, like the last one we had in June of this year. This will be the first total eclipse of the moon in nearly 3 years, the last one being in February of 2008.  The total lunar eclipse will begin at 11:41 pm (PST) and will last over 70 minutes. The moon will reach the earth’s umbra (the dark center of our planet’s shadow) at 12:17 am, and slowly begin to glow orange (there will still be light from the sun bouncing off the other planets, so the moon will still be somewhat visible.) Thousands of years ago, full eclipses of the sun and moon used to weird people out (to use the technical term) and there was much ancient folklore and strange happenings associated with them. As fascinating as they are, these days we understand them to be just the rhythmic events in the grand celestial choreography that plays out in our universe, and nothing to be frightened of.

On the other hand, if you find yourself locked up in a house full of cranky kids and relatives because of the inclement weather right about now, or you have been standing in long lines of impatient Christmas shoppers – you have a good excuse to blame the moon for all the bad behavior. Tonight, gather everyone around together in the kitchen to bake a big batch of Christmas cookies. That should get everyone back into the holiday spirit!

No humbugs allowed!