Blog, Farm

“Deconstructing Straw Bale Beds, and Preparing Our Garden For Spring.”

Straw bales, before and after tilling.

Finally, we picked out the last of the tomatoes (most were green) and ripped up the straw bale raised beds! Once they were up and the bale strings were taken off, we tilled our whole garden section up!

Hoping We Wouldn’t Hit Any Unwanted Nests In The Bales:

After taking down our lettuce bed early, due to a yellow jacket nest, I was skeptical we would get away without another, but fortunately, we didn’t have any other nests in the bales! We did however, find tunnels on the bottom of the bales, once we lifted them up. They looked pretty abandoned, and we never saw any animal. Probably because, our loyal mouser (Forest), kept everything clean of pesky rodents. Very grateful, for a cat who takes his job seriously!

After pulling them up.

Rabbits Put To Good Use!

Once we took them up, we just used a pitch fork and ripped them apart, so that the tiller had an easier job of mixing it into the ground. Now, this is the part I’ve been waiting for, to get good use out of my Rabbits! (other than breeding them). I was thankfully able to mix all their Rabbit poo (AKA garden fertilizer) into the garden so my husband could till it all up! This is great, because now after all the rains come and go, this will get the grounds all nice, fertilized, and ready for our garden beds, this Spring!

Notice the tunnels, in the dirt?

Our Upcoming Garden Bed Plans:

Our back yard is a bit sloped downwards. So another nice thing is, that when tilling all those bales (and fertilizer) into the ground, it really helped get us progressing, towards fixing that slope. We hope to get a coop built soon, and some chickens out there to continue mixing up our soil, but we have so many projects right now, that isn’t the main priority, quite yet. We are just glad we got that finished and ready for spring.

We have this book! Going to read it to see if there is anything else I can do to help our soil!

Recap Of How Straw Bales Worked:

If you haven’t read my last garden post, and are thinking of doing Straw bale raised beds, I will link that post here. We liked them a lot, for where we are located (gardening zone 8B), and how we could till it all for the next garden season! I will also post a picture of how they looked, way before we started taking them down.

The before picture, taken during Summer!

The beds we are doing next, will be concrete block raised beds, and I can’t wait to write a post on what we will do for that! Where we placed our straw bale beds, wasted some of our yard space, because we put them in a bad spot, space wise. So, this time around, we are hoping to utilize our space better so we can have more, useable room back there. Although the bales, were a very versatile option, the blocks are also versatile and we can’t wait to try those out. We’ve seen a few people use that method recently, and it turned out great, so we wanted to give it a shot!

After tilling everything! Dirt ready for Spring!
Blog, Farm

“First Year Garden Update: September 2021”

Our garden beds.

What We Planted:

  • Tomatoes plants 
  • Yellow Onions (bag of started, baby onions)
  • Pickling Cucumbers (planted from seed)
  • Garlic (cloves, not seeds)
  • Carrots (planted from seed and starts)
  • Lettuce (planted from starts, and seed)
  • Spinach (planted from seed)
  • Swiss Chard (planted from seed)
  • Strawberry plants
  • Bell Peppers plants
  • Cayenne Pepper plants
  • Jalapeno pepper plants

What Thrived vs What Didn’t:

Our lovely Tomatoes.

Our tomatoes did great! We have had a consistent small harvest every day which worked perfectly for our little family of three. I was even able to make a good amount of freezer pizza sauce! We planted the peppers next to the tomatoes and they had it rough with the weird heat waves, and I did not pinch them at first, at all, so we have got a few tiny bell peppers from it, but not really any useable ones, and the small rodents ate them before we could anyways. Unfortunately, the slugs took out the other pepper varieties earlier in the season as well, and they just never grew back, fully. So, sadly we didn’t get to use any spicy peppers.

our Peppers. Pinched all the newer buds off, hope it helps grow this little guy.

Our cucumbers never did too well either, we might have planted them at the wrong time. They had a very slow start, and produced very small fruits so I never got to do pickles this year, although it did grow a couple tiny ones. They also just looked yellow, and sickly. We planted the garlic pretty late in the summer, so we understand why that didn’t do too good. It was a quick decision, that we didn’t think too much about, we just had it lying around and planted it, as we had never done garlic before, but we should have done the research.

Our sad onions. They were deeper in dirt, but this was after I pulled and checked them.

