Friday, March 28, 2008

Vegetable Lasagna

Well, it's not quite what you think... no yummy recipes here. It's a new-to-me way of developing our garden plot. As it turns out, a new acquaintance of ours is a Master Gardener with the Lane County Extension Office, and she stopped by to help us identify an unknown weed in our pastures. She had lots of other ideas to share, and among them was a simple way of readying our designated garden area. It's a sort of layered mix of cardboard, manure, leaves, newspaper, clippings and mulch. Our soil rocky with six inches of heavy clay on top of it. So to lighten it up, I'm going to use the "lasagna" method, also called sheet mulching.

Since we have plenty of cardboard boxes leftover from moving in, I started with them, opening them wide and removing the tape. I just layed them down on top of the grass and weeds, to kill them by blocking the sunlight, adding to the mulch. No mowing or digging necessary.

Then I topped the cardboard with a layer of alpaca beans from yesterday's clean-up. Alpaca manure is often called "alpaca gold" because it is nutrient-rich and can be applied directly to plants without burning them, and it composts well.

Next, a layer of dead grasses, long and seedless, that I grabbed from an old fence line. I need to import some leaves that I've raked in another area, and get discarded newspaper from a neighbor to complete the layers. But the rain comes and goes several times a day, so I've let it begin the decomposition for now. It was a quick start, and has me motivated to continue.

But then I thought that I should have begun the layering with a "carpet"of chicken wire on the bottom, to keep out the gophers and moles. So we bought that today and will put it under what I've started so far, and continue with that when I start the other sections. All of this is intended as raised bed, so we will border them with wood or timber.

Often we find earthworms whenever we dig, or we see them inching away from a boggy area so they don't drown. Now I will begin to collect them and relocate them to the garden zone.

I've already browsed the Territorial Seed Company catalog, selecting vegetable types I'd like to plant. And since they are in nearby Cottage Grove, we can go and talk to them directly and get their recommendations.

Last year at this time, a blackberry thicket was much of hiding our fence line. We had them cut down, and now that sunlight can reach the ground, there has sprouted several plants that roughly resemble zucchini bushes: large, serrated leaves growing out from a center, and less than knee-high.

I took photos and sent them to Melissa-the-Pasture-Lady (Small Farms Advisor for Oregon State Univeristy extension). I also posted the photo on EVAA's (our local alpaca association's) email list: Does anyone know what this plant is, or if it is harmful to alpacas? One of the other farm owners at first suspected it to be the dangerous and toxic Giant Hogweed, and located an online brochure (PDF) for me to compare it with. From the photo, Melissa said she was 99% sure that it is Cow Parsnip, Heracleum lanatum. We continued the search to be certain.

As mentioned, Master Gardener Joy offered to come and look at the mystery plant in its natural habitat, and to bring along some of her taxonomy books, to identify it. This invader is definitely Cow Parsnip, which is often mistaken for Giant Hogweed, its nasty cousin. In fact, I recall seeing CP in flowering form across the road last year. Its large white flowers resemble Queen Anne's Lace, and I had picked them for a flower arrangement.

The cream-colored tap root looks rather like a parsnip, hence the common name. I have been methodically digging it out of our pasture and the boys' pen, and will continue to check that area to make certain it is eradicated.

Because the Boys are coming! Our herdsire Galileo has been picked up at his "other home, " Eclipse Alpacas in Michigan. After a respite in Iowa to wait out a snowstorm, they will journey to So CA to pick up Orion, along with other alpacas needing a ride along the route, and will arrive here early next week.

It has been so very nice to get to know our small group of girls for these first weeks, and now we look forward to adding another dimension -- two areas to tend to, to clean and feed and maintain and enjoy.

And in a few weeks, the yearling boys Dakota and Sorrento will arrive, after making an appearance at The California Classic.

Hurray, the Boys are coming!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter blessings

Easter is the one holiday in the Christian calendar that has no defined date. Instead, it 'floats' in late March or early April, falling on the Sunday closest to the full moon. Sometimes Easter is celebrated during the Hebrew Passover, other years it is not since they are based on different calendar configurations.

All this to say that our Easter weekend was tenderly touched by layers of events beyond us. On Friday -- aka, Good Friday, the prelude to Easter -- we learned that one of our first friends in the alpaca business, Ed Warynick, had died peacefully that morning. Ed was a retired engineer and test pilot who, along with his wife Elizabeth, embraced the gentle alpaca. They sold their home, bought a farm in the village of Los Olivos, just north of Santa Barbara, and learned to care for their herd of alpacas, several llamas, sheep from the Santa Ynez Mission, and a collection of rescued dogs with health issues. The figure of St Francis near the barn area reflects their love for animals and their Creator.

