A week or so ago, our beloved Spring volunteer here at the farmstead, Kate Shavel said goodbye to us to head to her summer job of guiding adolescents into the maritime wilderness outside of Wrangell, AK. Kate was an absolute godsend beyond imagination. Her work ethic, toughness, strength, kindness, and overall good energy will be indelibly stamped upon this landscape.
We like to give optionality to volunteers that join us here at The Grove with how they can help us out. One option being, especially during the occasional rainy, wet, and cold periods that can descend upon us, helping create content for our followers. During one particularly cold and rainy day, after slopping around in the garden for a few hours, we suggested maybe she some in and do some indoor work, like writing a blog, since she enjoys writing so much. It’d didn’t require a whole lot of arm twisting before she was at the computer with a hot beverage, thawing out and giving a glimpse of what she’d been up to on the farm and what it meant to her.
Please enjoy the following blog from Kate Shavel, written on May 22, 2017.
Kate enjoying the sunshine one beautiful spring morning
I traveled North to Talkeetna, back to winter at the beginning of April, and was welcomed at The Grove by the sweet Knapp family, a warm and colorful lodge, snow on the ground and Spring on her way.
Waiting for the ground to show, I found myself splitting and stacking wood, and indoors, listening to music and planting a plethora of vegetables and trees from seed. We started brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc.), squash, herbs like fennel, basil and cilantro. And grapes, peaches, plums, cherry, and more!
We refresh ourselves with birch water, the slightly sweet and oh so alive sap from a generous birch tree and are reminded of the season of abundance to come with over wintered highbush cranberries and lingonberries. We nourish ourselves with beautiful microgreen salads and farm fresh eggs.
On earth day, at approximately 2:22 am, I got to see the Aurora for the first time! And was mesmerized by the eerie yet familiar beauty of it. Shadows, lights, shapes of wild animals flying across the sky…
I’m so grateful to have found this place and these people and to have enjoyed several weeks of meaningful earth based work. Some projects I’ve been involved with include: creating a hugelkultur bed, turning compost, shaping and amending garden beds, harvesting fiddleheads, cultivating gooseberries, planting a hedgerow of beneficial trees, cleaning out the chicken coop, and transplanting starts. I’ve also gotten to transform pig lands into new growable spaces. By this I mean- clear brush, fill in the pig dug holes and level out the landscape, bring in chicken manure, loosen the soil and take out rocks and roots and then create potato patches, onion beds, squash lands and other vegetable beds and pathways.
The spring is now here in all her fullness. I am in love with the sweet fresh scent of the air. All the poplar and cottonwood buds exploding open, vibrant green everywhere. The days seem infinite with all the light leading up to solstice, and this imparts a wild energy full of possibility and potential.
The acknowledgment is long overdue, and now it’s time to finally do something. My arugula crop, for whatever reason, has just not been performing as well as the others. Since I started growing it, there have been seemingly random poor batches of this variety of greens here and there. Some subpar quality, some poor germination, some slow growth, and quite often some early die-off, which then gets intermingled with the good growth, and just causes lots of headaches for harvesting and getting the yield you planned for, as you might imagine. Some batches are ok, but the bottom line is, it’s been just too unreliable in my system, which causes me to have to pull from other varieties to compensate and throws off an entire harvest that’s been calculated nearly to the ounce and drives me crazy when I’m trying to fill orders as accurately as possible. The crop might just be too finicky, it might be other variables my system (e.g. seeding density, temperature, etc.), and I’m convinced that my latest batch of seed was contaminated with mold spores that manifest themselves in the later stages of it’s growth cycle, which certainly doesn’t help anything and was just the last straw.