We bought a bag of onions to put in a planting bin, they were the yellow onions and i’m not quite sure what type exactly, but they did not grow at all, sadly some just bolted asap, and others didn’t grow at all. We planted carrots from seed, and also planted “little finger” carrot starts, but none of them grew. I think it was because they did not have enough dirt to root down into and needed more room, potentially.

The Cucumbers. I didn’t even get to make a trellis, they never really grew. it only had just a couple tiny curled pickles.

The Strawberry plant, did great, at first! Then the heat wave came and slowed it down, with some burnt leaves. It then, grew a bunch of runners and I think that is why the fruit became so small and few, to none, as I did not clip the runners off. Our lettuce, we planted from seed— “black seeded” lettuce and we also got starts of “salad bowl” lettuce, those got eaten by slugs at first, but then after that, they grew back and did pretty okay. We were able to harvest some baby lettuce for a little bit! The spinach we planted grew, but it bolted asap, so we couldn’t use it. We also planted Swiss Chard, but once again, the slugs ate it. Unfortunately, we had to take out that whole bed due to a nest of Yellow jackets, so we don’t have pictures of the lettuce/spinach/chard and couldn’t replant any of them.

Our Strawberries. I pinched most of the runners, but should’ve sooner. We started with 2 plants.

Next Season’s Tactics:

For our Carrots, I will give them more dirt, to grow deep into, and try to thin them more properly, once they’re big enough. 

The Peppers, I will pinch them for the first 2-3 weeks so they grow and get a better root system going, before making any peppers, as well as try to watch how I water them.

For our Strawberries, I will pinch off the runners and focus on keeping it from trailing away so it does not use up it’s energy. 

The Cucumbers,  I will try to give them more fertilizer and maybe check them for bugs more frequently. They kept turning yellow and sickly, with curled little cucumbers, so I don’t know if it was bugs, or some kind of nitrogen or potassium deficiency. I will also pay attention to how much I water them.

For Our Garlic I will plant that at the correct time next season, early spring maybe this fall, and see how it goes.

We have this book, it has very helpful info!

The Lettuce did pretty good besides the slugs, and it needed a little bit more space, so I will prevent the slugs and give them more room next time! The Spinach I think just was effected by the extreme heat we had– it grew right before and bolted right after.

For our Onions I will start them by seed this year, and in the house at first, to see if that helps. Then I will plant them outside around our other plants as a sort of barrier, to see if they like that better. I’ve heard others say the bag of started onions, sometimes just bolt and stay small, which is what ours did.

Oh and I will also find a way to get rid of slugs, before it’s too late and my plants are gone. We will probably plant a few patches of French Marigolds here and there, to prevent our crops from being eaten and remove them from the general area. They are the worst during our rainy seasons, where we live!

What We Are Planting Next:

For reference, our garden zone is 8b. Click Here to see an informative planting calendar for this zone!

The List for our next Garden season (this coming spring):

  • Carrots (from seeds)
  • Onions (Green onions, and yellow onions; from seeds)
  • Lettuce (from seeds, and started plant)
  • Spinach (from seeds)
  • Swiss Chard (from seeds)
  • Zucchini  (from seeds)
  • Cucumbers (from seeds)
  • Corn (from seeds)
  • Strawberry plants (and seeds I saved from this year)
  • Garlic (from cloves)
  • Tomatoes plants (and seeds I saved from this year)
  • Bell Peppers plants (and Jalapeno peppers, just to try one more time without a green house).
On our book shelf. A great read also!

Herbs and Such:

  • Rosemary (from a start)
  • Basil (from a start)
  • Chives (from seeds)
  • Peppermint (from a start)
  • Comfrey (from a start)
  • Lemon Balm (from a start)
  • Lavender plants

All the herbs will be in pots or potting boxes, the cucumbers and corn will be along our fence, and the rest of the garden will be done in a Concrete block, raised bed type of garden.  I can’t wait to show that design, and what we plan to do! Currently, I am just planting in spring, and I stop around September, so I don’t deal with the fall/winter garden. Overall, for our first time we did pretty good, and i’m happy with the outcome! We still got to harvest things and use them in our meals, so it was great- even if half the garden didn’t do the best.

How was your Garden this year? Do you plant through the fall/winter?

Leave a comment! I’d love to hear how your garden is doing!

Blog, Farm

“Farm Dogs: LGD vs Herding Breeds”

My old boy, Doc. He was an amazing example of the Aussie breed.

