gardening aftermath

I pruned our wisteria this past weekend [after blooming].


I should have taken a before and after picture. But, the camera was in the house and I didn’t think of it earlier! [duh?]


It’s practically a yearly chore now… wild and crazy growth that shades most of the under-plantings. It engulfs the pergola!!! BTW, the goats like to eat it!


I only fell off my stool once…and my poor arms are soooooo tired from working overhead!! I’d like to take a buzz-saw and chop about a foot or two off the TOP!! BZZZZZZZZ!!!!


Let there be light!!! Don’t worry all my gardening fans, it will re-grow rapidly and my hack-job won’t look so bad! ūüôā

pergola int

Phew!! Cross that chore off the to-do list!!!

Christmas in the Country – Holiday Open House

You are cordially invited to

Sheepy Hollow Farm’s

Annual Holiday Open House

~.~ Christmas in the Country ~.~

Saturday November 10, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.


Sunday November 11, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

[73910 Coon Creek Road, Armada, Michigan 48005]

Finding calm amid chaos

After the chaos, comes the calm… but the challenge is to find calm within a chaotic situation.



In the midst of ‘re-inventing’ myself ((pure chaos)) and my workshop – soon to be studio/workshop –¬†you can find me this weekend, September 29 and 30, 2012, vending at the 22nd Annual Mt. Bruce Station Sheep and Wool Festival, Romeo, Michigan. Follow the link here for more info.

I’m told, relaxation, humor and power of friendships are the best means of handling the stress storms of day-to-day life. So, I’ll be sitting in my booth, ‘decluttering-my-mind’,¬†people-watching [a favorite pastime], ohhhing and ahhhing all the wonderful woolies… and hopefully, doing a little fiber’n myself!!!!

Have a wonderful weekend!!

[a method – or – sheer madness…?]

Over the years, I have devised a simple ‘method’ for the tedious task of garbling my farm-raised lavender. GARBLING¬†is the term used for picking the flowers and leaves from the stems of plants, in order to store them properly for later use.

First, pick the lavender after the morning dew has burned off – hopefully NOT in +90 degree F extreme heat/weather!

Pick lavender when the buds begin to swell and perhaps with one or two visible flowers. Remember, when you pick the ‘flowers’, it’s similar to dead-heading: you’ll encourage new blooms and perhaps another smaller lavender crop in fall.

Next, I¬†have been using found and recycled old door/window screens, ensuring good air-circulation, to air-dry my lavender. But, you may also hang-dry small bundles of lavender secured with rubber bands. Don’t make the bundles too large – or the lavender may mold! Use rubber bands to secure because ‘dried’ herbs shrink and you’ll be picking it up off the floor! Dry in a shaded area, out of direct sunlight and somewhere with good air circulation – run a small fan if necessary to bolster air-flow.

Once the lavender is DRIED ( for long-term storage/use ), I assemble, rather stack, three frames of ‘hardware cloth’ over an old bed sheet or storage container.

Neatly arranged lavender makes ‘garbling’ more manageable!

To begin, grab a handful of lavender, stems and buds all aligned in same direction. Gently rub, knead bundle over wire mesh, keeping stems perpendicular to screen. The buds should fall through the screens while the stems remain. Errant stems will be ‘caught’ by one of the screens to be discarded… at least, in theory!

…and the final product, lavender buds.

Stems may be discarded or bundled and used for fragrant fire-starters ( also known as faggots ).

How do YOU ‘garble’ your herbs???

Leaps and bounds…

yes… the lambs are growing by LEAPs and BOUNDs! ¬†My small flock of Shetland lambs range in age now from 4-weeks to the ‘youngest’ at almost 3-weeks old. My ewe Reese’s Pieces was the last to lamb on cinco de mayo! Thankfully, after Katie and I returned home from Wolcott Farm’s Sheep Shearing Saturday.

Several weeks later, the lambs are rambunctious, becoming more independent and confident… to leave mama’s side…and enjoying some serious playtime, particularly in the early evening hours.

Several years ago, we dismantled our children’s play-fort and re-used/recycled the lumber to construct a playhouse for our goats AND this play ramp/platform for the sheepies. (I actually want to add a roof, kinda like a wood-covered bridge.) Big D just grins and rolls his eyes with all the ‘projects’ I dream-up!!!!

Group hug… (missing a few more lambs from the pic).

The challenge…

Hey…no fair! Two against one!

Hi-Ho Silver!!! Um…I think you better use the ramp!

Too much fun…building strong bodies!