Arugula has been among the most loved varieties of micro greens that I grow (probably a close second to sunflower), so I’m not giving up on it and will likely continue to try at least a tray or 2 each growing cycle to see if it responds better to altered growing environments (e.g. the change to the greenhouse) and/or if I can get it’s issues figured out. But, I’ve decided I need to make some changes. I’ve bought seeds of a few different varieties of crops with a similar taste and spice as the arugula that might work better in my system and/or might just be hardier in general. These varieties include those in the mustard family like mizuna, tatsoi, (which I’ve grown before and have performed well) and others. There’s also a wasabi micro green, which isn’t a true wasabi, but also in the mustard family. I’ll be trying these varieties, in conjunction with the arugula, to compare yields, taste, reliability, etc. and hope to be able work these into your orders in addition to, or in place of the arugula. And of course, there’s always the reliable radish greens, which are equally spicy and delicious, and are much more reliable and will always be grown. Please let me know if any of you who ordered arugula for your share would rather not get anything other than arugula and I’ll be happy to try to accommodate. Or better yet, if you’d like to change from arugula to the radish or another variety, please let me know that as well. If it comes down to it, you’re welcome to cancel the arugula portion of your CSA and I’ll refund you for the remainder of your share period. Otherwise, look for a few different varieties in place of your arugula.
Introducing the Aurora Mix
Right along with the demotion of arugula in my micro green line-up, I’m very pleased to offer an addition to the program that’s been evolving in my head for some time. Let me introduce The Aurora Mix! My initial thought with the micro greens CSA was to offer folks an unparalleled level of customization to their micro greens weekly order, right down to the very ounce, which I think some people love. Others, I’m learning to find out, simply would just like some (any) micro greens and many would like a changing mix each week. Thus, I’ve developed the Aurora Mix option, in which you will be able to get in “Spicy” or the “Mild” version. The Aurora Mix will be a farmer’s choice, revolving mix of greens (at least 3, and hopefully 4 or 5) – whatever’s looking the best that particular harvest. The mix will always have a base of sunflower (because it’s a big, mild, sweet, and loved by just about everyone) and will always have some sort of color other than green incorporated into it for aesthetic beauty and phytonutrient enhancement. The “Spicy” Aurora Mix will contain either radish, arugula, or one of the aforementioned mustard greens (something spicy!) and the Mild Aurora Mix will simply be without this added zing. This will be a great option for those who are not picky about what they get and would appreciate new weekly mixes. It’s also great for me, in that I get to highlight the best looking crops that week in the mix.
I’m making The Aurora Mix available immediately – for you current CSA members, and of course, anyone else who’d like to sign up! If you’d prefer this option, I’ll happily figure out how much of the Aurora Mix you get as derived from the value of your previous orders. For all future orders, for simplicity and calculation expediency sake, I’ll be offering the mix in volumes of $5 value multiples ($5, $10, $15, $20, etc.), which should always be about the same volume overall. For an example of the Spicy Aurora Mix, one week might be 2 ozs. of sunflower (2 ozs. x $1.25/oz. = $2.50), ½ oz. of radish (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00), ½ oz. of pea (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00), and 1/8 oz. of amaranth (1/8 oz. x $4/oz = $.50) for a $5 order. Another example of the Mild Aurora Mix might be 2 ozs. of sunflower (2 ozs. x $1.25/oz. = $2.50), ½ oz. of buckwheat lettuce (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00), ¼ oz. of kale (1/4 oz. x $2/oz. = $0.50), and ½ of purple kohlrabi (1/2 oz. x $2/oz. = $1.00) for a $5 order. Of course, these would be doubled and tripled for $10 and $15 orders, and so on. Also, you if you really didn’t like any variety, you’ll have the ability to opt out of that variety and I’ll be happy to replace it with something of equal value. Here’s to adding some pizzazz to your plates and palettes with the colorful, diverse, and ever-changing Aurora Mix!
I know this is long overdue, but better late than never! As you might imagine, a lot has happened on the farm since my last newsletter. So let’s get to it.
Emily and Nina
Probably the best thing that has happened to the farm thus far was the integration of outside farm help – mainly in the form of WWOOFers (volunteers for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). After realizing that we don’t necessarily need to be a polished farm to participate in the program, we immediately signed up to be a host farm, and not long after we got our first WWOOFers, Emily and Nina from California who did an incredible job completely weeding our couple of garden beds and planting them back out. They also seeded clover around the perimeter of the pond area, and also helped gather freshly cut biomass for composting. They stayed for the better part of a week and then moved on to experience more of Alaska before heading back south on the AlCan.
Cody was next, who was such a prominent fixture on our farm – eager to help in any way she best could, and so naturally became part of nearly every aspect of the entire farm. She anticipated priority tasks before I ever had a chance to say anything. What an absolute godsend who Mindy and I are truly hoping can join us at any capacity in the future!
