Tomato, Pepper and Eggplant Varieties for 2015

We’re doing plant starts again this year – peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. We will also be doing artichoke plants again and hopefully be including herbs. Last year we sold out within 3 weeks so I wanted to give you all a chance to pre-order them so you can get the varieties you want. We will also be increasing our production along with adding more varieties. If you want specific varieties please let me know (contact us here) and I will make sure I have plants set aside for you. They are $3.50 each or 3 for $10. They will be available for planting around mid March. We will also hopefully be selling them again at Moschetti’s as well as a possible second location (stay tuned).

Last year we attended a tomato tasting and then held our own tomato tasting event. Our primary focus was finding tomatoes that were not only productive but also had exceptional flavor. Some of the varieties we grew last year didn’t make the cut but we found many more to take their place.

The varieties are:

Eggplant Varieties

5701042400_6b4323bf2e_nCaspar – I adore this eggplant. It’s a long Japanese style eggplant with white skin and very creamy white flesh. If you aren’t a huge fan of eggplant (like myself), this is definitely one to try. It may just make you a convert.

 

 

Diamond-EggplantDiamond – A good, productive Japanese style eggplant. Very good sliced, marinated and grilled.

 

 

Pepper Varieties-Hot

anaheim peppers copyAnaheim (Nu Mex Joe E. Parker) – These are the perfect roasting peppers. The thick skin easily blisters and can be peeled away after roasting. They are mild to medium heat. Not quite as productive as the smaller hot peppers, but they do give a good harvest when picked continuously.

 

PoblanosAncho Gigantea (Poblano) – Relatively mild, productive pepper that is great dried or roasted. This is the standard pepper for stuffing. Green peppers are called Poblanos and red peppers are Anchos.

 

 

cayenne peppers copyCayenne Slim – Very productive plant of HOT peppers. Walls are thin so they dry quickly. We dried the peppers (they readily dry on the plant) and then ground them into red pepper flakes. We now call them Satan Flakes because of their excessive heat.

 

 

Jalapeno

Craig’s Grande Jalapeno – Sometimes you just want a middle-of-the-road hot pepper. We generally haven’t had much luck getting jalapenos hot enough for our taste, but this year we’re going to give this variety a try and see if we can see some success. No other pepper seems to work as well as the trusty jalapeno for escabeche.

 

habanero peppers copyMustard Habanero – I got several emails this past year from people that were very happy with these plants. If you want your peppers to be spicy make sure to grow them next to a habanero plant. This was a trick I learned from a friend and was surprised to find out that it works! These are productive plants with EXTRA HOT peppers.

 

Padron-Pepper-1Pimiento de Padron  – We grew these last year and they started out delicious but as summer rolled on they became increasingly hot. This year we’re trying a different seed vendor. They are usually a mild, small Spanish pepper that is traditionally fried. Sometimes you’ll get a hot one. They are fantastic stuffed with a bit of goat cheese before frying.

 

serrano peppers copySerrano Tampequino - Another very productive pepper with thick walls that are perfect for making hot sauce. The original variety used to make Sriracha Hot Sauce. Also very hot, but not as hot as the Cayenne Slim.

 

 

Pepper Varieties-Sweet

California WonderCalifornia Wonder – The standard green and red bell pepper for California. Good production with thick walled fruits.

 

 

Canary BellCanary Bell – We haven’t tried a yellow bell yet, so we decided to go with this one. It is highly productive, sets early and continues all through summer and is also resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus.

 

 

Pepper-Etiuda-PP192-webEtuida Bell – When I read that this was considered one of the best tasting peppers out there, I had to try it. It is a productive producer of very large, thick skinned fruit.

 

 

Pepper-Horizon-Bell-Pepper-PP187-webHorizon Bell – This is a pepper to replace the Orange Bell as it is more productive while not sacrificing flavor.

 

 

nardello-aJimmy Nardello – We got a LOT of requests to grow this pepper. It looks like it will be hot but ends up being incredibly sweet and flavorful. It’s an Italian frying pepper that is productive and has earned itself a place on Slow Food’s “Ark of Taste.”

