Ahhhh........ summertime......... The grass is green as are the leaves. The days are long, hot, and sticky followed by a hopefully cooler night. Thunderstorms pop up occasionally to water the earth and cool the air. The garden is sprouting with green beans and beets and carrots and budding tomatoes and zucchini. The scent of basil and oregano are in the air as I water. The daylilies are blooming. Birds and butterflies abound. Robins nest on our home’s log corners, finches nest in the bushes, barn swallows nest in the barn, killdeer nest in the pasture, bluebirds nest in the birdhouses along the pasture fence, and the hawk makes a daily appearance swooping over the pasture. Stella spends the entire day outside, lounging about in the shade. She sometimes takes herself for a casual walk around the fence perimeter, all the time keeping an eye out for a chipmunk to chase. I sit quietly outside soaking up the sunshine while I spin, weave, or knit, facing the alpacas grazing in the pasture.
Wild critters large and small quietly pass through our property at night. The other day my neighbor mentioned that a raccoon had gotten into his coop, again, and decimated his poultry flock, and that a bear had destroyed his beehive. :( Whether you have a teeny homestead or a large one, farming is not always easy or fun; Nature works on her own schedule.
Coyotes and deer still abound. We’ve been fortunate. The deer have not decimated the garden yet and the coyotes have never, ever bothered the alpacas. They do that well enough amongst themselves! 10 intact male alpacas on a hot summer day can get easily bored or irritated with each other ~ I’m guessing that’s it ~ and suddenly have to provide themselves with their own entertainment by chasing each other down .......... which means I’m having to run out to the barn to break up the ‘fight.’ ‘They say’ it’s a normal thing, a hierarchy thing, and to let the boys work it out amongst themselves but I have a hard time standing by idly when a smaller one is screeching.
And usually they do work it out amongst themselves but when it carries on and on, there I am, running. And stumbling as I run. Yes folks. 12 years of ballet as a kid and I can still manage to trip over my own feet on a daily basis.
At least it’s summertime. All I have to do is jump into my little barn shoes ........
The other night Dan and I went out to the barn, excitedly chatting about the day’s events. As we entered the barn, the alpacas all ran up from the pasture, knowing full well that it’s dinner time. I opened up the tack room door and reached inside to turn on the lights. As I turned around, Arlo was walking into the pen. And out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather large mouse, a very large mouse, crawl up and over the pen wall and run back down.
I screamed so loud that I’m sure our neighbors up in Canada heard me.
I’ve always been a lover of all animals. But to be totally honest, rodents just aren’t at the top of my list. This is especially true with rodents that could be categorized as very large mice. I’m usually a sensible 40-something woman, but at the sudden unexpected sight of a very large mouse I lost all control, screamed bloody murder, and shut myself into the tack room.
Dan is normally calm, but my screeching really irks him. I was all but hyperventilating trying to explain to him what I saw. He kept reassuring me that it was indeed just a very large mouse, harmless, it’s gone, so it’s OK to come out, and please stop screaming. Good idea, as my throat was now hoarse. I slowly opened the tack room door and stepped out. Dan looked rather annoyed. The alpacas hadn’t moved and were staring at me with that ‘Where’s our dinner?’ look. Even the barn swallow that’s been living in our barn hadn’t left its nest. I had only scared away the very large mouse.
Now in the evening Dan always enters the barn first, waving the flashlight around all the edges, tells me the coast is clear, and turns on the lights. I peer in slowly checking all the edges myself, before I come in. For several days there were no new signs until one morning when there was a very large hole dug against the tack room wall, right next to the water spicket, which seemingly went under the tack room into the abyss. I was good and didn’t scream, but had to run back up to the house to get Dan to inspect it. He thought I was panicking again and reluctantly agreed to come out; then he saw the size of the hole. He quietly said, ‘Hhhmmmm, I guess you did see a very large mouse the other night. I’ll get the traps.’ He returned with mouse traps large enough to catch a small squirrel. I figured it was best not to ask why. He set both on either side of the tack room and now we wait. It’s been several days and no signs yet that the very large mouse has returned.
A barn cat is looking better and better, after the barn swallow is done nesting.
I’ll keep all of you posted, loudly I’m sure.
Warning: Pardon me for stating the obvious, but please be sure your alpacas or any of your livestock cannot access mouse traps!! And please, no poisons!!!
Alpacas are curious and they certainly will inspect a mouse trap. One trap is set in the pen which is attached to the tack room, and we’ve secured the pen door shut. The other is set under the tack room from outside, with rocks around the opening and I pulled out the few blades of grass nearby. This side of the tack room is also in the area that had been sectioned off.
The weather has been good to us lately. Sunny cool days and crisp nights with little frost, and only gentle rains rather than fierce storms. It’s still a bit early to plant most of the garden, but it’s good weather for weeding. As I weed, I can see the side of the barn and most of the east side of the pasture. I’ve purchased a few plants in peat pots from a local organic farmer and they’re set out on the porch at night and under the shade of a maple tree during the day. We’re going to move our garden sometime this year to a sunnier spot right in the back yard, in front of the pasture fencing. We’d planted the garden way over in the side yard when we first moved here so that it wouldn’t be disturbed while we cleared land, and at the time it was sunnier there. Turns out, not sunny enough!
