Sunday, February 27, 2011

Let's Throw Some Pots-in the Garden

My friend, Barabara, and I make pottery together every now and then.  She is the pottress (the clay kind) and I sculpt and paint and decorate.  She said that if I ever learned how to "throw" clay, then I would no longer need her-so I never learned!  North Carolina is home to Seagrove, a community of potters, and pottresses, and clay dug right out of the ground.

North Carolina is also home to another sort of clay that many of us curse.  Red clay.  Yes, I believe that you could sculpt with it, but I don't like it in my gardens, which is, of course, right where it is.  I have lived in NC all of my life and been lucky to have never encountered this boot sucking, ankle wrenching stuff on any of the properties where I lived.  Well, now I have plenty of it.  In the garden, in the pastures and in the flower beds.

I moved to this particular farm in July 2010.  For the last several years, chemical fertilizers and herbicides have been used on the farm.  The pastures were over grazed and no lime has been spread.  The results?  Lots of broom sedge in the pastures, sparse grass (dirt showing), hard clay with no organic matter, and not an earthworm in sight.

A pretty picture except for the broom sedge
The first mistake-I decided to let some new baby pigs root around the garden.  They were small and I was afraid that they would scoot under my electric fence (and into the neighbor's perfectly manicured lawn=disaster).   So I fenced them onto the garden and moved them once a week. 

These little piggies happily tilled up the garden, eating grubs, grass and roots and fertilizing along the way.  So far so good. 

Second Mistake-The damage came when I moved the pigs to a new area.  I used to throw corn on the turned over the dug up pig piles and the chickens would scratch and smooth it all out again.  Works great with fine, friable mountain soil.  The baby ducks and fat Cornish Rock chickens trampled over the newly turned clay with their big, flat feet and soon made a impenetrable hard pack out of every area the pigs had turned over.   Lesson learned, keep foot traffic, mine and theirs, off of the red clay as much as possible.

The Solution (I hope)- The pigs are coming off and the chickens are coming out.  The chickens are fenced on some grassy areas ( no soil showing) that I will plant later in corn, pumpkins, beans and tomatoes.  I plan to till these areas as little as possible and to plant a "smother crop" of Dutch White Clover.  A smother crop is achieved by heavily over seeding  an area with a crop, in this case , the clover.

The clover will accomplish several objectives.  First, it will protect the soil where I walk through the rows of vegetables from becoming too compacted.  Second,  it should smother out most of the grasses and weeds and the area should not have to be mown very often (Dutch White Clover is not very tall).  Third, and best, clover is a legume and legumes add large amounts of all natural nitrogen and organic matter to the soil-which is what this soil desperately needs.

Turning abused land back into productive land takes time and patience.  It takes a lot less time to deplete a piece of land then it does to repair it.  I will keep adding updates and photos of the pastures and gardens as they progress.  Now to get those pigs moved....

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Crack Ducks

Rare Ancona ducklings
Khaki Campbells, egg laying ducks

I took advantage of the warmth and sunshine and tried to get as much done outside today as possible.  I vaccinated the new lambs and kids, gave the rabbit colony a new bed of straw, picked up and unloaded 800 lbs of feed, cleaned the milk room in preparation to start milking the goats again, bred the show rabbits and unburied my desk (Ok , that was inside).  Now, I should be in bed, but I have my second (third, fourth???) wind and am wide awake.  I'll pay in the morning!

I did stop long enough today to "play" with the ducks.  I love ducks.  They are cute and funny. They make me laugh and smile no matter what kind of mood I am in.  And they are easy to please.  You can absolutely make a duck's day with just a hose and a pan of water.

Note the rooster in the top right trying to squeeze in for a drink
 How many Khaki Campbells fit in a tub-seven to be exact-with no room for more.  These young Khakis are playing in their "kiddie pool", the bottom of an old rabbit cage which is shallow enough for the babies to get in and out of.  Ducks love water at any time but they seem to derive particular pleasure out of fresh, clean water and a shower from the hose.  They splash and flail and quack (well, the females quack, males are silent-hhhmmm).

Taking a rest after their bath

A chocolate Ancona, a black Ancona and a Pekin

Rouens and Anconas enjoying the pool

Then they do something that I call "crack duck".  It is better then TV, I swear!  They fall out of the pool, often flat on their faces and then run around in circles with their wings out.  They fall over some more, run into and over each other and in general look like a feathered version of the Keystone Cops.  They act like ducks on crack! Actually, they are just ducks high on one of the simple joys of a duck's life-water!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Cody, ewes and lambs and Buff Geese napping in front of the old outhouse
The lambs and kids have started arriving with 7 being born over the course of two days.  Seven boys!  Yes, ALL of them are boys! 

Fiona and her ram lamb

Red, an older Katahdin ewe, was the first to go with two ram lambs.  Fiona, a first timer, was next with the beautifully marked red and white ram lamb that is at the top of the page.
Red and her two ram lambs

Honey and her newborn ram lambs
Honey waited until the next day, which was sunny and warm to have her two boys out in the pasture in the sun.  I never lock the sheep and goats up.  They are free to lamb/kid in the open fronted barn or in the pasture.  The sheep will always choose the pasture unless the weather is wet and the goats almost always choose the barn.

My best two ewes, Sadie Mae and Patches, are waddling around the pasture-HAVE been waddling around for a week- and still no lambs.  They are both huge and I am hoping for at least one ewe lamb from each of them.  Patches' two year old ewe, Tulip, is also still due.  Tulip is a nice Dorper cross ewe.  This will be her first lambing, so I only expect one lamb from her. 

 Last will be Reba.  Reba is a diva and a lunatic for the most part.  She is absolutely beautiful and each time I go in the pasture, she looks at me like I have snakes on my head and departs for another part of the farm! Last year she dropped her lamb and disappeared, leaving me to bottle raise the baby.  I am giving her one more chance to redeem herself and care for this years' lambs or it will be lamb chops for her!  Good looks will only get you so far!