After the Storm

Thursday and Friday we had over 3 feet of very wet, heavy, spring snow dumped on us.  It has been melting pretty fast and we are down to about a foot or less in shady places, and the sunny spots are either completely melted or very close to it.

The barnyard is a terribly wet, mucky mess.  I feel bad for the livestock because after being unable to leave the barn for three days because of the deep snow, they are now unable to leave because they don’t want to slop through the deep mud.  Hopefully the next couple of sunny days will finish the melting and dry it out enough to get them back outdoors.

The berry bushes are not happy at all.  They look downright terrible.  But upon close inspection I don’t see any broken branches, just super soggy branches bent down to the ground by the weight of the snow and the fact that they are so wet they bend easily.  I am hopeful that as the snow melts and they dry they will stand back up.

The Rhubarb and Lilac bush are also smooshed.

So far the garden looks to have survived.  The tomatoes were protected by the WOWs over them.  And the cabbages were protected by the frost fabric tents over them.  The carrots, lettuce, turnips, beets, peas, and spinach were all tiny seedlings just sprouted.  Once the snow melts we will see if they survived it.

Just another day homesteading in the Rockies!  🙂

Buried in Snow

Wednesday the kids were riding their bikes, I was gardening, and it was warm and sunny.  By Thursday we had two feet of snow.  By Friday morning we are above 3 feet and it is still coming down.  Everything is white.  May in the Rocky Mountains!

I’ve included old photos of the same areas to give some reference.

 

Training Our LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog)

Anya, our Anatolian Shepherd, came to us at about 10 months of age.  We were blessed that her previous owners had given her a good foundation of socialization with both people, and livestock, and had started her well on her way towards becoming an excellent Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).

Almost all LGDs go through a stage between about 6 months and 1 year of age where they want to play with the livestock like they would play with another puppy or dog.  At this point most Anatolians are about 75-100 lbs, and this behavior is not only inappropriate for any size dog, but at that size it is also dangerous for the livestock.  During this stage it is really important that an LGD pup get consistent training to learn not to do this.  This is the stage Anya was at when we got her.

Phase 1 of training her through this stage was for her to live in a pen adjacent to the livestock pen.  She shared a fence with them, and could interact with them through the fence, but couldn’t play with them or hurt them.  It also gave her a chance to watch our experienced LGD, Tundra, as he cared for the livestock and learn from his behavior.  During this time we would go out and spend 1-2 hours each day training with her.  It is very important that they get regular and consistent training with humans during this stage.

For our daily training sessions, we would put the other LGD away, let her into the pen with us and the livestock and then give her a chance to interact with the livestock.  If she began to get playful with the sheep and goats I would give her the command to stop (“Anya, No!” – note the exclamation point means a firmness and seriousness in my voice and tone, it does not mean yelling.).  I was very happy to see that thanks to her previous owners’ work with her, most of the time she would stop immediately and come right and sit next to me.  I would then praise her and pet her and then let her go back to exploring and interacting.  If she hadn’t stopped when I asked her to then I would have put her on a long line leash so I could physically show her what I wanted her to do by pulling her away from the livestock.  All dogs are different, and other dogs will not necessarily react how Anya does.

We continued with her living adjacent to the livestock and we continued letting her be with them 1-2 hours a day BUT ONLY with Mtn Man or I present and watching.  She did great, and with more and more lambs being added it was fun to see her interact with them and be gentle.

Despite her good behavior with them, we would still never leave her with them alone at this age and stage in her life.  It would be setting her up for failure.

After about a month of phase 1 we felt she was ready for phase 2.  Phase 2 is to let her live with a grouchy/bossy/alpha sheep or goat that wont bully her, but also that wont put up with her playing with them or roughing them up.  At our farm the perfect choice was our old nanny goat, Gretchen.

We put Gretchen into the back barnyard with Anya during training time a few days in a row, while we stayed outside the fence and watched.  We were able to see a few interactions where Anya tried to play with Gretchen and wrestle her, and Gretchen did not tolerate it and went right in to head butting her.  Anya immediately backed off and stopped.  After seeing that a few times in a few days without us having to say or do anything we felt she was ready to live with Gretchen without humans present.  They did very well together, and Gretchen continues to put Anya in her place when she starts getting rough, and Anya continues to back down when Gretchen does that.

That is where we are at this point in the training.  Anya lives in the back barnyard with Gretchen the grouchy goat, which is adjacent to the main barnyard and shares a fence with it.  So she can still see the sheep, lambs, and the other LGD, but she still isn’t allowed to live alone with them.  And we continue to have our daily training time, where she gets to come into the main barnyard with the sheep and lambs and interact with them with Mtn Man or I present.  Sometimes we are in the barnyard with her and pet her and interact with her.  Other times I will sit in a chair just outside the barnyard and knit so that she can get the feeling of being alone with them in there, but I am still right there to correct her if she starts getting riled up.  Her need for verbal corrections has gotten fewer and farther between and she hasn’t really needed any verbal corrections for over a week now and is doing really well.

