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Garden Design, hugelcultur raised beds

Gardening in this old way is new to many.  The older ideas of using nature’s way to self-feed plant  roots with wood decomposing under your soil.hugelcultur example has a raised bed effectCombine that example with raised beds which reduce back strain from leaning over, lessen weed problems when the walkways are covered, and improves watering issues.

It does take time to learn & grow plants but it does not have to be expensive or elaborate to start. Develop the garden soil that supports your belly! Nourish your soul by getting your hands in the dirt. Work with Nature.

Hugelkultur or similar raised bed methods give several advantages to us. Wood (& other yard / woods carbon material) that would become waste or scrap, compost & aged manure in there, topsoil over that – together provide nutrients to roots and microbes in the soil.mounds of soil over layers of wood planting over the raised surface

We are building this 4th or maybe 5th version of a annual vegetable garden: we have adjusted size, methods and varieties of plants by combining these new and old methods.  Two foot high bed surface, drip irrigation, decaying wood underneath, heavy tarp with hardwood mulch covering the walkways and a more gentle draining slope are built together in our space.

 

Keep in mind, we are really grass farmers (the animals eat the grass or we eat a crop). But the microbes make the plants thrive, not merely the dirt. Feed the microbes, they feed the plants, plants feed your animals & you.!  cows, sheep, goats, donkeys graze together rotating paddocksOur new garden is shown in the pictures and videos on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PeacefulHeartFarm/

dry stack blocks as bed walls do not rot

Creating gardens is an evolution to answer the need to eat well: We develop skill, apply resources and enjoy time spent in Nature.  We will reap Nature’s abundance as nutritious plant food of a wide variety.  Crop rotation of plant types for extra benefit is easy and can be planned ahead.

Bio-intensive plant spacing will be used also to maximize production without taxing the soil.

Learning how to grow your own food is & will be very important. This should be obvious to many by now. Buy common variety open pollinated seeds and grow the food in your space – small, medium or large space – just do it to become then good at it  so you can depend on the produce.

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Oh the Goats

Oh the Goats

oh the goatsWhat can I say except “Oh the goats”. So here is today’s story. Each story is usually unique. And this one goes like this.

It was time to move the animals to another piece of pasture. We have the pasture divided into lots of smaller paddocks. So Scott bravely goes out to move the animals around. It’s fairly early in the morning on August 1st and not quite so hot yet. Meanwhile I go off to town to the bank and the grocery store and other errands.

the boysThe animals needed to be moved quite a bit for the next part of our grazing plan. I was going to be gone for quite some time so Scott ventured out on his own. In the front field, which is divided into 4 paddocks, were the “boys”. The bull and his two companion steers, the ram and his 2 companion ram lambs, and the 5 cashmere bucks make up this group. They got moved across the road to paddock number 5. Not much problem there.

normande herdThe next move entailed moving the 5 ewes, 3 ewe lambs, 5 cows, 5 heifers and of course the 10 goat does and their 9 kids Oh yeah, I almost forgot the donkeys. Johnny rebel and his two ladies, Sweet Pea and very pregnant Daisy. They were all moving to the front where the boys just vacated. This particular group of animals was located in the field that reaches nearly the highest point on the property. It’s pretty steep. And it is also way, way in the back of the property.

So Scott bravely goes out and rounds them all up and starts them moving to their new pasture. He finds there are 3 kids missing. So he diligently looks for the missing kids. Well, we’ve lost lots of kids this year and they had been grazing in the pasture where we lost the most kids during the winter. So perhaps a predator got them. After walking the entire field, Scott moves on and gets the rest of the animals settled into their new place.

3 kidsBut, oh the goats, Scott goes back to paddock number 13 or 14 or something like that, t’s way in the back, and he looks for the kids just one last time. Low and behold, there they are. These three are the tiniest ones. Two silver ones and one white one. They are so small that they can just jump through the fence. The fence squares are about 6″ wide and 4″ tall. That’s plenty of room for a 2-week old kid to get through. So of course they did just jumped through. Not before running around in figure 8s and such for a little while, but they eventually went into the next paddock. At that point Scott surrendered to their superior agility.

