Woo-hoo, time for another reLuxe (mega) Roundup! What makes this one a mega roundup, you might ask? Well, this one’s got lots of pictures (below the fold). Back when I started this blog, we were limited in how much we could store on the server. Now there’re no limits, and a picture’s worth a thousand words, so here we go. It’s been a while since Tasha or I wrote one of these, and there have been quite a few changes in the intervening seven months here at the Ranch. After a relatively painless and short winter, here we are, having come out the other side, to an early spring. With temperatures reaching into the 70s for the past couple weeks and Daylight Savings Time once again in effect, it’s been easy for both of us to get outside and get things done.

Of the 10 or so turkeys we have been raising since last summer, three remain. We haven’t slaughtered a single one—the others either didn’t make it to adulthood or died by misadventure (wandering off the farm and being chased by neighborhood dogs, we suspect). After losing our last two Slate Grays last month, Woodford—our Bourbon Red, and Ferdinand and Isabella—our two Spanish Blacks, have all essentially become pets. They follow us around whenever we work outside and are much more curious and intrepid than our chickens and ducks. They’ve become the peacocks that Tasha always wanted, and they don’t do nearly as much damage due to scratching as chickens. All in all, they tend to forage pretty well, eat a lot of pests we don’t want around anyway, and don’t require much care, so they get to stay.

Our ducklings, however, hatched last month in an incubator from eggs our permanent Pekins laid, won’t be so lucky. By the end of spring, they’ll be slaughtered for meat, although they’ll enjoy an idyllic and stress-free life here in the meantime. They’ll be free to roam once they’re big enough to leave the greenhouse that they share with Maggie, the single chicken that hatched a few days before the ducks. Maggie—we think it’s a female—will join the other layers in the coop once she’s large enough.

Her mother was obviously one of our Barred-Rocks, and her father’s identity could only be Roscoe, the rooster who just showed up one day over the winter and decided to move in with our hens. They seem to like him well enough, though we eventually found out he belongs to a neighbor who rescued him but didn’t have a place to keep him. Well, problem solved. We’ve sort of gotten used to him starting to crow at 4:00 AM, from the chicken coop, which is directly behind our bedroom.

Over the winter we also spent a few weeks smoking the country hams which were hanging in the shop to dry out for a few months prior. At the end of February, we spent about a week using peach, hickory, and red oak to smoke the hams of various sizes. The largest ones, probably in the 40-to-50 pound range, will take another year to cure before they’re ready to eat, although the smaller ones should probably be ready this year. The two prosciuttos packed in salt and curing in bee boxes will soon join the hams in the smokehouse to finish out the aging process.

Tasha has been busy with early spring starts like potatoes and transplanting cabbages from the greenhouse to the main garden. She’s also been planting another round of grape vines, fruit trees, shrubs, and perennials all around the property. The strawberries she planted last year are really taking off.

The perennials planted last year and the year before seem to have mostly made it, and at the very least established their roots. Everything takes a little longer here, since there was essentially no topsoil on most of the property when we bought it. Some of our first intensively planted “food forest” groves—the areas adjacent to the outdoor dining area–are starting to take hold, in particular, the elderberry bushes, comfrey, yarrow, and goji berries.

In late March, we harvested our first crop of asparagus from our most recent (year-old) asparagus bed. Today shoots from the second-year bed, which I dug a little deeper, started to poke through the ground.

With the return of mild temperatures and rain, our wide-ranging Shiitake strains have started fruiting again, as have, for the first time so far, the Wine Cap (King Stropharia) mushrooms Tasha inoculated last year in the mulch beneath our peach trees.

The four excellent strains of Shiitake I purchased from Field and Forest last spring seem to have successfully colonized most of the inoculated logs. I’ve been soaking some of them in the bathtub we bought for use at last year’s pig slaughter to induce them to fruit and stacking them in tee-pee patterns around the trees in our mushroom grotto, the shaded area between the buck pen and the dining area.

We built a buck pen for the male goats over the winter. Tasha built the shelter out of reclaimed shipping pallets and some new lumber and even outfitted it with a rainwater collection system and an automatic watering system. We sunk posts and ran fence around the shady area above the duck pond, which hosts some goat forage and provides a comfortable amount of space, but at a distance from the does.

We built the separate pen so we can control the does’ pregnancies and milking cycles—we’re up to seven does now—and which goats breed with which. We’re still in the process of finding homes for our two wethers, but Popeye and Moose will remain. Tasha’s getting really good at making cheese.The blue cheeses she made recently with flora Danica smell just like the real deal (we’ll get to taste soon), and she’s been making some amazing fresh cheeses for a while now, having recently added haloumi to the list.

<img src=/assets/images/2016-04-02-reluxe-mega-roundup-april-3-2016/Does.jpg” title=”Does”>

In my own spare time, I’ve been mostly occupying myself with maintenance projects. The semi-transparent pergola which followed us from Maryland and ended up on our terrace here has finally met its end. Last weekend, I spent a day or so rebuilding it with more durable and permanent materials, namely corrugated steel roofing and new pressure-treated framing.

Both the pergola and the roof over the pizza oven were starting get a little weathered looking, so I stained them red, which certainly brightened things up a bit. To the table I built last year, I added another few coats of spar varnish, and Tasha weeded and cleaned the patio beneath it, so we’re ready for another season of outdoor living.

Besides working on the outside dining area, we’ve done a lot of work around the greenhouse and the high pond in front of it. Tasha did some more work on the semi-floating garden in the pond and mulched the paths around it. I put in a couple sets of stairs I cut from railroad ties, at either end of the greenhouse. This not only makes it easier to get to and from the greenhouse, but adds more visual appeal to the area around the pond, where we’ve placed the Adirondack furniture I built at the end of last summer from a load of reclaimed pallet lumber.

And this is where we aspire to end up after the work’s done, at the end of a string of increasingly gorgeous days, relaxing by the pond and looking up at the stars. Till next time…