The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Author: Rory (page 1 of 25)

Good morning, kid.. Baby goats arrive!

Mama Goats

As I type this we have one new goat on the farm and another nanny in labor, probably giving birth to twins. We rigged up a webcam in the barn so you can watch live! See the top of sidebar on this web page to the right.

Here is a clip from yesterday:

Be sure to visit our YouTube Channel and subscribe so we can send you more videos of cute baby animals. :)


Gautschi’s Gardens

Paul Gautschi's Back to Eden GardenI’ve written on a few occasions of Back to Eden style gardening. Back in October my Dad and I made a pilgrimage to the Sequim, Washington in the Olympic Peninsula to meet the man who started it all and see his own gardens: Paul Gautschi.

 

b2e_paulgautschiI edited together a short highlight reel that captures the essence of our visit, complete with amazing edibles and Paul’s unique wit and wisdom:

The trip was unforgettable. From the moment we arrived Paul welcomed us into his gardens, offering perfectly ripened fresh fruits and vegetables for the tasting. All the while Paul described his gardening journey, declaring God’s handiwork in every step. I would call it bragging on God. “Taste and see!” Paul would tell us, referring to the Bible passage “Taste and see the Lord is good.” -Psalm 34:8

b2e_meetingpaul

Every Sunday from April through September strangers from all over the world show up at Paul’s 1/2-acre garden to see with their own eyes and taste with their own mouths the incredible bounty of his gardens. And Paul is not ashamed to share the secret of his success. For two hours or more on his garden tours, Paul preaches about the goodness of God.

Giant pears at Paul Gautschi's Back to Eden GardenDespite the hordes that descend on his property weekly to sample his fare, he still has more food than his family can eat. “My biggest problem is abundance!” Paul would often say.

The pear I’m holding above was literally a meal. I felt full after eating it, which kind of bummed me out because I wanted to keep eating! Paul explained I felt full because I was eating live food. Fruit starts losing nutritive value the moment its plucked from the tree. When you eat live food, you’re body is absorbing the maximum quantity of nutrients, minerals, and water-soluble fiber.

b2e_orchard-cabbage

Because of the deep-mulch wood-chip gardening Paul uses, his orchards are so healthy and loaded with fruit the branches bow down to the ground. “You can’t prune a tree to do that,” Paul said.

The soil is so healthy he can grow many vegetables in full shade under the tree canopies. Turns out most vegetables do not need full sun — they need good soil!

Back to Eden Gardens

Besides abundant fruit trees, what’s the big deal about Back to Eden gardening? Tasting is believing. It’s hard to explain flavors I’ve never tasted before. The best I can do here is show you some pictures.

b2e_parsley

Cilantro - Back to Eden Gardening

Winter Squash - Back to Eden Gardening

In this next picture you’ll see lavender growing next to a blueberry shrub. As anyone who has grown blueberries knows, they require highly acidic soil. They will absolutely not survive in high pH environments. Yet in Paul’s garden they thrive high-pH plants next to low-pH plants.

Lavender grows next to Blueberry in Back to Eden Garden

Same thing with Sage and Wasabi. This shouldn’t be possible, but there it is!

b2e_sage-wasabi

While Paul started with woodchips, he now grows all his own chicken food (they eat mostly kale and other garden scraps). His chickens turn garden and lawn waste into nitrogen-rich compost which Paul uses for a Fall fertilizing each year.

Paul Gautschi's Chicken Composting Factory

When I say visiting Paul’s garden was a spiritual experience, I’m not exaggerating. Paul does not separate the things of God from the things God made. Within a few minutes of arriving, tears welled up in our eyes as Paul talked about Heaven. During the tour you come to realize that Paul’s relationship with his heavenly Father is the real miracle and it leaves you hungering for a deeper spiritual walk yourself. Upon returning, my dad wrote this about our experience:

My mind and soul continue to reverberate in the aftermath of our time with Paul last Sunday. He is the epitome of God’s working in the lives of a person. Here is a man whose body has been ravaged by agent orange during the Vietnam war and yet exudes the loving grace of God beyond anything I have seen. The real benefit to people who come in contact with him is the potential of another changed life coming into alignment with the God of the Universe. The garden is only a byproduct used as a tool to bring people to Him. Maybe not intentionally but that is what’s happening. Wow! Thanks for introducing me to him! That time will forever be a pearl in my life!

Here is just one of many conversations we had about the goodness of God:


How much to grow?

How much do I grow?One of the most common questions I get asked about gardening is “How much should I grow?” Another question that goes along with it is “How  big of a garden do I need to feed my family?”

These are good questions and ones that I haven’t had a good answer for. Until now.

I just plant more of the things I like to eat and less of the things I don’t and hope it all works out in the end. But after doing this for several years, that system is not working. It’s a lot of work to plant crops you won’t end up harvesting and there’s a limited amount of time and storage when harvest season comes around.

Corn and potatoes

Planning the harvest to your specific needs is the only way to ensure you aren’t wasting precious time, money or labor. There are various “rules of thumb” on the Internet, such as “grow 5 celery plants per person”. But everyone has different preferences when it comes to diet. It makes a lot more sense to figure out plantings based on how much food you actually eat rather than vague per-person estimates.

