Wednesday, February 29, 2012

blowing this popsicle stand

Wow, what a slacker.

True, I've been ignoring my mountainstead ramblings, but I certainly haven't been ignoring the mountainstead itself. This is probably partly because there are so many ideas and future projects and potential plans related to the the land swimming through my head right now that I feel a bit at a loss as to what to blab about next.

Whatever, I'm just going to spew forth a bunch of brain activity and y'all can sort it out to your liking.

First off, we've decided to move to the holler in 2012 (we originally were planning on 5 to 10 years down the road, then it was 3 to 5, and then it was 2) . We're of the mindset to not force anything if it doesn't work out that way for whatever reason, but that is our goal. We will be putting our house on the market in late Spring or early Summer to hopefully tap the peak buying season. We briefly considered renting it out and had some options there, but none panned out. Obviously, this is probably the worst time in history to sell a house, but we hope to at least break even, and that is a price we're willing to pay to get out this year. While it might make more sense to continue saving and wait the market out, you only live once dammit, and we're okay with sacrificing some extra dollars for freedom at our mountainstead paradise. Talk to me again in nine months when I still haven't figured out how to make any money, and I may be singing a different tune, but Jay and I are on the same page with this issue, so at least we've got that going for us.

Getting a house ready for sale is a big, fat pain in the ass. All those little things that need to be fixed that you ignore on a daily basis are suddenly not so little any more. Case in point, we have a gutted bathroom (not so little now that I think about it) that's been sitting that way for far too long. But when you have two other bathrooms to utilize, electronics, gardening adventures, traveling, entertainment, and toys in general seem so much more appealing to spend money on. I'm not complaining - we've been putting things off that now need to get done, but sheesh, it's a real bucket list. Let's just say I'm going to be doing a lot of painting in the next month or so (and it's not like I haven't already painted a thousand fucking walls already).

Anyway, to keep our spirits high, we booked another trip out in April and are super excited to see the holler in all its Springtime glory. We're looking forward to flying into the Tri-Cities airport instead of Knoxville since it's 30 minutes closer, and you can bet your permaculture ass that I finagled our miles into first-class seats in that cramped steel tube again. I would honestly rather drive than sit in coach ever again - what a snob! Unfortunately for us, we won't be accruing miles at anywhere near the rate we do now once we move, but that's okay because I don't think we're going to be doing much flying anyway because we will already be in paradise.

We don't really have a list of things to do (yet) like last time (something to sit and sleep on, for example), so it is more of a vacation than a setting-up-shop trip. I did, however, learn that I might want to try planting some jerusalem artichokes and possibly other delicious fodder in the pasture area I've chosen for our future swine, so I will be fervently researching that before our trip.

I think I might also buy a can of biodegradable inverted spray paint so that I can outline my future garden according to this piece of OCD planning psycho-ness:

I just can't help myself.

This is what happens when you buy land and have to wait a bit before moving to it. You enter Mitsy McPlanner overload mode.

Funnily enough, I had another version before this one but ended up scrapping the whole thing because it was based on Google aerial imagery, and then I discovered that Bing recently updated their maps with imagery from FALL 2011. I texted Jay immediately about this newfound fortune, and he responded with a simple smiley face because he knows his wife is totally batshit crazy. Good man, he is.

To summarize the above diagram (since it's hard to fit text in there, even with Bing's incredible satellite resolution):
  • The left side is comprised of livestock paddocks and paths leading from the barn (I had to reconsider my sunburst paddock design because someone much smarter than me advised that long, skinny paddocks can be troublesome)
  • The big green polka dot grid is fruit trees (and potential forest garden) on a north-south axis for maximum sun (I'm not totally sure if I have this right - hell, I don't know if I have any of this right!)
  • The yellow outline is the pig pasture, which I intend to segment further into paddocks (with the giant chestnut tree's day-long shade pattern colored in dark gray so I can make sure the piggies get adequate shade in each paddock)
  • The teal blob is a pond, although I really don't think a pond would be very practical (I just want some water to sit in so maybe we'll make a hillbilly hot tub instead)
  • All the pretty colors are raised beds with specific vegetables and fruits, the legend to which ONLY I KNOW and you're better off not knowing anyway so you can't make fun of me, but suffice to say, they are grouped according to height (so crops are not shaded unless intended so) and mutually beneficial characteristics (aka, companion planting), among other things
  • Jay requested that some of the existing turf be kept, so I've devoted a few nice lawn spaces for purely aesthetic purposes and naked sunbathing (you can now understand the benefit of living in a private holler)
  • The dark gray shaded area above the big cabin is for automobile parking
  • The white outline at the bottom is fencing for the dogs because I still don't fully trust the big red dog. The white grid within is for my pet chickens that I probably can't put in with the future meat birds (with perimeter that the big red dog can patrol because nothing is going to mess with 180 lbs. of monster dog)
  • The meat chicken flock will likely reside in a portable coop within the paddocks alongside whatever other livestock we graze there
This will likely be revised once again because I've been learning about swales, which require long, unbroken garden beds, and how they can help cut down on irrigation needs (I worry about draining our springs). Oh, don't worry, any future revisions will get posted here pronto - I wouldn't want to keep you up at night wondering what other possible incarnations of this I think up.