 

 

purple beautyPurple Beauty – We grew this on a whim last year and were surprised at how well it sells. It produces a multitude of medium sized, thin walled purple fruit that are easy to find in among the foliage.

 

 

quadrato-d-asti-giallo-pepperQuadrato Asti Giallo – This has been our most productive bell pepper giving us good sized, thick walled fruit all through summer. This is an Italian pepper that is green slowly ripening to yellow.

 

 

Tomatoes

Amish Paste – Of the many paste tomatoes we tasted, this one was far and away, the best tasting. I look forward to trying the concentrated flavor of these when canning. Nice sized red Roma type tomatoes that are good for both canning and fresh eating (something you can’t say about most paste tomatoes).

 

Aunt Gertie’s Gold – One of the all-around best tasting tomatoes available. A golden yellow tomato that can grow to nearly a pound provides a sweet, fruity and complex flavor.

 

Aunt Lucy’s Italian Paste – Abundant producer of 2″ round red paste tomatoes with few seeds. From Italy, this is a very rare tomato variety, but should earn a place at anyone’s table. Classic sweet, tart flavor that is expected of old Italian heirloom tomatoes.

 

Aussie – This large red tomato is a replacement for Brandywine, which is popular, but just can’t win the taste tests like Aussie can. Aussie offers a very well balanced old-fashioned tomato flavor in a large, 1lb package on large vigorous plants.

 

black krimBlack Krim – One of our most popular varieties. A purple-black beefsteak with a hearty, rich flavor. Fruits get darker when exposed to sunlight. Productive.

 

 

Blush – Elongated cherry tomatoes, they start out a striped yellow and ripen with a pink blush to them. Productive plants give you sweet, fruity and refreshing fruit that you won’t be able to stop eating right off the vine.

 

Carmello – This red French variety (we have are offering an open pollinated strain) is thought to be one of the most productive varieties available, this tomatoes pumps out juicy fruits that have exceptional balanced flavor. Shows disease resistance.

 

 

Cherokee Green

Cherokee Green – A green beefsteak that has a bold, bright flavor with acid. My husband says it’s “zingy.” Best flavor of the green tomatoes. Very productive plant. Just keep an eye on it so you don’t wait too long to pick the fruits which will have a yellow hue with ripe.

 

Dixie Golden Giant – A whopper of a tomato coming in at almost 2lbs, this lemon yellow tomato has an incredible mild and sweet, fruity flavor. Shows some disease resistance and like most Amish varieties is very productive.

 

green zebraGreen Zebra – Small 2-1/2″-3″  salad tomato that is green with darker green stripes. Fruit is sweet and “zingy.” Very productive plant if you can find all the fruit! The light green will have a yellow hue when ripe. Makes a really good green pesto bruschetta.

 

 

Henderson’s Winsall – The original Winsall variety obtained from the USDA Seed Bank. A pink beefsteak heirloom that is nearly seedless. It is a late variety but the superb flavor is worth the wait.

 

HillbillyHillbilly – Big yellow orange beefsteak with red streaks. Husband describes it as “rich, meaty, tomato-y goodness.” The favorite tomato around here. Few seeds and very fleshy.

 

 

isis candyIsis Candy – Orange cherry tomato with red starburst. Very productive of small sweet, fruity tomatoes that you can just pop in your mouth.

 

 

Mr. Stripey – For whatever reason, many striped tomatoes tend not to have as much flavor as their solid colored compadres. I surmise that it is due to the coloring of the striped tomato being the primary focus, rather than the flavor. Mr. Stripey, fortunately, is not one of them. These are smaller salad size tomatoes with a rich, tangy flavor.

 

Rosso SicilianRosso Sicilian –  This is an Italian heirloom with small to medium sized ribbed fruits that are firm and meaty and perfect for making sauce and paste. Bruises easily. Rated as one of the better tasting tomatoes we grew last year.