Alpacas de los Olivos was one of the ranches I was privileged to visit and offer assistance, on herd health days or at shearing time. Ed taught me about designing pens so one person could easily move the animals from one area to another. He was a gracious gentleman and host to many visitors on Open Ranch days, charming them with his stories of his animals.

Even though I had not seen Ed in awhile, already I miss his kind voice and the twinkle in his eye as he offered his advice. So I thought about him as I tended our animals through the weekend...

A friend joined us for a mid-day Easter dinner. I'd forgotten to turn my cell phone on, so missed a message from her. And another one, too, apparently: earlier a neighbor had called to say that when she went out to feed her sheep and donkeys, there were two new lambs in the stall! First-time mom, Rasta Girl, had birthed a male and female with no problems.

So we popped the apple pie in the oven and dashed over to see them. New life is so sweet to behold! The boy is coal black with tight, lustrous curls, and his sister looks like someone smeared white on her face. Rasta instinctively knew how to care for them, and she has plenty of milk.

These lambs are a blend of breeds: Cotswold-Wensleydale (Rasta, ewe) and Gotland-Shetland (Pappy, ram). The donkeys (Mediterranean minis, often depicted in the Christmas story as Mary's mode of transportation) were curious about the new additions to their world, and came to meet the lambs. Meanwhile, another ewe showed up bedecked with blackberry vines that she'd obviously gotten stuck in. We laughed at the dangling roots and sprigs of leaves that were her Easter bonnet. The other sheep helped to nibble them off.

Returning in time to check on the apple pie, we nodded to our five dams and reassured them how simple birth would be for them in the coming weeks and months.

So the holiday was poignant with unexpected blessings: the peaceful death of a man of strong faith on Good Friday, and the birth of black twin lambs to a Jewish friend on Easter morning.

Mike and I concluded this ecumenically diverse weekend by watching Cry of the Snow Lion, a chronicle of Tibet's recent past told through interviews and personal stories. Since we have no TV here (by choice), our news input is quite selective, and watching this documentary gave valuable perspective on current events.

Peace... whatever that means for you
at this moment, and the next.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

and then there were Five

Delphi's Disa has joined our herd, from Peaceful Valley Alpacas. She is due in early May with her 2nd cria, so we wanted to integrate her in her new home asap. And since the farm is new to all five of them, they can sort things out.

I go out in the mornings, with cup of hot tea in hand, to check on the girls and let them out in to the pasture. They are all cushed by the nearest corner, and they fairly romp past the gate. I greet them each by name and observe them for a few moments.

Lace is a bit of a clown. She usually has some grass of hay stuck to her in a funny way. She approaches me shyly, and I bend my head toward her in a lama bow. Both she and Nutmeg are brave enough to take an offered carrot bite from my hand. Yet amongst themselves, these two are the least assertive of the herd.

For the first few days, Disa hummed a lot, letting us know that she was nervous. Other than visual checks, we have left them alone so they can work out the hierarchy.

As Barbara, her former owner, puts it, "Disa is a gray girl in a brown dress." She has lots of gray genetics, and indeed, her last year's daughter, Terra, is a lovely rose gray by Aussie Rockford. Disa was rebred to Rockford, so we're hoping for a repeat performance. Of course, having a healthy cria and mom is of foremost importance, but after 10 boys born in a row, a girl would be most welcome! And Disa's will be the first birthing for Aragon Alpacas on our own ranch.

Yesterday the veterinarian came for a preliminary visit, to meet us and see the layout BEFORE there is an emergency. He was very reassuring about our pastures and feeding program, filling in some gaps by recommending minerals, reviewing his protocol for shots, discussing whether or not to get guardian/sentinel animals, mousers for the barn, etc.

We are privileged to be in the area that Dr Pat Long services, and just in time to take his neo-natal class at Oregon State University at end of April. I have attended one of Dr Jana Smith's birthing classes in So CA, but that was well before the responsibility for our alpacas was in my lap. So this will be a heightened refresher for me, and I will listen with new ears. Disa and Sheba and all of the others will certainly benefit.

Mike has been installing new latches on some of our gates. The alpacas are comfortable us being in and out of their pens, and are quite inquisitive as to what is going on. I guess he can always use the assistance!

As if in allegiance to St Patrick's Day, we have had 'soft' Irish weather this week, and lots of rainbows, even double ones. And cheery daffodils are popping up all over. We watched a squall (at least that's what it's called on the ocean) march across the valley, with dry skies behind it. The girls are all two-toned now, wet above and dry below. Often they are out grazing in the rain, but their fleece remains dry next to their skin.

