Goats

Back when I had a 9 to 5 job, one of my coworkers had twins. This was before I had personally experienced parenthood myself, and I stupidly commented how cool it must be to have twins. The look she gave me truly defies description, but comes close to the one I give people when they say they wish they had goats. It is an expression that says,” I both envy and pity your ignorance of the reality of this situation”.
Lets get the gross truth out of the way, goats poop. A lot. They have no way to control their output. It is everywhere. All the time.
The volume of goat related videos all over the internet is proof that they are the natural comedians of the animal kingdom. Goats are acrobats, escape artists and athletes. Please keep this in mind if you are considering goat ownership. Goats are amazing climbers. You may have seen the photo of the tree covered in goats and thought to yourself, “that must be photoshopped”. Nope. Goats, particularly the African breeds, were selected to climb to reach food and evade predators. Most of the dwarf and Pygmy breeds are descendent of these animals. Cars, patio furniture, picnic tables, piles of firewood, anything off the ground becomes a goat playground. Please keep my first point in mind when considering this fact.
You have probably heard that goats will eat anything. Goats are actually quite the gourmands and will basically only eat the things we like to eat and also the things we think are pretty. And they will eat these things to the ground. Roses, veggies, fruit, herbs, all very yummy to the goat. I live in a deer intensive area. I assumed goats would avoid the same plants deer won’t touch. Think again. Agave, cactus, rosemary, mint, all eaten to the ground. Cactus! Really! Not to mention toxic plants. (I must admit, my goats have eaten supposedly toxic plants with no ill effect, but still, be careful.) Goats do not self sensor when it comes to food.
Goats head butt. This is how they play and fight and communicate. We have Pygmy goats. They weigh between 20 and 45 pounds. Full size goats can be over 100 pounds. I have come to accept that as long as we have goats, I will have shins covered in bruises. Goats are also very mouthy. Don’t be fooled by the fact they only have bottom teeth. My goats like to lick. Cute right? Not when the also scrape with those adorable teeth.
So why do we keep them around? Goats are hilarious, sweet natured and damned cute. They produce yummy milk and cozy fiber. They can pull carts and carry packs. They are friendly, unpredictable and entertaining companions. If you have lots of space and patience, and don’t mind a little mess, a goat may just be for you.

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Who grows there?

My beta garden is a combination of things I have successfully grown in the past, things I have attempted (and failed) to grow and a couple things that are brand new to me. I have always grown tomatoes, but this time I have successfully started three from heirloom seeds. Only one of my tomatillo seeds germinated and it is thriving outside now. I have zucchini and yellow squash, which I have grown before, and pattypan for the first time. I am also growing some directly seeded plants and comparing them to some I started indoors (watermelon, cucumber, zucchini, and cantaloupe). I am trying onions and sweet and red potatoes for the first time. Peppers, eggplants, black-eyed peas, and green beans complete my beds.

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Organic gardening is hard

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I knew going in that I would eventually have to manage pests. I have quite a nice troop of beneficial insects and spiders lurking about, but I am beginning to see signs that some intruders are helping themselves to my foliage. More disappointing yet, my first pattypan squash was devoured by something. I am gripped by the reality of this task. If I had to depend upon the food I am growing as the soul source of sustenance for my family, I would be in full panic now. Now the experiment becomes serious. I do not want to harm my beneficial arthropod friends, so I know I have to use even organic pest control methods judiciously. I have yet to actually observe the pests in action, so I am going at this blindly.

A word about predators

My children are raising laying hens. My oldest daughter wanted a silkie since she learned about the breed. She chose a friendly little copper marans silkie chick and named it Henrietta. Several months passed, and Henrietta began to crow at sunrise. Sexing chicks is a tricky process, and the little silkie bantam turned out to be a rooster. We changed his name to Hank and he proceeded to behave in typical rooster fashion. We permitted our little flock to free range over our fenced acre during the day and put them in their coop at night. They were safe and happy for nearly a year. Then something went terribly wrong. Our brave little Hank lost a battle with an unknown assailant early yesterday morning. Our main suspects are a hawk or a fox. The moral of the story is free ranging is just not safe. A wise poultry man and mentor to my kids’ 4H club said it best, “if you love it, pen it”. RIP Hank.

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Beta garden

I have a dream garden in my head. It was the quarter acre of vegetables my grandparents grew in northern Indiana. My grandmother could grow literally anything and my grandfather was a supremely regimented man. The result was a magnificent rectangle of perfect rows, a perpetual cornucopia of all variety of vegetable from early spring through the late fall. I remember plucking perfect asparagus spears from the soil in early spring. Later, we would fill baskets with sweet green peas. Melons, cucumbers, squash, magnificent corn and tomatoes would flow in the summer.
When you have experienced the wonder of produce fresh from the garden, nothing else will suffice. With this in mind, I have set out to replicate that bountiful dream. The catch, I live in central Texas now. It gets hot here. Really hot. Really fast. So I am learning as I go. I have had fair success in the past with a few crops in small square foot gardens. This will be our first full growing season in our new home. We have lots of dry, rocky, uneven land. I am starting small, two 10×4 foot beds. This will be my beta test year. A few firsts: potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, and black eyed peas. Also, I was able to successfully start some heirloom tomatoes from seeds. The goal is to do this organically. So, here we go.

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