Tag Archives: permaculture

Rain, Aggie AgVentures Cow, and Hugelkultur

It’s astonishing how much water can land on this small farm during a wet winter storm. The hog pen? A river runs through it… The seasonal springs? All full to overflowing. The goats are miserable and won’t come out of the goat barn. The hogs have been complaining no end. The barn cat spots me and starts whining and looking skyward as if there is some way for me to turn off the taps.

DCF Aggie in mud

For the past couple of days I’ve been slopping around in the wet, building dams and dredging channels to try to divert the water away from the animal shelters so everyone has somewhere to get under cover and stand with dry feet. The dogs sulk in the cab of the truck while I get steadily soggier.

Only the ducks are truly happy. They dive into all the newly formed puddles and ponds and lakes and rivers, flapping and splashing, preening and chuckling. The drakes strut back and forth as the ladies bathe, occasionally knocking one another around a bit just to show who is the most handsome and virile. All this water can only mean that spring is just around the corner, and you know what that means when you are a male whatever living on a farm.

DCF Aggie and Iago

The other things that are working amazingly well are the hugelkultur beds we put in a couple of years ago. Built on top of mounds of brush, branches, and logs, the beds soak up a phenomenal amount of water with nothing much seeping out below where they have been built (more or less following the contour lines of our sloping property). Where there are no beds (just grass, the driveway, or even the area under the trees where the hogs have been merrily rooting around through the fall) there is running water everywhere. Any place that has a dip or hollow is full of water. Except those hugel beds.

I was amazed how well they performed during the hot, dry weeks of the last two summers. As advertised, all the water they had soaked up during the winter was slowly released back to the plants and I barely had to irrigate at all, even when properties around me were watering like mad. I had my doubts as to how well big branches were going to break down, but already when I dig into the beds, there’s lots of lovely soft organic matter and not so many sticks and twigs. The biggest branches are still findable, but even they are well on their way to Rotsville.

I am impressed enough with how they have worked that I’m going to retro-build my existing raised beds in the same way. No more burn piles! I’ve always thought it was wasteful and unnecessarily polluting to burn branches and sticks. How cool to have found such a simple and useful thing to do with all that garden debris!

For more information about hugelkultur, check out the richsoil website.

Day 20 – A Gleaning We Will Go

Apparently, gleaning (being the act of scrounging for leftovers after farmers are done harvesting their fields and orchards) was encouraged way back in the Bible. Back then the beneficiaries were meant to be tragic and unfortunate souls like widows and orphans, but I tell you, this contemporary farmer is very happy the practice has not died out entirely.

Michell’s Farm Market on the Saanich Peninsula – several generations of the family farm the land and run a successful farm market.

I am neither widowed nor an orphan, but I do have a lot of mouths and beaks to feed. As it turns out, the generous Michell clan down the road (of Michell’s Farm Market fame) has a lot of slightly squidgy squash, pumpkin, and gourds left over now that the big Halloween/Thanksgiving festivities are done. Add to that some ever-so-slightly yellowing broccoli and you have a FEAST for hogs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys. 

You can imagine my delight when I had a call asking if I wanted to come pick up some goodies for the critters. Oh, yes please! Thinking there might be a box or two or three I didn’t bother changing back into farm clothes as I was heading into town on another errand right after picking up the veggies. Mistake!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

The box or two I was expecting turned out to be a veritable mountain of squash!

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

There were also a number of good-sized pumpkins and some broccoli heads that had just started to turn a little bit yellow.

Of course, it was bucketing down with rain when I started to load and by the time I had transferred the bounty from the bins to my truck, I was soaked.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

The pickup was FULL! There was an avalanche of gourds when I opened the tailgate and I had to dance out of the way to avoid being squashed by tumbling pumpkins.

I stacked everything in a corner of the hay shelter and have been doling out the treats to everyone ever since. I have to hack open the harder-shelled gourds for the birds (they love the seeds and innards), but the hogs manage to crunch through whatever I toss in their direction.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Buckets of treats heading for the turkey field.

