Sweet Harmony Farm blog

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Posted 7/4/2010 2:51am by Mona.

 Home of the free, Because of the brave.

4th of July flag

 Enjoy the picnics and fireworks as we all celebrate our beautiful country's 234th Independence Day.

Tags: gardening
Posted 6/29/2010 11:12am by Mona.

We’re really late this year planting the garden.  Usually I like to have everything planted right after Memorial Day weekend, but this year we’ve moved the garden to the back yard, near the corner of the pasture fencing, and behind the old shed that was here when we bought the property.  A garden near the garden shed sounds logical!  And now the hose will reach every part of the garden easily, and I can see it from the house.  Dan built 4 more 4 X 12 garden boxes, and we’ve moved 3 of the 4 from the old garden in the side yard.  The last box has some rogue lettuces and scallions that sprang up on their own (I love when that happens!), my huge garlic chive plant, and my really, really, huge oregano plant.  I’m waiting for the lettuces to bolt and the scallions to be ready to be picked, and then I’ll figure out how to best move the oregano plant and then we’ll move that last raised bed.  The oregano plant is more like an oregano bush, and I want it to continue to do well.

We filled up the new boxes with compost from the local nursery, and I’ve been busy planting and planting.  I’m hoping that because I’ve planted a few weeks late, and during the week of the summer solstice, that the bugs will be few and far between this growing season.  Dan put in several stakes around this new garden area, and tied white plastic trash bags to them.  This is my neighbor's trick to keep away the deer; hopefully it will work for us too!   What a beautiful week we’ve had, these longest days of the year, warm and breezy and perfect for planting.

Dan, setting up the new garden

Now I have 8 large raised bed boxes, arranged somewhat in a square, with a four foot path going down the middle both ways, sort of like 4 small squares with 2 raised beds in each.  I wanted the paths to be wide enough to accommodate the garden cart.  The north side of the garden is the side closest to the pasture fence, and Dan will probably build me a long, narrow garden box, and eventually I’ll grow vining veggies there, like sweet peas or maybe pole beans, with some morning glories mixed in.  Around my veggie plants I’ve always planted marigolds and petunias, both for bug control as well as color.  Bright red tomatoes are great, but we won’t see them until late August!

The little garden shed that is here was surprisingly painted purple (!).  It’s in need of some repair, mostly to the roof, but basically serves its purpose.  Dan even thinks he may be able to build a small chicken coop right off the back.  Fresh eggs!

The barn from the new garden

The best part is that I’m really close to the alpacas now.  Coty and Arlo love to graze together at this far end of the pasture.  I can see right into the barn and watch the others cushed in front the fan, my ‘vampire’ alpacas that they are on these hot days.  I call out to them easily, and they all look up at the sound of my voice.  They watch me curiously, as I work in the garden, Stella sleeping in the cool grass under the maple tree nearby.  

Posted 6/26/2010 4:00pm by Mona.

A few months back, I wrote about my wonderful, winter-worthy muck boots for doing barn chores.  They’re still wonderful, but mighty hot now for this time of year.  It’s time to get a different pair of boots for summer.  I’m still wearing the Muck Boots brand, but now I have lightweight purple clogs!

Purple Clogs

Purple!  My favorite color. And much, much cooler on the feet.

Posted 6/8/2010 10:52am by Mona.

Like so many of you, the growing disaster of the oil spill in our country’s beautiful Gulf Coast region is continuously on my mind.  If you are new to reading my blog (and thank you) and are curious as to what the oil spill has to do with alpacas, please read my prior blog post here.  Today, I simply want to vent.

I love our beautiful planet Earth with all its magnificent treasures.  In an average human’s lifetime, there would probably never be enough time to see, hear, feel, touch, taste, or otherwise experience all there is on planet Earth.  I’ve always felt it is important to appreciate nature and how it intertwines with all life.  I’ve always felt it to be very important to take care of the Earth and do all that is possible to keep our planet safe and healthy, which in turn keeps all of us safe and healthy.  Why wouldn’t we want to take care of our planet?  This is the only place we can live.

