Each December we take the flatbed truck into the hills to thin my friend Sande's woods. It was misty and damp this year, with the wind in the trees. This is one of my own Christmas rituals, brought straight to mind with the scent of freshly cut pine. Roberto climbs the bank with the chainsaw, and the rest of us haul the trees to the truck. They are lovely without decoration, though we do hang lights and carved goats on some, and they will scent the farm Christmas fete this weekend.
Like the moist tender crumb of homemade chocolate cake to the hungry, a barn floor of straw and goat manure is irresistible to gardeners. It makes the dirt of your dreams. It is the perfect present.
Two days of sun after the rain makes for an ideal morning to muck out the loafing barn. Our pregnant goats will have a fresh bed of straw to take them through to birthing in early spring.This year's manure will be ready for your garden next year. Last year's manure is rotted, alluringly rich and crumbled. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org for sack and trailer-load prices
We introduced Coltrane, our new, very handsome buck, to a pen of ladies this past month. At two years, he should have the stamina to breed about 25 does a month. At three, he will be all business, breeding up to 40 does a month. This is his "buck power".
Buck libido and fertility are linked to day length. Now, in late summer and early fall, is a good time to breed. As the days get longer, a buck produces less sperm, of uneven quality.
Does reach puberty at anywhere from 4 to 12 months, depending on breed and their health, but we don't breed them until they are a solid 70% of their adult weight. At puberty, they will come on heat about every 21 days, and stay on heat for 12 to 36 hours. On heat, they will waggle tails, snort, and flirt. We have used raddle powder in the past to identify which does have bred first. Raddle powder is a non-toxic dye - just a solution of colored chalk and vegetable oil will work - that you can apply to the buck inbetween his front legs either manually or by attaching a harness. Provided you position the powder where it will only mark a mounted doe, you will have a good idea of which does have bred and therefore their due dates. If marked does are marked again the next month, you may have a buck with poor quality or even sterile sperm.
So far, Coltrane is all about the look-at-me, aren't-I-handsome snorting and less about getting down to business. Maybe if we stop hanging out watching?
Every year we donate one event in our hayloft and garden. This year we were absolutely delighted to host Puente's 16th anniversary party on Sunday afternoon, with appetizers from the farm kitchen.
Puente de la Costa Sur is the community resource center for the South Coast, providing food, transportation, shelter referrals, housing assistance, advocacy, and health, literacy, and education services for local residents.
Anna-Lesa made pizzas of local sausage and tomatoes with our feta cheese
There were plenty of other tasty morsels
We knew a lot of the guests, including Kevin of Early Bird Farm and Kevin Jr
and Doniga (left) and Erik (center) of Markegard Family Grass-Fed
We washed up in the dairy
although there wasn't much to tidy up. Congratulations to Puente on 16 years of community support!
This summer, a visitor wrote to me that she had walked through our secret gardens on a workshop, and found them sadly in decline compared to their glory twenty years ago. This was poignant. Not for her words, but for the story behind them. Twenty years ago the gardens had plentiful watering. Twenty years ago, too, we knew less about the effects of pumping water from the creeks that run through our land. Today I know much more. And this summer, I had no water at all for those gardens.
Fifteen years ago, I chased a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. It is a national agency whose mission is to help "America's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners conserve the nation's soil, water, air and other natural resources". My grant is a cost-share program. That is, I make payments in full, and they reimburse 50% of my costs.
With the support of the NRCS, we began to protect the watershed on our land. We planted willows to support the creek banks. We fenced creekside pastures with a generous set-back from the banks, to prevent excess nitrates from animal feces draining into the creek. We installed huge rainwater recycling tanks. These projects were enormously expensive, and I struggled to find the income to pay for them over the years. It was a relief to receive the reimbursement when it came. In the most recent financial downturn, we were lucky to receive the Obama administration's extra stimulus for landowners already in this NRCS program. We bought all our supplies from US companies, and have always hired local labor.
In 2009, we dug a well in our south pasture, across the road from the pasture immediately behind the farm. We had been watering all pasture from the creek in the south pasture, pumping the water under the road to the rest of the farm. I understood by now that to truly protect the watershed, we would have to stop taking water from the creek. Basically, no water, no fish. No creek life. The well drilling cost almost $50,000. Even with the promised 50% reimbursement, I couldn't go on. The electricity company wanted a deposit of $5000 simply to look at the job of pumping well water to the rest of the farm. I had a hole, but no water.
In 2011, we bought the land and barn next to the farm. This property had a well. Now I could forget the electricity company's gouging. Now we have a well on the same side of the road as the pasture behind the farm, the pasture that needs watering in the summer if the goats are to eat grass. I had a vastly increased mortgage, but at least I had a new well.However, the south side of the road was still dry. The secret gardens were parched. There was no water for our orchard and berries. This was sad, but I could deal with people's disapproval. The straw that broke the camel's back was the crop failure in the fields we lease to Blue House Farm. They didn't need much water for their heirloom beans and squash, but they didn't get any. And ravenous herds of deer are already out from the wild, searching our cultivation for food. They ate rows of crops overnight. So I called Dave Landino the well guy, and asked for water in the well he had drilled for us six years ago.
This is how it's done
Just a couple of wires to hook up
Within a week, I had 110 gallons a minute.
That's a lot of water.
That's the farm's watering problems fixed.
I had a new huge bill to pay, but I couldn't feel anything but lucky. Water is liquid gold. Back in 2009, I declined the suggestion of a dowser or water witch. I pointed to a spot in my field and said Drill here! I had lined the spot up with the road tunnel exit in the pasture across the road. It turned out to be a spot of great good luck: a deep, generous aquifer.
Next, we will fence the crops against the deer. We have a new grant to remove the log jam in Pescadero Creek on our land. And we will begin a long, exciting effort to build an irrigation pond in the field between the farm and the new barn, where we have our office and baby goat nursery. So, there's more to the water story, but it has a happy ending.