July Garden Journal 2017
Our first watermelon. I forgot that I'd planted golden midget watermelons, and just thought it was diseased or dying. But it was golden, and certainly midget. More like a big apple. But we had our first watermelon!!!! Unfortunately, it was as tasteless and bland as it was cute. Maybe the next one will be better.
This was the month of the rat. I've known since last fall that a rodent of some kind has been eating form my garden buffet, but I was unwilling to actually do anything about it. The problem is finding a dead rat or something equally horrible. At least, alive, they scurry away and only come out at night. Dead, they just wait there until you nearly step on them.
But we had company over for a beer on the deck, and it was a little unnerving when the little creatures came out after dark and started climbing our apricot tree. You could hear the leaves rustling, and apparently it ruined the relaxing atmosphere. (Some people!) But the good news was my husband was finally on board to do something about it. The next weekend he set out poison and an electric rat trap.
This, of course, is a good thing. BUT. Now every morning for the last 8 days we are greeted by a dead rat somewhere in the backyard. Instead of finding somewhere quiet and dark to live out their last moments, they must spend it trying to score their last meal. So I go out to the chickens or rabbits in my bathrobe and some flip flops in the early morning, and BAM!!!!! Disgusting dead rat. Idyllic setting destroyed.
Which brings me to our next pest issue. I don't know for sure, but I am 90% certain their is a skunk living under our deck. At the end of June our little dog went outside one night to relieve herself and came running back in smelling like Eau de Skunk. Two weeks of our backyard smelling, stinking, yucky, and of course there's always a dead rat to really drive the point home.
But I believe the skunk went for the bait in the rat trap and got zapped, because one warm night as I slept with the window open, I woke up to the smell of burning rubber. Definitely a skunk. The bait was missing from the rat trap, but no rat. It's been three and a half weeks of stinky-ness and dead rats outside.
But wait! That's not all.
We keep a third rabbit separate from our first two because Bugs, our first rabbit, does not seem to like Ginger, our new import. Silver, the fixed male, seems friendly enough, but even a friendly sniff in Ginger's direction results in Bugs chasing him around for payback. So Ginger has been alone, though we plan on finding her a friend soon.
The beauty and the horror of it all is that rabbits burrow. Remember Alice in Wonderland? The sweet girl who falls down a rabbit hole? There's a lot of fiction in that story, but it appears that rabbits do actually dig holes. Ginger dug and dug, and dug her way right into Bugs' territory.
The results were horrible. Fur everywhere, a torn lip, and a visit to the vet. Rabbits are considered "exotics", which is a ridiculous label for anything that breeds so generously, but we had to go to four different emergency animal clinics before we found a vet who could work with a rabbit. Ginger got two stitches and a week of painkillers and antibiotics. The vet and her assistant both said Ginger was the best rabbit they'd ever met, and clearly I don't deserve her. Poor thing.
A Japanese hybrid cucumber. They were perfect. Only two plants keep us in cucumbers.
An apple melon. This one wasn't quite ripe when I took the picture, but once they ripen... Someone else finds them first. Must be squirrels.
The situation has improved.
I have a routine now. I put the baby and auntie away so they aren't climbing all over me, and mama goat willingly jumps up on the milking stand because she LOVES her treats. She still kicks. I think she will always kick, but now we have some solutions.
I was told originally that the key to successfully milking a goat was to start them young and get them used to the milking stand. It turns out this was second-hand information based on a misunderstanding. Oops! The first-hand account turned out to be just strapping them down. Much, much easier, and not cruel. Definitely safer from my end.
This goat-milking friend says that she just straps the goat's feet in with webbing hooked through the milking stand. It was revolutionary and brilliant and nowhere on any blog or book I've seen before. She was even so kind as to send me pictures, and my husband rigged up a similar system. Now I can actually milk by myself without having to recruit an angry adult to help me!
