Ask the Shepherd 1

I’ve been doing a lot of my own talking here on my blog, I figure it’s time to open up the floor to my readers. If you have a question about the farm, the animals, my jobs here on the land, how many burrs a dog can get in his fur, or anything else you want to know about our adventure so far, let me know here in the comments! As always, I’m a complete newbie and my answers only reflect my skills and knowledge so far which might not be the best nor most correct. But I try, and that’s what really counts. So let’s hear your questions!

Animal Update

I’ve been posting a lot about my growing veggies, but what about my growing animals?

The sheep are all enjoying the great weather and great pasture. Our new additions (Keelin, Macaroon, and Rolo) have all fit in perfectly. Macaroon is surprisingly bold – she is the ewe who is staring down Lee and stomping her feet at him, before going in for a sniff. Rolo is bold as well, but she’s more like Macaroon’s wing-girl. Keelin remains best friends with Price. I have yet to pet either of the two. I will be remedying this in the coming days!

The turkeys are loving it in the garden. They patrol around all day, eating bugs and greens. They are not eating my growing beans and peas and for that I am very glad! Plus all their walking helps keep the paths tame. I have finally cleaned out the basement and let me tell you, I have learned that I will never be doing that again- it’s brooder boxes and a brooder shack outdoors from this point on. But hey, we all do silly things from time to time.  Considering I’ll never be raising such a small number of birds from this point out, it wouldn’t be feasible doing it any other time but this year.

The chickens completely failed at raising any babies so far. The ducks are completely succeeding. Ducks win. Hands down.

Speaking of the ducks, you should see them now! They are all brown-chested with little bum feathers. They wiggle them around when they’re happy. Cutest thing in the world next to the “I’m wet” T-rex arm shaking. I expect they will be adorable when they start learning how to fly! Oh, Tom and I caught a really neat duck behaviour – a duckling fight. We think it was some dominance issue. They were charging into each other with their chests and wrapping around with their necks to nibble on each other’s arms. Eventually mom came over and broke things up, but not until after the ducklings had fought in the pool for a bit – maybe mom knows that cooler heads prevail?

Ruby might be finding a new home in September. There is a farm outside of Kanata who is interested in a mentor goat. That is one thing I’ve learned Ruby is great at, goat mentoring – she’s a good foster mom. But you have to keep an eye on her, else she’ll teach the younguns how to escape and cross the road. With proper fencing though she will be a great leader for raising other goats. I have come to respect her good temperament on a leash – it is nice having an animal come where you want it to go!

Nothing new is with Spirit. She is enjoying her haircut, and was puzzled by Lee’s presence, but now she’s back to her ho-hum style of life. She warned off more coyotes last night. She’s easily made her value known on this farm and has long since recouped her cost. I don’t know how many lambs I would have buried this year had it not been for her presence.

Everything is new with Lee! He is doing mighty fine considering he was a country dog. We went into Rockland today for supplies and he got to go into a local pet store, where we found his #1 favorite toy – the Kong Extreme rubber bouncy chew toy. You can put snacks into it! Lee loves to chase it around because it bounces around unpredictably. He’s a bit bored with his rope and ball, it’s too predictable, but the Kong he could play with all day. And surprise surprise, Lee already has a gist of the “drop” command, plus I’ve been working on his consistency in returning the toys to me (basically fetching without the command yet). Each day I’m learning how to read him a bit more, I can tell what sort of mood he’s in and that lets me provide for him better; in return he remains comfortable and content with his position as Gamma Dog and focuses on being a productive pack member who obeys what Alpha and Beta say. He is one heck of a smart cookie though – when I look into his eyes I kinda get the feeling like he’s a person stuck in a dog’s body. Then he does a dog thing like licking his butthole and I’m brought right back to reality! And then he does an awesome dog thing like rounding up the goat kiddies and making them go right back through the fence they waltzed through a second ago, saving me much time and running around. Way to go boy!

My Sweet Border Collie

Lee

Yes, that’s a little heart-shaped ID tag. Doesn’t he look like such a Romeo with it on!

He will be requiring a very strong hand in training. He is just so excited at being on my new farm with all the new animals that when he’s outdoors he can get caught up in himself. But boy does he ever love stalking the turkeys! He’ll watch them all day long if I let him. Which is very good, it helps to tire him out a bit. No wonder why the dog sport Flyball is so popular with this breed – they have a seemingly endless energy tank! However I’m getting good at finding ways to tire him out. Last night he was completely ready for bedtime, yawning and snuggling into my arm. He makes the cutest sigh when he relaxes before nodding off.

I think he will make a really great partner here on the farm.

Saving Tomato Seeds

Tomato Seed Process

Tomatoes are one of the first crops we learn how to grow when starting up a veggie garden. And why not – a fresh tomato tastes nothing like the store-bought ones, the plant is very hardy and produces a great yield. All in all they’re a perfect crop to start with, and this extends through to saving seeds as well.

Why save seeds? Well, first off it’s easy and reduces your plant cost dramatically for the next year. Sure you can buy seeds from the store, and I will always buy some new tomato seeds every few years because tomatoes do not breed true (that is, the tomato seeds may not produce the same tomato as where the seeds came from), but it’s a lot of fun to sprout seeds that you saved by yourself. Plus if you buy the occasional plant from greenhouses or exchange with a friend, there is no guarantee that they will have the same cultivar next year, so saving those seeds ensures you can continue to grow what you like. Or at least grow interesting things related to those you like. A lot of plant growing is experimentation!