 

 

siouxSioux – We grew this small rather unassuming red tomato last year only because we got a packet of free seeds. At our tomato tasting we were surprised that it outperformed all of the other tomatoes and was hands down the favorite out of 16 varieties. Sweet, tangy, rich and complex, you won’t regret making space for this variety.

 

stupice-homeStupice – This very early tomato blew me away this year with it’s productiveness. Small tomatoes, but not quite cherry size are born as early as late June and continues through until the frost. Sweet and flavorful.

 

 

Super Sioux – A variety of Sioux that takes heat and drought better. While Sioux is better for fresh eating, Super Sioux is better suited for canning.

 

 

Tangerine – This is our replacement for Kellogg’s Breakfast. A productive yellow-orange beefsteak with improved flavor that is meaty, sweet and rich.

 

 

Thessaloniki – A red Greek tomato that resists cracking and sun scald. Fantastic old fashioned acid tomato flavor. I have farmer friends that say they only will start selling the fruit from this variety after they physically can no longer eat them.

 

 

WPeachWapsipinicon Peach – A small yellow tomato with an unusually fuzzy skin. Productive plant of very, very sweet, mild fruit with a hint of peach. Husband says “sweetest tomato I’ve ever eaten.”

Tomato Tasting and our Annual Harvest Potluck

Unknown Pink

You, my fine readers, are invited to join us in our Tomato Tasting and Harvest potluck here at Dog Island Farm in Vallejo on Saturday, September 6th. We’ll start the tomato tasting around 3pm and serve dinner at 6pm. Bring your favorite homemade dish to share. Bonus points if it’s made from food your raised/grew.

We have 19 varieties of tomatoes that we are growing and would love to share the many flavors with all of you. We also would love your opinions on the tomatoes so will have cards for you to fill out. We do ask for a $3-5 donation for the tasting to cover the tomatoes but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Get a chance to try our heirloom tomato sauce when we fill our big brew pot with ciopinno. We’ll provide the base (from our homegrown heirloom tomatoes), the crab and the bread but we’d like some help. You can choose between bringing a dish to share or bringing a pound of seafood to throw in the pot. If you’re interested in bringing seafood let me know so I can coordinate with everyone.

It’s kid and partner friendly. Got a friend that is into or getting into urban farming or a big fan of tomatoes? Bring them along! Just let us know how many will be joining you.

And like all our other potlucks, to reduce waste we ask that you please bring your own place setting including a glass/mug to drink out of. Let us know if you can join us as soon as you can so we can make sure we have enough seats for everyone.

Register  here and the address will be sent to you.

The Crash x2

Some of you may have noticed that the blog has been kind of, well, slow with content. I haven’t really been posting much lately. For that I apologize and I will explain why and why you may be having some issues with the site.

Last year I had a website issue and lost a huge percentage of my photos. Of course, if you click on the broken link it will take you to the missing photo, so it was basically a matter of relinking all the photos so they would show up. I tried to fix as many as I could but never quite had the time to replace all of them. This process kind of took the wind out of my sails and my blogging slowed down.

I was starting to consider blogging again.

And then I got a message that my site was down. Well apparently WordPress automatically updated and crashed my site. And it crashed hard. It took me several days to get the blog back up but I lost a year’s worth of content. It was gone. Completely gone. So that pretty much made me want to completely throw in the towel and say screw this!

Fortunately the Wayback Machine came to the rescue and I was able to retrieve most of the content that was lost, however more photos have been lost from the posts that remained. Now it’s just a matter of entering in the posts and relinking all the photos. So ask for some patience as some of the content I will be posting will be posts you may have already seen. Once I have everything up again (or at least a good portion of it) I will start posting new content.

Thanks for your patience!

