Sand Holler Farm

Feb

11
2014

Overdue Update

Marissa     Farm Happenings         0

I swear I’m trying to keep the blog updated. I just keep letting life get in the way!

It’s a new year and a cold season. The garden has had many set backs due to the weather. The root crops refused to grow in January like they usually do. We missed planting dates for many things due to impending freezes. And not just any freezes – we got down to 12°F. BUT, we persevered and things really haven’t been all that bad. After a long CSA and farmers market hiatus, we’ve started selling at the Bastrop 1832 Farmers Market. We love the atmosphere and the people there. Plus it’s inside so rain or shine, we have veggies for sale!

We are also providing a once-a-month veggie basket to 25 customers in a San Antonio food co-op. We’ve not done something like that and it’s been a bit daunting in planning since we are more used to weekly schedules. But winter vegetables are easier since many of them can be left alone until ready to harvest – unlike tomatoes, corn, eggplant, etc that HAS to be harvested when ripe. This last week we wiped out all the cabbage in the garden to provide them with some of best ones we’ve grown in a while!

cabbages

We are catching up on spring planting and should have plenty of vegetables for the months to come. Our seedhouse is nice and warm and protecting all the plants that will be going in over the following weeks. If the weather will just cooperate we will have a wonderful season!

There are lots of baby goats on the way! Shellie, Maxi, Rabbit, Matilda, Charlotte and Bianca are all pregnant. Did I forget anyone? Bianca is due first – on February 19. Goats have a narrower range of birthing dates than human do – just about 10 days long. So we will be on watch duty this coming Friday. Hmmm, reminds me I was on watch duty just a little less than 4 years ago when my own time came. Serves me right – my mom was helping a difficult triplet birth the day I was due. Good thing I was late…I’ll blame my late blog posts on my birth setting the stage for being tardy in all things in life.

We are also picking up a new boyfriend for our “woolies” soon (see last post about trailer woes…still not fixed that so can’t pick him up just yet!). We traded for two angora goats last year and have yet to breed them. We don’t really want Alpine-Angora crosses and haven’t had a good Angora buck show up until now. He’s a beauty – name’s ‘Herne’ but we thought the seller said ‘Herme’ so I’ve already renamed him ‘Hermes’ in my head. The woolie girls are both pure white but Hermes is black/dark grey. Can’t wait to play with colored mohair. Guess I should be playing with the white mohair we already have. If only I had the time…

herne

Expect more to come soon. I’ve been working on some delicious winter vegetable recipes I want to share. Our Facebook page should be getting photos more often and hopefully we will have a finalized farm logo soon. We are very close, just a few details to iron out!

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Nov

04
2013

Trailer woes

Marissa     Farm Happenings         2

A few weeks ago, we set off to drop off some goats and pick up a few others (mainly a new stinky buck). We hooked up our old but trusty one-horse trailer to the truck and set out on the long voyage. Got there, made the exchange and all was well. On the way back however, things were different. I was drifting off in the back seat when I heard “what’s happening?!?! I see sparks!!!” I whip my head around just in time to see the trailer dangerously lurch to one side while a tire goes flying down the highway behind it. Uh oh.

Pa pulls over as fast but safely as he can. We are on a speedy highway over an hour from the farm. Everything is wet so we were lucky to that the ditch we pulled off in wasn’t completely full of water, just mostly full…

trailer_highway

We quickly ascertained the problem. The tire fell off. Well, we knew that before even getting out but we learned why.It wasn’t the typical bonehead move of not tightened the lug nuts. No, the entire wheel assembly was gone, just a spindle lay exposed. Pa touched it and scorched his finger! It was almost red hot and was badly bent and chewed up. The bearing had disintegrated along the shaft and slowly the wheel had worked itself lose, all along rubbing metal on metal.

trailer_spindle

We abandoned the trailer, tying the goats into the bed of the truck. What a mess. I rode sitting backward watching them the whole time while we took back roads all the way home so we didn’t need to go 70 mph. We nearly left the trailer on the side of the highway for good, to be picked up by a junker and never seen again. It’s light enough that it doesn’t need any licensing, therefore untraceable to us. But alas, Pa went back in a few days and winched it up on a flat bed trailer to bring it home.