The Gulf Coast oil spill is shaping up to be worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  There is no shortage of depressing broadcasts and video.  I am a happy American, and I do believe in democracy, capitalism, personal wealth, philanthropy, and a free society.  I believe that these ideals are worth continually striving for, that they create a better life for all.  This disaster is heartbreaking, yes mostly for the residents in the Gulf Coast region, but also for the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants, human and otherwise.  WE WILL ALL BE AFFECTED AT SOME POINT.

The blame game is going on now and who is to blame?  And is there just one answer?  Is it BP, and/or the companies they worked in conjunction with?  Is it our elected government and/or its appointees?  Is it us, the American citizens, with our insatiable lifestyle?  And right now, who is going to clean up the spill?  Oil is gushing out daily by the thousands of gallons, ruining more and more of the Gulf Coast region, and spreading out of the region.  It seems like everything is working in slow motion while oil is spreading out polluting the ocean at the speed of light.

I think of all this while I quietly take Stella for a walk, plant and weed in the gardens, pick lettuce and herbs for dinner, hang out laundry, skirt fleece, weave and knit, watch Dan work the pastures and build gates and hay bins, and take care of the alpacas.  In my lifetime I have tried to only drive fuel-efficient vehicles, car pool, turn off lights, turn down the thermostat, open windows and use fans instead of air conditioning, shut off the water when brushing my teeth, use lukewarm water for washing clothes, hang out my laundry, grow a lot of my own veggies, plant perennials which attract pollinators, garden without pesticides or herbicides, buy organically grown food and products, compost and recycle everything I can, promote solar and wind power and renewal energy, etc.  I always wonder if I’m doing enough, or too much, or if it really makes a difference in the big scheme of things, whenever I see a large environmental disaster unfold.  I am trying so hard to remain optimistic as well as realistic, and I will continue to do what I’ve done with a better focus, and continue to find new ways to keep our planet safe and healthy. 

The best way to clean up the Gulf Coast Oil spill, and to prevent future tragedy, is a positive outlook and a 'we can do it' spirit.

One of my favorite environmental protection groups is the Natural Resources Defense Council, www.nrdc.org.  I’ve always found them to be very effective.  Their blog is continually being updated regarding the spill ~ http://switchboard.nrdc.org/gulfspill.php.  One of their writers also writes her own blog and has this post on a similar theme as to what I’ve just written today ~ http://www.nrdc.org/thisgreenlife/default.asp.       

Thank you all for listening.

Posted 6/3/2010 10:01am by Mona.

Today's post is written by my friend Val of Crown Point Alpacas.  Thanks Val!

There in the field was a little treasure. Adorning the green, green grass of spring, was this beautiful bright blue birds' nest. It had fallen from its lofty throne, sometime during the winter months when the last of the winds blew the last leaf off the bare branches, leaving only silhouettes of trees. I thought about that little nest as I picked it up. It was so beautiful. It had been carefully and thoughtfully constructed by a master at the art of recycling! The main part of this blue nest was an old tarp that had been covering some wood.  This little bird had used the blue tarp as her main weaving material. And then there was a fishing string found from a nearby brook. And then I saw the ribbon; it was the ribbon from a child’s balloon. I imagined that perhaps it was a child who'd had a special day. The balloon had floated away as the child watched, soothed by loved ones with gentle words, and a hug that the balloon would find a happy home.

Nest made with alpaca fiber

Little did they know that the ribbon would weave a home, safe from winds and storms and give a family a chance to soar.  As I held this tiny little nest in my hands, I then looked into the nest, and there inside the nest was a thickly felted layer of alpaca fleece! Soft, and felted to perfection! I imagined how the nest was at first lined with fluffy fiber which swaddled the tiny eggs, and kept the little bird warm while she warmed her eggs. Then as the eggs hatched and the tiny little bird feet started to pitter and patter when mama brought them their food, they felted the nest! Teeny, tiny baby bird feet felting away!!  This little nest had been a wonderful home, protected them from harm and kept them warm and safe till they were ready to fly.

This nest is a lot like our lives; we weave it together. Our relationships, some like the old tarp, some the fishing string, some the ribbons, and our families, they are like the felt. We keep them close to us. Sometimes things change, sometimes our lives take turns, but the stuff we are made of, and what we choose to weave into our lives, gives us all the chance to “soar.”

Posted 5/24/2010 10:52am by Mona.

