Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Recycling on the Homestead

We try to take recycling to a whole other level at our farm. Of course we do all the regular stuff like hauling our glass, metal, plastic, newspaper, old magazines and cardboard to the local recycling bins. But we also look for other ways to recycle.

One of our best recycling efforts is that of the cattle. They start by harvesting the sun as they graze the grass and deposit their manure on our land. We are compensated for the weight that they gain during the grazing season with hay from the cattle owner’s ranch. This hay contains more nutrients which are processed by our horses through the winter and deposited back on our pasture. The actions of the cattle and the horses help incorporate the nutrients back into the soil so the nutrient cycle (or re-cycle) continues year after year. We also compost some of the cattle and horse manure for use in our gardens around the house.

The care of our kitties is another source of nutrient recycling. Several years ago we switched from using commercial kitty litter to using a pelleted horse feed in their litter box. I spread the soiled litter daily and it either breaks down releasing its nutrients into the soil or the resident wild turkey flock cleans it up and then deposits their own manure in its place. And added benefit is that the horse feed actually does a better job than the commercial kitty litter and costs half the price.

Over the course of a winter we will burn 4 to 5 cords of firewood. Much of it we cut on our farm but some comes from other locations. No matter the source after releasing its wonderful heat into our home, we spread the ash and send the nutrients back to the soil. More recycling.

Rather than composting kitchen waste in winter we generally burn the residue in the woodstove. The remains go out with the rest of the ash to be spread.

I know there is more that we can do and we are always looking for recycling ideas. Our goal is to turn inputs into nutrients and return them to the soil.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting Ready for Winter

The fresh snow on the peaks last Monday morning added a sense of urgency to our preparations for winter. We actually get started in May, soon after the past winter's snowpack is filling the creeks with run-off.

It takes the better part of the summer to bring in enough firewood to fill the woodshed. We try to have around 6 cords of firewood stacked and ready by early fall. Since this is one my least favorite tasks, we spread it out and around all the other chores of the season.

Once the cattle have left, we spend several weeks taking down temporary electric fences, mowing areas that did not get grazed, and moving the horses to fresh fall pastures. Over the course of the previous winter, we pile up horse manure which now needs to be spread back on the grazed pastures, in the orchard and the gardens.

Our hay barn can hold around 500 bales and even though we don't normally need this much, we fill it completely in case the winter is especially hard or the following year's hay crop is down. Our barter with the cattle owner brings us hay for the horses in exchange for summer grazing for his cattle. Its a great trade and a great feeling when the hay barn is full.

There can be times during the winter when it is impossible to get out so we make sure that the pantry and freezer are full of food and medicinals. This year we put a quarter of beef in the freezer which will probably provide us with several years of tasty stews, soups and more. Throughout the summer I collected wild and cultivated medicinal plants and prepared extracts which we use through the year. I have red clover, all heal, fever few, horsetail, meadowsweet, skull cap, and mullein ready.

We also make sure that the trucks are ready for winter and are packed with emergency supplies. This year we added new tires and windshields to the preparations.

We move a lot of snow over the course of the winter and our little Kubota tractor does a fine job of it. Several weeks ago, Don changed the fluids and filters and attached the snow blade to the back. She's ready!

One of the final tasks is cleaning the wood cookstove from top (on the roof) to bottom. It is a really messy job that takes around 3 hours. Last Friday was the day and I'm glad it is done. We usually have to clean it again once during the wood season and that's even more challenging with snow on the roof.

It has been a relatively mild fall but the weather reports are calling for a major change this week. Winter is knocking at the door but I think we are about ready.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Monday, August 23, 2010

Who knew bears liked tamales?

A couple of weeks ago found me heading for a family event in Santa Fe. I always enjoy this trip because we pass through some of the most pleasant country in the West – southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Depending on the weather we either head straight south over Pass Creek Pass then down through San Luis and Taos or west and then south through the San Luis Valley, Antonito, and Ojo Caliente. Either route has its benefits but if we find ourselves in Antonito, Colorado we always stop at the Tamale Connection. It’s actually a little restaurant tucked in the back of a gas station but they have the best tamales. We usually pickup a dozen or two from the cook at the restaurant and take them home for the freezer. There is nothing better on a cold night than a plate of tamales and a good stout brew.