She can barely kick now. The webbing is wide so it doesn't cut into her leg. She still has a few special moves where she tries to kill herself by knocking the whole milking stand over, but one well placed foot (mine) prevents that. She also has a few tells. Before she kicks she stops eating and pulls her head back. Then she goes completely still before BAM! she aims to knock over the milk pail. And as long as I get the pail out of the way in time, I feel this makes us good working partners and I even feel a grudging respect for her determination. When the milk spills I want to dump the rest over her head. (But I don't.)
I ran into a few other issues as well... Bribing her with treats got me in trouble when her stomach couldn't handle it and she got horrible horrible diarrhea. Then I put a garbage can near the milking stand filled with alfalfa pellets, but she knocked it over and this time both goats had diarrhea from the buffet. For the first time my backyard smelled goat-y. Yuck. And her milk production dipped as a result, so I went from getting just over 2 cups per milking to just under 2 cups per milking. :/
We cut out all legumes from Winnie's diet. No more peas or beans because that was what made the milk taste a little funky. I also chill the milk in the freezer initially. I think it may not have been getting cold enough quickly enough in the refrigerator. Sometimes I forget the milk in the freezer, but that's ok too. It doesn't hurt the milk, and it turned out to be more convenient because if we aren't ready for more milk yet, we just leave it in the freezer. We can finally all drink clean, sweet milk, though we are all a trifle hesitant after tasting bad milk.
A manager at the local hardware store who used to raise dairy goats had great advice too. She took a good long look at me and said, "Maybe you need to relax. Have a beer. You know what? Give the goat a beer." So no, no one got any beer, but it was a good reminder than I needed to relax. All the tension was stressing out me and the goat.
Milking the Devil's Mascot
I'm borrowing goats. A mama goat, her sister, and one of her babies. This is week one, and quite a week it has been. Auntie Goat is the cute one above. Just look at that face! Mama goat is called Winnie.
They arrived last Tuesday and I got a crash course in Milking 101. Grab high, trap the milk, and express it. Little goats, little teats, so just two fingers. Winnie, the mama goat, isn't crazy about the process. I spent two hours awake that night worrying that somehow my borrowed goats weren't safe. Checked on them once.
Wednesday morning I got a whole quarter cup. That is four tablespoons. I had to hold one leg in one hand and milk with the other, shoulders BURNING, sweating from the sheer stress of it all, scared Winnie was going to jump right off the stand and hang herself. Auntie and baby kept trying to get in on the action and the kids tried to fend them off. Hair, dirt and pollen all dropped in, and though I filtered it, 24 hours later it was gross. Even before it went yucky on me it had a strange, bean-y flavor like thick creamy soy milk, but not horrible. Wednesday night I separated mama and baby goats.
Thursday morning Winnie's udder was engorged like the first time your baby sleeps through the night. SO MUCH MILK, but she kicked so badly I had to give up. I was a little worried she'd have mastitis or something horrible by the end of the day, but figured baby would take care of it. Thursday afternoon was Milking 102. Cleanliness. No more holding a dirty goat foot in one hand and milking with the other. Goat not allowed to lie down on the dirty stand. Clean white rag after clean white rag until the udder is perfectly clean, then another clean rag to dry. It reminded me of beauty school: lots of hand washing and a sanitary maintenance area. We set a towel down under Winnie in case she decided to lie down, and a footstool under her belly to keep her up. Such a stubborn goat! I admit I felt faint afterwards.
Friday morning my milking skills were improving, but Winnie was putting up even more of a fight. I got the milk out, I just couldn't keep it in the pail. My sister helped me a ton, but kept uttering helpful things like, "Faster, Megan, I can't do this much longer! What's taking you so long? Get a grip, it's just a goat!"
"That goat really hates you."
Saturday morning milking was better, way better. My husband held a foot and the pail, Winnie kicked less, I got faster, and we probably got a little over a cup and a half of milk. Whew! Still, it seemed like buying a crane to just airlift the goat would be the best way to go.
Sunday morning, oh dear. Sunday morning. I was armed with two adults, extra milking pails in case Winnie managed to kick them over or got another foot in there, a towel for the milk stand, snacks and treats, more snacks and treats, two size stepping stools, a borrowed scarf from a chihuahua to use as a gentle tether, and all the wipes in the world to clean everybody off... but I guess what I really needed was a tranquilizer gun, or maybe an exorcist.
