Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Well, it has taken a while (quite a while!) but the hoop house has been planted!  I intended to write about it, ooooh, four days ago, but we got busy.  We intended to plant it, ooooh, about a month ago, but we got busy.  This season has been a little 'nut-so' thus far!  Bottle feeding three baby goats four times a day, adding milking to our daily chores twice a day, keeping an eye on the baby chicks, caring for now seemingly motherless kittens: animals are taking up an awful lot of our time and the vegetables are getting somewhat neglected!

Part of the point of a hoop house (or high tunnel, or plastic greenhouse or any of the many names I've seen it called) is to get an early start on the season.  We kind of missed that boat, this year.  We had to repair it and waited a bit on the plastic.  Then we decided to move it, because we wanted to use it again for tomatoes and peppers and didn't want to risk passing disease onto new plants.  That was a full day of Farmer Man lifting out the plastic-covered rebar hoops, moving them over then 'planting' each end again.  Then measuring and adjusting, to make sure the doors would fit.  Then we waited for the perfect calm night, with a couple of extra people around (a garden renter named Kyle and our right-hand man, Henry) and then plastic cover was floated into place.  The next day Farmer Man fastened it all in and good-to-go!

One side would be tomatoes, one side would be a double row of assorted hot peppers with some spare ends for some herbs.  Farmer Man has the process of planting down to a science.  Dig a hole almost as deep as the tomatoes are tall, compost and bone meal in the bottom, bury tomato, back fill, tamp with foot.  Tomatoes are one of the few plants that can stand to have their stem buried, and the stem will root, giving you a nice, healthy, strong plant.  The bone meal is to provide calcium and prevent blossom end rot.  Sometimes we use a little of the oyster shell for the chickens (multi-purpose, love it) although this will be slower to break down.  The hardest part of this process was preparing the compost: Farmer Man had to put our compost from the pile through a screen, a job done by the shovel into the wheel barrow to avoid the waste the tractor would cause!

The peppers are largely the same process, just a smaller hole is required as the stem cannot be buried.  By late morning, as the planting job was getting finished, it was getting darn hot in there!  The peppers and tomatoes will love it; Farmer Man was starting to wilt!  We've got basil and parsley in 2" pots ready to fill the corners.  Now, we've got to add to the chore list to go and water the hoop house every two days, every day if temperatures are getting to 28C (about 90F) or higher!  In this crazy year we worry so much about forgetting things like that!

The daily chore list is constantly changing this year!  The kittens will, hopefully, find good homes in the next few weeks.  The triplets will go down to feeding three times and day and then to twice a day and then to no bottles at all. The baby chicks are now teenagers and have moved on to 'big chick' feeders and waterers, which don't require filling as often.  The veggies will require almost constant care from here on: weeding, watering and soon, harvesting!  The work of starting tomato and pepper seeds in February and March: watering and fertilizing, potting up, moving up to the greenhouse, hardening off, planting out....it will all be forgotten when we get that first bite of a fresh, juicy, vine-ripened tomato!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Getting Into A Routine With Milking The Goats!

As you probably know, if you've been following this blog or checking our Facebook Page, we've got baby goats!  Six of them from our three Goatlings.  That means that we've added milking to our daily chores: twice a day, morning and night!  Like anything new, it's been an adjustment, with quite a learning curve, but we're settling into a 'groove' with it now.  Throw into the mix that we've had to bottle feed some of our babies and....well, it has been hectic.  We were fortunate that our birthings were spread out over four weeks, so we've had a chance to adjust slowly.

Goldie was the first to give birth, to a fine, strapping buckling named Gafferty, or Little Gaffer.  We gave them a few days together, then started milking her once a day, in the evenings.  Goldie took to the process quite easily: once she figured out that when she got into the parlor and up on the milking stand grain was to be had, she took to it right away.  When the grain did not appear because her head wasn't in the right place, she made that correction easily, too.  We're realizing now that Goldie has what's called a small teat aperture, and her milk stream is quite tiny.  She's a slow but steady milker (maybe it's a ploy to get more grain....).

