Here at the Farm at Treasure Lake, the TreeYo Permaculture headquarters stationed in Northern Kentucky, lots is going on despite it being winter. First, what is not going on this year is maple syrup tapping, which usually happens right around this time. I still have tons from last year, and my tennis elbow has me not wanting to lift 20-pound buckets on and off all day. Maybe I will do a later run in February just because I love it so much! In some ways winter has just begun yet spring is upon us with mild temps, thunderstorms, budding trees, and growing grass on unfrozen earth.
What is happening is the day in day out farm animal care, soil building, and prep for planting. On the animal side of things, goats’ bellies are swelling with pregnancies. Scoob, our kinder buck, is getting a chance to breed a little early because his pasture mate and fellow buck Snoop died in the fallout of the generational cold snap of wind chills of -30 F. In fact, the puppies that are left and dad dog sunny were eating snoop today as goats that die like that, we turn into dog food. It’s a harsh cycle on farms and yes apex predators like dogs enjoy their raw diet here of homegrown goat and chicken eggs. Furthermore, the goat babies born in December are thriving and are at that fun age of being very bouncy, personalities forming, and winter coats being very snuggly. They have some amazing colors, and we are at that point where we begin to market them to be bucks on other farms or band their balls and they become whethers for meat here one day. It’s a homestead and goat meat is a vital yield of it. And that ties to eating here and also serving for classes which more is on below.
The animals, sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens, each are tended to twice a day at the very least. Frozen or empty water buckets, hay replenishing, grain/ herbal dewormer feeding, and enclosure cleaning all are a constant rhythm (wave pattern). Sometimeswe are also rotating them in electric fence, although dramatically less, it does still happen at this time of the year. Collecting eggs, harvesting animals for meat, checking on birthing status, its watchful eyes, thoughtful labor, and material inflow.
As for the sheep, our first lamb of the year is a sprite single from a mother named honey (katadhin/ St. Croix mix). It was cold when she was born and within days of being alive, she witnessed cold that we haven’t seen in this area in a long time. Ironically, since that crazy Christmas deep freeze, it’s been very mild with signs of spring everywhere. But possibly fallout from the cold beyond snoop the goats’ death, was the stillborn lambs out the last two births. Star baby, our first lamb born (12/21) was due to give birth, and it never happened. Instead, she never could pass the still births and died way too young. Pearl was right behind her, and she was able to pass the stillborn twins and is hanging in there but recovering slowly. The cause is unknown, maybe the cold and calcium deficiency, maybe bacterial as this did happen once before. We had been essentially dry lotting them in one area during the cold period, and after the still births we moved them to new pastures in part for sanitation and also for forage because the grass is growing.
Since the sheep had been in that spot for 3 or 4 weeks, the build-up of waste hay and manure is quite intense. We are now taking that and moving that to tree crop hedges and tree rows as well as compost piles. Getting things properly mulched/ fertilized is a big one for me during winter as when spring hits so many things need attention that beds can easily get overwhelmed by weeds if not properly mulched during winter.
Moving organic matter from one spot to another is mostly what permaculture is btw on the day in day out.
The bedding, a mix of manure, urine, hay, and just a bit of straw is a great potassium and nitrogen boost coming into the growing season. We use cardboard to further suppress the weeds and feed the fungi. The mycelium is already active and loves the bedding mix as well as the cardboard and woodchips that we also use when available. The number of fruit trees in hedges and beds is getting closer to 100 so it’s quite a lot of biomass needed. The animals make the bedding even more potent with their manure packets full of nutrients and microorganisms.
What once was Dark Wood Farm ran by Annie Woods as a market garden, has slowly become a food forest set up as an alley cropping system in agroforestry. In between the agroforestry lines (rows of fruit trees, berry shrubs and bushes, comfrey, and native flowering perennials) in the alleys, we are busy subsoiling to do bed prep after the layout. These beds will be planted with nursery propagations, annual vegetables, flowers, etc, in our holistic orchard garden. The subsoiling decompacts the soil deep down, which is a vital part of great growth. After the subsoiling occurs to fully get the beds ready, we then broadfork and rake or hand weed. We have a running grass that comes from the drive lanes north and south of the beds and must be hand weeded, or it goes crazy quickly. There are 4 rows in each cell. A cell is formed by agroforestry lines and are the khaki color in the map above.
The cells are around 20 to 22 ft spacing wide and 50 ft long. The field itself is broken into four quadrants; rows of 50 ft long beds that are about 150 to 220 feet wide. We just opened up quadrant 4 for production this year with step 1 of burning. In our potassium deficient sandy loam, it helps. Furthermore, our cuttings and root divisions from last year of plants like elderberry, currants, jostaberry, gooseberry, aronia, and comfrey did excellent. So, we are hoping to expand that as our mother plants are one year older and even more diverse. It’s a very large undertaking this 1-acre field with 1000 ft of perimeter fence that we put up last year. The propagations help fuel our edible landscaping work.
That install part of permaculture is definitely one I love to do and teach about. Site assessments and designs are occurring currently for the 2023 install season through our subsidiary called harvest and habitat. As far as teaching goes, last weekend I got a chance to teach with the Cincinnati permaculture yearlong pdc and loved it. I am one of the main facilitators this year stepping back into that familiar role that once was the mainstay of my career. Anyway, it’s a great group, biggest one ever I believe for CPI and full of diversity. I have another course coming up that will be hosted only at the farm starting in Feb and running for 5 weekends. Check it out below and here is to my pledge of blogging more in the new year. Without AI.
2023 5 weekend PDC: Feb and March
Written by Doug Crouch