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Archive for December, 2011

It has been ever so mild here in north GA so far this winter.  So mild in fact, we still have kale, collards, thyme, oregano and parsley growing in the garden. They taste great, too. We’re cooking with them and using some in our daily juicing plan.

The onions and shallots are over wintering nicely, despite an invasion from the dogs, who took full advantage of my failing to secure the gate one afternoon.

Our inside garden is doing ok, too. The snap peas are not going to produce. The plants are nearly 5 feet tall, but apparently we don’t have sufficient nutrient density to get them to bloom.

The cherry tomatoes are a bit stretched, but are otherwise fine.  We’ll get a few winter fruit from them by the end of January, maybe sooner.

We have some salad greens and herbs growing in an aquaponics bed that is fed from our goldfish tank. Before the week is over we will plant a grow bed over our Tilapia tank in the basement. We have some grow lights and I want to see how they work. The possibility of fresh veggies all year round is pretty awesome.

Still don’t have the greenhouse started.  When we bought our trio of Kiko goats, that pretty much scalped the money tree.  What the heck, it’s too muddy out to build anyway.

We are less than a month away from starting all of our peppers and tomatoes for the spring garden. I can hardly believe that. Seed starting is one of my favorite mid winter projects. Only napping rates higher.

 

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I could not be more frustrated, or more elated, with my aquaculture, aquaponics projects. First, the goldfish in the goldfish garden are absolutely smashing. They are tough, hardy fish.  The floating raft with greens that I have in the tank is doing so,so.  I think the sunlight is a little too indirect and I may supplement with an led grow light.

The Tilapia are positively thriving.  They are eating like little pigs and I believe some of them have actually grown, already.  We will get a grow bed attached to their tank very shortly. I couldn’t be happier with them.  They dart around like little under water jet skis. I adore them.

The Red Claw Crawfish are another tale altogether.  I have only two of the original 18 left.  One male and one female.  I’m trying desperately to save them.  If I can keep them both alive, then all will be well and we’ll have plenty of new ones in a few months.

I am at a total loss to figure out what went wrong.  It’s a genuine mystery.

I set up a new, smaller tank for them this morning.  I’ll let it cycle for a bit before putting the crawfish inside.  Top ups will be done with rainwater from our rain barrel to see if they like that better than de-chlorinated inside water.  I’ll have to warm it up before adding it, but that’s only a minor inconvenience.

I will use an aquarium bio filter and a home made one at least until we can get a growbed on their tank, as well.  I might not even put a bed on theirs and simply use the nutrient dense water on traditional plant containers when I do water changes.  We’ll see which seems to make the most sense.

 

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All around the world, children of all ages are beginning to get amped up for the big day. Christmas is not merely, ‘right around the corner’, we’ve made the turn and it’s staring us down.  That’s pretty exciting…for some.

B and I haven’t had much time to think about Christmas yet. Oh, we’ve mailed some cards and sent some gifts, but right now, we have no time to ‘settle down for a long winter’s nap’. Between our bad timing and Mother Nature’s little temper tantrums, we have a lot of work to do.

First, the bad timing. We have pregnant goats everywhere. Except for the two that have already given birth, that is. We wanted to arrange for all our goats to freshen in Feb/March, and several will. In one of life’s little twists, because of a fence problem requiring us to move our billy goats earlier than we had hoped, we have several who are already in the maternity pen.  So, we have to keep a watchful eye.

We’ve had no problem with goats and breeding this year. Rabbits, on the other hand, have all gone celibate on us. It’s the end of December and we haven’t had a single litter yet. Weird. The calendar says we do need, though, to put nest boxes in with the girls, as it’s getting close to time for them to give birth, if in fact the breedings we think are in place, have taken.  No one looks pregnant, that’s for sure.

Mother Nature is also keeping us way too busy right now. We’ve had some torrential rains that have left the pastures a mess.  There is a ton of clean up. We have to move some shelters because the rains were so bad water ran under and the animals are standing in ankle deep mud.

With the cold weather coming behind this storm front, we need to make sure the mules have an escape path, since everyone else does, so we’re putting up a portable shelter today and will build a nice run in shed in Mid January.