The wild turkeys strolled through our yard again, heading up the hill this time. If this is the same bunch we saw a few weeks ago, they have grown a lot! One tom, and seven hens. At one point he struck a pose, stretching out that fan of tail feathers and fluffing out his wings. Magnificent.

Our neighbor, Joe, said he's counted up to 500 geese at his pond this year. They must be moving northward again, their visits and numbers are fewer this week.

The wildlife is always a nice surprise to this countryfied city girl. But I'm even more enthralled by seeing alpacas in our pastures!

We snapped this one of Nutmeg at a particularly goofy moment...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Alpacas have arrived!

On the loveliest of Sunday afternoons, the first four of our dams stepped out of the trailer and onto our farm. As did Tom Goehring, from Ranch of the Oaks/Fiber Mill in Lompoc, CA, their shepherd/chauffeur for 14 hours on the road. All were glad to be out in the fresh air, moving their legs, strolling along.

We escorted the girls to the pens set up with hay and water. What a celebration for the old red barn to once again have livestock within its walls! And what a thrill for us to see our own animals on our own land!! I immediately called Mette to let her know that Tom had arrived safely, and Bonnie, from whose ranch they had come, to let her know the girls had made the trip just fine. Actually, eight alpacas arrived, since each of the dams are pregnant.

Over the past few months, I have visited other alpaca ranches to help to quell my missing these critters. But that was nothing compared to seeing the alpaca faces that I know so well!

Since purchasing two dams in 2005 and agisting (boarding) our growing herd these three years, the girls' arrival marks the realization of our dreams and plans. Tom was marvelous, and so reassuring for us nervous "first-time parents."

Indeed, it is much like having your first baby, with all of the excitement and anticipation of the impending arrival. We had the Layette to prepare: readying the barn, building feeders, buying water buckets, getting hay, stocking the medical supplies, reading the articles and manuals.

Then with their Arrival, the shift in focus and responsibility. No longer does Kelly-dog get our sole attention, and she has learned that there are new rules for her to obey, like waiting for "mom" on the other side of the gate. And husband Mike has less of my attention, too, for all of my going out to check on the alpacas, or to just watch and be with them.

And so many Photos of alpacas at every angle, just like with a new baby! Then there's the Showing Off to family and friends (like this blog!), and people stopping by to see the new arrivals. Best Wishes from so many, and a Celebratory Toast.

It's such a delight to watch the girls explore their new home, full of sounds and smells and sights and tastes they've never experienced before.

Sheba is the oldest one in this group, and she is the designated Watcher. The others keep close to her when the dog is out with us, taking cues from her attentiveness. But this morning, Summer was the first one to romp into a new pasture, and Lace and Nutmeg danced among the low branches of one of the trees, relishing the back-scratching.

Soon two more females will join this group, and then the boys will begin to arrive. Galileo is at home at Eclipse Alpacas in Michigan part of the year, and on his way westward, the transporter will collect Orion to join him. And the rest of our girls and growing crias from Canzelle in Carpinteria, CA. They're finally all coming Home.

And then the new cria will start to arrive, and I'll be a nervous mama all over again.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

tiptoeing through the...

Until our alpacas arrive next week, we're relishing the wildlife we see here "in the rurals." This week Mike spied a flock of wild turkeys perusing our yard and was able to get a few photos through the window.

And of course there's the huge flock of Canada geese (hundreds!!) that over-winters at our neighbor's pond. Sometimes they fly en masse to forage in our sprouting hay field. Onyx, our cat, is petrified of them, scurrying for cover the few times she's outside and hears their squawking. For all she knows, they're birds of prey.

When Mike and I trekked down to the hay field to look at the new gate, I saw not only goose footprints (1), but also deer tracks (2), and paw prints from [someone else's] cat (3). A new creature to us is the vole, a meadow mouse that makes running trails in the grass, from hole to hole (4). I've never actually seen one, but there sure are lots of holes! Kelly sticks her nose down them to investigate, but has not yet come up with one.

I've planted primroses by the new mailbox, mounted on an old plow that one of our workmen gave me. Deer munched the white ones, flowers only. The buds that were left have now bloomed, and they seem safe enough. So we bought more primroses and pansies yesterday, to line the walkway to the studio (red building in the background, attached to the garage).

We've layed in basic vet supplies to tend to the alpacas, and next week, hay arrives. Maybe we should put a banner and balloons out to welcome them! At least their arrival will be a real celebration for us two-leggeds, the culmination of dreaming and planning and transitioning for the past few years.

Now for the next adventure: shepherding our herd!