Chapter 26 – new year planning

We hunkered down in our little home for the winter, cozy with love and warmed by the woodstove. The plan was hatched to get married on the farm that summer, amidst all the craziness of our our first season really farming together.

Our seed orders were placed and perennial food crop rhizomes and rootstock ordered, and all of the gardening plans started to form. All that we had to base our planning on was what each of us had learned at our previous our very small scale gardens.  Andrew had gardened in a very rich and well prepared soil, and I had slowly built up soil tilth and fertility in my old garden with mulch and composted animal bedding. Neither of us had really serious vegetable production experience, and we knew there was going to be a sharp learning curve. To complicate things, we were going to be starting our gardens in freshly turned over sod, which is not ideal for first year veggie growth. One of our farming friends cautioned us against doing a CSA that upcoming first year on our land, he said the cutworms and roots would be a real hazard to productivity until the soil was worked up thoroughly. We didn’t have a choice though- we had to dive in hard and heavy and make some money. The fertility issue was a problem too- we wouldn’t have compost from our own animals and farm until the end of the first season. The alternative was to bring in compost from some other source, which almost always was came off of factory farms. We wanted nothing to do with that, and so we decided to wing it fertility-wise. It was a naive and idealistic thing to do, but we wanted to keep our moral and ethical standards high and consistent.

We estimated how many seeds were needed to plant according to our hopeful CSA signup numbers, and how much each square foot of planting would hypothetically yield. Suddenly we were overwhelmed at the complexity of needing to harvest certain quantities of many types of crops each and every week, and without knowing how many shares we’d have to provide for exactly, our brains felt like they would explode. The only way to approach this madness as greenhorns, was to plan to plant and seed above and beyond our highest numbers, and do whatever it took to have produce to harvest.

Over the winter we were going through quite a lot of hay. Having livestock meant we needed a good and consistent source of hay for feed and bedding material, all of which would eventually be part of of fertility cycle as it was turned into compost for our gardens. Buying hay off of other farms meant we couldn’t be sure they hadn’t sprayed it with chemicals or used artificial fertilizers, it was relatively expensive, and difficult to transport or arrange delivery. We had a big flat field up in the northeatern corner of our land that we thought might be suitable for haying, but we didn’t have any of the equipment or knowhow. A quick assesment of what it might take to invest in the equipment necessary looked to be around $10,000. We’d need a tractor and the attachments- a cutter, rake, tedder, baler and hay wagons. For the amount of hay we needed, and our dwindling bank accounts, this idea was not an option.

The previous fall when we’d moved in, I had ordered a load of round hay bales for the goats to eat over the winter. A few farmer friends happened to be over visiting when the young guy showed up in his monster truck pulling a hay trailer. The 1,000 lb bales were on the strangest type of hay trailer we’d ever seen, each bale was sort of sitting cupped in a cradle. They were impossible to move off with out a tractor, which we did not have. Our neighbor down the road, who’d bought the parcel of 40 acres across the street from us, was discing up that field, and one of our friends encouraged us to go ask him for help. We were shy, as we hadn’t met him and his wife yet, and how rude to ask for help on the spot. But we didn’t have a choice- we waved him down. He graciously helped push the 8 round bales off with the loader on his tractor, and then the 5 of us on the ground, using the bales’ momentum as they rolled off, pushed and rolled the monster bales over by the goats. We sent our neighbor home with a jug of homebrew and some goatmilk soaps as a thank you. We had dinner and some beers with our friends, all of us dusty and dirty after moving the big bales. Where would we be without all of this help? We were so blessed!

Our neighbors turned out to be the most awesome and friendly folks. They had a diversified homestead and were starting to raise alpacas and in the process of building a new barn. Their goal was to make a farm store where they’d sell their wool products. We found out they owned hay making equipment and so we asked if we could hire them to make hay for us on our land that summer. The husband trudged out in the snow with us to look at the potential hay field, which he estimated to be about 8 acres. He said it might yield 300-400 small square bales or so, but it would take time to get the field into good shape, as it had been left wild for so many years. He said if we could cut down all the weed tree saplings and level the ant hills, he’d make the hay and take half of the crop as payment instead of cash. That sounded great! He suggested applying some fertilizer in the spring to increase yields, but we didn’t want anything synthetic or chemical put on this beautiful and untainted land.

The herd of goats had been slimmed down for the winter, after harvesting the young male kids, and we were left with 6 does and 1 gigantic Boer buck. The goats tested out my new hay set up idea that winter, which was located right outside their deep run-in shed. We’d attached cattle panels along the front of the paddock, and the hay bales were right up against the panels. The idea was they’d eat off the bales through the cattle panels, and would not be able to trample and waste so much hay this way. It worked perfectly until the boss goats realized any goat eating was an easy target for bullying. In horror I found that my youngest does, who were now carrying their first babies, were getting pummeled when they stuck their heads into the cattle panels to eat. Goat bullying had always driven me crazy, and taking out the worst offenders only meant the next goat on the social hierarchy took it’s place. So we fashioned a second hay manger inside the shed to give everyone a place to eat in peace. The big Boer buck, a 3 year old named Cedar had really started to be a trouble maker, even with his lady goats who were carrying his kids. It made no evolutionary sense to me that he would bash his “baby mommas” out of the way so he could eat.

Cedar had come home with me 3 years back as an 8 week old kid, a gorgeous little satyr-looking chunk of a goat. He had a mahogany/ruby colored head and a thick white body, stocky legs and a low profile- he was a stunning specimen, but now he was approaching 250 lbs, and he had thick, spiraling ram-like horns. After the new manger was in place, he starting chasing all the does out of the shed, as well as away from the other hay manger area. Pregnant goats need their nutrition, especially and even more so when it is cold out. Cedar was starting to get on my nerves. I placed several ads to sell him and had a few people come to look, but no one wants to buy goat bucks in the winter- they want to buy them when they need their breeding services in the fall. Cedar was big, he was becoming a big bully, so I started doing some research on how to harvest a mature buck goat.

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