Putting permaculture to work

ram key.001

chick key.001

We are trying to mimic nature as much as possible here at the farm. It improves the biology of the soil, saves a bit of labor and saves on the purchased organic fertilizers. Nature never pulls out the chemicals or a rototiller or a tractor and everything grows like crazy.
We are working our gardens without tilling. We only plant one of our three gardens at a time and run sheep and chickens in the other gardens or plant cover crops during their off season. It means hoeing, mulching and tolerating some weeds. After the animals leave the garden we do not eat vegetables out of that garden for 120 days, as per organic guidelines, to give the manure time to break down.
Last winter’s garden was very successful but the spring brought in weed competition. That was after the 60 inches of rain from mid April to early June. The rain also made it impossible to bring in loads of mulch.
As you can see below, the winter squash is growing in the company of weeds, but the soil is so fertile that it can feed them both.
After another year, lots more mulch, another cover crop, and 200 more chickens, I hope I can report that it is running smoothly again.

I did not launder the money to import sheep from China. :)


On Tuesday we were scheduled to pickup some Gulf Coast Native Sheep from Sassy Sheep in China, Tx. We are always trying to diversify our flocks and necessarily have to sell a few breeding sheep and buy a few replacements to prevent inbreeding.
I headed to the bank and picked up cash, the most trusted form of payment, on Monday afternoon.
When I got home we had an emergency. One of our ram lambs had been hurt and we had to do a daring rescue. I picked the little 40 pound boy up to take him back to his mother. He peed down my left leg. He peed a lot. That is no big deal, I have been a parent. We reunited him with his mother and I went to change clothes. I reached my hand in my left pocket and pulled out a roll of soaked paper money. We laid the bills out to dry.
On Tuesday we purchased 18 beautiful sheep and paid in the marked, but dry money. By the time we had loaded the sheep we all smelled like money–that money.
When your mother tells you to wash you hands after handling money, remember—-wash them.
The ram lamb is fine and we love the additions to our flock. Thank you Sassy Sheep and Beau-tanicals.

Sheep wool for sale

Our sheep have been sheared and we have fleeces for sale. This is unwashed wool from Gulf Coast Native Sheep. It came straight off the sheep, into the bag. There will be vegetative matter in the wool. The sheep were not coated and they browsed in the woods at times.

skein of spun wool from 2014
skein of spun wool from 2014

A fleece from a sheep named Julia Child.
A fleece from a sheep named Julia Child.

IMG_5447 The fleeces weigh between 1 pounds and 4 pounds each. Fiber lengths vary. The price is $10 per pound. I will have some with me at the Eastside Farmers Market in Houston each Saturday.

Freedom Ranger Chickens available

We will have pastured chicken available at the market again this weekend.
We are raising Laughing Frog Farm red broilers, aka freedom rangers. The chickens free range all day on pastures and in the woods. They are not confined in “tractors”. They have a hooped structure for shelter.  They eat bugs, seeds and grass, and we supplement with extra vegetables and farmed soldier fly larva.
Like our laying hens, they are also fed organic chicken feed from our friends at Coyote Creek Organic Feed in Elgin, Texas.  All certified organic feed is also GMO free.
The red broilers were developed for France’s famous Label Rouge organic free-range chicken program. After WW II, industrialized farming introduced the now standard cornish cross chicken, with its’ huge breast and soft flesh, a chicken that could be raised to 7 pounds in 45 days, but could not walk or graze, which made it perfect for factory farming.
The French began to demand the taste of traditional poultry. They developed, from heritage stock, a slower growing, more muscular chicken, to be harvested at about 12 weeks.
We follow most of the Label Rouge standards for raising chickens which include:
• All birds have access to the outdoors from 9:00 am until dusk.
• Each bird must have at least 22 sq. ft. of outdoor grazing space. (They have a lot more grazing space than that).
• Trees and brush are available for shade and browse. (No problem here)
• Feed must contain whole grains and not be medicated. No animal products or growth stimulators are allowed. (Thank you Coyote Creek)
• No pesticide use is permitted (Never happens)
• Birds must be grown a minimum of 81 days.
• There are also regulations about the maximum size of flocks, 4000 birds, and I will only have 100 to 200 in a flock.
• We cannot follow the requirement that the birds be sold fresh, not frozen, due to local regulations and our distribution methods.
Our birds will be sold whole and frozen, with liver, heart, and feet sold separately
The whole birds mostly weigh between three and five pounds and cost $6.50 per pound.

