We can already feel fall in the air here at the reLuxe Ranch.  Our animals are sleeping later, the chatter of birds is quieter at sunrise, our blue heron is back on his route south for the winter, and we fired up the chimnea a few times. We've also got a stack of pumpkins sitting in our family room because the squash beetles are making a final play for all our cucurbit vines before they head into winter hiding.  We harvested anything that was borderline ripe to ensure the security of our creamy pumpkin soup future. 

In addition to harvesting pumpkins in August, here's what's been going on at the reLuxe Ranch recently. 

Meat Birds

We retrofitted our greenhouse to have a duck zone inside.  There's  a bathing pond, a "beach" area, and a shade zone for lounging.  

Part of my master plan of keeping meat ducks in the greenhouse is to use the soiled straw and dirty pond water to continuously fertilize and add organic matter to our greenhouse beds. When swapping out the straw after a week of ducks pooping all over it, I discovered that maggots had infested the wet under-layer.  When I uncovered the maggot hide out, the ducks devoured them.  Now, I know not everyone would consider maggots exciting, but at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, we almost bought a container designed to attract flies and propagate maggots to use as a poultry food source.  We decided against it because we didn't have the kitchen scrap volume to sustain the system.  So, even though it's definitely gross to find gobs of maggots crawling in muck under a layer of dry straw, it's also fantastic to discover that we didn't need spend $200 on a system to supplement our poultry feed supply. Nature or dumb luck has done it for us!

Long-term, we only plan to keep a rotation of meat ducks in the greenhouse.  This go-round, though, we also put 10 turkeys in with the 16 ducks since we bought them at the same time and used the natural summer heat in the greenhouse to keep them warm for the first couple weeks.  Our 4-week old ducks and turkeys seem to happily co-exist, with the much smaller turkeys being the clear bosses in the relationship.  

Even though we are raising these birds to eat, and they will ultimately die at our hands, we are committed to giving them a safe and comfortable life up until that point.  So, I am sad and sorry that my learning curve on having a mixed bird flock in a greenhouse environment has resulted in these three losses.  However, at the risk of making it seem like these birds lives were just "collateral damage", if we are going to find sustainable ways to feed ourselves and others, we have to be willing to try new concepts. Raising our meat birds in the greenhouse is still a good idea for a long list of reasons, but obviously I need to give more consideration to the birds safety going forward. 

Going Dairy Free, Unintentionally

It's official.  Our dairy goats are knocked up.  

We don't know exactly how far along they are since we didn't actually mean for them to get pregnant so soon. We are guessing we are within two months of having our next round of kids.  Since goats need a little milking break before kidding, we stopped milking a couple weeks ago.  Fancy started to dry up on her own, which is apparently normal during pregnancy.  

Phoebe was still producing like a champ and feeding her two 5 month old kids when I stopped milking her.  However, now she's started weaning her big babies and is walking around with a deflated udder between her knees.  

We're not overly upset at the premature pregnancies since we are still building our herd.  But we'll take more precautions next time so the girls get more down-time between litters to recuperate and also to give us longer milk production periods so I can perfect my cheese-making.

In the meantime, we're taking bets on delivery dates.  I've got dibs on late September/early October and Matt thinks they'll give birth while I am gone to Branson, MO in mid-September (just to spite him).  First person to peg the exact birth date for our girls gets a free buck or wether! (As long as you don't plan to eat them - sorry, I just haven't come to terms with Nigerian Dwarf Goats as meat yet). 

Sharing What We Learn

Recently I've had some opportunities to share what we've been learning in our lives here at the reLuxe Ranch.  In early August, my wonderful friend, Ken Holdoway, and I taught a class through the Extension Office, Master Gardener Volunteer program on Edible Landscaping.  The class generated so much interest that we had to turn away potential attendees for lack of space.  Pretty good for a Tuesday night in rural Dobson, NC in August!  Now, I'd love to say it was Ken and I who drew that kind of crowd (with our mad skills and charisma) but most people didn't even know we were the instructors. So, I think the real reason the event was so well-attended is because people are starting to understand that growing food locally matters.  

For a long time, many of us (me included) have wanted to pretend our food came from our neighborhood grocery store (and babies came from the stork) and that  it was ok to ignore everything that happened before food items showed up on shelves.  I don't want to get too high on my soap box here, but we really can't get away with this mindset any more.  It's not just that factory farming is bad (it often is), but transitioning to sustainable food growing is critical component  of mitigating the consequences of climate change. As such, it makes me hopeful to see so much interest edible landscaping and I am glad to be in a position to share what I've been learning with others who want to start down the sustainable road. 

I've also had the opportunity to write a few articles for the [Grow] Network.  You can link to them here: Are You Prepared for Peak Chicken?,  Extreme Weather and Food Resilience for Home Growers, and Homesteading a Radical re-Evolution.  This is an organization, headed-up by Marjory Wildcraft, dedicated to help people grow their own food at home.  These guys do need to earn a living like the rest of us, so they definitely want you to buy their DVD set on how to grow your own groceries.  But in addition to making useful information available at reasonable prices, this group offers a whole bunch of free information, and access to a community of other growers to help you overcome your homegrowing food challenges.

Bee Bad

Our best bee colony bit the dust.  A couple weeks ago, we noticed that the bees were behaving strangely.  They were spending a lot of time outside the hive, but were spread all over the supers rather than "bearding" near the entrance like they do when they are hot.  Initially we thought they might be about to swarm, so we prepared to catch them.  But this went on for several days.  I checked inside the hive for signs of problems.  Brood chambers looked normal and still had some open spaces. There were honey stores in second super and new comb started in the third super I added a few weeks earlier. I couldn't find the queen, but the hive was busy, so I think she was still in charge. There were also no visible signs of pests in the hive. The bees eventually went back to business as usual, so I stopped worrying about the hive.  Then a few days later, I walked by and realized there were no bees flying in and out.  I lifted the lid and discovered a massive infestation of wax moths. Nearly all the comb had been devoured and there was only a bit of webbing left to distinguish the infestation as wax moth larva rather than hive beetles.  

Since there was nothing I could do about it at that point, I spread the frames and boxes out in the chicken yard and let our hens have a party.  In minutes, my girls had picked the hives clean. There was a kind of justice in letting the chickens do the kind of decimation to the moths, that the moths had done to the bees.  But I am definitely questioning my future as a beekeeper.  We've got one top bar hive still going strong and I'm going to join the bee keepers group in our area to garner some more expertise on bee keeping.   Hopefully we'll have a better run at it next year.