The other night Dan and I went out to the barn, excitedly chatting about the day’s events.  As we entered the barn, the alpacas all ran up from the pasture, knowing full well that it’s dinner time.  I opened up the tack room door and reached inside to turn on the lights.  As I turned around, Arlo was walking into the pen.  And out of the corner of my eye I saw a rather large mouse, a very large mouse, crawl up and over the pen wall and run back down.

I screamed so loud that I’m sure our neighbors up in Canada heard me.

I’ve always been a lover of all animals.  But to be totally honest, rodents just aren’t at the top of my list.  This is especially true with rodents that could be categorized as very large mice.  I’m usually a sensible 40-something woman, but at the sudden unexpected sight of a very large mouse I lost all control, screamed bloody murder, and shut myself into the tack room.

Dan is normally calm, but my screeching really irks him.  I was all but hyperventilating trying to explain to him what I saw.  He kept reassuring me that it was indeed just a very large mouse, harmless, it’s gone, so it’s OK to come out, and please stop screaming.  Good idea, as my throat was now hoarse.  I slowly opened the tack room door and stepped out.  Dan looked rather annoyed.  The alpacas hadn’t moved and were staring at me with that ‘Where’s our dinner?’ look.  Even the barn swallow that’s been living in our barn hadn’t left its nest.  I had only scared away the very large mouse.

Now in the evening Dan always enters the barn first, waving the flashlight around all the edges, tells me the coast is clear, and turns on the lights.  I peer in slowly checking all the edges myself, before I come in.  For several days there were no new signs until one morning when there was a very large hole dug against the tack room wall, right next to the water spicket, which seemingly went under the tack room into the abyss.  I was good and didn’t scream, but had to run back up to the house to get Dan to inspect it.  He thought I was panicking again and reluctantly agreed to come out; then he saw the size of the hole.  He quietly said, ‘Hhhmmmm, I guess you did see a very large mouse the other night.  I’ll get the traps.’  He returned with mouse traps large enough to catch a small squirrel.  I figured it was best not to ask why.  He set both on either side of the tack room and now we wait.  It’s been several days and no signs yet that the very large mouse has returned.

A barn cat is looking better and better, after the barn swallow is done nesting.

I’ll keep all of you posted, loudly I’m sure.

Warning:  Pardon me for stating the obvious, but please be sure your alpacas or any of your livestock cannot access mouse traps!!  And please, no poisons!!!

Alpacas are curious and they certainly will inspect a mouse trap.  One trap is set in the pen which is attached to the tack room, and we’ve secured the pen door shut.  The other is set under the tack room from outside, with rocks around the opening and I pulled out the few blades of grass nearby.  This side of the tack room is also in the area that had been sectioned off.

Posted 5/20/2010 11:04am by Mona.

It’s springtime so it’s time to work on the pastures again.  Dan had done such a good job last summer, york raking up the ground to smooth it out for us to plant grass seed.  They say the best seed for alpacas is orchard grass, but we planted a horse pasture mix which includes orchard grass and many other grasses.  Alpacas are browsers while they graze, and isn’t variety the spice of life?

The grasses did come up again this spring and after a long winter of just hay, the alpacas are loving it.  Pastures are continual maintenance, and the healthier the pastures, then the healthier the alpacas.  First things first, we separated the east side of the pasture in half with a zig-zag.   We used some temporary sheep fencing, those plastic poles, and 2 strands of wide electrical tape.  There’s no need to electrify the fence as it is just temporary, to divvy up the pasture for resting and re-seeding.  We’ve also used this fencing near the main gate, separating off an area of about 10 x 20 feet, as added assurance when we enter and exit that no alpacas will suddenly decide to wander off.  It’s worked just fine.  Until now!

Last weekend it wasn’t very windy and with on again, off again showers it was perfect for adding lime.   Dan spread about 40 pounds of lime onto that separated, little pasture area.  I’m sure we could probably use a ton more on our clay soil.  Lime is great.  It helps to alkalize the soil, the first step in growing good soil and healthy grass.   In another week or two, we will re-seed, and keep the alpacas off until the new grass is in and several inches tall.  Already the grass on that side is greener.  Alpacas generally respect fencing but two things will get them to find a way to the other side:  open females, and greener grass.