The lambs and goat kids provide hours of cheap/free entertainment!

Besides playing with babies, I’ve been making cheese nearly daily to share with family and friends. I get the 6 a.m. morning milk, then the kids have mama ALL day. By 6 p.m., my does are mostly all milked-off by hungry boys!

…got goat milk??? I have yet to make any yogurt this spring and I would like to purchase some grains to make kefir, a first for me!

AND, still working working working in the veggie garden…amending the last of the beds with compost for the tomato, green pepper plants, potatoes and basil that will go in this weekend for sure!

Also, last summer’s back porch project has been resurrected…our self-made screens have been installed (YAY) and we purchased a ceiling fan to replace the wall-mounted light. I’m refinishing a table that I purchased at a barn sale last summer for the back porch too. Still undecided on additional seating…but, I’m on the look-out for potential candidates! Perhaps we’ll be able to enjoy the holiday weekend with el fresco dining!

My fiber art and so many other projects have taken a back-seat during the past few weeks (as I’ve been pre-occupied w/kidding, lambing and gardening!), but I hope to be posting some creative results with you in the very near future! Thanks for your patience!

Hope you enjoy a lovely Memorial Day weekend with family and friends! Play safe!

A week in review…

Time flies when you’re having fun…or not?

SPRING is undoubtedly¬†the busiest time of year on the farm…shearing, lambing, kidding, gardening, planting and so on! So much has happened since my last post and¬†I do apologize for not ‘sharing’ sooner. That’s probably one of the benefits of facebook; little snippets of news communicated/shared relatively simply with a few key-strokes!

To all my faithful followers, a brief recap. We began the week with our monthly 4-H goat project meeting Рin the barn Рwith my two dairy goats who were now overdue (beyond the norm average 150-days gestation).  We talked about the development of an udder, loosening of pelvic ligaments and BEHAVIORAL  signs of early stages of the birthing process such as act of withdrawal, seeking seclusion from the rest of the herd, uneasiness, kicking, pawing the ground, lying down and getting up frequently, frequent attempts at urination, refusal of grain, vocalizing, and so on.

Since my 4-H goat project kids are all new first-year goat owners, we also talked about visible signs of second stage labor including vaginal discharge, uterine contractions, appearance of the water sac and finally the evidence of a foot exiting the birth canal. All thought, oh, how exciting! But, in reality, the responsibility as goat caretaker and overseer to the blessed kidding (or lambing) event can be a bit daunting!

Finally, the long-awaited and imminent kidding arrived! Early Sunday evening (long after my 4-H families had departed), Coriander went into labor and delivered two bouncing baby bucklings (ie boys). Buckling No.1, for the most part, was delivered normally…albeit, a bit of straining by Corey¬†to get the head/shoulders through the birth canal. Don’t get over-anxious to assist… proper dilation of the cervix needs to occur. otherwise tearing/damage may occur. The ability to recognize kidding difficulty is as important as proper technique in relieving dystocia¬†(or, difficult birth). It is wise to prepare yourself with some kidding knowledge either through research/reading or by visiting a friend who may also be lambing/kidding,¬†IF you find yourself in a position to lend a hand with the birth! ¬†Occasionally,¬†in some situations, a gentle downward ‘tug’ on the legs with the next strong contraction is helpful. Another valuable resource for newbies and kidding/lambing info can be found at:

As for Buckling No.2, it soon became evident – it helps to know your goat anatomy –¬†¬†that he¬†was NOT in the proper presentation (but normal position and posture). Terms to know: presentation, position and posture.¬†¬†He was coming backward (breech), back legs first, dewclaw visible and hock (recognize the difference between the bend of the knee or the bend of the hock).

Diagram courtesy

To make a long story short, all ended well with our two dairy goats’ kidding season. Finally, Cassiopeia, a first freshener, gained confidence through Corey’s kidding ordeal and decided she was up to the challenge! She delivered a single large healthy buckling on Tuesday morning, day 154. Moms (does) and kids are all doing well and thriving! Phew! I’m glad all ended well and I’m back into the routine of milking my girls twice a day. Our bucklings (or wethers) will be looking for new homes once they’re weaned!

With the help of Katie, my nurse assistant, Big D ‘the holder’ or gorilla (he has yet to contruct a kidding box for me…hint hint) and myself ‘the meanie’ (the one holding the disbudding iron), we disbudded the bucklings on Saturday, an unpleasant but necessary task. FYI – All goats typically have horns (both male and female; some goats are naturally/genetically poled/hornless) and most dairymen disbud (or have their vets perform the disbudding for them) their goats within several days – weeks old. Find more how-to disbudding info here.