The oregano and garlic chive plants are huge already. Every garden I’ve ever had has surprised me in the spring with something that has self-sowed from the year before. So far this year I’ve found green onions (scallions) and lettuce plants. I was happily surprised to find a few teeny carrots had survived last summer’s ‘deer attacks.’ As I continued weeding, there are a lot of carrots, and not all of them are teeny. They’re all bright orange and solid, as a carrot should be. I also found several small beets. Here I am expecting to be getting the garden ready for planting, and I’m harvesting carrots and beets! I can’t wait to roast them in olive oil with fresh oregano and garlic. Maybe I'll save a couple carrots for snacks for the alpacas.
It is December in New Hampshire and today it is sunny and 65 degrees! If you’re from another part of the country ......... yes this is very much unseasonably warm!
Here we are preparing for winter, in fact on Saturday we’re supposed to get snow, but today, I feel like gardening.
We really don’t mind our home being surrounded by green, growing grass but we also don’t follow the American obsession with perfect looking, golf course style lawns. We mow, albeit not regularly, rake when necessary, but that’s about it. I’ve read that American households use way, way, too much fertilizer and pesticides on their lawns, much more by square foot than is used in commercial agriculture. This creates a ‘chemically dependent’ lawn, the runoff pollutes groundwater, the pollution kills beneficial bugs and birds and other species ....... and the horrid cycle continues.
Dan and I, we welcome the natural world and its micro-ecosystems. Nature does know best; why mess with it? We don’t want Stella rolling on pesticide laden grass, nor do we want to walk on it. We welcome the dandelions and clover and other weeds, and we don’t fret over yellow grass due to grubs. The grubs feed the robins, blue jays, woodpeckers and other birds, which in turn eat bugs that would invade our gardens. The skunks also eat the grubs and frankly I’d prefer they not hang around because of the alpacas! But oh well.
So folks, dig up your lawns! Plant a garden! I realize we’re all starting winter, but here’s a couple of links for you all to start planning gardens for next year:
Another thing about autumn is the coyotes. In the evenings and throughout the night you can hear them howling. Lately it sounds like it’s coming from the woods down the street, but many times it is the woods across the street from us in the state park, or in the woods behind our house. Sometimes the pack behind our house howls back and forth with the pack in the park. It’s a haunting noise and when the howls are close by the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Our little alpaca herd doesn’t seem overly concerned, but of course we are.
We went up to Maine yesterday morning to pick up our new guard llama from Nancy Durst at White Barn Meadows Farm. Nancy runs a gelding alpaca fiber farm that is picture-postcard beautiful. Senator is a well experienced, well mannered guard llama that is easily handled. He is just perfect for us.
The initial meet and greet was in a word, hysterical. Our boys all huddled around the paddock fence while we had Senator on the lead on the other side. The happy sniff fest went on for quite some time, our boys much more curious about him than he was of them. Once we led Senator into the paddock, Coty quickly instigated the others into chasing him around the paddock. The same thing happened once we opened up the pasture. Our boys ate their dinner quietly with virtually no fighting amongst themselves and then peacefully ate hay together out of the same feeder. Senator ate hay from the big feeder and then stood just outside the paddock, observing the woods.
After dinner and hay our boys weren’t quite so spunky so Senator got to check out his new home in peace. He carefully walked the fence lines and checked out the gates, sniffing and sniffing the air and I swear each inch of pasture. It was a full moon night and the whole pasture was lit up. He was very observant and alert over every little sound, dogs barking and howling, owls hooting, crickets chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, and I’m sure things that we humans can’t hear. Finally he settled down and cushed in a spot along the middle pasture fence line and its gate. Here, he has a perfect view of the barn with his new herd to protect and the entire pasture.
And Stella won't look at him either!
In a previous post, I had mentioned how our alpacas had easily adapted to their new home here on our farm, and that because they’ve been so calm, we’re kinda irked that they haven’t done something. Well, now they have!
They were all hanging out by the awning and hay feeder, cushed and chewing their cud, when suddenly they all leaped up, instantly alert, and Julio ran to the back of the pasture. He was intent on something past the stone wall. The others cautiously came to the end of the paddock and one by one they stepped out slowly into the pasture in a line, but never quite reaching Julio; Coty first and then Guinness, followed by Bo with Arlo bringing up the rear. Oddly enough, they were in a line from tallest to smallest. I called out to Dan who was in the garage and he ran out back along the east fence line. I got the binoculars and went out down the west fence line. Julio was definitely eyeing something, and the others were cautiously standing still and watching, with Bo constantly looking over his shoulder at Arlo as if to say “Don’t move! Stay right there!” When Dan got to the middle of the stone wall that follows the back of our pasture, Julio turned around sharply and ran up to the barn, nipping at everyone’s back end to hurry along. It was quite the sight to see them all running together as the herd that they are.