Arlo is still small for his age, but he’s a brazen little dude and all personality.  One day doing barn chores I realized that he wasn’t with the herd.  A quick look around, and there he was, just on the other side of the temporary fencing.  I couldn’t figure out how he got over there.  The fencing hooks up to the barn wall with handles so I undid the handles and walked over to him.  He kept grazing.  I put my hands on him and coaxed him gently, ‘C’mon Arlo.  Let’s go back with your brothers.’  He wouldn’t budge!  I continued to coax him and with every couple of steps, he’d take another bite of grass.  We were only a few feet away from the fence line but it took me almost 5 minutes to get him back!

Coaxing Arlo out of the fenced-in side is now a daily ritual.  Although now, instead of staying up by the barn, he obstinately goes right into the middle part of the pasture.  And he’s a spunky little guy!  He does the same thing with Dan, takes a few steps, takes a bite, takes a few steps, takes a bite, and then he scoots under the lower tape, doing the limbo.  So that’s how he’s getting in!  We’ll have to put up a third strand of fencing or the new grass won’t stand a chance.        

Posted 5/17/2010 9:32am by Mona.

oregano&chivesMay2010

The weather has been good to us lately.  Sunny cool days and crisp nights with little frost, and only gentle rains rather than fierce storms.  It’s still a bit early to plant most of the garden, but it’s good weather for weeding.  As I weed, I can see the side of the barn and most of the east side of the pasture.  I’ve purchased a few plants in peat pots from a local organic farmer and they’re set out on the porch at night and under the shade of a maple tree during the day.  We’re going to move our garden sometime this year to a sunnier spot right in the back yard, in front of the pasture fencing.  We’d planted the garden way over in the side yard when we first moved here so that it wouldn’t be disturbed while we cleared land, and at the time it was sunnier there.  Turns out, not sunny enough! 

carrots&beetsMay2010

The oregano and garlic chive plants are huge already.  Every garden I’ve ever had has surprised me in the spring with something that has self-sowed from the year before.  So far this year I’ve found green onions (scallions) and lettuce plants.  I was happily surprised to find a few teeny carrots had survived last summer’s ‘deer attacks.’   As I continued weeding, there are a lot of carrots, and not all of them are teeny.  They’re all bright orange and solid, as a carrot should be.  I also found several small beets.  Here I am expecting to be getting the garden ready for planting, and I’m harvesting carrots and beets!  I can’t wait to roast them in olive oil with fresh oregano and garlic.  Maybe I'll save a couple carrots for snacks for the alpacas.

Posted 5/9/2010 7:56am by Mona.

Back in March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska and dumped approximately 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the sea of this pristine and remote location.  The incomprehensible, devastating damage done to the sea life, shoreline, and local communities and economies was insurmountable and continues until this day.  Exxon has denied responsibility continually and has appealed every verdict regarding this issue.  At the time, the environmental activist in me joined the millions of others as we all went into full activist mode, writing letters, calling elected officials, signing petitions, donating money to cleanup efforts through environmental organizations, and my personal favorite:  mailing little baggies of oil to Exxon’s headquarters.  The legal wrangling has spanned 20 years, and so has my complete refusal to buy gasoline from an Exxon station.  I choose to run out of gas first.  One of the saddest outcomes of this tragedy is the fact that our legal system has done literally next to nothing to get the spill really cleaned up properly, nor to compensate and assist the communities that were affected.  And to top it off, hardly anything has been done to switch our country over to clean, safe energy.

Here it is now, 21 years later, and another devastating oil spill is happening in our beautiful Gulf Coast waters.   I cannot believe that once again I will be working in some capacity to clean up yet another major oil spill.  This time, an explosion occurred on April 20th at a deep sea oil rig owned by BP.  As well as major environmental devastation again, many lives were lost due to the explosion.  I pray for those families.  It is now 19 days later and oil is still gushing out.  BP is denying responsibility and says they’re not accountable.  Supposedly our government is doing ‘all it can.’  Is it?  When will this leak stop and who will clean it up?  And what does all this have to do with alpacas?