No matter how often we head south, I always find something new to appreciate. This part of the West is so unique because of the Hispanic culture and the history that comes with it. As the residents easily move back and forth across the border, I often wonder if the area should be its own U.S. state. Southern Colorado really has nothing in common with the northern part of the state and I suspect it is the same for New Mexico.

One of the cultural aspects I find so interesting is the Hispanic land use pattern which is hundreds of years old and based on Roman and Middle Eastern concepts. Land was divided into commons, to be used by all the people, and smaller suertes that were under individual ownership. The commons gave the residents a large area for grazing and firewood collection and protected the watershed of the suertes. Each suertes was generally an elongated piece of land that would include river bottom land, pasture, and an irrigated area for crops. This land use design was based on the needs of the community and is so different than our Anglo land use which cares little for the common good. If you are interested in reading more about the Hispanic land use culture, I highly recommend Ancient Agriculture by Juan Estevan Arellano, a 5th generation farmer from northern New Mexico. The book is actually the first ever English translation of a traditional farming technique manual originally published in 1513!

You are probably wondering what happened to the tamales. In preparation for this season’s beef, we have been eating our way through the last of the food in the freezer. Somehow a package of tamales had escaped earlier detection so we finished those off and I put the corn husks in the compost pile. The next morning I noticed that the deer fence around the back yard was flattened and there were piles of bear scat around the compost. The corn husks were no where to be seen. We repaired the fence, cleaned up the bear piles and figured all was well. Next morning was a repeat of the previous one so this time, in addition to a fence repair, we also added an electric wire on the outside at about bear nose height. The tamale munching bruin has not been back. I am generally very careful about having anything that resembles food and might attract a bear anywhere where one could find it. But who knew bears liked tamales?

From Fleur Creek Farm

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mom's Birthday

Last weekend was my mom’s 90th birthday. At 90 she is more active, engaged and alert than many much younger people I encounter these days. She lives in Santa Fe with my sister so we started the birthday weekend by meeting up in Taos for lunch and an afternoon trying to find something to do there. Then we headed to Santa Fe to prepare her birthday dinner celebration. She was up until 10 enjoying food, wine and the company.

The next morning we headed out early to the Farmer’s Market and she made the rounds talking, it seemed, with everyone. We enjoyed lunch at her favorite cafĂ©, La Casa Sena, then spent the afternoon hitting various stops we needed to make to restock our home pantry. We dined at home on an assortment of tasty treats before heading to the season finale of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. She was up until 11 that night.

Through it all I kept thinking there is no way this woman is 90; 75 maybe, but not 90. She has been through a lot in her life. She was born in the Middle East and lost her mother when she was very young. She was raised by a couple who were complete strangers. She fell in love with a married man, had a child out of wedlock (me) when that was not an acceptable thing to do, eventually married him and since he was in the Army, followed him around the world.

She’s always been artistic and in her 60s started focusing on developing that talent. She has produced some beautiful watercolor paintings that are found in personal and corporate collections throughout the U.S. including on our walls. They are some of my most treasured pieces.

My mom is a pretty amazing person. I don’t know what her secret is but I hope she shares it with me one day.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Friday, July 23, 2010

Catching Up

Boy, has it been a long time since my last blog posting. I promise to do better. Life just shoots by way too fast.

We put another tough winter under our belts. I don’t know why it is but they seem to get more difficult every year. Last winter was the coldest one we’ve had in 17 years. The snow depth was not as bad as past years but it was definitely much different. It was as if we had glacier deposits around instead of just snow pack which led to the worst mud season ever. The county roads were almost impassable for weeks even in four wheel drive.

After struggling through winter’s snow, ice and cold, spring arrived as a strange dry cold which slowed the pasture grass growth considerably. We were nearly 2 weeks late in getting the yearling steers out on grass but they made up for it quickly and are seriously plump now. Last year’s yearling headed for the freezer on Tuesday. We don’t eat that much beef so we’ll trade some to a neighbor who home-raises pork.

