October 25, 2008
What does spinning yarn have to do with gardening? Alright, this isn't really a garden topic, but the goats are on the farm producing manure to be turned into compost for the garden. They also grow fiber which needs to be used. Plus, selling handspun yarn and yarn products can be a profitable addition to a small farm or backyard enterprise.
Plus, what the heck else is there to do in the winter? Right! (Thanks to www.ibabuzz.com for the photo.)
So we will digress for a little while. . .
Here is a picture of Maizie's mohair. Notice the luster and crimp (waves).
Our girls have heavy but soft fleeces. Part of it is genetics and part is their feed. They eat excellent quality 2nd cut hay and get a handful of alfalfa every now. In the morning, they have 1/3 cup alfalfa pellets, 1/3 cup dried beets, 1 tbsp kelp, and an herbal mixture for general health and to prevent worms. They don't eat any grain, nor should they since they are ruminants. Occasionally, they will get 1/2 apple or a carrot as a treat. Another good thing for them is a clove of garlic every now and again.
The first 3 fleeces from a goat are the most valuable because they are the softest and finest. After that, the fiber is best used blended with wool. We have washed some fleeces by hand but this is time-consuming and requires very hot water. Another option is to send it out to a fiber mill for washing, blending and carding. This product, called roving, is then spun by machine or hand into yarn which is then knit (by machine or hand) into garments. It is a long process but there is nothing quite like wearing a sweater from your own goat or sheep.
In the picture above, there is an example of roving (the cloud-like gray mass on the left) which is 75% mohair and 25% wool, yarn made from that roving, and a scarf knit from 100% mohair - pure luxury!
Start Spinning: Everything You Need to Know to Make Great Yarn, by Maggie Casey, is the best, new book out there on spinning. It is appropriate for the beginner as well as the expert and covers many different types of spinning wheels.
October 24, 2008
Today was shearing day at the farm and the goats had all their summer mohair taken off. Here is Daisy hiding in the dark barn -they don't like shearing day.
Sheep are shorn once a year in the spring but angora goats are shorn twice a year. In Texas, where all the big flocks are, shearing is done in August and February but in the north it's May and October. We have to make sure they aren't out in the rain for a few days prior to shearing and for a few weeks after because they are highly susceptible to hypothermia.
I am always surprised at how white their clean fleece is and how small they look. The goats butt heads a lot afterwards, probably because they don't recognize each other.
If you are considering raising livestock or are looking for a pet, goats are a good choice. They are as smart as dogs, can be trained and are very personable. You must get 2 or more as they do not like to be alone. Goats can be rambunctious but the angora goat is significantly calmer than other breeds. Contrary to popular belief, they do not eat cans. For more information about raising angora goats, read Angora Goats the Northern Way by Susan Black Drummond. This is the fourth addition and includes chapters on cashmere goats.
October 16, 2008
This is the 3rd edition of the classic book on composting, Let It Rot and probably on Storey Publishing's best seller list. Entertaining to read and humorous, this book by Stu Campbell will instruct you on many ways to make compost and how to tailor it specifically for the needs of your garden. It is technical enough for the seasoned composter but within reach of the beginner and has lots of ideas and "recipes" to keep you busy all year long. Who knows - we may find you canvassing the neighborhood with a wheelbarrow in search of others' throwaways. Available from Amazon for $10.36.
October 3, 2008
(photo courtesy of Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
Steve Connolly of Sharon, MA is not having any of the problems most pumpkin growers are having this year. In fact, he's preparing to break some substantial pumpkin growing records. But he only has one to worry about. One giant pumpkin, with an estimated weight of 1,878 pounds. Steve has protected it from rain and sun and fed it a special formula of bone meal, molasses, manure and who knows what else, all with the hopes of smashing the current record weight of 1,689 pounds.
Giant pumpkin growing has turned into a big obsession over the last 10 years. There are clubs and contests and prize money all over the country.
Read more at
For information on how to grow your own giant pumpkin, consult Don Langevin's book, "How to Grow World-Class Giant Pumpkins", available from Amazon for $29.35. Sounds like good, clean fun and hours of entertainment over the summer for the cost of a book and a few seeds.
September 12, 2008
Believe it or not, I just saw organic heirloom tomatoes selling for $4.99/lb. And this wasn't NYC, this was Raymond, Maine in September when everyone is giving tomatoes away! It's time to take this tomato thing more seriously and start selling them. At least we could break even with our gardening obsession and get the tomatoes to pay for their own seeds, the other vegetable seeds, and miscellaneous stuff that adds up so quickly.