Peace out,

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

chicken shenanigans

Me around 1982 (I think).

Finally, a farm animal I have some experience with. I'm no pro, but I have successfully raised backyard chickens from chick-hood to slaughter. It is the one farm animal that I didn't need to wait to get out to our farm first to experiment with.

My first flock included two Barred Rocks and two Buff Orpingtons, all hens because I live in a neighborhood (with a "country club", if you can call it that - imagine Boulder Creek's finest white trash [including us] getting sauced down by the pool every weekend in the summer) and didn't want to piss of my neighbors (any more so than usual anyway) with a rooster. I was only semi-successful in not pissing them off because those feathery bitches ended up being LOUD. Let's just say I gave a lot of eggs away to my neighbors in a halfhearted attempt to maintain the peace (our neighbors are actually way cool and never complained, but if I were my neighbor, those hens would have mysteriously disappeared loooong before we cut their heads off).

I also had experience with chickens even before that because my Mom had a bunch when I was a kid. I have vivid recollection of a family get-together where my cousins and uncles and aunties were invited over for the mass chicken slaughter at the end of the summer. There were headless chickens running around and pretty much total chaos from the scalding and plucking and cooking (but fun, nonetheless). My city-slicker cousins walked away totally mortified.

Feeding a chicken... a shuttlecock? I do love me some badminton.

I still carry them around like that sometimes.

We also had various other fowl, such as geese and turkeys.

Modesty was clearly not a concern for me yet.
FYI, geese grow up to be MEAN.

An ill-fitting bikini and a turkey that got so fat, its own legs wouldn't support it anymore!

Jay doesn't even eat eggs, so keeping chickens is more for my own entertainment than to meet any resolution to become self-sufficient (at least for now) - we figured the homegrown meat would be an added bonus. Our 10-year old nephew, Anthony, was so excited to eat a drumstick from Auntie Sarah's first chicken (even after watching me eviscerate the thing - I explained every organ to the best of my ability because he was so interested), but I waited way too long to slaughter that first batch, and the end result was totally unpalatable (we tried doing beer-can chicken) - he kinda picked at the skin but couldn't even chew through the meat because it was so tough. I was drunk by that point, happy to finally have mustered up enough confidence to even do the deed, and cheerily wrote the bird off as a rookie mistake, but Ant was so disappointed! One of them later got taken out by an asshole neighbor's dog while we were out shopping one morning, and we ended up just making the other two into stock. What a waste.

Anyway, for my second flock, I chose one each of the Delaware, Black Jersey Giant, Black Cochin, and Wyandotte breeds - appropriately named Del, Jersey, Cochise, and Whiner. These breeds have been much quieter, friendlier, and I like them a lot better. Cochise got mauled by a fucking raccoon very early one morning (that was fun telling my co-workers why I was late for work), and we ate Whiner on Christmas morning. I did it right this time, and she was delicious (unfortunately, Ant wasn't there to enjoy it).

Del and Jersey have been spared the axe because I have this romanticized notion that we are going to move to our home in Tennessee hauling all our animals Beverly Hillbilly style with my chickens strapped to the back of the truck in a cage, feathers flying, cackling (don't worry, I'm not going to really do this - but we are taking them with us), and then finally reaching the holler and letting them soak up all that glorious freedom and sun and happiness that is our farm dream.

Next up: future chickens!

~ Mitsy

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

book review: Living With Pigs - Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Porkers

I picked up a copy of this book at Logos in downtown Santa Cruz a few weekends ago. It was a quick read and a bit pricey at almost 25 bucks, but I enjoyed Chuck Wooster's candid writing style, and I'm always a sucker for quality photography, which is used judiciously throughout.

We heart happy, healthy piggies.

