Planting the garden this year is a little tricky. Each year I have to determine what vegetables I want to grow. I don’t plant everything. After years of just planting everything that caught my eye, I am now choosy about what I plant.
There are quite a few farm updates to talk about. Before I get to it, as always, I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I never want to take you for granted. Thank you so much for being here. Let’s get started on some homestead updates.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
It’s officially spring according to the calendar. We are still having quite a few cold days, but birthing is happening and planting the garden is on the horizon. We have calves, lambs and chicks in the incubator. Let’s start with the calves.
Cows and Calves
We had and/or have four cows and/or heifers that were bred this year. Three have given birth, all within 8 days. That’s how AI works. Everyone is fertilized at the same time and the births come close together.
We have two bulls and a heifer so far. We bought Cookie and added her to the homestead last year. She was not bred with our other cows and her delivery date is sometime in April. So about two to three weeks before we have that last calf. Incidentally, we expect to breed seven cows and two heifers beginning the first week of June. We will have lots of calves, more calves next year than we have ever had on our homestead. Just in time for the cheesemaking to get into high gear. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The calves are beautiful and growing like weeds. We are still looking for names for the two bull calves, but the heifer is named Penny. You can see pics of these guys on our Locals.com community or on our Facebook page.
Sheep and Lambs
As far as the sheep and lambs, the ewes were pasture bred. That means we stick the ram in there with them and he does his job according to their cycling schedule. Interestingly enough, all five ewes delivered within three days. They delivered even more closely than the AI’d cows. We had a total of eight but lost one that was part of a set of triples.
It is very unusual for ewes to deliver more than one lamb in their first season. One young lady had triplets. She is currently raising two of them and doing really well. I think we can probably expect triplets from her every year. The oldest ewe consistently has twins – really big twins. They were the last born and looked to be a week old compared to the others.
The breakdown on the lambs is four girls and three boys. We will be keeping the girls and enlarging our sheep flock. For quite a few years we have kept the flock small. But quite frankly, the market for lambs and goats is going crazy right now and we need the extra income to finish the creamery. And we really like these animals. It’s great that they can now support themselves and provide a bit of income. In the past, we worked at a break-even margin, eating a lot of the lamb ourselves. That does save money on groceries, so there is that.
We have not had goats on the homestead for over a year. Next week we are visiting a nearby goat operation. They have registered Kiko goats. I’m not sure we will be able to get a starter herd this year, but we plan to go and see what she has and ask a lot of questions. They will be really expensive as goats go. We need to prepare and budget for that as well.
We keep goats for their meat of course, but they are also very useful in keeping the pastures cleaned up from unwanted brush and pine trees. Goats love woody stemmed plants. They will completely clear out all of the wild blackberries, wild rose, and generally all thorny plants that sheep and cows will not eat. It’s exciting to think about having these love creatures back on the homestead. I’ll keep you posted on when that might happen.
Quail and Chickens
The quail are doing well. I will be hatching out at least one batch of quail in the near future. However, at the moment, I have two incubators running with two dozen chicken eggs in each. I’m so excited about having chickens.
American White Bresse
I ordered fertile eggs instead of live birds. The reason was the cost for the breeds I chose. The first breed is call American White Bresse. They are a heritage breed that originated in France. Goes well with our French breed cows. Anyway, they are bred to forage well and are traditionally raised with their feed soaked in milk. Isn’t that cool. I always have skim milk after taking the cream for butter. Now we have yet another place the milk can go.
These birds are dual purpose. They lay lots and lots of eggs and also grow to a good size for meat. Another advantage is they reach their laying age about 6 to 8 weeks earlier than typical American dual-purpose chickens.
Black Copper Maran
The other set of eggs are Black Copper Maran. These birds don’t get quite as large and I’m okay with that. I personally don’t care for the really large chickens. The cool thing about the Black Copper Maran is they have the darkest brown eggs available. They are milk chocolate colored. They are so beautiful. They also lay quite a few eggs and mature more quickly than American dual breeds.
The Black Copper Maran is also a French breed. Post-WWII France, the breed was endangered and close to extinction. The French Department of Ag rescued it and began a breeding program. Today, there are lots of varieties. The Black Copper Maran is still quite rare in the US. This is yet another expensive bird which is why I went with the eggs rather than trying to get chicks. The day-old chicks can cost up to $80 a piece. Two dozen eggs were about $85 I think, perhaps more with shipping.
Anyway, we will have baby chicks in a few days. If I get a 50% hatch rate or a dozen of each breed, I will be happy. That will be plenty of hens to lay eggs and the rest for meat. Then next year we raise more.
Scott has been working diligently in the orchard pruning and cleaning up old canes in the blackberry rows. He still has a long way to go. The trees are done and the blueberries are done.