I had to bring up the farm dog topic considering dogs have been a big part of my life, and eventually will be a big part in the protection of our future farm (and family). There are two main types of farm dogs. LGD breeds (Livestock Guardian Dog) and Herding dog breeds. My husband has never really had either type, but I have grown up around Australian Shepherds, my whole life. They are a herding breed. We will be getting an LGD soon, and I can’t wait! Training dogs has always been something I enjoy doing, so I love to get experience with different kinds.

Herding Breeds:

My family has always been an “Aussie only” kind of family. Very biased, but who could blame them, they are an intelligent breed! Usually once people find a breed they like, they don’t switch, at least not for a long while. Australian Shepherd’s are one of many herding dogs bred and genetically driven to herd, just about anything on your farm. My old Aussie, would herd me when we ran around the back yard! There are Heelers, Collies, Corgi’s and many other kinds too, that are in this “Herding dog” category. They were all designed to help “round up” your herd, whatever that herd may be and if they have the chance to do so. All of them are intelligent, loyal, hard-working breeds, who are quick to learn and bred to guide the herd to a certain destination, or to keep them in a certain area. However, there is a significant difference between herding dogs, and Livestock Guardian dogs. 

On my List, to read next!

LGD Breeds:

Livestock Guardian dogs are another breed of “farm dog” if you will, that are bred for the farm life. Livestock dogs consist of many breeds. Popular ones are, Great Pyrenees, Sheepdogs, Maremma, and Anatolian Shepherds. Of course there are plenty others, just like with herding breeds, but these are most common. These breeds are similar; loyal, hard-working, smart, quick learners, and intelligent. However, they were made to be the sole protection. A barrier between herd and predator.

I think the main difference with these dogs is, they are meant to bond solely to the herd/flock or whatever animal its protecting and not to you, the human. While they are meant to obey and listen to you of course, they are meant to be out in the barn, not in the house on the dog bed. This type of breed thrives being bonded to it’s job, (a herd or flock). Where as an Aussie for example, thrives being bonded to the human first, who then gives it a job.

(Herding breed) Aussie to the left. To the right, (LGD breed) some type of Pyrenees/Maremma mix.

The Difference:

Herding breeds are driven to herd, corral, and to guide the other animals (or the children) on the farm. Where as Livestock Dogs, are bred to protect the animals of the farm. They are the watchers, the loyal lookouts. That is their job, not to corral the farm, but to save the farm from things that prey on the outskirts. Aussie’s and other herding breeds can be protective, my Dad’s Aussie does great at protecting him! However, there are other breeds better suited to do so, and better suited for that type of training. It’s not impossible, but it is more difficult to train a dog for something it wasn’t truly designed or driven to do in the first place. 

Personally, my husband and I both have not had our own LGD before, we’ve only been around other people’s. We will be getting one though, to protect our farm once it gets a little bigger. Our animals will need a protecter, and something that will help to deter predators. I love Aussie’s and in fact I have loved training them and being around them throughout my childhood but they, as well as other herding breeds, were never designed to be doing the work of protecting, full time. It’s not what they’re driven or bred to do. I also can’t have a dog that would rather be inside with us, instead of in with the barn animals. If you too have had Aussies, you know they are “velcro” dogs! LGD are herd first, people second kind of dogs. They still like you, but they love their herd/flock.

Also, on my list. Can’t wait to read it!

The LGD We Want:

We will be getting a Karakachan dog when the time comes. They are hard to find, especially in our area! but we stumbled across a breeder, and it seems to be just what we are looking for in a farm dog. Loyal, smart, hard-working, protective, quick learners, and good with kids. That was the main thing. We’ve read and researched about them all (one of the helpful things about the internet!) and we can’t wait to start working with an LGD Breed, and just learn more about them with all the day-to-day experience on our own.

I think a lot of people get nervous about LGD’s when starting out, because they are marked as “severely stubborn.” I think this mainly comes from the fact that they are the “boss” of the herd, they are independently driven to do their job, on their own without your help. If you come into it with no training and no one to help, then that smart, quick dog has a risk of learning bad habits and being stubborn, in a bad way. That is where we need to step in to guide, take preventative action, and to train them properly. Any smart dog can learn bad habits! I believe that it takes the correct training, and any helping hands who have the experience, as well. Don’t be scared to try owning a different breed, just because you haven’t before. As long as you prepare for that dogs needs and such, why not?