Besides animal husbandry, I’ve also been busy working in the vegetable garden. More cleaning & trimming woody plant and pruning shrubs & roses. I also planted more leaf ¬†lettuce, radish, spinach, beets, carrots, swiss chard and parsley – all can withstand ‘cooler’ weather.

Weeding between pavers – ugh!

Temporarily cat-proofing the planting bed!

The sweet peas are several inches tall and the strawberries have blossoms!

Potatoes and kholrabi have yet to be planted. Tender annual herbs (such as basil and cilantro), zucchini & green beans will be planted from seed in a few weeks.

My French tarragon (not Russian tarragon which is an annual.

Cut cut cut… to maintain a fine tender & tasty chive!

Tomatoes and green peppers (tropicals) will be the last to go into the garden, typically after Memorial weekend for minimal chance of damage by late frost.

More cat-proofing planting bed until seeds germinate!

Sage, HEAVILY pruned a couple weeks ago shows re-growth.

Did I mention my Shetland sheep have been shorn and their wool skirted and already processed into roving and batts? Now we begin the waiting game, looking for clues and signs that parturition (birth/lambing) will occur soon. Unlike the goats that are hand-bred, we house the ram with the ewes for several months for breeding to occur. We don’t always ‘observe’ the actual breeding (but, there are breeding harnesses that the ram can wear that ‘marks’ the ewe when she’s been mounted). According to my calendar, my ewes could lamb any time now…!

Naked sheepies!

I ended the week with speaking to a group of gardeners about the wonderful benefits of herb gardening, then rushing home to help a friend with skirting her wool fleece and how to ‘process’ it at home.

…and finally, we mucked-out one of the lamb sheds, right down to the dirt floor, limed it heavily and prepared it with fresh clean straw!

That about covers the week’s highlights…and then we start all over again with the never-ending list of chores! There’s no excuse for boredom!!! Hope you have a great week!

Much ado about garden mulch!

Mulch is a garden must for me; it helps control weeds, maintains soil moisture, stabilizes soil temperature and the organic types promote microbial activity in the soil. Added value: ¬†it generally makes the garden look better! I don’t use mulch in ALL my garden areas, but in several gardens for different reasons.

Photo courtesy

BUT, if mulch is used improperly in the garden, it can be catastrophic…

Mulch is any natural OR synthetic material spread over the surface of soil in the garden or home landscape. Mulch may be utilitarian and/or decorative. In any case, the benefits of mulch include:

  • reducing soil moisture evaporation
  • ensuring a more even soil moisture supply
  • reducing or preventing weed growth (this is a biggie!)
  • insulating soil from extreme temperature changes (during winter)
  • preventing mud from splashing on crop surfaces thereby reducing ‚Äėdisease‚Äô
  • reducing fruit rot in melons, strawberries, and tomatoes
  • reducing soil crusting, erosion & compaction
  • improving neatness of the garden or landscape

Organic mulches like grass clippings or compost may also serve as a slow-release source of nutrients for plant growth. Consequently, earthworms feeding on organic mulches will enrich the soil with their castings and also help to aerate the soil. Organic mulches may, however, encourage some pests like sow bugs, snails, and slugs. Avoid thick layers of organic mulches, around fruit trees (and several inches away from trunk) which may shelter rodents. HINT: Minimize mulch near building foundations to reduce insect activity.

Don’t do this!

Mulch Effects on Soil Temperature

The time of year to apply a mulch depends on the type of mulch you wish to apply and your objectives. Clear and black plastic mulches can be applied early in the spring to vegetable gardens to warm the soil before planting. Black plastics are often preferred, as they will exclude light and discourage weed growth. Clear plastics are occasionally used to warm soils more rapidly and to solar-sterilize soils in the summer to kill weed seeds and disease organisms (and ‚Äėbeneficials‚Äô too!!) before planting.

When using natural mulch in veggie gardens, they’re usually applied in the spring after the soil has warmed-up. Otherwise, the soil may remain cold longer and slow down plant growth. If growing veggies from transplants, apply mulch sparingly initially until plants develop good root system. Applying natural organic mulches and white plastic in the summer will help to cool soils. This is important for crops like strawberries, which do not tolerate extreme heat.