We will be at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market.

The Lamb That Fell From the Sky


Last Friday I went out to talk with my sheep and spread some hay when I noticed the smallest lamb I have ever seen. She was standing alone, in a helpless hunched over position, still wet from birth. I have seen many sheep born the last few years but this was the first not being protected by its’ mother.
All our sheep have been born on pasture, cleaned by their mothers and they started nursing within minutes. That is one of the reasons we chose Gulf Coast Native Sheep. The main reason is the taste.
We did have an incident a few weeks ago when an older ewe could not let her milk down for a few hours and we decided to give a bottle to to a lamb, but she never an abandoned her baby and the baby kept trying to nurse.
Ringo, the donkey noticed the tiny, lonely lamb and went over to comfort it. I looked around and he had it in his mouth so I decided I needed to take it with me. It weighed in at 4.5 pounds, not half of what the last few lambs weighed, but walked fine, tried to nurse Mojo, the dog, much to his chagrin, and was real happy to get a bottle of milk.
Our friends at Blue Heron Farm said they might take it in because they were set up to bottle feed and we are not. A very kind gesture indeed, but something happened that afternoon that made it impossible to take them up on the offer. I got back from market on Saturday and started on chores, and everywhere I went that lamb was sure to follow. She tagged along, heeling like my dogs do not, lying down when I stop, and heading out again when I move on.
We have seven ewes who were too young to be bred in the fall and obviously one snuck out in the middle of the night (and we now know who you were) for a midnight rendezvous with a rambunctious ram. We never saw any blood nor a placenta, so I guess it was an easy delivery of a tiny lamb. Often the moms eat the placenta, but I doubt that a ewe that didn’t even have the instinct to stay with her baby would know that predator protection technique.
So now I have another chore for a few weeks. Lambs need to eat three of four times a day and one this small cannot miss a meal. I have to go to Houston today, so guess who is going to be in the dog crate in the truck.
So maybe she is an alien and we need to name as such or maybe she is just a miracle. We have been known to have those around here.

Gulf Coast Winter Farming

IMG_4540It is late January and this is the busiest time of the year for this farmer. I am starting to plant spring broccoli and pak choi, 1500 tomato plants need to be bumped up to 3″ pots and the hoop house they are going in needs some repairs. I am potting basil, separating lemongrass and grafting persimmons. In a couple of weeks I will begin grafting citrus.
Right now is the time to prune all the dormant fruit trees and grapes.
I have to keep my baby chicks at 95˚, which is sooo easy in the summer, but today it requires some extra monitoring.
It is lambing season and though the Gulf Coast Native ewes do all the work, giving birth on pasture, cleaning them up and nursing them, we spend some time weighing the babies, recording info, tagging ears and monitoring the mamas’ health. And heck–just looking. That’s what the blue chairs are for. I consider that work.
Nursing ewes are always requesting some alfalfa pellets and they drink a lot of water. Yesterday morning the hoses were frozen, making me truck water from the house. It was only 29˚ and they were thawed by 9:00. The weather has been glorious this winter.
Fruit trees are selling out, we are running low on lamb meat and the broiler chickens will be sold out before the new ones are ready.
Add to that the fact that the sun is only up about 10 hours a day. Ten beautiful hours.
In the north winter is a time to sit inside as much as possible and plan. For me that would be August.
This is a great job.

Pastured Lamb and Chicken at the Farmers Market

I will have a limited amount of lamb meat available this Saturday at the Eastside Farmers Market. We raise Gulf Coast Native sheep, noted in the Slow Foods Ark of Taste. “Meat of the Gulf Coast sheep is extremely tender, moist and balanced with a mild, clean earth flavor.”
Chef John Besh in his “My New Orleans” cookbook, calls the meat “leaner, richer, and more flavorful…”
The Gulf Coast sheep are also listed as critical by the Livestock Conservancy

I will also have whole, pastured, organically fed, freedom ranger chickens, raised by the “Label Rouge” production standards, a grassroots, chef and farmer driven program the French introduced in response to the factory chicken.