Next came Armelle, a French transplant from California who was ready for a change in her career and a freshening of her state of mind. What better place than an Alaskan farm to garner such a breath of fresh air?! Armelle immediately and quite intuitively took control of the micro greens operation, which totally freed my days up to organize, plan, and take on other such administrative work.
Armelle, Cody, and Konomi Mindy, Taka, and I
Rounding out this diverse group, were Taka and Konomi, an absolutely lovely and incredibly kind couple from Japan. Having very similar desires that Mindy and I do with this place in terms of self-resiliency, sustainability, etc., Taka and Konomi seemed to really be enriched here, gaining useful insights and envisioning their future farming operation that they are currently planning. Like those before them, their approach to working and contributing on farm was just stellar.
The times we shared with the WWOOFers this year really refreshed and inspired us, and reminded us why we’re doing what we’re doing. People coming together with similar values and passions, and doing great things and having tons of fun while doing it. In our time together, there was no shortage of sweat, laughs, good food, and camaraderie!
The gang 🙂 The Pond
It worked, we have a pond! It’s not the biggest, most ecologically diverse, or beautiful thing to look at just yet, but just you wait until all the spring run-off. For those of you who may not have followed my blogs in the past, we had a bit of earthworks done last spring in an area that was already a large depression in the landscape. After the earthworks were performed, we then used a completely biological technique with our pigs in this depression called gleying, where the pigs were kept in the area and by the compaction of their hooves, that pond is going to be the drainage for a very large area. I’m actually a little concerned that it may back up a bit into the parking lot or reach out into the yard a bit. In future summers, this is going to be great irrigation, duck habitat, emergency water supply, source of humidity around the garden area, and ecological diversity enhancer. Not to mention greatly decreasing the erosive destruction it was causing before and hopefully keeping the barn from flooding every spring. Farmsteads LOVE ponds and its functions are going to be nearly endless.
Newly planted perennials in our food forest
I’m very happy to say that our perennial system got a great start last summer and should be pretty well established and ready for propagation around the farm. We likely, however, suffer a bit of a setback with the moose pressure that we’ve gotten this winter. We pretty much asked for it, since the moose activity has been quite reliable and consistent every winter since we’ve been here. It just had to witness for myself that they would munch on my expensive and hard-earned plants, bushes, shrubs, and trees that were planted, and sure enough, they did. They definitely did some damage to my hundred or so small apple rootstock seedlings, but really just a few others. So we’ll see how many were fatally wounded and how many want to try to hold on. And this is all to say nothing about the -36 cold snap we had. It’s the harsh reality and challenge of living and farming in Alaska.
Otherwise, we got a handful of gooseberries and a couple handfuls of blueberries last summer from some early bearers and very much look forward to more of those this coming summer, as well as hopeful production from our aronia, jostaberry, honeyberry, and seaberry varieties. Fingers crossed!
The micro greens program is taking a big leap forward this winter with the continued growth and improvement of the CSA program. While still encountering some delays here and there due mainly to temperature control issues, I have made major improvements in that arena and have increased growing capacity and greatly improved processing infrastructure with the addition of a water supply and a few sinks and countertops in the grow the room. Huge! And it certainly wouldn’t be possible with the support from you all and the confidence that I’ll get continued business in the futre. I’m more than happy to show anyone the operation who is interested. Just give me a heads-up and come on over!
The other big leap in the program is the addition of a few drop-off locations in Anchorage. Thank you Taz Mannix for your love of these delicious greens and your efforts in acquiring enough members for me to make it worth my while. And a big thank you also to Karen Mannix for your willingness to help with transportation. Not sure where this is going to go, but it is sure encouraging to at least dip my toe in the water of such an enormous market and the potential that is Anchorage!
The raising and butchering of about 35 meat chickens was both a satisfying and exhaustive affair! Without the use of a mechanical plucker or scalder, a Cody, Armelle, Vanessa, and I slogged through the arduous task of processing these birds that took a few days to do. With another hand or two and the aforementioned pieces of equipment, it should take maybe a half a day. As of now, we are not planning on doing meat chickens this coming summer. We have enough on our plate and an already exhausted budget for acquiring what we feel are the necessary investments in the operation (i.e. that plucker and scalder). It’s certainly not to say we won’t be doing them in the future. Stay tuned.