In the fall, applying natural organic mulches in the garden before cold weather will help insulate the soil and extend the growing season. Potatoes, carrots, and parsnips can be stored in the ground during the fall and winter using a straw mulch to keep the soil from freezing. Straw placed around blackberry canes in the fall will help reduce winter kill problems.

Various rock mulches can be combined with underlying perforated plastics or landscape fabric (weed barrier) and is used commonly in large landscape planting beds. Reflected light from white rock under windows with western and southern exposures will help warm your house in the winter. Dark colored rock will retain heat in the landscape and may offer some frost protection (reradiated heat).

Applying Mulch

Most coarse, natural organic mulches like straw, bark, and wood chips should be applied 2-3 inches deep over the whole area to be mulched. Grass clippings (no more than 1-inch depth) ¬†should be allowed to dry out before applying them as a mulch to keep them from matting. Woody material should not be incorporated into the soil, as it will tend to tie up nitrogen in the soil making it unavailable for plant uptake. (Nitrogen in a basic nutrient for healthy plant growth.) Do not allow moist organic mulches to come directly in contact with seedlings as they may cause seedling disease problems like “damping-off.” Mulches are generally applied to most crops after they have emerged or around transplants.

Plastic mulches should be perforated to allow air and water movement into the soil. Holes cut in unperforated plastic for vegetable transplants should be large enough to accommodate air and water movement around the bases of the plants.

photo courtesy

Types of Mulches

The selection of a mulch will depend on its availability, cost, the crop to be mulched, and the season of the year. Almost any material that insulates well yet permits gaseous exchange and moisture penetration will make satisfactory mulch. Good mulch should not need frequent renewal and should be non-toxic to plants, easy to apply, free from disease and weed seed, and not be so absorbent that it can take moisture away from plants. It should not pack, blow, wash, ferment, or burn easily. Check with your local university or agricultural extension office for best recommendations in your area!

Natural Materials

Bark/wood chips – Bark offers outstanding effectiveness and appearance. As it decomposes, its high carbon content may cause nitrogen deficiency in plants.

Coffee grounds – This material has rich color and is high in nitrogen and some trace elements.

Compost – Use finished (well-cured) compost by itself, under other mulches or mixed with soil before planting.

Corn cobs – Medium ground cobs; additional nitrogen may be necessary if corn cobs are mixed with soil.

Cornstalks – Cornstalks are very good shredded, or as whole stalks laid over other mulches in vegetable gardens. They are good for winter mulch.

Cover crop – Any crop, preferably a legume (to fix nitrogen), that can be grown on spare land and cut, can be used for mulch.

Grass clippings – Grass will mat and ferment if used fresh in a thick layer – not allowing water to permeate and air circulation. Use dry grass clippings and in a thin layer (no more than 1-inch). It is better mixed with other dry mulches. Do not use clippings if lawn has been treated with herbicides.

Gravel, marble chips, crushed stone – Pea gravel or larger can be used over a weed barrier or alone. These mulches tend to warm the soil, so use them for heat-loving plants. Do not use marble around acid-soil loving plants.

Hay and field grass – Hay and field grass should be mowed before it goes to seed. Legume hays are rich in nitrogen. Loose hay will blow in wind and these mulches can carry weed seed.

Leafmold – This mulch is best placed around shrubs and on bare plots as leaves fall. Shred the leaves to keep them from packing.

Manure – Use well-rotted and strawy manure for best results, and watch out for weed seed. Use manure sparingly on vegetable gardens, roses, and other plants. Fresh manure can burn tender roots and can smell during the first couple of days after application.

Pine needles – Pine needles are a very good mulch, especially for acid-soil-loving plants (such as strawberries). Pine needles are light, airy, and attractive but can be a fire hazard.

Straw – This is a good general mulch used for winter protection and on paths between vegetable rows, but it may carry weed seed.

Synthetic Mulches

Cloth – Burlap is sometimes used between rows in vegetable gardens.

Newspaper – Use three to six sheets thick and cover it with organic mulches for better appearance and to speed decomposition.

Plastic film – These mulches are unattractive alone. For best results, plastic should be well perforated to allow aeration and moisture penetration. Clear plastic warms soil but permits weed growth, whereas black plastic warms soil and deters weed growth. White plastic cools soils and deters weed. Other colors are available and have various effects on plants.

Woven weed barrier – This mulch allows moisture and oxygen to penetrate the soil, encouraging roots to penetrate more deeply. Use it in landscaping as a substitute for black plastic. It deters weed growth.

Resources: MSU Extension & NMSU: Mulches for Gardens and Landscapes.

Happy gardening!