Mabel kidded next and, as you may know, immediately rejected her darling triplets.  Wanted nothing to do with them from the moment they dropped and could not be convinced otherwise over the next few days.  We resigned ourselves to bottle feeding the three babies.  Mabel was immediately milked twice a day, occasionally three times a day but was not producing enough for the three babies.  Goldies' extra and a little store-bought goats' milk have made up the difference.  Mabel was resistant to milking at first and did not like to be handled.  All this was very surprising from the doe we considered the most gentle and easy-going.  Persistence and patience have won, and now she and Goldie vie to see who will be first into the parlour for milking (and grain...).  Mabel has a 'heartier' milk stream, and milks a really good amount quite quickly.

Finally, five days ago, Chocolate produced a lovely pair of little doelings!  Again, we left them together for a couple of days and then brought Choco into milk two nights ago.  She's been up on the milking stand before: we trained them all on it by using it for hoof trimming.  She got up on the milking stand no problem, but reacted rather violently to having her udder touched!  She jumps and stamps and kicks and it's really hard work!  We haven't actually gotten any milk from her yet...we're just trying to have patience and get her used to being handled without anybody getting hurt.  The battle will continue, twice a day, everyday....

One thing about the milking that we're very happy with is our Henry Milker Machine.  Great little gadget that does the work for you while keeping the milk clean from debris like goat hair and bedding straw.  It's quite mobile, too, when Choco is kicking and stamping.  Also found a great little recipe for homemade, natural udder disinfectant/teat dip here, which involved essential oils and other products that we already had on hand.  No chemicals and no bleach, which I wouldn't want to use on a regular basis on the goats' skin.  For an udder balm, we're using our homemade lotion bars, instructions and recipe are here.  All in all, milking is going well, for us first timers.  Now, if the ladies would just produce enough for a little soap or cheese!

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Twins! And Kidding Season is Finished!

I can't believe I haven't blogged since June 4th!  Our Facebook Page has seen lots of quick updates but sitting down to write a blog post has seemed impossible!  June has been C-R-A-Z-Y at Aagaard Farms!  We made a tactical error choosing to have baby goats in May and June; our thinking was that it would be warmer for the little babies.  We should be planting and weeding and watering all the vegetables in May and June!  So, lesson learned and Randi will be allowed to be with the ladies a little earlier next Fall!

Small regrets aside, on June 13th Chocolate finally delivered and produced two gorgeous little girls, Cherry and Chica.  It's another birth we largely missed, just like Mabel!  Chocolate had released her mucous plug, so we knew her time was coming and put her in the birthing pen.  When nothing happened for a couple of days and she seemed calm and relaxed, we decided to put her in the pasture on a lovely morning and get her some fresh air, sunshine and good grazing.  We were working around the area and checking on her regularly.  She seemed at ease, so late morning we decided to grab lunch.  A mere half an hour later we came out to be greeted by Vic, one of the garden renters who waved and called 'So, you had some new babies?'  Farmer Man and I rushed to the pasture to find Chocolate with her twins, under a tree.  Chocolate was proving to be a good mommy and the babies were already cleaned and dried off.  They were trying to stand; so cute on their little skinny, wobbly legs!  Farmer Man went to get the birthing kit while I stayed in the pasture and watched the babies get their first drinks of colostrum.  We tied off and dipped their umbilical cords, checked them over, checked over and congratulated the new mother.  Using the goats' grain treat, we slowly led Choco back to the barn and got everyone settled in the birthing pen.

This whole experience seemed to easy, compared to Goldie's long, difficult birth and Mabel's disappointing rejection of her babies.  We were a little worried about added burden to us, if Chocolate had rejected her babies, too.  But everything is good, everybody is good!  We're getting into quite a routine now with milking and bottle-feeding the triplets.  It does take up more time than we'd like but that requirement will lessen soon as the triplets are weaned.  Already, we're down from four feedings a day to three, which will continue for the next few weeks.  Next, we'll add Chocolate to the milking routine, probably just in the evening milking for at least a few more days, while the twins are so new to the world.  In a week or so we'll start milking her twice a day with the other girls.