Somewhere when he was working in the blueberries, he placed an order for more plants. There was a particular variety that did really well for us. He ordered 50 of those. That meant he had to dig 50 holes along with fertilizing and other soil treatments.
It’s raining today so the blackberries will have to wait still another day before he completes that trimming job. It has been years since they were pruned and cut back. The rows he has completed look fantastic. I look forward to lots of berries this year. The berries always grow better when the plants are trimmed and maintained. More energy can go into making fruit and not so much into keeping up old canes.
The garden is still patiently waiting to be revived. Planting the garden is currently on hold. I have lettuce and onions ready to plant. Steps still needed there are getting the compost over to the garden and getting is sifted so it can be used as top dressing for each bed.
Last fall, Finn the wonderful livestock guardian dog, dug holes – really big holes – in a lot of the beds. There is a lot of work that needs to happen there. In total we have 20 beds and two long and thin areas that connect 10 boxes each. So, 10 boxes that are 3 feet wide and close to 7 feet long are all connected at one of the short ends. That continuous bed is 70 feet long and about 2 feet wide. And there are two sets of those.
I’m still not completely sure what I am planting in the 70 feet long areas. Last year it was 50 tomato plants down one side. The other had early green peas and then nothing for the rest of the year. I may plant flowers in there this year. Who knows? I still have time to make that happen. All 20 beds are planned. I’ll come back to that when I talk about today’s topic of what I am planting and why.
First, let me finish up the homestead updates with the creamery. We have lots and lots of materials all over the place. Scott ordered just about everything we need to complete this project. With prices skyrocketing, he ordered fast and furious to keep the cost as low as possible. It will cost a bit in interest, but nowhere near the cost of waiting as prices are still rising and sometimes nearly double what they were just a few months ago.
As soon as he finishes with the orchard and readying the garden, he will be hot and heavy on getting that creamery finished. We are looking for that to be before year end. Yay. It will be about 5 ½ years since we broke ground on it in the spring of 2017.
Let’s get on with planting the garden this year.
Planting the Garden
What will we have and why?
Back to those long pieces that connect all the beds, the current plan is to have cherry tomatoes and cucumber plants along the orchard wall. I may need to start more cucumbers as I plan to sell some of those plants at the farmer’s market beginning in May. Now that I think about it, I may need to rethink how many plant-starts I have and get on the ball with planting more if needed.
All along the other wall will be Brussel sprouts. Scott loves these little cabbages and I want to see if I can grow them successfully. We do have problems with all sorts of pests that attack the cole crops. That’s c-o-l-e crops. At a basic level, they are all plants that belong to the mustard or brassica family. They descended from the cabbage. They grow better in cool weather. Some people think that is where Cole came from, but alas, no. Cole is a Latin word that means stem.
The most common plants in the Cole category are: broccoli, brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, turnips and watercress. We have tried most of these plants and have had consistent problems with the cabbage moth. I’m not sure what I will do this year to stave off this pest. What do you do? Anyone out there got some tips on this?
So that takes care of the two outlying beds. Now, for the 20 individual beds, 10 on each side. Right now, my plan is three beds of lettuce. For the most part, that will be sold at the farmer’s market. Three beds of spinach because Scott loves it. I haven’t ever successfully grown spinach so, fingers crossed, this will be the year I make a breakthrough on growing beautiful spinach.
I plan on a couple of beds of herbs including basil – two types – parsley, and cilantro. A bed of Swiss chard and one bed of eggplant. Again, Scott loves these. I have been quite successful with Swiss chard and I want to get better at growing eggplant. I was successful one year, but not in any successive year. We shall see how it goes this year.
Squash and Onions
I will have three beds of onion. Only white onions this year. I have found they keep the best and it just doesn’t make sense to me to grow onions that go bad after only a short while, no matter how pretty red they are or how sweet the yellows may taste. I’ll have three beds of winter squash, spaghetti, acorn and butternut. We love squash. And finally, four – yes count them – four beds of lima beans. Last year it was green beans and crowder peas. The year before that it was various dried beans, red – black and white. This year is the year for lima beans.
Plants for Farmer’s Market
Other things I’m growing for market are Jet Star tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, summer squash (yellow crookneck, zucchini and white scallop) and herbs. I’m also going to start some flowers. I need to get going on that. Spring is moving along rapidly.
That’s about all I have time for right now. I still have lots to do before the day ends. Scott is in here waiting for me to finish so we can go milk cows. I love milking cows. It’s so peaceful.
I hope you enjoyed getting up-to-date on the homestead and learning some about our method of madness in gardening. Planting the garden always encompasses many considerations. Perhaps my thought process is more complex or even less complex than yours. In the end, it is one of the most enjoyable times of my life is thinking about what my plan is and then executing that plan. And each year planting the garden will be different and I love it. Life on the homestead is always evolving. There is never a dull moment around here. Thanks so much for traveling along with me. Hope you tune next time as well. We love having you.
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