I arrive home some time later and cook brunch for the two of us. While sitting at the table eating said brunch, Scott is regaling me with the details of the tale. And then we begin to plan our next move. The only conclusion is to take at least some of the goats all the way back to the pasture in the back and catch them up with the kids. It is the only hope of ever getting said kids all the way to the front field. So we proceed with that plan.

the sheepI’m going to leave out quite a few of the details here. We walked a lot and we got the does and kids hooked back up with the three lost kids and moved them all the way back to the front field again. We really walked a lot. We set out at about 2:30 and now it was over 90 degrees outside. I returned home tired and sweaty at 4:00 with Scott arriving only 5 or so minutes later. Do you have any idea how far you can walk in an hour and a half? Even at 2 miles per hour that would be at least three miles. Up and down hills, through the woods and the weeds, in the heat. I got my exercise today. And please remember that Scott had already traversed this same path once earlier. He clocked double the miles that I did.

And at the end there is still one piece to be completed. While returning the does and kids to the back pasture, the sheep decided to tag along. We weren’t too concerned as they are fairly easy to move. However, when we got all of the goat does and kids out of the high pasture, the sheep were nowhere to be seen. Scott had just walked the entire perimeter of that paddock to round up one stray doe and her kid. He had not seen any of the sheep.

goatkid1“Well”, we said. “Perhaps they returned as far as they could toward the front field.” We had left most of the return path open. So we proceeded to move the does and kids up the travel lane back to the front. This part is always easy because Scott set up those really useful travel lanes. When we arrived — you guessed it. No sheep. The sheep were nowhere to be found. That means they are somewhere back up in the way back and high field. We decided that they could take care of themselves and if we opened the gate up again, they would eventually return to the water in the creekbed.

Time enough to catch them up tomorrow. Oh the goats. I’m tired but happy that the kids are back with the does.

Hope your life is going well.

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Permaculture — I Gotta Start Somewhere

Permaculture

pond-bridge“I gotta start somewhere” comes from the realization that months have passed and Yikes! It has been forever since either of us posted on the website. Scott keeps everybody up to date on Facebook with daily goings on at the farm with the animals. And I will leave that to him as he does a fantastic job with the photos and videos. What I want to do here is begin a dialog on our philosophy of farming / living life.

You know people always say about getting back to the land that it is always about the lifestyle. That is so true. Yes it’s work, work, work. But who says that work and play have to be opposites? I love the work that we do. It fulfills me like nothing else can. Being a part of the natural world is an amazing experience. If you haven’t heard the term “Permaculture” you will.

peaceful heart's doraThe basic idea is building a sustainable environment using plants and animals that already live and thrive in our particular environment. Each has a place and each supports the rest of the farm. And that includes us. All of us — our physical selves, the animals, the plants, the buildings, the water systems, the air, the earth, the critters in the earth, the fungi and bacteria — yes all of us share a symbiotic relationship. Harvest is based on what that particular piece of land can provide. No more and no less. Abundance is shared with the animals, the people and the earth. Our journey on Peaceful Heart Farm is to discover more and more about how we can support and grow that effort. We are all in this together.

bee hivesThe concepts of permaculture can be expanded to include larger land areas. In fact, I’d like to see an entire village of permaculture. There is so much that can, and needs, to be accomplished for all of our well-being. No one person or farm can provide it all. It takes a village. It takes a community living, working and supporting the whole. And I don’t mean the village that Hillary talks about. What I am writing about here is a village where each and every individual takes responsibility for and cares for their own land and people. They produce and abundance and join that with others who are also responsible for their piece. Then we can all freely look after one another. It becomes part of our culture to simply lend a hand when needed. And to ask for a hand when needed.

cashmere goat bucksThe three ethics of permaculture are:

  1. Care for the Earth
  2. Care for the people
  3. Limit the “footprint” to produce abundance for sharing and returning to the earth and people

Scott and I are getting ever closer to building the creamery and providing lots of wonderful cheese to our friends, neighbors, and fellow humans. And the additional plans for building a permaculture farm, family, and village community are bubbling under the surface. I’m so excited about my life. There is so much to do and it’s permeated with joy.

 

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Old Tree Piles

Tree piles – large piles where you cannot burn them yet are in the way now.  I had been waiting for over a year to get to this little farm chore – clearing piles of old large trees. I cannot burn them where they are & they are definitely in the road or in the ‘lane’ I should say.

Old trees crowding the lane
Old trees are crowding the Travel Lane now.
used to be a good place to dump old trees
This used to be a good place to dump old trees.