The first thing to do is to get a greenhouse somehow. New, used, or take over the next door neighbor's greenhouse that has 6' weeds growing out of the windows. We bought a used one from www.craigslist.org. (We also got our pigs and Kabota 3010 tractor there. It can be a very economical resource for farmers and gardeners.) Over the next few weeks, we'll be putting it up with the help of this book, Greenhouse Gardener's Companion: Growing Food and Flowers in your Greenhouse or Sunroom by Shane Smith.
It is a great resource for greenhouse beginners. Luckily, the author is not a fan of hydroponics and doesn't waste much time with that. Instead, he gives detailed instructions on light, temperature, thermal mass, fans and drainage just to list a few topics. We will be documenting the raising of the GardenSnob greenhouse here so stay tuned . . .
September 11, 2008
Quite a while ago, I had a garden plot in the community garden of the town where I lived. While gathering some late season vegetables, I noticed a woman darting around all the garden plots, stopping for a few minutes, then moving on to another area. I asked what she was up to because I had seen her at my plot when I drove up. Turns out, she was collecting seeds from various plants that she had watched throughout the season. She told me I had a very unusual zinnia in my garden and that it was difficult to get that color anywhere.
From then on, I have been fascinated with seeds and have saved some every year. Some of the easiest ones (I think) to save are pumpkins, tomatoes and flowers. Of course, to really be scientific about it, you need to pay attention to cross pollination and contamination from other varieties.
To learn more about collecting and saving your own seeds, read this book, Seed to Seed, by Suzanne Ashworth. It's packed with information on saving seeds for 160 vegetables. Great photos, too. Available for $25.95 from High Mowing Seeds, an organic seed catalog company in Vermont.
September 2, 2008
Now is the best time of year to collect free food. And I don't mean sneaking into the farmer's orchard after sunset. Good foraging locations are everywhere. If you're out walking or biking, the sweet smell of ripening grapes will lure you as if hypnotized into the brambles on the side of the road. Tie a plastic bag around the handlebars or stuff one into your back pocket so you can take some late summer sun back home with you in the form of beach plums, beach rose hips, Concord grapes, wild blueberries, autumn olives - the list seems endless. All these fruits are waiting for you to pick them and put them up for the coming year. The only question is how to tell the cucumbers and tomatoes to back off and stop hogging the all canning equipment.
Speaking of canning, here's a new book, Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No. 2, from River Cottage that I can't wait to get my sticky canning mitts on. It just came out so you'll have to order it and then wait. My guess is that it'll be well worth the wait for all the jam, jelly, curd, fruit leather, pickle, chutney, cordial, vinegar and sauce recipes as well as the fabulous pictures and thorough instructions. If summer has to end, sipping on a homemade cordial in front of the woodstove sounds like a good way to wait out the winter.
August 30, 2008
Hot off the press, this book will give you all the info you need to keep a few pigs of your own. Chuck Wooster is a vegetable, sheep and hog farmer in Vermont (www.sunrisefarmvt.com) who somehow finds time to write books and articles. After reading this book, you will know how to buy piglets (ahem, shoats), house and fence them properly, and, yes, slaughter and butcher your own hogs.
Although Chuck describes his pigs as funny, smart and friendly, this is not a book about keeping pot-bellied pigs as pets. This is a farm book for omnivores. For a big hog belly laugh, read the negative review this book received at Amazon. (I'll bet my britches that reviewer eats bacon.) And then go buy the book. It is well written, explicitly photographed, and unapologetic when it comes to the slaughtering part, which, in this age of fake "pharm"ing and photoshop foolery, is quite a relief.
Check out Northern Woodlands Magazine and Living With Sheep, for more wizardly words about farming and the great outdoors by Chuck Wooster.
August 26, 2008
Look at this tiny hummingbird resting on a branch.
I had assumed hummingbirds rest from time to time, but had never seen one sit still until I sat still. And waited. And waited a little longer. Then, that distinctive buzz of the wings came from the right and a little blur flew up to a nearby branch. It sat and peeped like a chipmonk for a couple minutes, flew to the feeder and hovered for a second or two. Then it was gone!
There are never enough hummingbirds in the garden. To help attract them, we recommend this book, Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard, (A Rodale Organic Gardening Book) by Sally Roth. You can find it at Amazon for $12.89.
August 2, 2008
For those who just want the info without all the pretty pictures, consult the Storey Publishing bulletins. These 32-page pamphlets offer lots of practical, hands-on instruction for everything from gardening to cooking with oats to wallpapering.
Here's the one on hanging plants and it's simple, well written and unbelievably cheap. I mean inexpensive. At $2.25, you really can't go wrong. Heck, kindling is probably going for that price now.
If you have to pay for shipping, you might as well get the Container Gardening one, too, or better yet, collect all 200 bulletins!