Wooster outlines in the beginning what the book does and does not cover, the latter of which includes keeping sows and boars for breeding and more advanced veterinary care if the need arises. We will probably not be overwintering (not sure if that is the correct term) our livestock in the beginning, and farrowing is far off in the future for us. The author frankly states that little to no veterinary care should be needed if hogs are raised in the healthy manner he suggests and that heavy culling may need to be considered if problems continue.

I appreciated his detailed section on fencing and containment. I'm excited to be entertained by our future pigs' antics, but I'm determined to try to minimize problems with regard to containing the beasts where we deem appropriate.

He clearly enjoys caring for his pigs and makes a strong attempt to ease a reader's potential trepidation about raising pigs for meat. While actual evisceration images are not included, he includes pictures that walk you through the slaughtering process, including one showing a hand gun to a pig's head - someone else might find this too graphic, but I thought it was actually crucial for reminding the reader of the realities of pig slaughter. Hog processing makes chicken slaughter and butchery look like a walk in the park, but I am more confident now that we can handle raising pigs for our freezer completely in-house.

I do wish the author could have included a section on the actual butchering (i.e., meat cuts), but he is honest about the fact that his skills are not there yet (although he does explain meat cut options) and that he contracts this out to a local butcher. I got a little lost in the dollars and cents section, but he is to the point (I'm just easily distracted) and his math seemed to make sense. I plan to analyze this section more in-depth once we get closer to setting up our pig infrastructure and buying shoats.

Although this is not an all-inclusive resource for keeping pigs on the homestead, I felt that it gave me some good building blocks for filling our freezer with delicious homegrown pork. Definitely a permanent fixture on the homesteading bookshelf.

Friday, February 3, 2012

future farm critters - part 4: goats

I've already eluded to the fact that I'm not real sold on goats. When I first started thinking about farm animals, goats were at the top of the list, but when I think about why, my only conclusion is that it's because people talk about them so much and how cute they are and all, but I'm in this for the end product. If cuteness is a by-product, all the better! But I'm not going to get any animal just because it's cute.

So goats can give milk, meat, and/or fiber, depending on the breed. In order to get milk, the goat has to be a mother, right? Which means you must have babies. Which means you might have boy babies, who are only good for meat and/or fiber. I don't care about fiber, so they're really only good for meat in our situation. Truthfully, I've never eaten goat, but I really doubt that it's better than pork, lamb, or beef. I'm down for trying unique or exotic meats, but I'm really only semi-adventurous when it comes to food, and what if we end up with a freezer full of goat meat that we just don't want to eat?

And I've read that, for whatever reason, male goats stink to high heaven, and I think we're gonna have enough stink as it is with all that excrement from cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens.

I don't know if goat's milk is better than sheep's milk, but at least I can eat the sheep without question, and my favorite cheese eva is feta, which is made from sheep's milk. I'm sure we can adjust our palate from store-bought cow milk to sheep's milk when the time comes.

The one redeeming quality of goats is that they're good for clearing shrubbery. But the other livestock breeds I'm interested in are well known for their foraging ability that is almost on par with goats. Besides, I don't think we even have that much shrubbery to clear anyway, and what we do have can be done with a bush hog if it really comes to that.

I'll probably end up insulting someone, but goats are kinda in the same boat as horses for me. Like, what are horses good for? Riding: ok, so you ride a horse somewhere, then what? I supposed if you had hundreds of acres of farmland, a horse might be a worthwhile investment instead of motorized transportation. Maybe people who don't want to own a car would rather have a horse instead. Draft work and plowing: makes more sense. But a pig can do that for me. And then I get to eat bacon and ribs and sausage and tenderloin. And I want to do the whole no-till gardening thing anyway, so I only need it done once (if at all). I suppose people do eat horses (didn't they just pass a law about that?), but I'm not going to join those ranks. Ew.

Besides, we already have a horse. His name is Clyde Dog.

He's supposedly a St. Bernard, but we suspect he's actually a Clydesdale in disguise.

Although goats can apparently be very friendly and fun to watch, I think we will have our hands plenty full with the vegetable garden, forest garden (aka fruit trees), bramble, mushroom, and wildflower patches, watch dogs, barn cats, sheep, swine, cattle, canning, freezing, root cellaring, hunting, and most important of all, porch sitting.

Goats = perfect for someone else!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

rotational grazing and paddock/pasture design

I know I'm getting way ahead of myself here, but the planner fanatic in me is taking over my brain and trying to figure out what might be the best way to fence our pasture into individual paddocks for rotational livestock grazing.