The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times

You know what they say about judging a book by it’s cover? This one has a fantastic cover so go ahead and judge it. To be honest, the title kind of threw me because it almost seemed like it was aimed at the prepper community. I’m glad I dug into it though because I was pleasantly surprised. Not that there is anything wrong with being a prepper, but Carol Deppe discuss much more realistic day-to-day issues that can derail your self reliance. It’s not exactly a reference book so I took the time to read it cover to cover. Reading anything can take me forever with our schedule so it was a miracle that I was able to finish this book. I’m glad I did take the time though or I would have missed what this book was really about and who it was aimed at (hint: it’s you and me).

This book came at a great time. The economy had tanked and people were taking up gardening as a means of feeding themselves. The author, Carol Deppe, is an experienced “market gardener.” Her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times, focuses on four main crops and one livestock animal for the majority of one’s diet. She is also a plant breeder and sells some of her varieties.

Ms. Deppe had some real life examples of why being resilient is important and not just in the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type of way. For example, when her mother fell ill and she had to care for her it made it nearly impossible for her to get out and tend to her garden. She relied on creating a resilient garden to get her through that period of her life. She also discusses having a bad back which makes many common garden chores, such as weeding and planting, difficult and painful. She has great advice on how to get around issues such as these to keep your garden going and being as comfortable as possible.

In addition, she also talks about diet and exercise and how that can make you more resilient personally, not just as a gardener. Ms. Deppe suffers from Celiacs, which means she cannot eat foods that contain gluten. For her carbohydrates she grows corn and includes some delicious looking recipes utilizing this grain. She also explains the differences between the different types of corn. I had kind of any idea of the different types – dent, flint, sweet, popcorn, and flour corn – but she gives a great rundown of what makes them different from each other and what their best uses are.

I think the main part that I don’t agree with is the way she waters. She doesn’t like drip irrigation because she says it’s too much work and instead prefers overhead irrigation and hand watering, which I think is way more work than automatic irrigation. Plus it wastes more water than drip irrigation. Otherwise I found this to be an incredibly informative book, including the best tools to use and where to get them and how to keep them in their best condition.

The best part about this book? It’s not your typical gardening book that I feel is a topic that is just over-saturated. It goes over information that most gardening books don’t cover. It’s been a very long time since I’ve learned a lot of new stuff from a book. Fortunately this book met the challenge and succeeded.

Michael Pollan for $12

For the last several years I’ve been wanting to see Michael Pollan speak, but usually it’s at a swanky center for way too much money. We did get a chance to sit in on one of his classes at UC Berkeley for free, which was awesome, but that was not a typical setting, obviously.

But now is our chance to see him at a swanky center for an affordable price talking about his new book.

SRFMichaelPollan2013Country Costa County Library announces Michael Pollan as featured author of 2013 Summer Reading Festival, “Reading is So Delicious”

Contra Costa County Library is pleased to announce Michael Pollan, best-selling author and journalist, as the headlining author for the 2013 Summer Reading Festival. The theme for this year’s festival, which takes place from June 8 through August 17, is “Reading is So Delicious.” Mr. Pollan will discuss his new book, “Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation” (to be released in April 2013) at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. Copies of the book will be on sale at the Walnut Creek Library the day of the event and there will be a book signing following the presentation.

For the past twenty years, Mr. Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture. In “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” he explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen, where he discovers the enduring power of the four elements – fire, water, air, and earth – to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink.

Mr. Pollan is the author of the bestsellers “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” which was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and many other best-selling titles. He has been a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine since 1987 and has his articles have appeared in Harpers, Mother Jones, Gourmet, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Gardens Illustrated, and The Nation. His writing and reporting has received numerous awards, including the California Book Award; the Northern California Book Award; James Beard Awards for best food writing and for best magazine series; the 2000 Reuters-I.U.C.N. Global Award for Environmental journalism, and the 2003 Humane Society of the United States’ Genesis Award. In 2009, he was named one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders” by Newsweek Magazine and he was chosen by Time Magazine for the 2010 Time 100 in the Thinkers category. Mr. Pollan is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Michael Pollan appears as part of Contra Costa County Library’s Summer Reading Festival at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 and are available today. For ticket information, please contact the Lesher Center for the Arts at 925.943.SHOW (7469) or http://www.lesherartscenter.org/. Copies of Mr. Pollan’s book will be available for sale on the day of the event at the Walnut Creek Library.