Meanwhile, there was another goat delivery that needed to happen! Fortunately, the owner of the buck we wanted to lease was nice enough to let us borrow her trailer. The new stinky buck came home and all was well. That is, until it started to rain.

Much of our farm is in the 100 year flood plain. Too bad it floods every year. Well, this week happened to be flooding time and our borrowed trailer was parked in one of the lowest spots on the property! Why?!? As if we never learn a lesson. The waters were nearly up to the round red reflector on the top of the trailer.

trailer_anne

Once the flood waters receded, we wanted the trailer out and fixed up as soon as possible. It was in a spot that could stay a swamp for weeks. We got Oscar, the tractor, to put him to the task. I never get much practice driving the thing so I hopped on board while Pa manned the ropes to pull it out. We had to keep shortening the rope as this was in the woods and there was not much maneuvering room. I had about 10 feet to back in to and about 5 feet of side to side movement.

trailer_tractor

We finally got the trailer pulled out of the swamp and far enough away that the tractor could be hooked up on front and pull it through the gate. One problem. I had literally backed myself into a corner. There wasn’t quite enough room on either side of the trailer to get around. That had been the plan but things didn’t go quite right in the slipping mud. We decided on a bold plan on using my rusty tractor skills to back through the narrowest gap of trees I thought it could fit through. Both back tires rubbed trunks and a small tree had to be pushed out of the way of the bucket as I squeezed through. Phew.

trailer_discuss

I got Oscar positioned in front of the trailer and we hitched it up. There was a brief pow wow on how tight of a turn I could make without it jack-knifing, which Pa said wouldn’t happen. One near jack-knife later, we got everything pointed in the right direction and got the trailer on the high ground.

So. We apparently aren’t very good about trailer ownership. Sigh.

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Aug

27
2013

Protecting the poultry

Marissa     Animal Husbandry         1

One day about two weeks ago we awoke to bad news. One of the 60+ ducks had died in the night. There didn’t appear to be anything wrong with her, but ants were covering her neck and busily going about their undertaker duties. I decided it was a freak accident. Just one of those things. The next morning there was another dead duck! No chance of two freak accidents. This one also didn’t seem to have any major damage except that which may have been caused by ants. She also was about to lay an egg and sick poultry don’t lay, so we just couldn’t figure out what was going on. We’ve had an awful year with the fire ants. They are EVERYWHERE. I have the bites to prove it. I actually wondered if the ants could be killing the ducks in their sleep…

Well, the third morning and we had another big piece to the puzzle. There was yet another dead duck, but this time all that was left was bones and feathers. There was extensive digging under the walls and the wire floor was exposed. Let me describe the duck house a bit. It’s mostly just a rectangular structure that is completely covered in 2″ x 4″ welded wire mesh – walls, ceiling and floor (which then has several inches of dirt on top). On one side of this run are low nesting areas. They have solid metal walls to keep it dark and a slanted roof at about waist height that is hinged from the outside so you can reach in and grab the eggs. This is the area that the last two ducks were found. Here’s the best shot I have of the low nesting area off the run. It’s the all metal part.

Duck Nesting Area

We’ve had them for several years in this enclosure with no predator problems before. We scratched our heads and just couldn’t figure out what was getting in there. Scott spent much of the day adding 7 inches of metal skirting into the ground around the nest area. We didn’t know if this would be enough, but weren’t sure what else to do without knowing what exactly was going on.

That night, we went out for a check once it was fully dark. We snuck out there and turned on the flashlights to see a teenage raccoon at the feed trough – outside the duck house. The raccoon slowly ambled off and we checked the perimeter for any signs of digging. It all looked safe. I decided to open up the nest area since with the solid metal walls, you can’t see in. There are two flaps to the roof and I opened the nearest one. All looked fine. Except…what was that?