The ‘Travel Lane’ is the sheep-way or herd-pathway where we walk animals from paddock to paddock. It really is a good management tool – we make a fenced 10-20’ wide pathway between / through the pastures / woods.  Well, the lane had a long gap in its fence barrier along the creek bed, 250′ of a gap.  The tree piles are right at this gap and in the way of putting up the barrier fence. The tree piles kinda’ made a barrier but animals were not fooled for long. If they can find a way to go somewhere, they will!  They can walk around or over many things.

This need to put up a fence is all about making it easier for us to handle our boys-n-girls peacefully.  No aggravation or injuries for daily chores, thank you very much.  How do you move the milk cows twice daily for milking them?  – Answer – follow the travel lane between field & barn.  Herding animals is a common need on a farm.  From my observation, “Herding Livestock” can be like snack times in the kindergarten except the kids are way bigger.  And they have a serious pecking order attitude, brambles, rocks, flies, poop & grass to nibble.  This herding can quickly NOT be smooth & straightforward BUT it can be easy if setup properly.  Bringing in the flock or herd can be enjoyable.

Travel Lane passing between orchard & paddock
Travel Lane passing between orchard & paddock
The Sheep-way is for easy movement of the flock / herd.
The Sheep-way is for movement of the flock & herd.

So, this travel lane gap has to be closed. For a couple weeks, the girl cows have been ignoring my rotational grazing plan: They should know better!  And I truly think they do know the routines yet are like willful children getting away with what they can.  They are just being themselves, not actually trying to cause trouble.  So into the gap or breach they go:  The donkeys, sheep & cows walk around / through the tree piles then simply scramble down-n-up  the steep ravine banks crossing the creek and like-magic escape into somewhere special  – in this case the beautiful, shaded creek bed with many green delights.  They actually don’t go that far; they are just not where you want them to be.  To round them up, it takes a lot of time & sweat:  You can picture me jogging back-n-forth, panting, waving my arms, clapping my hands as they shift and dodge around me.  They are perfectly happy eating that fresh greenery, merely being.  Did you know they love being first to get to it and race to get there!

Wished I had a better use for them..
Wished I had a better use for them..
Cut & carried to roll them roll them into the creek ravine
Cut & carried & rolled them into the ravine.

All together there were over 100 whole tree trunks (6-20” diameter, 15-40’ long), collected over 8 years. I had drug & stacked them at the bottom of the garden field next to the creek ravine – it was out of the way back then!  It is right in the way now.  The chainsaw, log chain & tractor front end bucket helped make these piles over the years. Various farm needs and bad weather required clearing trees (I try to not cut trees down, actually hate having to do it – I really love trees).  Yet, there they are nicely stacked laying parallel at 4-5′ high & 10-20′ wide in 5 piles all along the gap.  These wet, half rotten trees do NOT move as a ‘pile’ because of my little tractor.

It took two weekends, lots of sweat/beer/water/ ibuprofen & my trustee chainsaw.  Most of this tree mass had to be removed by hand.  I cut them into 3′ pieces and carried / tossed / rolled 3/4 of these piles into the ravine and creek.  Only after cutting them into little pieces and digging down to the bottom of the piles could I shave off a cluster of pieces with the front end bucket to push them over the edge. Yeah, the tractor helped push them into the creek bed / ravine late yesterday afternoon but only at that point. Only that last hour could I use the tractor.  I finally cleared those large piles of old trees from the travel lane.  Happily I did find a few locust trees – cut / hauled them off to use for fence posts later.

 

I was glad to work in the shade!
I was glad to work in the shade!
This will work better.
This will work better.

Then I put up the fence – Almost finished that part before dark.

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Buy Local

I want to talk about the FDA and food safety. It is up to me and you to determine the “safety” of our food. I know, I know. Supposedly that is why we have the FDA. But think about it for a minute. Think about how our food system has changed over the last 50 years or so. Ostensibly, the mission of the FDA is to protect us through regulating and monitoring our food system. The only problem is that our food system has gotten farther and farther away from the personal, hands-on farm-to-table operation that existed before the 1950’s.

Food in our country is now an industrial operation. Large mega-corporations have taken over the farming industry in the United States and corrupted it to a point that it no longer resembles the farm image that you no doubt hold in your mind. Likely you have an image in your mind where your vegetables are being grown on a lovely little family farm. You may envision is quaint farmhouse with children and dogs playing in the yard and perhaps a few chickens pecking around in the back. That’s not what it is anymore. And it is not just animals that are mistreated. Vegetables are severely mistreated as well.