Last spring, our lovely gilt, Gretel became a momma and had a litter of 9 beautiful piglets! We were so proud of her mothering abilities and her demeanor through the whole situation. We sure hope that she will be giving us piglets for many years to come!
Of those 9 piglets, we sold 4 shortly after weening and raised the remaining 5. Of these 5, 4 were being raised for slaughter and 1 female was to be kept to breed alongside her momma.
Great work, Willi and Ellie!
Slaughter day is never a fun day on the farm, but there is a certain level of appreciation that is felt when knowing that you raised an animal the right way and that you’re now coming to this climactic point in your relationship with the food that you’ve put so much intention into. It’s a beautiful thing.
In pondering how to go about getting these pigs butchered, we acknowledged the legality challenges that exist when it comes to butchering animals for selling. For reasons that are too lengthy to discuss here (perhaps I’ll write a future blog on the subject), for now, know that in a nutshell, we simply cannot sell meat that’s been butchered anywhere other than a USDA certified kitchen. After much pondering, we concluded there were a few options. One, customers could come take their live pig to butcher at a location of their choosing. We could potentially transport a pig to the butcher for them to pick up after it’s been butchered. Or, we could hold a butchering sort of event at the farm, and assist those in the butchering of their own pigs. After surveying all those who had a share in our group of pigs, it was the latter that proved to be most attractive to our customers.
So that’s what we did, we had a great butchering gathering at The Grove, where we all shared in the many laborious tasks that go into slaughtering and butchering a pig. It really was a great experience that saw a team of folks coming together in the name of responsible food production, learning a traditional practice, becoming closer to their food – literally and metaphorically. This was indeed a highlight of the summer and of my young farming career!
We are undeniably smitten with pigs. So, we doubled down on the pig operation and somehow recently acquired 5 new pigs! All we really wanted was a boar to breed Gretel and Rita, her daughters. But as so often happens, when people get rid of livestock, they’re often tending to rid them completely of that particular livestock and offer very good deals for the whole lot. Hence the other 4 pigs. Of these 4, one is a sow that is supposedly pregnant and about 3 months out from giving birth, another is a sow that was not pregnant, but hopefully is now. Another is an old sow that we have planned for butchering for ourselves. And the last is a young boar that was thrown into the mix just for the heck of it.
So we are hoping to have LOTS of piglets running around the farm this spring and summer. Who wants one?! Get on the list! Spread the word!
Finally, the big move to hopefully make The Grove a truly sustainable entity, is the decision to turn the property into nightly accommodation for those travelling to Talkeetna. Nightly rentals were not our first option, but long-term leases simply were not contributing enough to our monthly mortgage payments. We wanted to be here exclusively for Talkeetnans. But after thinking about, this is not at contrary to our desires to share our farmstead and our practices with others. In fact, nightly rentals will likely result in spreading what we’re doing even further. And it’s not as if Talkeetnans won’t still be a part of The Grove.
Anyhow, we could sure use all the help we can getting those needing accommodation staying with us at The Grove. If you perhaps own established lodging in the Talkeetna area and are booked up at any given point, or have friends or family coming to visit, know folks from Anchorage coming up, whatever the case, please consider telling them about The Grove where they’ll get comfortable, warm lodging, a close look at farming in Alaska, use of an incredible community room in the main cabin with timeless, local artwork, etc., etc.
All our best to you all! I know I always says this, but be on the lookout for more newsletters and updates in the future. Oh, and check out the website that is STILL being worked on, but good enough to put out there – thegrovetka.com.
Cruisin’ towards Springtime,
Graham, Mindy, and Arlo
In the world of The Grove…
What a spring this has been for The Grove! The lack of news blogs is certainly not due to idleness! In the midst of a whole slew of projects we have going on, we have to keep in mind that sharing and communicating our ideas and happenings is no small piece of what we want to accomplish here. So, without further ado…
Summer, as usual, is the season where things slow down a bit at The Grove…event-wise, that is. Most locals are busy making hay, so to speak, while the sun is shining nearly 24-hours a day and the many tourists come through and need taking care of. This summer, nonetheless, will see The Grove hosting a ton of music. Here’s our summer calendar:
The other public event to note at this time is the annual Fall Yoga retreat hosted by the amazing Svia from Anchorage. This will be happening September 30 to October 2nd.