I have had a good amount of experience with dogs, and even hope to eventually do puppy training in the far future, but still every dog breed is different and it takes different techniques, and different training for breeds who have different drives! So I’m eager to train an LGD and learn more. I love researching different dog breeds, partially because I’ve worked with Aussies so much that now, it is time for a change! I also just enjoy training dogs. 

Next up on the “Dogs to Get” list that I have going, is a German Shepherd (for our protection, not the farms). Tell me, do you have a Karakachan, or other LGD? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear your family’s experience with them!

Farm

“Straw Bale Garden. How it Worked and Total Cost.”

If you’ve read my introduction post, you know that this is our first year of a full garden. We were starting with a complete blank space. Originally, when deciding on a type of raised bed we really wanted cost-efficient, raised beds that did the job and also that looked decent enough. After running across a Pinterest board idea of raised beds using straw bales, we gave it some pricing thought, then went out and bought everything we needed!

 Obviously depending on size of yard and layout you want, it can be any shape really. Keep in mind how many straw bales you need for each design as for where you are located, might have different sized bales (we have two-string bales, about 3.5ft x 1.5ft). We went with three rectangle beds for the design, pretty simple. two of them consisted of one bale on the ends, and three bales on the sides. The last bed had only two bales on the sides, so it was a little smaller.

garden design pic
The design we made and took reference from.

After setting up the bales, we finished by laying down the dirt and planting everything. It turned out pretty well and honestly after we finished setting it up, I thought it looked pretty nice! Total cost for us after the bales, dirt, netting, and seeds/plants was around $500 dollars. If you already have netting and don’t need the two planting bins, then that would cut the cost down by around $70 bucks.

small bed picture
Our Small raised bed. The after picture.

The actual sizes; big ones were 6.5ft x 11.5ft, and little one 5ft x 8.5ft. Pretty decent, since after the season is done you can break apart those bales and use them for mulch, compost, etc. They hold up pretty nicely (strings kept on), and for a “beginners” first garden, I think its a great way to go! I do have a couple things to review, but please note it might not be the same in different climates and zones, (our zone is, WA Zone 8a). 

side by side bale beds
First done, and Now.

With our weather here, the constant water/sun exposure the bales grew a type of cup fungus— harmless, and nonpoisonous, but annoying to keep cleaned out due to crowding our plants. It also grew quickly at first, but eventually went away after consistent cleaning and maybe warmer weather, perhaps. I don’t have picture of those unfortunately. They stopped popping up by the time I thought of it. Here is a picture from online that matched ours. click here

 If you live in the PNW, you too probably struggled through the big heat wave we had just before the Fourth of July. Well, with our bales they again, grew another type of fungus— a type of slime mold. This was also harmless, and nonpoisonous. I’m fairly certain it was only due to the extreme heat, and wasn’t that hard to deal with anyways because it grew on the tops of the bales, and not in with our plants. However, its pretty gross to look at and made me think our cats were having some serious stomach problems at first.

fungi pic
Quick, overnight growth of the “yellow slime” and a different patch that dried up, to show its next step.

 

After the season is over, and the bales need to be taken apart, as long as the fungi are removed, the bales are still fine to use in your mulch, compost, or whatever you choose to use them for. Where we live, our backyard for some reason was appealing to some yellow jackets who made a nest in the smaller raised bed, which we dealt with. A tip I read somewhere that prevents that, if you also have an appealing set up to yellow jackets while using the bales, try to keep a gap between each bale of around 3” inches. If the bales aren’t touching, it seems to help people with deterring those mean guys.

heat damage and strawberry
Heat damage on strawberries, and salvaged bale from the small bed Yellow jacket takeover.

When we cleaned the jacket’s nest out of our smaller bed, we noticed that the dirt held up its shape just fine after the bales had been removed, carefully. So, fear not if you have to dismantle a bale, it shouldn’t disrupt your dirt or your plants! We actually had to get rid of that whole smaller bed, because its location wasn’t the best for our lettuce and spinach.

 It all worked out in the end even with that surprise nest. We salvaged what we could and we are going to add some of those bales to cover our flower bushes, and then the rest will be shoveled and raked at the end of summer, to prepare for winter and next season’s raised beds. 

 The straw bales were cost-efficient, and multi-purposeful. I would definitely still recommend them for a beginners first garden set up, so long as you remember to keep an eye out for those fungi. This next garden season we are doing concrete block raised beds, along with something DIY and fun for our garden area. It will be fun to do something my little one can be participating in, even now while 9 months old. It involves beaches, and searching. Any guesses? Can’t wait to share!