Thanks, Michell farmers for keeping a glorious tradition alive! And, in case you are wondering what happened to my in-town errands, I was running so late by the time I had loaded and hauled away the booty I didn’t have time to go up to the house to change and had to make an appearance in not one, but two different offices wearing soaking wet, filthy clothes. Ah well, my embarrassment was a small price to pay for the sake of hearing those happy snuffling grunty noises of deeply satisfied hogs.

 

Day 16 – Search for Land Leads to Maypenny Farm

One of the problems with livestock (at least, livestock not raised intensively in big barns) is they need a fair amount of land for grazing. This is not a problem if you happen to live on a large farm, but my farm is micro mini – not even two acres, all on a hill, part of it covered with big trees. To get around this problem I lease several fields close by and make use of every square inch of space here on the homestead. None of the fields are huge and my flocks and herds are expanding, so as a result, I’ve been tossing and turning at night trying to figure out where I can lease more land that’s not too far away. And, this needs to happen sooner than later so I can move the piglets after I’ve weaned those I haven’t already sold.

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls...

I must say the Maypenny hens are a stylish bunch! They look a whole lot better prepared for the soggy weather than my girls…

Last year I had chatted with Maypenny Farm (well, not the farm – with Reay, a farmer) about possibly growing out pigs at their place, but there was a wedding planned and a need to keep the fields looking neat and tidy. I had pushed the Maypenny option out of my mind when Reay got in touch the other day and asked if I might still be interested. Faster than you can say ‘hen hats’ I raced over there to scope the place out to see if it might be suitable.

The field up for discussion is an old hayfield being encroached upon by brambles and scrub brush along one edge and bordered on the other side by trees. Not only would the piglets have a blast in there with plenty of forage and room to roam, the plan is to reclaim the field and extend the Maypenny market garden. Hogs are excellent for turning over the soil, enriching it as they go. Add a couple of goats to the equation and the Maypenny farmers can just sit back and watch the livestock prepare that field ready for whatever they may wish to do with it next.

The two big issues are: Water and fencing. The hogs are well trained to two-strand electric and are, therefore, relatively easy to contain. Goats are a different matter, but using the existing sheep fencing as a starting point, some repairs and new stock wire would provide a decent barrier while they are on clean-up duty. We have portable shelters that can be moved to the field without much trouble, which would keep everyone snug and dry in foul weather (unless Maypenny has hats that would fit the hogs…) When it came to discussing the water situation, the conversation proceeded in a very Canadian manner.

“What about water?”

“There’s a stream here – ” Reay said, pointing to one long side of the field. “And the beavers have moved next door so this field isn’t flooding any more.”

“Beavers?”

“They had a dam down there and the water backed up. You can see the half-chewed trees where they chopped them down.”

Beavers? Seriously? On southern Vancouver Island? I had heard rumours that beavers had returned to Beaver Lake, a local landmark I had assumed was so-named because some old fur trader was homesick for a place in the wilderness where actual beavers lived. Maybe the lake actually came by its name honestly. And, perhaps the rumours about the return of the beavers are true after all! Not that Maypenny’s neighbour is happy about the return of the furry, flat-tailed loggers. They are a menace when it comes to clogging up streams and ditches and their industrious plugging up of drainage systems can cause awful problems for farmers’ fields.

I’m not too worried – if the beavers decide to move back to Maypenny we’ll cope with the fallout. Mostly, standing there in the rain calculating how much fencing I’m going to need, I was delirious with joy that a good field is available, not too far away, with readily available water and lots of forage for both goats and hogs. I was so excited, in fact, I totally forgot to take any photos! By my next visit I’m sure I will be calmer and the full realization of how much work it will take to get things secure before we can move animals in will have hit me. Anybody feel like coming over for a fencing party? Maybe you’ll get to see a beaver!

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!