Saturday, May 30, 2009

GardenRant: The Truth About Jeff Gillman

Jeff Gillman is a professor of horticulture at University of Minnesota where he conducts research about "organic gardening" and has written numerous articles and a few books. You can read my book review about his latest book, The Truth About Organic Gardening, in Briar Patch's newest newsletter, due out this week.

By the way, he later claims he was a little harsh on the Garlic and Peppermint Spray. " I do think it might work for insects, but for plant diseases?"

Courtesy of Amy Stewart over at GardenRant.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Trimming Goat Hooves

I've been to five local hay and feed stores looking for a hoof trimmer suitable for small goat hooves - most locations were out or were for horses. I finally picked up a pair of trimmers today and we trimmed the goats hooves.

Troy and I worked in tandem on this project, one person trimming, the other holding the goat steady and provide reassuring petting and butt scratching. As you can imagine, and see in the video, the animal does not like having it's foot picked up anyway.

The overgrown material is similar in composition to our fingernails, and it doesn't hurt the goat to have the excess material removed. In fact, if not removed periodically, it can lead to foot and leg problems as well as increasing the chance for diseased feet. Sheep are more prone to hoof rot, especially during the rainy part of the year, but this could be an issue in goats too, if left untended.

Each goat was praised and fed special treats for enduring the much needed pedicures. This will be the last hoof trim for Dharma until she delivers in the next 2-4 weeks. This guy has great videos about birth and possible complications too!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Little Crop of Horrors

Did you know that Michelle Obama's elitist organic garden could simultaneously cause starvation, obesity and cancer? Watch the Daily Show's tongue-in-cheek response to elitist concerns about organic gardening.

By the way, this isn't all laughs. Pro-pesticide group MACA (Mid America Croplife Association) wrote to Michelle Obama, defending the use of "crop protection products." One official with the pro-pesticide group said, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” MACA represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont.

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Vinegar - Not just for your salad

Not having medical insurance means I'll use traditional and alternative remedies for anything not requiring emergency care, ie spurting wounds or broken bones. I could mention that as a biologist, I've had the standard pre-med training, as a certified massage therapist, I know how humans are put together, have completed two herbal apprenticeships and I am certified in First Aid and CPR. I could probably safely handle the first stage of many medical emergencies should it come to that. I can take vitals and administer shots (to livestock at least). I should also point out that I'm not a doctor, so kids, don't try this at home without first consulting a physician. (Nods to legal department.)

Last year I got poison oak for the first time, and the itching was unbearable. There wasn't enough Tecnu and hydrocortizone cream to assuage the itching. My first outbreak this year persisted over two weeks, driving me over the edge, until I tried manzanita/vinegar compresses. Applied topically it takes the itching and redness right out, and halves the healing time of the skin.

My second outbreak this year was a systemic reaction, the kind that would have most people rushing to get cortizone shots. Face puffy, eyes swelled half closed. I was miserable. I immediately boiled up some manzanita, took lots of antihistamines, and went on with life. Five days later my face was not puffy and another two days saw my skin clear up. Seven days instead of 2-3 weeks of itchiness and peeling skin.

The Recipe.
Boil up a handful of manzanita leaves in 1-2 cups of water and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes. Strain out the leaves and mix 1:1 with vinegar. I've been using white vinegar, but apple cider would work just as well. Try it and let me know!

Then I noticed a great side effect - it also took out the swelling and itching of mosquito bites. Maharani and I were being eaten my hordes of mosquitoes while milking. The idea of using DEET or that new chemical (that doesn't work) while milking left lots of concerns. What if I contaminated the milk and inadvertently poisoned someone?

Now, I should mention that I have tested most of the herbal repellents on the market. To say I found them unsatisfactory is an vast understatement. The ingredient they lack is vinegar. So I'm testing a series of essential oils mixed with vinegar and water, which are then sprayed on myself and Maharani. The rose geranium mixture has worked better than those herbal repellents. I'm also going to try lavender and citronella.

What else is vinegar good for? Removing hard water deposits, as a household cleanser, removing all kinds of stains, deorderizing, disinfecting... The list is long. Best of all, your typical household vinegar is non-toxic.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Milk drinking fools

No, I'm not referring to my husband. I'm talking about my chickens.

For weeks they have watched the evening milking. Black hen in particular would stand around, intently observing for upwards of ten minutes. This is a very long time in chicken time. I wasn't sure what the fascination was. Had she watched milking before? Could she smell the calcium in the milk?

I'd heard about feeding chickens old milk and yogurt, or failed cheese. So when Maharani put her foot in the milking jar, rendering the milk unclean for human consumption, I decided to put some out for the chickens. I was in no way prepared for the chickens' enthusiasm for this treat.