“Hey Pa, does that look like a wet foot print to you?”

It must have been from one of the ducks we decided…though it looked odd. We were about to head in for the night, figuring that we had done what we could. I took one last look in the nest area but decided to peer under the other flap. WHAT?!?!? There was a raccoon, just hanging out IN THE NEST AREA! I couldn’t believe it. By this time Kevin and Leslie had joined us and we all stood around coming up with crazy theories on how the raccoon got in there (he must have been hiding out in there during the day, waiting to be closed in, etc). We wanted to see what he would do so we watched as he came out from the nesting area into the main wire run. He just went over the the mesh and squuueeezzzed and squiiiirrrmmmed and somehow got his fat little body through 2″ x 4″ mesh! He wasn’t a full grown raccoon, but it was still a feat to behold. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.  We concluded the previous two ducks had likely had their necks wrung through the wire mesh before one of the teenage raccoons realized he could squeeze in. That’s why the ants were concentrated on the necks of the birds.

Wire mesh on duck enclosure

We couldn’t do much that night – it was nearly 11:00 and we had nothing we could really do. Fortunately, there is one section of the poultry housing that only has 1″ chicken wire and the rest is solid walls. We herded all 60+ ducks into the tiny brooder house. They had room to move but it looked more like a “cage free” commercial poultry operation with each bird having just a square foot to be in. But it was only for the night and it would save their lives.

We spent the next few days madly installing 1″ x 2″ mesh over the entire run. Scott even had bronchitis and was out there working on this! Finally the last few pieces went up and the ducks were free to spread out in their enclosure each night. Whew. It’s been a week and no new predation. I think we finally have this one licked. The chicken coop still has some exposed areas of 2″ x 4″ mesh but they are on windows high up so hopefully the coons don’t discover them until we get around to covering those too!

Installing smaller mesh on duck enclosure

The ducks are back to happy critters and are producing lots and lots of delicious eggs. We no longer supply eggs to the restaurant we originally contracted with (and the reason we got the 60 ducks in the first place!) so we are looking around for more customers. If you know of a restaurant/caterer that is interested in pastured duck eggs, send them our way!

Duck Eggs

 

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Aug

20
2013

Kitchen Literacy

Marissa     Book Review         0

When I was born, we lived “in the country” (what is now right off the highway in NW Austin) with goats, chickens and a big vegetable garden. By the time I was a teenager, we had moved twice and lived in a house with no garden and a freezer full of convenience foods. That’s not to say we didn’t eat pretty healthy, but things had gone a long way from the early days.

I moved from home and starting to become aware of the food around me. I honestly don’t know how it happened, but by the time I was 25, I was ready to live on a farm and grow all my own food. Somehow from 18 to 25, I had discovered farmers markets, local foods, homemade bread and the horrors of factory farmed meat. That’s not to say that my parents didn’t teach me any of this (I can still taste the homemade English muffin bread my mom made), but I had to relearn it on my own for it to really mean something to me. I thought I was part of a cutting edge movement. When I started discussing all of this with my parents, they related their own epiphanies that happened in the 70s. Huh, you mean my generation wasn’t the first to be so enlightened? So I researched the ‘back-to-the-land’ movement and even earlier movements toward intentional or communal living. But I don’t think I ever really looked much farther back than about the 1940s. I figured this was all in reaction to industrial foods, which I thought were introduced in WWII. I only recently found out how wrong I was!

