The last month has seen much warmer weather and the valley has been getting progressively greener.
Spring started for me with the apple trees beside our house. While clearing for the house foundation I took a little time out and aggressively pruned these trees. They are well established trees, but were never cared for and pretty much ran wild. We canned some of the apples last year and have been using them in muffins. The apples are not very good eating apples, and I am hoping that by pruning the trees I can improve their quality (Sandra is skeptical). I took the upper half of the trees off. I am a little concerned by this drastic step, but in the words of one of the neighbors what have I got to lose? The trees are blossoming now (very pretty), and I did see a bee the other day so hopefully we will get apples this year.
Stephen and I built a cold frame on the south side of the shop. The hope is that the frame will stay warm in cooler nights due to the warm shop wall. So far it seems to be working as the plants I put in there a month ago are doing well.
I hit a snag with my cold frame in that I am not actually sure what I ended up planting in it. Helen and I used the compost from the worm bins to start tomato plants and we are pretty sure we only put one or at most two seeds in each of the transplant containers. Two weeks later the containers were loaded with plants … way more than we expected. I am now guessing that something with seeds (cucumber, pepper, tomato …) that went into the compost did not get completely composted. Do the seeds just go right through the worms? Anyway, I think the picture at the start of this paragraph is a tomato seedling and I am guessing the one at the end of this paragraph is a pepper. If anybody can clarify this for me I would love to hear from them!
We slaughtered our meat birds a week ago, and our lambs arrived over the long weekend. Having farm animals has really led me to question my food choices and how I view food. I’ve also been reading on this subject; I read In Defense of Food earlier this spring and am right now reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma (both by Michael Pollan). These books strongly condemn existing food practices, and present some alternative options. The subtitle of one of these books, “Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Less of It”, is a very simple and effective rule I have been using to evaluate what I am eating. Sandra and I were vegetarians for a number of years and for various reasons (the kids, the business, …) we started eating meat again. I always felt bad (guilty?) about this decision without really thinking about it.
Raising some of the animals that we eat has been interesting and brought a number of things into focus for me. The lambs and the chickens have made an important contribution to my compost adventures. I am betting that without the sheep’s manure and wool my compost pile would not have composted as well or as quickly this last year. After slaughtering the chickens we were left with the innards and feathers. Sandra was not going for my idea of adding any of this except the feathers to the compost pile, so I dug a trench with the backhoe and buried these remains. I put finished compost over this trench and planted my sunflower seedlings. I definitely felt better about slaughtering the chickens after planting these flowers! (I got lots of warnings about how the chickens bodies spasm for a while after decapitating them, but NOBODY warned me that to a lesser extent the head does the same thing!) The sheep grazed on the uncontrolled grass and weeds that make up most of our acreage as will the layer chickens this summer. The point is that in many ways these animals improve the sustainability of our food supply.
This is not to say that there are not issues with raising animals. Both the chickens and the sheep are fed some grain that we are buying. The simple sustainability argument is that it is far more effective to eat the grains directly in terms of resources used. I agree with this argument. However, I can now see the reality of grass fed animals raised on land unsuitable or simply unused for agriculture.
There is also the issue of eventually killing these animals and keeping them in captivity while they are alive. I cannot say this bothers me. We have been raising animals for food for millenia … I do think that many of our current practices are unhealthy and unsustainable and need to be changed.
This last weekend Sandra and I planted most of the garden. We have expanded it a little and hope to can more of what we grow this year. We planted potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, beets, radishes, turnips, herbs, lettuce and peas. We will plant a few more things later this week when it is supposed to be warmer. We bought most of our compost last year, but this year we are using our own (hopefully all goes well)! We are growing the potatoes in tire stacks this year. I have read that one tire stack can yield in excess of fifty pounds of potatoes (I’ll keep you posted). All in all we are farther ahead with our garden this year compared to last.
It has been busy getting all of this done. Hopefully in a few days I am going to eat the first radishes out of the garden …