Oh, and goat hormones are forcing us to move another shelter. It seems our randy little Nigerian buck, Meshak, can’t stay away from our new Kiko girls, Venus and Serena.  He climbs up on the shelter in his pasture, which is up against a fence, and hops over it onto the pig shelter in the other pasture, then down onto the ground.  It’s pretty creative, except Achilles, our Kiko herd sire, isn’t interested in suitors coming to court his ladies. He out weighs Meshak by 15 or 20 lbs (soon it will be by about 200) and has horns. It’s no contest.  Their last testosterone spike left Meshak with some pretty good scrapes and cuts. For several days, he pouted and nursed his obvious headache, while B tended to his wounds.

He’s healed and love is in the air. B found him back in the other pasture again yesterday.  He’s doing his best to woo Serena (who should be pregnant, anyway). Achilles, ever the vigilant, jealous protector, is not letting Meshak get close enough to do any mischief.

The torrential rains, forced them all into the barn. When we went to check on them last night, Achilles had his girls and two of the pregnant Nigerians in the large stall, while Meshak was relegated to a smaller one which he shared with a dozen laying hens.  He tried several times to make his way into the big stall, but Achilles was having none of it. Meshak, not being totally blinded by lust, wants no part of those Kiko horns, so he would slink back to his stall and wait for an opportunity to try again. I give him credit, he’s no quitter.

Anyway, we have to move Meshak’s climbing frame, aka, shelter, away from the fence so he can’t use it as a launching pad for romance and warfare. That can only end poorly for him.  Eventually, we will make one pasture for Meshak and Jasper (our Alpine buck) and one for Achilles and his Kiko harem. Until then, we must make do.

Sometime this weekend I must, I do mean must, shovel mule manure. But it’s too muddy for me to get the truck down to the compost heap without tearing up the hillside.  So it must wait and remain an eyesore.

It’s time now for me to hit the publish key and actually do the work rather than just talking about it. Oh, did I mention we need hay and straw as well. Of course, I love the feed store so that’s not even a problem. Just more time away from the chestnuts and the open fire.

Talk to you later. If I don’t get back here before Sunday, Peace on Earth, friends. Jesus really is the reason for the season even if He has become politically incorrect.

 

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Here’s the deal. Our mules, Laverne and Shirley (don’t ask), need a new shelter. They are just too big for the ones we have built for the other animals. They can stoop way over and squeeze in, but it’s really uncomfortable for them. They tore the heck out of one shelter built out of cattle panels, tarps and t posts. One or both of the girls stood up inside it and pulled the whole thing out of the ground and twisted it like a pretzel. Did I mention that they are very large and very strong?

We want to build a couple of run in shelters for them, but we could use some extra hands, so we’re hoping to have an old fashioned barn raising (sounds better than run in shed raising) on Saturday, January 14. We’ll start about 9:30 a.m.  If we get a good enough group we’ll build two.  We have a couple of pastures we want to put sheds in.

All you need to do is show up and be willing to work. If you have tools, like hammer, saw, screw drivers, wrenches and pliers, feel free to bring them. They’ll come in handy. The event is gender and age neutral. If you can work and like to have fun, you’re welcome to join in.

We’ll have coffee and bottled water available. After the work, if it’s a nice day, we’ll all come back to the house for a cookout. We’ll have burgers made from our own grass fed beef.  If it’s not nice, as in January bone chilling cold, we’ll have some warming beef stew. In the case of rain, we’ll reschedule.

If you’d like to join us for some fun on the farm, just let us know.  And, thanks in advance for the help. Oh, don’t forget to tell a friend and bring a friend. The more the merrier.

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Farming has many by-products; eggs, milk, meat, etc.  But the largest by-product of all, must be manure.  Chickens, for example, appear to produce twice their body weight daily with the stuff.  Ok, that’s an exaggeration, we all know it’s three times, but work with me here.

The pigs are very efficient, turning every possible food scrap into usable meat or fertilizer. They are amazing recycling machines.  Our cows do what everyone knows cows do. Our rabbits produce the most amazing fertilizer of all.  And or mules and donkeys produces mountains and acres of the stuff. Even the fish are nutrient factories. It is indescribable.