We plan to continue this same set-up through summer.  At some point we will add our grouchy older sheep, Fiona, in with her and Gretchen to get her living with a sheep, and with more than one livestock.  Then, this fall, when the lambs are at least 3/4 the size of the adult sheep, we will start letting her have longer and longer times living with the entire flock each day, and with less and less human help.  Our goal for her is that by early winter (December) – at which point she will be 18 months old – she will be able to safely live with the entire flock of adults and young adults all the time without humans.  Then, come next lambing season, we will need to go back to her only interacting with lambs with Mtn Man or I there until she proves that she can be completely trusted with them no matter what.  By then she will be about to turn 2 years old.  Most LGDs fully mature by about 2, and it isn’t until then, along with appropriate training, that they can be trusted with lambs and goat kids.

We are so blessed to have found Anya, and we are enjoying helping her become the excellent LGD that we know she can be.  It is a lot of work to properly train an LGD through puppyhood, but once they are mature and properly trained they become a priceless addition to the farm.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all my readers who are mothers.  I hope you are all being loved on and appreciated today.

My family has been loving on me and spoiling me like crazy.  I feel very blessed.  The kids made me more birdhouses and we promptly hung them all up outside.  The violet green swallows immediately began inspecting them and deciding if they want to use them this year for their nests.

This bouquet is a tradition my husband has done for me since my first Mother’s Day.  There is a different type of flower to represent each child, and the number of that flower is how many Mother’s days I have been their mother.  So the two roses are for Mr. Smiles, then there are 8 irises for Braveheart, 11 of those pretty purple flowers along the bottom of the arrangement (I don’t know what type those are) for Little Miss, 13 carnations for Sunshine, and 15 daisies for Young Man.  So sweet!

Extending the Season to Grow Tomatoes in Cold-Climate Gardening

We have a very short growing season here, averaging 10-12 weeks from the last frost to the first frost.  That does not give much time to grow anything, let alone tomatoes and other long-season heat-loving plants.  In addition, we often get down into the 40sF at night throughout the early summer and early fall.  So we have to find ways to help extend the season to accommodate the plants that need more time, and more heat to grow successfully.

The first thing is definitely to pick the right variety.  A tomato that does well in Texas is NOT going to be happy up here at 7,500 feet in the cool mountains.  And it wont make fruit in time for harvest.  My most successful varieties came from Siberia, and I also have found some great varieties through the high-altitude seeds offered by Seeds Trust.

The next best thing we have found, after picking a good variety, is to use Wall-o-Waters (WOWs) to protect the plants for the first weeks in the garden.

We start the plants indoors about 10 weeks before the average last frost.  Then we move them out into the garden about 4 weeks before the average last frost, depending on weather, putting them each inside a WOW.  We harden them off gradually for the week before we move them into the garden.

Hardening off:

We harden off all of our seedlings for a week before they go into the garden.  To harden them off we put them outdoors, in blotchy sun/shade – like where the shade of the porch banister is with gaps of sun, or in the shade of a tree where splotches of sun come through.  The first day we put them out for about 30 min to an hour.  The second day we do 2 hours, the third 4, and so on.  We watch how they are tolerating it, if they seem to be overly stressed we bring them in sooner.  If it is windy or rainy we bring them in.

Preparing the WOWs:

It is very important to prepare the WOWs at LEAST 24 hours before you plan to put the plants in them.  If you fill them with cold water from the hose and then immediately put the plants in them you are going to chill the plants and they will die.

At least 24 hours before planting, fill your WOWs and get them set up in the garden where you plan to put the plants.  The easiest way to fill the WOWs is to put them around a 5-gallon bucket and then fill each tube 3/4 of the way full with water.  Then you can just lift the WOW off the bucket, or lift the bucket out of the middle of the WOW.  Meanwhile, the bucket supports the WOW while you are filling it so it doesn’t fall over.  It is also easier if you have two people, one to open each tube (which generally takes two hands) and one to put the hose in it.

Once they are filled, put them in the garden in the spot where you will be planting and let them sit for 24 hours.  This will give the water in them time to adjust to the outside temperature.

Planting:

We have found that our seedlings do best when we plant them when their spot in the garden is in the shade.  It gives them a little time to acclimate before they are in full sun.  For us, that means planting in the late afternoon because our house shades the garden then.

Plant one seedling in the center of each WOW.  Once the seedling is in place, squeeze the top of the WOW to get some of the water out, causing it to be in a cone shape instead of a cylinder shape.  This closes off the top more to help protect the entire plant.

We leave the WOWs on the tomatoes at least until the danger of frost has passed, longer if the plant is still fitting inside (which it usually isn’t).  Then we remove the WOW and put a cage on the tomato plant.

To store the WOWs, we pour all the water out and rinse them off with a hose, then we set them upside-down to dry outside.  Once they are dry they easily roll up or fold up and are stored indoors.  We have WOWs that have lasted 7-10 years when well cared for.

Eventually they get a hole in one tube – but we still use them.  Then they get another hole, and so forth.  When there are more than 2 damaged tubes it gets really hard to keep them standing well.  We have found that we can cut the good tubes off of a damaged WOW and insert them into the tubes on another WOW that have holes.  That will extend the life of them.

Wall-o-Waters are a great way to extend our very short growing season.  It gets the plants out into the garden a full month earlier, and keeps them warmer and happy while they grow.