I recently read Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back by Ann Vileisis. It’s been a while since I’ve read any “foodie” type book that really presents something entirely new to me. But this book blew me away. I have so much to say about it, I’m having trouble collecting my thoughts.

kitchenliteracy

The book travels through food history in America starting in the 18th century with a firsthand account of the gardening and cooking of a miller’s wife. Through the 19th century, more and more people moved to cities and our food knowledge began to change from growing, to choosing at the market. Soon city dwellers were “ignorant” of their food – something I know modern writers tend to complain about. But in the 1830s – that’s right, not a typo! – a survey showed that city schoolchildren were ignorant of the origins of food. I laughed when I read in Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder about the neighborhood children who marveled at her husband pulling carrots from their garden and offered that maybe spaghetti also grew underground. Ha – kids these days. Well, “these days” has been nearly 200 years!

I can recall a conversation once over dinner with my grandmother. We were discussing some current issue that involved organic produce. My grandmother chimed in that she didn’t know what all the hype was about – she had been eating regular vegetables her whole life and it hadn’t done her any harm. My father responded that in fact she had likely been eating organic vegetables for the majority of her life (she was born in 1919) as regular use of herbicides and pesticides was a new problem. I heartily agreed. Turns out we were wrong. I had always thought these chemicals really came into play after WWII but it turns out they have been a regular occurrence on farms for almost a hundred years before that! People died from acute pesticide poisoning. Wow. So the Michael Pollan saying of ‘eat what your grandmother would eat’ needs to be taken with a grain of salt!* We’ve been polluting food for far longer than I thought!

I could go on and on about the book. I’m sure tidbits will show up in other posts. And for the first time in a while, a “foodie” book has me changing my diet. I am striving to cut out as much processed food as possible. I eat very little as it is, but even the amount I do eat seems like too much. More on this later!

Get the book. Read it. Learn a lot and be inspired to change!

*I actually think this is mostly great advice. And of course, it depends on your generation and I should probably be looking at my great-grandmother.

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Aug

13
2013

Introducing Cocoa

Marissa     Animal Husbandry         1

Last week, while very very sick with the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had, I got a call from an old friend needing a favor. I asked a million questions and finally couldn’t help but say yes. I had agreed to take on an elderly miniature horse!

cocoapasture

We are not horse people – never had them, not really even had a desire to have them. Honestly, horses kinda scare me. I love having our neighbor’s horses in our big wooded pasture because I can visit them over the fence and don’t have to deal with them at all except to watch them be big beautiful creatures. But having our own horse? Well, there’s no time like the present! Once I told Willa that we were getting a little horse just her size, I could barely get her away from the front window, waiting to see when the trailer would pull up…

Willa waiting at the window

Cocoa’s history isn’t entirely known. Her owner passed away and she and the other minis in the herd saw hard times. She was rescued by a lady and has been moved several times over the last year, not having a forever home. She regained her condition but obviously never lost her calm, gentle demeanor. This little gal, about 19 years old, is completely unphased by what life throws at her. She stood grazing perfectly calmly as Willa came crying and screaming up to me after getting bitten by ants. I was sure Cocoa would bolt. She hardly batted an eyelash!

cocoagate

Not all went completely smoothly. By the next morning, the neighbor’s stallion had discovered this ‘young’ new beauty in our pasture. I had asked specifically about it being an issue with the stallion but my friend didn’t think it would be a problem due to Cocoa’s age and the fact that she hadn’t come into heat in the last year. Well, heat or no, Cocoa was impressed by the big boy over the fence. After a few hours of him showing off – racing the fence line, rolling in the dirt, bouncing around, etc – she finally decided she liked what he had to offer and began to tease him through the fence. WELL, that got Doc really excited. I thought Doc put on a good show for our pretty donkey. But he was positively about to jump the fence to get at Cocoa. We had to move her for every one’s sake. Not only do we not want her to have a baby period, but not out of a huge horse like Doc, plus he could easily have hurt her in his over zealous state!

cocoadoc

So Cocoa is chilling with the goat kids for the time being. We are working on a better solution but this at least keeps the love birds apart until we can work out how to handle things. In the meantime, she is getting lots of love, plenty of walks around the farm and learning to become friends with Willa Mae the donkey whom we hope to pasture her with in the future. Never a dull moment!

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