Where to begin?!
Note the pond in the foreground and the future pasture in the background. And the pig structure with the blue tarp, which they have temporarily destroyed. Glad it’s not raining!
Probably the most glaring and visually dramatic project at The Grove is the excavation work that has been done by Sam McCullough. We had several logistical issues with the corner of the property behind the barn. First of all, half the barn would flood in the spring. And when you have animals in your barn that you’re trying to keep warm and dry, exposure to spring flooding is bad news. So that corner was graded out to drain off that spring run-off. Another flooding issue in the spring had to do with the driveway that went back to the frame cabin and further on to the far end of the property. The melt-water that made its way down from the parking lot and that West side of the property would turn that drive into a spring creek, making it impassible for cars and further eroding and damaging that driveway. Thirdly, and not an issue, but rather an opportunity, is the potential to send all that water down into the major depression in the landscape just off the drive toward the log cabins, where we had our pigs last year. We (well, the pigs) had been working all last summer to seal that draw for us to hopefully help create a pond there. I hope to delve further into this hydrological subject in future news blogs, but the main idea is that we really want to be able to hold water on our landscape as high up as we can. This allows water to slowly “seep” into the landscape, rather than simply and quickly flow off-site, or more accurately for our soil profiles in this area, quickly drain right through. It also gives us the ability to gravity irrigate down below, and the pond also acts, of course, as habitat for our ducks, produces a useful micro climate for growing, and affords us greater ecological diversity on our property–something we’re always looking to enhance. And lastly, we’d like to create some pasture on our property. There’s no quicker way to build soils and grow food, than with grasses. And this future pasture is aptly placed, directly behind the barn. I would love to see a cow or two subsisting on our property at some point down the road, and they need lots of grass!
Perennial food production is now underway at The Grove! The benefit of perennial plants, of course, is that you take the time to establish them once, and they provide yields year after year after year. What a concept, huh?! And, most of them are super easy to propagate! So once we get them established, we’ll be able to spread them all around the property.
We’ve gotten several varieties already established. Some new permaculture friends from Anchorage were kind enough to gift us comfrey, good king henry, chives, and a gooseberry bush back in early May, which were promptly planted on our zone 2 south-facing slope out back. And just a few weeks ago, our order from Raintree Nursery in Washington state arrived with a variety of berry plants including cultivated varieties of blueberry, gooseberry, jostaberry, aronia, honeyberry, seaberry, and wintergreen. These have all been planted in the same zone 2 area and I’m happy to report that EVERY PLANT is showing signs of life after being planted! I guess the real test will be this coming winter and to see how they’re doing come spring of 2017. We can’t tell you how exciting it is to see decades of food being established and taking root right before our eyes.
In addition to the living plants that we’ve received, we’re also growing some trees from seed. We have 2 varieties of apple, Antonovka and Paradise, which are both very good cold-hardy, full-sized rootstock trees. And at least with the Antonovka, will produce a delicious apple true-to-seed. That is to say, you’ll reliably get a good-tasting apple from the trees planted form these seeds, which is rarely the case with most apple seeds. The vast majority of apples that are grown for consumption are grown on grafted trees. We plan to graft some trees as well, but it’s nice to know that with whatever happens to us, apple trees are being established that will produce food for a century or more for whoever ends up residing on and near this piece of land.
And not to be forgotten are our 2 grafted apple trees that were gifted to us by our dear friends Morgan and Margaret for our wedding last fall. They have made it through the winter and are indeed thriving! One of them has already grown about 8 inches!
It’s hard to see, the berry plants are are marked by the mounds of wood chips for mulch. The flags are laying out another possible swale.
Again, hard to see, but here is one of our grafted apples trees that made it through the winter!