Buy Local and keep millions of dollars in our economy

DSCN0900Even though it is 68˚ at 4:30 am on December 11, people are preparing for the Christmas season and often that entails spending money on gifts, food and decoration this time of year. If you spend your money at a department store or supermarket, most of that money goes out of the area to middle men, trucking companies, China, Mexico…
If you spend the money on something produced locally and sold at a farmers market or many local shops, most of that money will be recirculated in the community.
We used to write on past due invoices at my old company, “Please pay us, so we can pay him, so he can pay you.” Money moves, and when you can help direct where it moves, it benefits friends and neighbors.
If 10% of the people in the greater Houston area spent $100 for locally produced Christmas goods this year, over $50 million would be recirculated in the local economy.
If 1% of the people in the greater Houston area were to spend $50 per week at a farm or farmers market for an entire year, that would contribute about $130 million per year to our local economy. That would support a lot of farms.
We consumers make a lot of decisions that effect our economy. We often complain about the federal reserve, congress and the jobs in America, but consumers choose where to spend some of their money. Don’t send money to China or Wall Street this year.
Invest in your local farms and shops.
Whether it is fruit trees, gift certificates, art, meat, cheese or vegetables, make sure some of it is locally produced.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, Happy Kwanzaa, and enjoy the solstice.

Planting non- tropical fruit trees in Texas


DSCN0289Non-tropical fruit trees are usually planted when the tree is going dormant, the weather has cooled off a bit and the ground is moist but not saturated. The best chance of having good conditions is late November, December, January and February in Texas. This gives the tree time to acclimate before it starts putting on leaves in the spring. Most fruit trees like full sun, but berries and muscadines can do well in partial shade, and can, therefore, be used as an understory plant.
For blueberries see my earlier post on planting blueberries.
For all other trees, muscadines and berries that I sell:
Remove the weeds and grass in a five foot diameter circle. In the center dig a hole twice as wide and just the depth of the pot or, for bare root trees, large enough to spread all the roots out without bending them. Keep the graft (if grafted) a few inches above the ground. Make sure the ground drains. Fill the hole with water and if it does not drain in 3 or 4 hours you must build a raised bed. Spread about one cup of rock phosphate or bone meal in the bottom of the hole. Remove the plant from the pot and set it so that it is the same depth in the ground as it was in the pot, or even an inch higher. For bare root trees, make sure all the roots are below ground and the graft is a few inches above. Replace the same soil you took out of the hole around the plant, working in another cup of phosphate and a cup of azomite would help, if you could find it. You do not want fertilizer or compost in this soil. You want the roots to grow out far and wide seeking nutrients. Water thoroughly. Put five gallons of compost around the tree 6” from the trunk out to 2’. Mulch the five foot diameter area with at least 3” deep mulch. Make sure the mulch does not touch the trunk of the tree, as this will create a habitat for fungus and insects.
The first year they require frequent watering, equivalent to an inch of rain a week in the spring and fall. In the summer in Texas, they require twice weekly soakings the first year.
I sell fruit trees at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. This is the inventory as of Nov. 1.
Fertilization schedule

Red meat and the WHO

I have always been a moderate meat eater. Most of the meat I eat comes from a trusted source. Usually me or a farming friend. I raise chicken and lamb on the farm.
This World Health Organization study condemning red meat is not what the media is presenting.
This is a collection of data from random trials. When you study a group of people who eat a lot of hot dogs or other processed meats, you are probably not studying people who spend a good deal of time in the gym. These studies are based on questionnaires, not, as best I can see, on controlled scientific studies. Do they sit on the sofa in front of a TV while consuming large quantities of sausage or do they eat the sausage after a five mile run? Or even better, do they eat a grass-fed lamb chop with an organic salad and beets after a hard day of farming?
They make no distinction between grass-fed and grain-fed red meat. Meat processed by salting, fermenting, curing or smoking is different than meat preserved with sugars and nitrates.
My father died of colon cancer and I do not take the risk lightly, but I feel that the conclusions made by the WHO are not warranted from the information in the study. Possibly the average American eats too much meat and most of the meat is raised under unhealthy situations. Cows, lambs and goats cannot digest grain well and most are raised in horrible confined situations. Can we connect the stress the animal is in to the quality of the meat? Does it matter that the people raising the animal have no regard for their wellbeing?
If this declaration makes more people choose to avoid the fast food hamburger and forgo the hot dog, it will have a positive effect on the world’s diet. It should help the meat consumer become more aware of the quality of meats, and therefore, should help the small, local farmer who raises meat responsibly.
However, if you read the report, you will find that the conclusions are not good science.