I have a ton of tomatoes, thus I will be saving a lot of seeds. Here is how I do it.

Heritage Tomato Seeds

Step 1: Harvest the seeds. I usually remove some of the seeds when I cook with tomatoes, so I save these in a small container. You will not be able to separate the seed from its seed coating without a ton of effort. This is what Step 2 is for.

Ferment

Step 2: Ferment the coating. All you need to do is put plastic wrap over your container of fleshy seeds and leave it in the sun for a few days. I add a splash of water every day and stir things up. What is happening in this step is the seed coating is being fermented away by various bacterias or yeasts. They’re doing the work for you! After a few days it will start foaming on top or forming a little bacteria-y film, as seen above. This is when you know you are done. In fact you can test the seeds with your finger to see if their coating is gone, I expect I left mine a day longer than needed.

Rinse

Step 3: Rinse the seeds under cool water. Get rid of that bacteria bit, it’s garbage. Look at that, no seed coating! How magical! I believe removing the seed coating makes the seeds much more likely to germinate, otherwise the coating prevents water from getting to the seed core.

Sun Dry

Step 4: Dry them out. I put them on paper towels to absorb any excess moisture and put them on a windowsill for a few days. Then pick them off of the paper towel (don’t worry if a bit sticks, paper will break down fast in dirt) and break up any big clumps of seeds. Once dried out, they look like this:

Final Dry Seeds

Step 5: Label them and store them in a seed package, then put that package somewhere out of the light and dry. Try putting them into a screw-top Mason jar. You can see how I make my own seed packages on this blog post.

Use them just as you would use store-bought tomato seeds. This year we planted three seeds to a cell and that worked very nicely, next year I might try germinating them beforehand and planting one per cell in addition to triple-planting. We’ll see how well that works out!

Lee

Today was a special day. Today I met a new best friend. And I did it with the company of my human best friend, Kristin. What more could a girl ask for?

His name is Lee and he’s a 2 year old border collie. He has spent his life around cattle as well as being used as a stud. And a mighty handsome one if I do say so myself. He, like with many things in my life, made his way to me via the used/wanted ads websites.

His previous owner wanted to find a home where Lee would be put to good use. As any border collie owner will tell you, these are high energy dogs, dogs who really love having jobs and work to do. While he was performing well in his role as a bitch lover, he was underperforming in his herding role, rather he didn’t really have much of one at all. That will be different here on my farm. He will be trained up as my shepherding partner and already has shown absolute domination over Frankie the ram. I hope Frankie enjoyed that one ram he got in against me cause it’s the last one he’ll ever accomplish.

It has been less than 10 hours and I already know that things are likely going to be perfect between us. He is fitting in very well with the rest of the farm occupants, Tom included. He is also taking to house living very well considering he wasn’t a house dog at all. Same with his trip into the city, and with him meeting new people – he has been a gentleman through and through.

The only qualm I have is that he drools a teeny bit when he’s excited. But you know what, that’s gonna be an issue with at least half of dogs, and I will gladly take a dog that drips a bit and doesn’t bark over one with the attributes reversed. Plus then I can joke with people and say that Lee is short for Leeky Faucet :)

PS: Sorry for no picture yet, I shall edit one in tomorrow. Picture added up top! Lee is kinda scared of stairs, so I’m typing this from my iPod in the living room while he sleeps at my feet. Now to carry him upstairs to bed… and then tomorrow we shall tackle overcoming our fear of stairs!

Garden Pictures

Alright, my garden is officially chaotic. Remember those paths I made so I could go through the tomatoes? Gone. The tomatoes are all intertwined, it’s quite hard to get in the middle to harvest some of them!

Here are some pictures from the past weekend, taken by my mum.

Corn and Sunflowers

These are two of our Three Sisters piles. Corn up front and sunflowers behind.

Beans climbing the Peas

Already you can see the beans growing around the corn! They really do act as a wonderful support. We will be planting the combo of beans & corn & pumpkins again for sure, though a week earlier so that I can be eating my own corn nowadays instead of locally grown but not grown by me.

Yummy Ripe Tomato

Yum. This was taken a few days ago. The tomato was ripe and delicious when I ate it. In fact I used it for my breakfast omelet. Frying the tomato released some of its intense flavour in the form of smell. Wowwee. I didn’t think a frying tomato could smell as good as frying onions or mushrooms, but indeed this one does. It will be hard to go back to store-bought tomatoes.

Tomatoes in a Line

These guys need more time though! Nice shot mom :)

Heritage Tomatoes

Here are the same tomatoes I took a picture of awhile ago. They do indeed look like little watermelons. They are so absolutely delicious. I don’t think I’ll tire of them, even though I have like a billion.

Heritage Tomato Seeds

This shot was taken by me. It’s one of our tomatoes. Look how green the seed casings are. Yum!

Pepper Flower

Peppers are growing too! The plant continues to flower and produce fruit, which then takes a long time to change color. You can see that they are developmentally similar to tomatoes that way.

The New Plantation

This is the new plantation. It’s in the spot where the cauliflowers used to be. All of these plants were bought at Loblaws, they were the last pickings and all of them were like 44 cents per flat etc.  They seem to be doing pretty OK so far.