We have been fortunate to remain busy (actually really busy) with business so I scaled back my garden plans to just tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. I’ve always been pleased with past efforts with these two and expected similar results this year. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Early on the plants started looking pretty strange with curled leaves and stems on the tops of both the peppers and tomatoes. I quick review of my plant diseases book revealed that they were infected by a virus carried by leaf-hoppers. The books recommended removal but I wasn’t about to give up on my only crops. Another organic gardening book suggested using a foliar spray made from compost tea to improve their health so I have been giving them bi-monthly spraying. Just when things were looking better something decided to start eating the leaves. I haven’t found that culprit yet. I guess all I can say is that I’m glad that there are grocery stores around. It would be a long winter if we had to rely on what I can grow. I’m all that more impressed with folks who have found a way to grow food in this difficult climate.

In case you wondered, Phoebe the pheasant is still here though she is not as regular as she was over the winter. She stops by several times a week for a handful of sunflower seeds and cracked corn. I was not able to find a male for her in time for the breeding season but we might try again next spring. I did learn that pheasants are mostly solitary so she really doesn’t mind being alone.

Last weekend we headed to Denver to take in the sights and sounds of the downtown area. After nearly two decades in the woods, we thought it was time to taste the city life. Unfortunately we picked the hottest weekend of the summer, including a record-breaking 105 degrees on Saturday. We stayed in a hotel on the 16th Street Mall and enjoyed great food and drink. It was fun but we were both ready to return to the peace and quiet (and cool) of our Wet Mountain Valley. As they say, “there’s no place like home”.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Monday, February 15, 2010

Female Pheasant Seeking Male Companionship

Sometime around Thanksgiving we started noticing a large bird hanging around our birdfeeders. About the size of a small chicken, the bird would show up nearly every morning. We checked out our bird guides and realized what we had was a female ring-necked pheasant. She was an absolutely beautiful bird with iridescent bronze colored feathers. As the days passed she has become more and more friendly finally getting to the point where she would “come” when called. She never walks anywhere but rather races from point to point or explodes in flight. We named her Phoebe for no reason other than the name seemed to go with “pheasant”.

We can’t imagine where she came from though I heard a rumor that a pair of pheasants was seen last fall on Verdemont Road. If that was Phoebe she must have become separated from her mate or he died. As the crow flies, Verdemont is only a couple of miles from our place.

It can be several days after a snow before she shows up. I suspect she has trouble with the deep snow until it is firm enough for her to walk on top of. We’ve never really figured out where she is when she’s not here but I’ll bet she lives in the heavy brush along the creek. It is nearly perfect pheasant habitat.

As the days get longer and we get closer to spring I wonder if she will stay here or start looking for a new mate. I’m not sure how to find a male pheasant for her. Maybe I could put a listing on Craig’s List – female pheasant seeking male companionship. That should bring the crazies out of the woodwork.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stories in the Snow

One of my favorite past times in winter is to take an early morning walk just after fresh snow has fallen. This week I headed out early following my old route west towards Trails End Ranch and the National Forest. It wasn’t long before I found myself following a path that others had used in the last hour or so.

The first set of tracks was from my old friend, Bob. Actually Bob is a bobcat that I rarely see in person. His tracks came out from our stallion’s pasture along South Brush Creek. I chuckled at the fact that he was using my old trail to get around – it’s always easier to walk in someone else’s tracks in the snow. He continued on for at least a quarter of a mile until he drifted off the trail back into the woods. Bobcat tracks always seem so purposeful, not like Wiley’s.

Shortly after Bob left my trail, I picked up Wiley’s trail. As you might imagine, Wiley is a coyote. Wiley is definitely the alpha male in the area judging from the size of his footprints and his numerous markings. In the course of 2 miles, he marked at least 4 or 5 spots, some on the trail and some just off. As we continued along, his tracks would veer off the trail as if he was checking on something, then re-join the trail heading west.

After about three quarters of a mile, Wiley was joined by another coyote, then another. Near the end of my walk there was an interesting sight in the snow. It was obvious that another coyote had joined the group. This coyote must have been very submissive because I could see where the animal had laid down in the snow in front of Wiley. There was some scuffling and then they all continued to the irrigation culvert to see if the rabbit who lives in there was home.

It was time for me to head home and get to work. But before I left I took one more look at the stories in the snow and reminded myself just how amazing this all was.

From Fleur Creek Farm.