So, what do you do with all that waste?  Where do you put it? How do you dispose of it?

First, it is not waste.  It is a miracle in progress.  As we pile up the poo, a variety of bacteria start to work in the middle and on the edges of the stack.  They break down the manure and gradually turn it into compost. It is a wonder to behold.

We have zero leftovers at our house.  Food that is turning or leftover goes to the chickens and pigs.  They make great use of it.  Greens and garden produce that is excess goes to rabbits, goats, cows, chickens, donkeys and mules.  They turn it into manure and the bacteria turn the manure into food for next years plants. The fish waste goes into aquaponics grow beds where the useful bacteria converts the waste into plant food and the gravel turns dirty water into clean.

We had one group of leftovers that didn’t fit into the cycle; coffee grounds and tea bags.  The answer to that conundrum was worms.  We save the coffee filters with leftover coffee and we save our used tea bags.  Every three or four days I take them out and put them in our worm bin.  The little red wigglers living in the tub, turn the grounds into nutrient rich castings and compost.  It’s a huge win.

I have heard that worms are a great option for dealing with dog waste as well.  This spring, I intend to test that hypothesis.

By March, my worm colony should be large enough to divide it into three sections. One will stay with the coffee and tea, one will be transplanted to the manure pile at the farm and one will be put in a tub with dog manure to see how that goes.  I’ve heard that worms can turn dog piles into outstanding fertilizer for flowers and trees.  We’ll find out.

Creation is phenomenal in its intricacies and interdependence.  When managed properly, nature cleans up after itself and feeds the next generation.  All the fertilizer and compost will grow next year’s veggies and fruits, which will feed the animals who will produce food for us, for the bacteria and for the worms and the cycle goes on.  I see order in the universe, the very fingerprints of God.

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Nitrite Spike. Cloudy Water. Bacterial Infection. Dead fish. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!

That pretty much describes yesterday.  It was a life and death struggle. It seemed to come out of nowhere.  When I got up yesterday morning the Red Claw Crawfish tank was unusually cloudy.  I told B we were going to have to do a partial water change and I asked her if she would make a solids filter for me.

A solids filter is just what it sounds like.  You take a bucket, drill a hole near the top to put a hose or pvc pipe. Then drill a hole at the base of the bucket and put a drain pipe.  Then you place some filter material in the bucket. In our case we use filter pads.  Set the bucket above the fish tank or plant grow bed so it can drain into one of them. Put a submersible pump in the bottom of the tank and run some hose or pipe into the bucket.

As the pump sucks up water from the tank, it collects some of the solids that are in the water and on the bottom of the tank.  As the water flows into the bucket, the filter material catches the solids but allows the water to flow back into the tank or grow bed. Simple, yes?

We were too late.  B sent me an urgent email yesterday afternoon saying that when she went to install the filter, there was already a dead red claw.   My first thought was ammonia spike.  She tested, but it was well within range, as was the pH.

Then she mentioned that some of the other Red Claw had white fuzzy stuff on their claws or on their heads.  Even as inexperienced as I am, I knew that was probably a bacterial infection.  I asked her to do a nitrite test.  Sure enough, it was way out of range.  So strange.  I had done a nitrite test 48 hours before and all was fine.  Now, we were killing fish.

That tank has an old style bio filter that was obviously designed for a lower stocking density and was not keeping up.  Fortunately, we had another tank we cycled and were preparing for Tilapia.  Brittan moved the Red Claw over there.

When I got home from work, I gave the fish a salt bath and will keep them in the hospital tank for a few days.  I spent the next three hours, with Brittan’s help, cleaning out the sick tank and refilling it.  We also replaced the bio filter with a better one.

This morning, both tanks tested well.  The Red Claw are happy and active.  They will get another salt bath this evening.  In addition to the new Bio filter, we will install a grow bed and put a grow light over it.  We’ll get some lettuce out of that and it will help keep the tank in balance.

It was very scary.  We could have lost a lot of crawfish.  Fortunately, Brittan was on the spot to do the tests and move the fish until I could get home.  These smaller tanks are volatile things. They must be monitored constantly.  For now, though, all is calm, all is bright. Sorry, couldn’t resist the seasonal reference.

 

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