Trying to determine what fences should go where when we're not totally sure how many animals we even want yet seems like a futile effort, so my thought process is to design a master plan that will allow us to build paddocks as we need them utilizing the placement of our turn-of-the-century barn that also permits design modifications if it just doesn't work well in real life like it does on paper.

Best to enlarge this so you can read my anal-retentiveness. Yea, I like pretty colors.

We think that it might be wise to use the old corn crib as a chicken coop. The chickens would have their own run (for when we're lazy and don't want to herd them into a paddock), but this design would also let us turn them loose to graze (do chickens graze?) with the cattle and/or sheep. The cattle and sheep eat and poop, and the chickens follow behind eating bugs and spreading the cattle/sheep manure around as well as adding their own. I'm not totally clear on the details of mob grazing yet, and I'm not sure that we want to have as many animals as what is needed for that method, but I imagine this layout or some variation of it will allow us to still rotationally graze at least.

So once the livestock has grazed one paddock, however long that takes, we move them into the next paddock and let the previous one recover for however long is needed for it to grow back. This may mean that the paddocks need to be much smaller than what I have outlined (hence, the "potential paddock halving" lines on my illustration), but my math skills suck and I'm not going to even pretend that I want to calculate livestock consumption needs versus what we have available (my brain hurts already), so we'll only know that once we start actually grazing our livestock. Trial and error! We are open to the fact that we might need to actually go buy some hay, but we definitely like the idea of not having to buy supplemental feed, which I think justifies my ridiculous over analysis.

By the way, I'm going to call this the Mitsy's Bitchin' Sunburst Paddock Design because it reminds me of that cool stylized Japanese sunburst/sunrise art. Like this:

Vector-style pop art from a photograph of my hot hub playing shuffleboard down at the country club (July 2006).
I clearly knew that stylized Japanese sunbursts would someday make their way into my paddock plan.

Using the handy Planimeter site courtesy of ACME as well as the Tennessee Property Viewer site, I estimate the amount of permanent perimeter fencing needed to fence in our grownup pasture area to be approximately 1,500 linear feet. Jay's brilliant idea is to follow the already carved out treeline that borders this area in order to save on fence posts and what not. We've already discovered this method used on our property with some old fencing that is no longer usable up on the ridge, so if it worked for whoever installed it way back in the day, we don't see why it wouldn't work again.

Temporary, movable cross fencing is less expensive than permanent fencing, but based on this design, I estimate the cross fencing will total at least 2,600 linear feet, including my "potential paddock halving" (about 2,200 without). My design also includes 16 gates. My gut tells me that we're gonna be building a lot of our own gates to save on costs. I have purposely focused on livestock breeds that are relatively easy to contain and happy to graze within their confines without much fuss. I've read that Highland cattle are so docile that they really only need single-strand electric fencing.

Which brings me to my next point: goats. Goats are escape artists. They can unlock gates and hop fences and shit. I'm a huge animal lover and proponent of ethical animal husbandry, but I want livestock to eat, not chase around our farm. I'd rather get my cute dose of the day from animals that I can reliably control. Like dogs and cats. So no goats. I say that now, lol

I learned yesterday that pigs really like, among other things, chestnuts. We have a big ass chestnut tree in the field where the old farmhouse used to be. As in, almost as big as the barn! So it would make sense to put some piggies there where they can fatten up on chestnuts and till the soil for me for future garden space.

Then if we need to move them somewhere else, I'd like to try fencing in some woods so that they can clear the underbrush and create a pretty forest setting so I can do something like this:

Wishful thinking, I know.

This design also assumes that we will use the barn to house the animals instead of just throwing some make-shift animal shelters out there. I haven't yet figured out how rotational grazing might work with that method. Would we have to move the shelters into each new paddock or would the animals accept a new shelter every time we moved them?

So, yea, that's a lot of fence. Lotsa fence = $$$$. But my clever design will hopefully allow us to build our fences as we add more animals and as we can afford it. Even the permanent perimeter fencing could wait to be installed if money is tight.

I'd be so lost without aerial imagery.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

clinch river beauty

I can't WAIT to float this baby in the summertime...

I think my innertube will tie up very nicely on that thar tree...

Our friends own this killer riverfront parcel.

We could probably walk home if we got all pickled down by the river. But it would be a very long walk.

That tree on the left looks like it's flinging its arms out to keep from falling down the mountain.
I see strange things in nature sometimes.