The fuss? Apparently there was a red fox sitting on the stone wall watching them. It started to run off when Julio approached, and Dan saw it run off into the woods. When Dan got to the stone wall where the fox had been, that’s when Julio called the gang back up to the barn. It’s good to know that our alpacas can distinguish between Stella and our neighbors’ dogs (no threat) and with a wild animal (big threat). Julio, being the tallest and heaviest, is the undeclared leader and guard.
Good boy Julio!
Our alpacas will start coming home to our farm soon, and now is when we realize that oops! There is so much more to do. But like any farm, or business, there is always ‘more to do’ or ‘something that needs getting done.’ All farms are a continual ‘work in process,’ and ours certainly will be no exception.
I suppose there will always be a new gate or gadget needed, an extra water bucket here, move the grain feeders there, that sort of thing. Running through all the major things we’ve done .......We’ve cleared land and improved the pastures with, oh my, lots of drainage. We’ve built the small barn with an awning. We’ve installed the hydrant for water from our well. We’ve put up fencing and adjusted gates and sealed off the low areas where rainwater has washed out underneath, allowing small critters such as the red fox access. We’ve seeded the pasture with pasture grass mix and excitedly watched as it started to grow, albeit in large splotches! Our first pieces of alpaca equipment is appropriately enough a poop scooper and large 2-wheeled wheelbarrow. Our hay feeder is on order. We’ve secured a hay source and grain/feed source. We’ve decided how to divvy up the barn stalls and which directions to put the gates and panels. We’ve purchased that very well used but sturdy horse trailer. We’ve prayed for clear, cool days and sunny skies.
So now we sit back and say, the alpacas will be here in a few short days, and we’re not ready! We have waited for this moment for almost 2 years so how could we possibly not be ready? We’ll need some grain feeders and oh yes grain, something to store the grain in, water buckets, the wire type tape to block off the area behind the barn where it’s still a bit mucky, and that tape to block off the stall where we’ll store some hay, oh yes ~ hay!, panels to divide the stalls, a scale, one of those awning things with metal supports to store our tractor in as we need the barn space for the alpacas now, where to put the pile of poop, and also............... I’m sure after they arrive, we’ll constantly be saying ‘gee we really need to get a .......’ Until then, we can improvise. Dan is very good at improvising, or as he says ‘mousing it.’
We are life long animal lovers and in that sense we are not nervous about the alpacas’ arrival. Even though we’ve never owned livestock, we are comforted by the fact that there are several alpaca farms with kind alpaca owners within a 30-45 minute drive, our vet is walking distance away, and of course Pam is always available for our multitudes of questions. Thanks Pam! Your patience and kindness to your animals, and now ours, is cherished.
I headed out to the garden earlier to pick some more cherry tomatoes. Isn’t this wonderful? Weeks and weeks of heavy rain and cool temperatures, yet I’ve been picking cherry tomatoes! So tasty right off the vine, it’s amazing I can walk back to the house and still have a couple for my salad. The plum tomatoes and sandwich size tomatoes are still green, but there are plenty of them! The zucchini plants are getting huge, but have still to give me anything to pick. The beets, spinach, kale, and carrots have grown and there are lots and lots of buds on the green bean plants .......... and weren’t there more leaves yesterday??? I’m in a daze, probably because of the shockingly sunny day, and then I noticed the hoof prints again. Only a few leaves were missing, but in the next box ........... all the leaves off the sunflowers were gone! Bummer!! I just love sunflowers in a garden. The deer are beautiful creatures, but I’d rather have them in our garden than the alpaca pastures!
Last week I went out to check the garden, after all those days of rain. My transplants looked fine, seeds were sprouting, and then I noticed that the tops of most of the bean plants were gone! A few sunflower tops were missing too. I looked around for tell-tale signs of a wood chuck and instead found deer tracks! I thought for sure they would be eating the nearby lawn that we haven't mowed. The deer never bothered the garden last year so I just assumed that all would be well again this year. I decided to leave well enough alone.
Today is another day of an entire week with beautiful sunshine. No signs of another deer attack. In fact, the green beans all have green leaves again, and the sunflowers seem to have new leaves sprouting again too. How odd, yet isn’t Mother Nature wonderful? I spent quite a while weeding, and weeding, and enjoying the sunshine and all the plants that have managed to sprout up. I’m going to have to re-seed spinach and Swiss chard and carrots. The rain must have washed most of the seeds away but at least there are sprouts here and there. The teeny oregano plant from last year is a huge bush now, about to flower. And the tomatoes! Lots and lots of green tomatoes are growing, with dark green leaves on the plants, and I even was able to eat a red cherry tomato. In July! How fantastic. I staked them all up with bamboo poles. The zucchini plants have really bushed out and have plenty of flowers but no zucchini yet that I could see. The chives have blossomed and are falling over; I’ll have to stake them too. My lone eggplant is not looking happy. There are lots of tomatoes and lettuce that have re-seeded from last year up and about too. Looks like it will be a good garden year after all.
The ground was actually dry. I’m going to have water the garden for the first time since I planted everything .......................