The Summer Reading Festival is an annual event that encourages people of all ages to read throughout the summer months and celebrates the importance and value of reading and literacy for all.

For more information on this event and highlights of the upcoming 2013 Summer Reading Festival, please visit the Summer Reading Festival website. Additional information on Summer Reading Festival programs and events will be announced in the coming months.

The New Normal

A great TEDx presentation on using livestock to reverse desertification and climate change.

Except for 4 years while I was away at college, I’ve lived pretty much my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even when I was in college I still was living near the California coast, albeit more in Southern California. You get pretty used to the climate around here. My birthday is mid June and I always knew that my birthday would be a beautiful sunny day. I also could depend on Halloween being dry. Our climate is warm and dry in the summer starting in May and we have cool, wet winters starting in November. The weather was dependable.

Well, at least it used to be. And everyone I have talked with that has also lived here all their lives seem to agree. Our weather patterns are no longer predictable. Our warm, dry summers are not totally dry. The last few years we’ve had rain in July which used to be unheard of. And our cool, wet winters? Well, we now get one of two extremes. It’s either flood-stage rain for an extended period of time, or it’s like this year where it’s rained maybe two or three days since December. January and February this year were the driest on record. We received just over half of the water we got during the second two driest months on record (in 1991). Half. Seriously. Half of the next driest.

This is serious.

In February we got a stunningly low 0.09″ of rain.  The average is 3.9″. In January we only got 0.6″ when we should have been closer to 5.4″. We don’t get a lot of rain to begin with so when the numbers are this low it’s quite alarming.

In the four years we’ve lived here, this is the first time I’ve ever had to water in the winter. We usually disconnect all the irrigation so we can dig freely without hitting lines and also to keep lines from freezing. Unfortunately we’re going to have to hook it back up this weekend because I’ve found that it takes much too long to hand water even the small amount of plants we’ve got in right now.

But this isn’t just about our garden. This is effecting almost the entire country (except for those lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest). One of the biggest victims of unstable climate is agriculture and without agriculture we cease to exist. We cannot live without food but we, as a species, are shortsighted. Our unwillingness to take action now to make changes to our behaviors will end up being our downfall.

 

 

Putting a Value on That

Recently I tagged along with my mom to the grocery store. She was in town visiting and she’s a fantastic cook and was planning on making an amazing meal for her best friend who she was staying with.

It wasn’t just any grocery store, though. We were entering the yuppie-hippie grocery store. A full third of the store was just produce so I figured this was a good time to check out prices for the in season, organic produce.

I haven’t updated it in awhile – here it is February and I still haven’t finished 2012’s totals – but on the right hand column we keep track of what we spend and save running our urban farm. I base the prices on the unit costs for a similar item if I was purchasing it elsewhere – whether it was the farmers’ market, the grocery store or a roadside stand. If I see similar items at different prices I take the average.

Since I don’t make it into a grocery store very often, especially one with such a large selection of (organic) produce I figured I’d start jotting down some of the prices of items I normally don’t find at the farmers market (or the normal grocery store, for that matter) but that I grow at home. If the produce came in a bunch or was priced individually I weighed it to figure out the cost per pound.

As I went through row after row of vegetable, weighing and jotting down prices I quickly began to realize that there is no way in hell I would ever spend that much money on produce. Cute little of bunches of arugula that only weighed a 1/4 lb were going for $2.49 or $9.96/lb. Nearly $10 for a green that practically grows wild in my yard with no known pests. For realz? Do people actually spend this much for arugula? Well, now that I think about it, a similar amount sold at my local farmers market goes for $2 a bag or about $8/lb. That can’t be right. The dandelion greens (yes, they even had those) were half the price of the arugula, and in my (not so) humble opinion they are harder to find commercially. They too grow like a weed in my yard, and I can say I wouldn’t pay $5/lb of them either.