All the milk we've been collecting so far has gone to feed the triplets!  Mabel isn't producing enough for them, so Goldie's excess and some store-bought milk have been making up the difference!  No chance to make ourselves a little cheese yet!  And, of course, the point of the goats is to have enough milk to make soap to add to our Farmers' Market wares so we're a little ways off from that, especially considering fresh-made soap has to cure for six weeks at minimum!  Gafferty and the triplets are all showing an ever increasing interest in regular food like willow branches and grass, so we're already looking forward to ending bottle-feeding and just having the chore of milking twice a day.  And we can hardly wait for the first fresh cheese!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Celery Experiment!

We saw an intriguing thing on some blogs we follow and on a few Facebook pages.  People were re-growing food, from the bits one might usually discard.  Now, not much goes to waste here: we compost most of our vegetable matter , even in winter, to provide us with natural fertilizer; we might make vegetable soup stock from good bits; with pigs here all summer anything vegetable becomes a nice treat!  However, the idea of re-growing food seemed just to good to be true; we'd seen it done with celery, the root end of onions and even carrot tops!

We started ours April 1,  by using the cut base of a head of celery.  It was still too cold to plant outside and the sun room was stuffed with vegetables we'd seeded, so I decided to start it in water.  That way, I would also be less likely to forget about it, as I kept the glass by the kitchen sink.  I kept the water level fairly minimal, to avoid rot.  I was surprised at how quickly we had sprouts: in about a week the centre had a couple of wee shoots coming.  The little celery continued to grow and by Day 27 it was looking pretty good: check it out here.  However, things just seemed to fade out after that!  I began using a bit of seaweed fertilizer in the water, since we had it at hand for all our seedlings.  The little celery did put out some roots, finally, but very little new top growth was happening.  By Day 34 the outer rim of the stalks was beginning to decay, shrivelling up and turning brown.

We've had big fun with this project on our Facebook page: lots of comments, questions and people sharing their experience with re-growing their food.  People who planted it seemed to have better luck, so yesterday ours went into a pot on the patio!  By now, the outer, cut stalks are black and soft, with a little bit of white, moldy-looking bits that I believe are really decayed cell-wall material.  We'll see if it bounces back, now that the roots are in soil.  It being planted time here, I think we'll try another directly into a pot!  Have you ever tried to re-grow your food?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Manitoba Farm Writers Come for a Tour!

We're kind of popular right now, it seems.  Baby goats just seem to attract people; we've seen friends that don't make it out here all that much.  But today we hosted a tour that was organized before baby goats...although the babies were a hit!  The Manitoba Farm Writers and Broadcasters Association had been in touch a few months ago.  They were having a meeting in Brandon, and were looking for interesting things to do.  Someone at, I believe, at Food Matters Manitoba had suggested us, probably for something a little different. I kind of imagine the Manitoba Farm Writers spend a lot of time around cattle and grain: not any of that here!

Shortly after 3:00 PM a couple of vans of people pulled up.  We had had a little thunderstorm and more clouds were threatening but this group was ready - rubber boots and rain jackets were at hand!  We walked about half the property, showing the renters' gardens, the dugout and drainage, our plantings of seeds and seedlings, up to the potato field and planting of winter squash, then down past the Berkshires' pasture and past the chicken coop.  We dawdled a bit with the baby goats and a number of photos were taken!  A quick cruise of the baby chicks and then the greenhouse, still bursting with plants!  Then the group was off, because they had another event in Portage to attend!

Lots of great questions and comments from this group.  These people are very involved in agriculture in Manitoba, although I'm not sure they had seen an operation quite like ours!  There was much interest in the variety of produce that we grow, the acceptance of some of the more unique things we grow, the increasing interest in local and fresh food, the Community Supported Agriculture model and selling at Farmers Markets.  Someone wanted to know if we grow unique things because customers ask for them and, after thinking about it, we had to say we seek out unique and unusual vegetables to keep our customers interested and amused.

I see that the MFWB Facebook page has already posted a picture of one of the members with...you guessed it, a baby goat!  Don't know if any one of our guests is actually going to write about us but one has asked to come back in the late summer or fall to do a piece on all the different potatoes that we grow.  Some winter squash may get some attention then, too!  If you see anything written about us, we'd love to know - good or bad!