So over the holiday weekend I created a spreadsheet that lists every vegetable we grow. Next to each vegetable I enter the serving size for each meal and the number of meals we consume that vegetable each month. For example, 1/2 cup of corn once a week or 3/4 cup of potatoes 3 times a month. Then it calculates the number of plantings needed to produce that much harvest for the whole year. For example, 78 stalks of corn and 17 potato plants.

Spreadsheet used to figure out planting calculations based on food we actually eat

Spreadsheet I used to figure out number of plantings based on food we actually eat

I also added fields for Family Size and Sufficiency Goal so it is easy to change the calculations as our family and goals change. This year our goal is to grow 50% of our own produce.

Lastly, I converted the spreadsheet into an online calculator and published it on this site so I could share it with others. It’s been a tremendously helpful tool already. Besides knowing we need to plant 177 onion bulbs, I also know how much area is required for each vegetable, so I know how big to size the garden plot.

I used the area calculations for each vegetable to lay out the garden plot

I used the area calculations for each vegetable to lay out the garden plot

At 50% sufficiency for our family, we need a garden plot with just over 600 square feet, which is about 25′ x 25′. But if we wanted to produce all our own produce, we’d need a garden double that size.

Click here to see the How Much To Grow Calculator or find it under the “Gardening” tab in the  menu bar. Let me know your thoughts to improve it and any other vegetables you’d like me to list.

 


Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing for Sheep

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing. That’s a mouthful. MIRG for short.

MIRG is a system of pasturing animals to maximize pasture growth. Proponents call it shepherding grass.

Two sheep grazing

Rotational grazing is nothing new. Dividing up a pasture into paddocks to prevent overgrazing goes back to the earliest agrarian societies. What is fairly recent is intensive rotational grazing. Instead of pasturing animals in a large paddock for a month or two, then moving them to the next paddock, MIRG is pasturing animals in very small paddocks for just a few days at a time, or in some cases hours.

The heart of the idea stems from giving pasture the optimum amount of time to re-grow before being grazed again. Short grazing periods stimulate growth, long grazing periods destroy pasture.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University

There are many benefits to the animals as well:

  • Animals are exposed to more varieties of forage because they cannot simply return to their favorite alfalfa patch every day
  • Animals are forced to move and exercise more
  • Fewer parasites build up in the soil and affect the animals
  • Manure is more evenly spread

Finally, perhaps the biggest benefit of all is soil health. MIRG and techniques like it build up far larger amounts of topsoil than any other known method. Rather than continually depleting the soil and subsidizing with chemical fertilizers, MIRG allows me to build healthier pastures that are self-sustaining.

Contrary to what it may seem, grazing is necessary to healthy pastures. If pastures are not grazed they turn into deserts. This was brought to my attention by the compelling TED talk by Allan Savory, a pioneer in the field of holistic land management.

Since acquiring our sheep last Summer I have had this nagging desire to figure out MIRG and apply it to our farm.

Tonight, I finally figured it out.

My first question was, can MIRG be used with a small scale of animals? We have 3 ewes and 1 ram currently, expecting lambs this Spring. The answer appears to be yes; I have found no literature saying there is a minimum amount of animals required. As long as the space requirements are met, the benefits of rotational grazing applies to 4 sheep just as much as 40,000.

My second question was, how do I size the paddocks for the number of sheep I have? The numbers are all over the map on this, and “stocking density” isn’t a terribly popular subject online. Thanks to a University of Minnesota Extension presentation, I was able to get some hard numbers and convert them for our farm.

The calculations use “Animal Units” or AU’s which are a livestock standard based on a mature 1,000 pound cow. The MIRG approach assumes 33 AUs per acre per day. So that’s 33 cows, or about 33,000 pounds. Keep in mind, this is dependent on the pasture productivity. It could be as low as 25 AUs or high as 80 AUs. But for the purposes of getting started, I am going with the 33 AU number.

My last question was, how big do I need to make the paddocks and how many of them do I need? If MIRG requires 33 cows per acre, that equates to 1,320 square feet per cow. Since our mature sheep are approximately 200 lbs, they will need 1/5th the space, or 264 sq ft.

The grazing periods should be as frequent as you can handle, no more than 5 days per paddock. Once per day seems to be a desirable number in most of the literature. But I have a day job, so I’m settling for twice per week. That means I will increase the spacing by 3.5, which is ~900 sq ft per sheep. Multiply by 4 sheep and we get to 3,600 square feet per paddock.

Square paddocks are recommended as opposed to rectangular or wedge-shaped which do not tend to get evenly grazed. So that means I’ll be making 60’x60′ paddocks (out of electric fencing) in addition to lanes for the sheep to follow to get to each paddock.

Drawing of paddocks for MIRG approach

Finally, I calculated out how many times I would have to move the sheep to allow the paddocks 30 days of rest between grazing. It’s 10.

To recap, modified MIRG for 4 sheep:

  • 33 Cows (AUs) / Acre = 165 Sheep / Acre (Using 0.2 AU)
  • 1,320 sq ft / cow = 264 sq ft / sheep
  • 3-4 day rotation = ~900 sq ft per animal
  • 4 sheep = 3,600 sq ft total
  • 3,600′ = 60’x60′ paddocks
  • Requires 10 paddocks to achieve 29-day rest period

This is subject to change depending on the number of lambs born this Spring, and the productivity of our pasture. The rule of thumb was to graze the animals when the grass reaches 9-inches and to move them when its down to 2″ or 3″.

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing: Sheep enjoying pasture at sunset


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