Whether animal or vegetable, they are grown in tight conditions in mono-crops. Each year it requires more input in the form of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to continue to produce the same amount of vegetable food on the same piece of land. The soil is dead and dying. More and more water is required as the soil no longer holds the moisture. In nature diversity is required for an ecosystem to survive and thrive.

Now bring the FDA into the picture. How do you think that works? In your mind are your FDA representatives out there interacting with the farmer and his or her family? Are they getting advice and input from the consumers regarding their issues with food? Perhaps it is time for a reality check. Let’s look at what is really happening.

We place people in positions of responsibility in Washington DC and depend on them to guard our food supply and support our children and the future. When I hear people speak about these government officials, oftentimes I hear awe in their voice. I hear them speak of these government agencies as if they were all powerful, infallible, and wondrous creations. They are our saviors and “what would we do without them?”

Perhaps it is because I work at a government facility that my perception is altered and does not quite fit with that of the greater population. People in government positions are just like you and me. And you know what? We are all just people. We could be your neighbor – and may be your neighbor. We are not infallible. We are not all-powerful. Though I must admit we are all wondrous creations. So for a reality check today, let’s look at what is really happening with the FDA.

From my perspective, what we have is a group of people like you and me who work in Washington DC. They are doing the best they can for their jobs and their families. I do not have exact figures. However, I would venture to say that very few of these people have ever lived on a diversified family farm (as opposed to the modern factory farm). I can say that mostly because so few exist anymore. Our FDA representatives are far removed from the people (and machines) actually producing the food that we eat. They must rely on reports and studies to provide the needed input to make decisions that ultimately affect your and I when we shop at the grocery store. (As an aside, we are all very far removed from the people who produce our food today. Much of it is imported. It is imported from countries like South Africa, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, China, Japan, Pakistan, and India. There are many more.)

Much of the produce that you purchase in your grocery store comes from California. So unless you live in California, your food is shipped to a location far from where you are. Heaven help us if the trains and trucks every stop running. In my case, vegetables in my supermarkets have traveled nearly to the east coast. Even at my local coop in Roanoke the produce is obtained from California and from overseas or South America. Something like 5% is grown locally.

What ideas do you have about how the FDA is able to monitor all of that food? Are we to hiring enough inspectors to watch every piece as it moves through the process? And what about the stuff we get from other countries? Do you really think the FDA is monitoring that sufficiently? It would take an army of people that they do not have. So is it any wonder that the food can become contaminated anywhere from its point of origin until your point of consumption? It is so unlike how food used to be guaranteed safe to eat. Do you recall how it used to be done? Here are some ideas.

Before our farms were consolidated into factories it was the farmer that guaranteed his or her product was safe. How did they do that you wonder? It was simple. If someone got sick it was likely to be your child, a cousin, an aunt or a parent. Perhaps it was your neighbor, the mayor, or the local librarian. There was a very personal and vested interest in producing the best product possible. Today you have a stranger in some packing plant 3,000 miles away who is dreaming about being somewhere else while handling your food. There is no vested interest in whether it reaches you in good condition and without contamination.

The smart idea is purchasing and consuming vegetables grown locally. By finding and utilizing local resources you afford yourself the opportunity to know where your food came from, how it was grown or raised, and who the people are and what values they hold regarding nourishment for themselves and their families.

If you continue to rely on the people in Washington DC you will continue to be exposed to questionable food. The industrial model is in no way sustainable or in alignment with how nature works. Therefore, it is destined to fail. I believe the people who work in Washington DC at the FDA are doing the best that they know how and if they are able to do. I cannot imagine that they intentionally allow poor quality food to be distributed to the citizens of the United States. However, it is up to you and I to make sure our food is safe. Even though we pay these people to do a job, it is simply not possible for them to know, inspect, verify, and reassure you that the food you are purchasing in your grocery store is safe. There are not enough of them. They are only educated in running and unsustainable food system. And worst of all, the agency itself is heavily influenced by the large manufacturers of this so-called food. Decisions made regarding regulations are going to favor the manufacturer. Decisions made regarding inspections are going to favor the manufacturer.

So you might be wondering why I’m ranting on about the FDA. Simply put, I got burned. I got burned badly. Here’s my story.