Alpacas are ‘green,’ very green.  Their fiber can literally absorb oil and allow clean water to pass through!  As history does tend to repeat itself, it will be we concerned citizens that initiate clean up efforts before the ‘officials’ step in.  The alpaca forums are already buzzing about a group that has been mobilizing.  Alpaca farms are banding together to mail alpaca thirds and unused alpaca fiber to collection sites.  Booms are being made with alpaca fiber stuffed into nylons as well as felted alpaca mats.  Once the oil is absorbed, oyster mushrooms are applied to break up the oiled booms and mats, and then earthworms finish up the job, turning a harmful substance into glorious dirt.  Please visit this wonderful organization’s website, www.matteroftrust.org to learn all the details of this ingenious oil spill clean up method.  And fellow alpaca farmers, send in your unused fiber!  Recycle those empty grain bags!

Alpaca Fiber For Gulf Oil Spill cleanup

 If we citizens don’t take action to take care of our environment, who will?  And where would we all live?      

Here I am, all these years, writing letter after letter to my elected officials, begging them to think of the environment first and pass appropriate legislation.  Who would've thought my love for animals and natural fibers, being outside, and gardening organically, would have brought me to a place in my life where I'm raising livestock that is not only ‘light on the earth’ but also is instrumental in cleaning up an environmental disaster.  What a feeling!

Today is Mother’s Day.  Hi Mom!  And while we’re all thanking our Moms please, please remember to do something thankful for everyone’s ~ human, animal, bird, fish and sea creature, reptile, insect, and plant ~ mom, Mother Earth.    

Posted 5/3/2010 9:00am by Mona.

This past Thursday was our first shearing day here on our little farm.  We have agisted our alpacas for about 2 years so we are familiar with the whole shearing process, and our shearer has sheared our alpacas in the past, but everything is different when it’s being done on your farm for the first time!  This is still our first year having the alpacas here, so everything is a new experience.

Pam was here (thanks Pam!) to assist and also to sort the fleeces, and another nearby alpaca farmer volunteered to help and stopped by too.  Thanks Janet!

Bo and Coty April 2010

Everything went surprisingly well.  On Monday the weather forecast was calling for rain for a few days, so late that night we had to lock the alpacas into the barn.  With a run in shed, that means putting up tarps!  Dan had just finished making a gate which we’d thankfully hung up on Sunday; now we had a way to enter and exit the barn easily.  So one stall had the gate and the other three had tarps.  Even though my 5 boys had 6 stalls and are wimpy about rain, they really dislike being locked in the barn for days!  I got spit on more than once (thanks Guinness).  But my reward for green slime on my face and in my hair was dry animals on shearing day.  Dry, clean fleece is imperative for shearing a usable product.

I had enticed the boys into the pen with pellets before everyone arrived.  Funny how they fall for this every time!  They were all humming quite loudly watching us while we set up mats and extension cords, bags for gathering and separating the fleeces, and flattened cardboard boxes to kneel on. 

We decided to shear our boys from darkest to lightest in color, because our fussiest boys are the darkest.  Our shearer is extraordinarily kind to the alpacas; we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Still, I’m sure the alpacas are a bit frightened even though it’s ‘all over with’ quickly.  Julio, being bay black, was the first.  Our tough alpha male screeched like the dickens the entire time!  When he was done we scooted him out to the pasture, where he stood up on the dirt pile near the fence to watch his herd mates.  Guinness, then Coty, then Arlo, were next and all accepted their fate quietly, albeit reluctantly.  Bo Jangles was last, and we went through several rags cleaning up his mouth from all the spit. 

Bo & Coty after shearing April 2010

Arlo after shearing April 2010

The alpacas sniffed each other for hours afterwards, as if they were all different alpacas.  And they stayed out in the far pasture all day.  It was a sunny, cool day with a strong wind and I know they were cold.  When they saw us in the evening they did come running in to the barn without being called.  They all ate their pellets in record time, and dashed off back into the pasture.  Yikes boys!  We weren’t going to lock you up in the barn again!  A few minutes later, in the dusk and growing darkness, all the boys began to pronk around the pasture, led by little Arlo.  It was a glorious sight.

My fluffy, teddy bear-like alpacas now look like Dr. Seuss characters, or aliens!

Quote for Today

Never let the odds keep you from doing
what you know in your heart
you were meant to do. 

Coming soon!
Our new fiber store on Local Harvest!

 

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