There’s a balancing act when you grow food yourself. I grow it because I wouldn’t pay what this yuppie-hippie store charges for the items that cost me just a couple of dollars in seeds for a year’s supply. If I didn’t grow it I probably still wouldn’t buy it so am I really saving money? Probably not. But there are items that I would buy, like apples (they have them for $3.99/lb, but at the farmers’ market they are $1.50/lb for organically grown), I just wouldn’t buy them at that particular grocery store. So which price do I go with? The farmers’ market price, of course.

The other side of the coin is when I think an item is worth more than what they sell it for. Potatoes, corn, onions, garlic and winter squash should be more than the $0.99-$1.99/lb just because they require so much more space, time and skill to grow. But the cost is what it is so in fairness that’s what I use in my spreadsheet. I’ll be honest though, it pains me to enter the low numbers.

As I peruse the farmland listings and calculate how much it would cost us to have a farm I really have to wonder how the hell we would ever make enough money selling vegetables to pay for the farmland it’s grown on? While that $10/lb for arugula sounds like it could do it, it’s important to realize that the farmer that’s growing it is lucky to get $2/lb for it. The remaining $8 goes to transport, distributors and the grocery store. Direct sales would have to be the way to go and lots of high value crops (*cough* heirloom tomatoes *cough*) to make up for the lower value crops.

 

 

Where Have I Been?

I have to admit, I’ve been missing in action lately and for that I apologize. But I do have some good reasons, I promise!

I may have mentioned before that I was doing a permaculture study course through Homegrown.org. It’s going slowly and there is a lot of reading involved, which is taking up most of my spare time on the weekends. While it’s informative, I’m not sure if this study course is right for me. It’s very philosophical and what I need is something more concrete.

In addition (because apparently I’m crazy), I’m also taking an online course through John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on the U.S. Food System. It’s a good course with a lot of (mostly) thoughtful discussion. What I like about this course is that you can take it at your own leisure (all of the tests are due at the end of the course) and the lectures each week are broken up into 15-20 min sessions so it’s not overwhelming. The required reading is also online, which makes it a lot cheaper than most courses.

My day job is picking up substantially and where I was once working only part time, I’m now working overtime. I’m not complaining though! Some of the past few years have been really rough and I’m glad that they are behind us now. For those of you that don’t know, I work in the construction industry – one of the first industries to collapse in the economy – and it appears that we’re leading the charge into the new economy.

I think the biggest change around here though is my stepson has come to live with us. What was once every weekend has now become all week and 3rd and 5th weekends. He just started high school so we’ve been busy transitioning him during this huge time in his life. Not only is he now living in a new town and going to a new school but he’s now in high school, something completely new. Fortunately he made friends quickly. And what they say about teenage boys having a hollow leg is true. Very true.

Of course we’re still growing and raising food! We definitely haven’t stopped doing that. So here’s what’s going on around here via photo essay (the best picture is at the end, trust me):

artichoke plants

The artichoke plants are getting nice and big and should be giving us blooms in no time.

artichokes

I also started some seedlings from our artichokes which I will have available soon.

The pepper seedlings are up and getting close to being repotted.

I also started pepper, tomato, eggplant, and tomatillo seedlings.

cauliflower

The cauliflower is already the size of a softball.

fava beans

The fava beans are blooming.

chard

We’re harvesting chard several times a week and we even have it growing wild in our yard now.

garlic

We’re trying 4 different varieties for garlic. From left to right: Red Toch, Bogatyr, California Early and Metechi. I think it’s clear which one is doing the best.

oranges

We’re getting lots of citrus this year. It’s the first year we’ve gotten fruit off of every citrus tree.

olives

The Arbequina olive tree is LOADED with olives this year. This tree is a biennial producers, meaning it only produces a crop every other year. It’s first year it gave us 15lbs of olives. I’m betting we’ve got over 25lbs this year.

outside barn

This is probably the last photo that will be taken of the goat barn. No, we’re not getting rid of the goats, but we are moving it this coming weekend and expanding it. Yes, we are ambitious.

inside barn

Last weekend we took out all the interior walls and back exterior wall which makes for some interesting milking this past week. Part of the new barn will be a much larger milking parlor.