One of the larger issues that I have with the FDA (and other agencies like them) is that my taxes pay for these people to do a job that is impossible for them to perform to my satisfaction. Therefore, I am paying for service I am not receiving. No matter how much I pay to these “disorganizations” I still find it necessary to grow my own food. Or at the very least to purchase it from a farmer whom I’ve met, questioned and whose integrity I can vouch for because I know them personally. I can trust them.

I was shopping in Wal-Mart to my great disgust (another behemoth organization driving small business into the dirt). I find myself there from time to time even though I loathe it because there simply is no one else left in our small town. On this particular day my laziness was going to cost me dearly.

I was tired after selecting my purchases and actually went to the grocery part of the store to buy fresh produce. Actually that is not really true. There really is no such thing as fresh produce in Wal-Mart. Their leaf lettuce is wrapped in plastic. Their baby spinach is wrapped in plastic. You know – the kind of plastic wrappings that contain a special gas that keeps the vegetable from deteriorating at its normal rate. That way they can keep it far longer than is possible in nature. As soon as the bag is opened, the gas escapes and the vegetable begins to deteriorate very rapidly. I picked up a bag of spinach and looked at my husband and said, “I hate buying this stuff.” But I bought it anyway. I also bought a head of green leaf lettuce.

On Tuesday morning, while preparing for work, I made my usual salad that I would eat at lunch. It contains about a cup and a half cup chopped lettuce, 1/2 cup celery, a couple of tablespoons of green pepper, half a dozen grape tomatoes, and about a cup of chopped spinach. I had my salad for lunch. This was somewhere around noon. About four o’clock in the afternoon I suddenly became extremely fatigued. I felt exhausted. I was glad when it was time to go home. A couple of hours later I was feeling chilled and continue to feel exhausted and made the first of many trips to the bathroom. There were three more trips during the night. I won’t go into details. The next morning I felt okay.

Because I was feeling unwell my husband made his own dinner that Tuesday evening. I told him to take the spinach and cook it because I did not feel it would last more than a day or two. He cooked all but about two handfuls of the spinach. He wanted to save me some for my lunch the next day. He’s thoughtful that way. He cooked his spinach only slightly. That’s the way he likes it.

The next morning I created the same salad as I described above. I had my salad for lunch at noon. Again, by four o’clock in the afternoon I was exhausted and ready to go home. It came on suddenly as on the previous day. I was so glad to be going home. This time by the time I got home which was about 20 minutes later, the chills had already started within another half an hour I was shivering uncontrollably. While on the way home, my husband mentioned to me that he did not think that I had a bug as he was having difficulties as well. He surmised that there was a problem with the spinach. That was Wednesday. It would be Sunday afternoon before my husband and I were whole again.

The issue with this kind of poisoning in our food system is a direct result of mono-cropping vegetables and the subsequent factory processing of those vegetables. This is a how our industrial food system now operates. This is the food system that the FDA oversees. I am doing everything in my power to opt out of that food system.

Each summer I attempt to grow vegetables in my garden. I am semi-successful. Because I’m not home during the week, my garden gets overrun with weeds. I only have Saturday and half of Sunday to try to maintain my garden. Still I endure. I grow what I can. And still it’s not enough. I am not able to keep a supply of lettuce and spinach growing to supply my salad needs. As of today I am searching for a CSA that will work for me. I simply cannot continue to buy vegetables in a grocery store. It will be tricky – again due to the weekly travel. I mentioned in a previous blog how important it is to be able to consistently pick up CSA shares weekly. I think I’ve found one that works for me and that I can support. I am incredibly grateful for this farm and what they do.

Peace

Melanie

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Welcome To Our Farm

Peaceful Heart Farm - Front pond in the Fall

Peaceful Heart Farm - Front pond in the Fall

Peaceful Heart Farm – Front Pond in the Fall

Peaceful Heart Farm is a 62 acre family owned and operated farm at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Patrick County Virginia. We raise Katahdin sheep and produce herbal supplements. We have a developing orchard and will be offering sustainably grown fruit in the next few years.

We look to the “ancient wisdom” of managing gardens and livestock by asking the question, “How was it done before the industrial revolution? And how does nature do this?”
We use herbal supplements for our self, our animals and even the plants receive only naturally produced supplements of leaves, orchard trimmings, and plant material from earlier years.

We dedicate ourselves to producing healthy lives for ourselves, our farm, and our community.

Contact Us for availability of lamb and Katahdin breeding stock.