Most of you have seen, or are at least aware of, the new life that has emerged at The Grove. We’ve had baby bunnies, goats, piglets, ducklings, turkey chicks, and chicken chicks. Nothing is quite as exciting as watching life multiply from merely creating the conditions for it to do so. I’m sure there will be an upcoming news blog on our current animal world. And for those of you who have signed up for a meat chicken(s), I’m planning on getting an email out to you all as well in the very near future. And speaking of, there are a few meat chickens left that as of yet are unspoken for. So if you’re interested in 1, 2, or 3 (I’m setting a 3 bird maximum this first time to spread the harvest around a bit), please let us know. Boy do they grow fast!
The summer micro green operation is nearly in full swing and pretty well dialed in at this point. I still have a bit to do on the hoophouse, like putting in a shelf to increase capacity a bit more, but we’re looking good. The location this year isn’t quite as prime as last year in terms of hours of sunlight, but it’s so much closer to the house where the seeds are sown and germinated before they’re moved out to get their solar injection. Like last year, I’ve been bummed not to have some popular varieties, like sunflower and arugula, at the farmers’ market for folks, but I am really increasing efficiency and production, so I should have at least a little bit of just about every variety coming into each farmers’ market. Get there early because they do go fast!
If anyone is interested in becoming of a member of The Grove micro greens CSA program, please let me know and I can get you the form. Essentially, you commit to 12 weeks of greens and get exactly what you want each week. No need to hurry about rushing to the farmers’ market or worrying about me running out.
Here is our “unfinished” hoophouse full of micro greens.
With our incredible mix of potting soil (spent micro green leftovers) and chicken manure, the beds we built from the barn leftovers from 2 winters ago have proven very productive. We got a very nice crop of baby spinach and arugula (direct seeded on April 11th!) as well as radishes (harvested last week), and now Tokyo turnips for this coming market. Our dwarf bok choi, did however, go directly to seed, so not sure what happened there. As soon as we get our chickens out to their summer abode in the woods and the ducks to their pond (more on this later…), I’m going to begin developing some new beds with the same material from last winter for next summer’s production to give it a year to compost.
Following the sequence/rotation here? That’s what’s so beautiful about a holistic system of plants and animals that re-cycle all inputs and outputs and continues to be productive year after year without having to purchase industrial fertilizers (organic or otherwise) and soils. It’s almost always there, with just a little effort to get it to where you want it. Yes, we are somewhat heavily inputting with the potting soil, but we knew we’d need to do that up-front with the lack of organic matter in our soils. Plus, we’re getting 3 uses out of it – micro greens growing medium, manure buffer, AND compost/bed material in the end.
Here’s our farm helper, Allegany Twigg cleaning out our bed of arugula for another crop.
So there’s a snapshot of what’s been happening and is going on now at The Grove, with oodles of details and ancillary projects happening behind the scenes. I can’t wait to share some of these, as well as future ideas and plans for The Grove in coming news blogs. I promise they’ll be a little more regular in the coming summer months.
Please contact with any questions or comments. We love talking about what we have going on!
All our best,
Graham and Mindy
In the world that once was Bare Hands Farm…
Hope I didn’t startle anyone. Just because this is the final “Bare Hands Farm” newsletter, certainly doesn’t mean it’s “our” last newsletter. On the contrary, to your delight or dismay, there are many, many more to come!
Another winter gone by and a new spring and summer upon us. I’ve really missed writing these updates and communicating our ideas and passions to you all, but there just hasn’t been enough interesting to write about. The winter will always be the quiet time on the farm, at least as far as big, tangible projects are concerned. And this winter was even more quiet since I (Graham) was laid up for a large portion of it, recovering from ankle surgery. But now with the return of Spring, and us quite literally back on our feet, there is anything but a lack of stuff happening on the farm and much to share! So here’s to the return of that big ball of energy we call the sun returning to our portion of the globe and the ever-bearing injection of life that will follow, henceforth.
I suppose I should start by informing everyone that the name, “Bare Hands Farm”, will no longer officially be used to identify our farming venture here at this site. Lumping our farming/permaculture efforts into the whole that more simply is, “The Grove”, will make things much easier in many ways, including communication about what is happening at this site, and administratively, legally, and so forth. Also, we very much do envision an encompassing, full-circle offering of social and educational sustainability, as well as practiced demonstrations of sustainability, with respect to the gambit of systems, projects, activities, and events that take place here. Thus, from now on, we will refer to the location of this site, as well as the food and other natural production side of things, as well as references to all the other events that happen here, as happening at “The Grove”.