Bella

I’m convinced that Bella is a pygora with her crazy thick coat this year. She wasn’t in milk this winter so she turned into a walking gray marshmallow.

daisyDaisy has emotional issues, which is why she’s got that funny thing around her neck. It’s actually a 1 gallon plant pot that keeps her from self sucking – something she started doing when she went into labor with Panda (it’s a comforting behavior for her apparently).

whiskeyWhiskey and Bailey are all grown up! Whiskey will soon be learning how to be a cart goat for events.

henWe’ve got some young hens that just started laying finally.

pulletsSoon on their heels we’ve got some pullets that should be laying soon.

cockerelBehind them we’ve got some more pullets and cockerels that are about a month younger but are growing much faster. These are Light Sussex crosses that we bred and were raised by Speckles (many of them are already larger than their mom).

Mr JenkinsHere’s the dad, Mr. Jenkins. We’ve been very lucky as he has a wonderful personality for a rooster. He watches over and protects the hens but is not aggressive towards us. He’s a huge bird and it’s a trait he passes on to his offspring making them great dual purpose birds.

hankOur other awesome boy is, of course, Hank the Tank. He’s been spending a lot of time wooing Tater but she’s still holding out. Duke, however, is already sitting on a clutch of eggs that should start hatching in about 2 weeks.

rabbitLast but not least we’ve got the cutest members of our farm right now. Baby rabbits! Yasmine’s (aka Tummy) kits are a few weeks old now and growing fast. They definitely have their mom’s curious, very friendly personality. It’s funny to see the difference in litters’ overall personality. These guys were out of the box the second they could see. Some litters won’t leave the nest unless you force them.

Domestic Animals, Dirt and Disease

I recently had learned some interesting things about the Native Americans (my favorite college course was Native American History but somehow it missed a lot of the stuff we now know about what happened around the time European settlers came). The first thing I learned was that there was a great plague that wiped out 90% of the Native population right when Europeans started to settle here. It has been suggested that this depopulation was not entirely related to the Europeans diseases we learned about – small pox, measles, typhoid fever – but may have included a particularly virulent mutation of the deadly Hantavirus – similar to the virus that has been found in the Southwest and has shown up in Appalachia. That doesn’t negate the devastation caused by European disease on the Native Americans though.

Why were European diseases so devastating to Native Americans? Of course Native Americans had never been exposed to European diseases so they couldn’t have formed an immunity to any of them. One of the things you have to wonder about is why did Europeans have so many diseases that were dangerous but didn’t wipe out nearly the entire population and Native Americans had so few but when they did strike they were so completely devastating? Domesticated animals – or the lack of them may be the answer.

Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond discusses how dense populations that lived with their livestock in Europe was what gave Europeans the advantage since Native Americans had so few domesticated animals (alpacas, llamas, dogs and some fowl). It could be argued that living with livestock and being exposed to so many more zoonotic diseases was actually a disadvantage because people got sick more often, however, being exposed to more disease can increase the immunity of the population and make them less susceptible to catastrophic outbreaks that could wipe out an entire civilization.

The Europeans had developed the ability to fight off these diseases because of antibodies. They help keep you healthy. You can develop your own antibodies and some are passed to you from your mother as a baby. If the mother had been exposed to a disease and survived she could have possibly passed that immunity onto her child. If you got sick from a disease but survived, many times you would be immune to that disease later in life. Our immune system is amazing at it’s ability to adapt and evolve.

But today we face something different. Our immune systems are getting out of whack. Our obsession with eliminating germs may be making things worse for us. Autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, and infections have been found to be more common in children that don’t live with animals. Researchers in Finland found that babies raised with dogs (and to a lesser degree cats) were found to be 44% less likely to develop ear infections and 29% less likely to need antibiotics. Speculation is that the germs a dog brings in with them help a baby’s immune system mature faster.