"Well that's what you get for trying to milk the devil's mascot."
Sunday morning Winnie transformed into a bucking bronco. My husband held her legs, my sister held her, my daughter sang to her, my son stripped my garden bare in search of quality treats, and Winnie wasn't having any of it. She kicked. She jumped. She lay down. She actually refused to eat, put her head in the food bucket, looked back at me and shouted, "MAAAAAAH!" One cup of milk in the bucket and she managed to get a foot in. She pooped. She peed. She hates me.
"Wow, that's an angry goat. I really don't like this. I think you're hurting her."
For the record, I am way, way gentler than the baby. Baby goats ram their mother's udder to bring the milk down. But I understand, I'm stealing milk from Winnie that was intended for her baby. It does seem a trifle unethical when you stop to consider it.
But this morning wasn't too bad. It took only three of us. I switched out pails halfway through before a foot could get in there and got two cups. This can only get better.
"Don't you still have a breast pump somewhere?"
June Garden Journal 2017
My first sunflower! It showed up July 1st. Hello, summer!!!
Above left you mainly see sunflowers. They will hopefully be supporting some sakata melon vines. In front of them are watermelon vines, and there is a close-up of a tennis ball sized watermelon we haven't managed to kill yet. The calendula, as promised, self-seeded.
The sunflowers in this picture are hopefully going to support apple melons. Swiss chard is planted along the left edge. The front box is freshly planted with bush beans, malabar spinach, lettuces, carrots, beets, Egyptian walking onion, lemongrass, and a tiny little butternut squash plant. All the nasturtiums are volunteers.
This bed is supposed to be all squash and peppers, but there is a broccoli plant from last fall that magically came back to life and I interplanted some Romaine lettuce which has done really well in that spot.
Mixed results in the bed above. I should've added more amendments from the beginning, but it's improving. The Japanese cucumbers I started from seed did far better than the bush cucumbers I sowed directly in the bed. The eggplants finally look healthy, and the peppers and tomatoes are looking a little healthier.
The corn (Blue Hopi) looks taller every day, and much healthier than last year. The green beans to the right might not be getting enough sun now, I'm not sure. They look healthy for now.
Most of my snap peas died. I thought I had some horrible pest at first, but I'm 85% certain the pest is my 7 year old daughter who checks for snow peas every day and probably uproots the plants as she picks. There are worse problems to have, and I planted a mix of peas and beans which may come up quickly. You can see the sprouts in the picture above, right. Wrong season for peas, I guess, so we'll see. There is kale and spinach in the middle. The left side of the box has watermelons, one charentais melon, and yarrow. The melons aren't doing as well in this spot as in the warmer part of the garden.
The bed to the right of the dying peas had a bunch of volunteer potatoes and one tomato plant. I ignored them completely and dug up an accidental 13 pounds of potatoes! That stuff doesn't usually happen to me in the garden, so YAY!
Above left is a "Missouri Bill's Soup Bean" drying out. They were delicious green, and it was nearly impossible to get my daughter to stop picking them. On the right are pumpkins. I think they'll be ready soon. They stopped growing and they've been getting darker every day.
I decided to pick from the garden only once a week if possible and to take pictures. It was easier than weighing it all since I'm getting such small amounts, and at least I have some kind of record now. I try to pick EVERYTHING that's ready, because otherwise some strange hoarding instinct takes over and it stays in the garden and goes bad. This way I'm always clearing room for new things and nothing goes to waste. I try to cook it all right away. I notice that I'm using more herbs now that I'm picking them ahead of time, and I never find rotting things in my refrigerator. I started using more parsley and oregano, and I'm making mint tea regularly. I'm getting 8-12 eggs a day in addition to the vegetables. So far, so good.
Happy fourth of July!
I love trying new foods, cooking, and gardening. I hope to share these experiences on this site. Thanks for taking a look!