So in these days of increasing, but still scant, light, the propagation of life at The Grove has begun in earnest. Some of you may have seen the pictures of our 2 beautiful baby goat kids, that quite frankly, were bit of a surprise to us. We were doing our best avoid any contact between our large Saanen/Toggenberg mix buck, and our new (at the time) itty bitty Nigerian dwarf/Kashmir mix does right around the time of our wedding and hosting copious amounts of out-of-towners. When we acquired our little does, what we did not consider were the birthing complications that could occur with such a difference in size of the parents. The other way around would have been fine (i.e. large doe, small buck). Alas, in the chaos surrounding the wedding, Samson with all of his persistence and determination, did manage to get to one of our does, and about a 150 days later (or, about 2 months ago), we were brought Reginald and Archibald, our 2 vivacious little male goat kids. We noticed one day earlier in the winter that she was looking rather large in the belly, and sure enough, about a week later on a particularly chilly morning, Mindy came running inside with an armful of 2 screaming new-born goat kids to warm them up and clean them off. Anything but a disappointment now, these guys have been 2 rambunctious balls of joy. So sprightly and full of life. And growing fast! They’re almost as big as their mother already!
Next are our bunnies! And how appropriate for the Easter holiday season?! With 2 disappointing failed litters over the winter, we learned a lot, and this one was a big success. A litter of 7, so cute almost fake-looking, puffball bunnies. They’re just old enough (just over a couple weeks) for us to sarely handle and take some photo ops with.
And lastly are our pride and joy litter of 9 piglets from our beautiful gilt, turned sow, Gretel. A huge thanks to Steve and Anita Hill from Sunny Hill Ranch (the ones with all the amazing yak out on Montana Creek Road) for letting us barrow Wilbur, their young stud boar earlier in the winter to plant the seed, so to speak. Wilbur did a fantastic job, and as a result, our pig herd grew immensely in one fell swoop 2 Sundays ago. Being absolutely smitten with our pigs over the last year, we really, really, really wanted baby piglets, so we were crossing our fingers, but I was skeptical. Every time I saw Wilbur making his advancements (and believe you me, it was frequent!), Gretel was always very resistant. But as they say, it only takes once, when she’s ready! So now we’re blessed with 9 little grunting gremlins. Right now the plan is to keep all of them (except for the one we’re giving to the Hill’s for their gracious loan of Wilbur to us) to raise and sell. We’ll probably keep one gilt (a young female pig) to breed next year (along with Gretel again) and also one to butcher for ourselves.
When we sell, there are some legality issues that need considering. The main thing is that we cannot legally butcher our own meat and sell the cuts to the public. In order for us to be able to sell cuts in a retail-type situation, the meat needs to be processed in a USDA-certified processing facility, which to my knowledge there is only one in the state, which is state-run, and is now possibly on the legislative chopping block. So, the big thing we’ll need to figure out is if the buyer would like to take the pig live to butcher (or otherwise), or….something else. I guess the other options would be setting up a sort of U-butcher operation here on the farm for the consumer to butcher (I think this is a thing), or possibly us transporting the pig to the butcher, for the consumer to pick up at a later time. At any rate, there are some legality issues there that need to be navigated, but we’ll deal with those as they arise.
Ok everyone, as always, I’ve been long-winded, my fingers hurt from typing and your eyes probably hurt from reading. Much more in the way of news, subjects, blabberings, in the future, on subjects such as: hugelculture raised beds that will built this summer; the black locust, chinese chestnut, and mulberry trees that I have growing inside right now; other selected varieties of perennial plants and why we’ve selected them; the continuing formation of the pond, the jobs that our critters will be performing for us this summer; other plant varieties we’ll be getting in the ground; a potential plant nursery here on site; plant and animal breeding; and on and on.
Looking forward to sharing our trials and tribulations with you as we joyfully blunder through this lovely experiment of sustainable land design. We’re happy to have you along for the ride!
Thank you so much for your support and please contact us with any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions.
– Graham and Mindy