Other researchers are looking at the rate of allergies among children, which has increased 2 to 5 times in the last 30 years. What they found is that children that grow up on farms, particularly the Amish, have very low rates of allergies. It’s yet to be determined what exactly is responsible for this difference, but livestock are quite possibly part of the equation.

Of course the other side of the coin is our overuse of antibacterial products. The few germs that get through our new indoor environment (children on average now spend less than 8 minutes a day playing outside) are now wiped out with disinfectants and antibacterial soaps. Kids that were found to have parabans and/or triclosan, common antibacterial chemicals found in many household products, in their blood system were twice as likely to develop environmental allergies. Triclosan was found to increase the risk of food allergies, which can be fatal, two fold. The problem though isn’t necessarily the triclosan or parabans, it’s that these chemicals are keeping kids’ immune systems from developing by fighting off germs.

It seems that living with animals, playing outside and not using antibacterial products may have a benefit to kids and the greater population. I guess, in this case what doesn’t kill you actually does make you stronger.

Plans for 2013

GreenhouseA new year and a new set of projects. But first I’d like to see where we were last year at this time and see if we got anything done that we wanted to.

  • More productive in the garden? This year wasn’t nearly as productive in produce. We produced about 300lbs less produce than 2011, which was 600lbs less food than 2010. This was most likely our fault because we didn’t amend the soil as much as we should have.
  • Black plastic? We did use it and found that it worked well for some crops but was a failure for the rest. Next year we will only use it for melons and watermelons.
  • Separating livestock feed? We did that for awhile until the turkeys started living with the chickens. The chickens were slackers this year, laying less than 1/2 of what they laid in 2011, and we lost money on them. The turkeys did better than I expected and the goats pretty much broke even. Surprisingly, even though we lost our queen late in the year so we couldn’t replace her, we still ended up with nearly 50lbs of honey. We didn’t breed the rabbits very much this year and we brought in new breeders so we lost money on them as well.
  • Greenhouse built? Not completed 100% but it is usable now.
  • Extended goat barn? Didn’t get to that.
  • Rabbit hutch rebuild? Didn’t get to that either.
  • Water tower turned into a pantry? Kind of. We are storing some food in there.
  • Hunting and foraging? Yes! Well, most of 2012 was a bust for mushrooms (though we did get some this past fall) and Tom got several turkeys and a wild hog.

So what is on the horizon for this year? Much of the same probably. We still need to get the greenhouse finished and rebuild the rabbit hutch. We are now planning on not just expanding the goat barn but also moving it to a new location. We want to increase production, this year we’ll be more than generous adding soil amendments. And, of course, add more foraged and hunted foods into our diet.

We MUST reduce our outside obligations. Another year of having every single weekend planned out to the last hour leads to no time to work in the yard. This might have a lot to do with our lack of produce.

We’ve added more younger chickens to our flock. In the spring we’ll reevaluate who is laying and who is not, and cull those that aren’t producing or otherwise offering us a service, such as raising broods for us. Last year we only had 3 new flock members while the rest started to age out of laying. This year we’ll have at least 11 new pullets, possibly more depending on how many of Speckles’ brood are cockerels and how many are pullets (my guess is 3 and 3 but I could be wrong).

Keep the birds out of the garden in the summer! They all but destroyed our brassica seedlings so now we won’t get much of a crop this year.

Guerilla garden a 1/2 acre easement with orchard grass and alfalfa. We’ll see how well that goes.

Remove Turkey Town. Turkey Town has served it’s purpose well, but the turkeys no longer sleep in it as they prefer the chicken coop, so down it will come. We will use some of it to upgrade the chicken coop, in particular the roof, which will be put over the part of Chicken City where the turkeys like to sleep.

Produce more food at home for our dogs and cats. Yep, that means increasing production of meat.

Cart train Whiskey. We’ll be keeping our wether, Whiskey, and I’d like to get him in a harness and teach him how to pull a small cart.

What plans do you have for 2013?