They now expect some everyday. They wait at the stanchion, eyeballing the goat, and get excited when I walk by with a mason jar. Nevermind that it may only be my water jar, I'm followed right inside my studio for anticipated treats.

Sorry there's no sound on the video, but enjoy the antics of my milk drinking chickens!

Monday, May 11, 2009


Maybe you've heard of phrenology, the study of bumps and ridges on a person's head. But have you heard of phenology? I'd heard of it, but didn't know the term for it. According to the National Phenology Network, phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events, or phenophases, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. Many of these events are sensitive to climatic variation and change, and are simple to observe and record.

Still not sure what that means? Well, I've been told by locales that you should plant your warm weather vegetables (tomatoes, peppers) when nearby blackberry brambles are flowering. I've also been told that Central Valley indigenous people would use the signal of elderberries flowering to migrate to the coast to collect seaweeds.

The National Phenology Network is calling for citizen scientists to record their observations in their database. Much like the annual bird counts organized by Audubon, scientists need citizens around the country to contribute their local data. I could submit information like when the oaks leaf out on my property, when the lilacs bloom (I've seen a seven week variation in the five years I've lived here), or when the tent caterpillars come spinning out of the trees.

Maybe you have a personal stake in your observations. For example, I'm quite aware when the oaks and pines are producing massive amounts of allergy inducing pollen. I dread that time each year. Perhaps it's the appearance of a native wildflower, like Ithuriel Spears or Blue Dicks.

With my previous employer, I often spoke to people on the east coast who insisted that their spring was coming 7-10 days earlier that in previous decades. Due to their anecdotal quality, many of these stories have been dismissed. But what if you keep a garden journal with notes and dates? This information could be uploaded to be analyzed!

I'm very excited. I love data. I love collaboration. I love citizines contributing to science. What not to love?

Chickies Go Outside

The new Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks have been eating, growing, pooping and therefore progressing nicely in their transition to the great outdoors. Saturday was their first day outside. So exciting!

You may recognize the chicken tractor being used once again as a chickie transition pen. It allows the gradual, but protected, introduction of new chickens to the flock. In another couple of days we'll prop up one corner, allowing the small ones the opportunity to safely explore the bigger world, but still a place to get away from the bigger chickens, especially the rooster. Unfortunately, we haven't had another hen attempt to mother our chicks. We miss our granny hen!

Of course, all of the adults had a good look at the new arrivals. Nobody seemed too upset, just curious. From left to right we have Squish Face (Ameraucana), Prius (Ameraucana), Kazoo (Gold Laced Wyandotte rooster) and Black Hen (Black Australorp).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mum's Day

I'm not a mom by the standard definition, in that I've never given birth. And yet, I've done the mom thing, as much as anyone can who hasn't gone the pregnancy/birth route. Being significantly older than my full-blooded sibs, I've had my share of diaper changes, 2am teething screaming, being thrown up on, kissing scraped knees, bedtime stories, helping with homework and school projects, etc. Granted, I wasn't their primary parent, but to say I was only their big sister is a misnomer.

And then there's all of the animal babies I watch over. We raised our cat Jilly from the tender age of two weeks old, when she was found orphaned from a feral litter. Eyes just opened and still baby blue, with one ear still down and the other half up, she weighed just two ounces. Bottle feedings every three hours, baths, taking her with us everywhere, and making sure we had enough formula (wish I had dairy goats then!), clean bottles, baby wipes and the basket warmer.

Since then we've had several rounds of baby chicks. Thank goodness they don't require bottle feedings every three hours! The latest group is now five weeks old and have been moved out of the brooder and into a cage with more head room. They're almost completely feathered now, and have just begun spending days outside.

And in June, one of my goats, Dharma, is due to have her first set of kids. We're unsure on her due date, but we think it will be at the end of the month. Will that make me a grandma? I don't think so, but it doesn't stop me from sending animal pictures to my mom for her wallet. And she never fails to ask about the status of all the animals. I've even heard that she brags about them to her friends!

Here's some much requested pics of the goats. Pi is the smaller black one in the foreground. She's a year old, and will be bred for the first time this fall. Maharani (left) is my current milking doe and the alpha of the herd.

Dharma is my new girl, from the same breeder as Maharani, and though you can't quite tell in the bottom picture, is starting to protrude from the sides. After her kids are two months old, they will begin to be weaned and then Dharma will also be milked every day. Of the three, Dharma is the most attached to humans. She'll follow you around like a very needy dog and loves to be petted.

Did I mention she has the sweetest face?