The Portable Farm

Sometimes when neighbors drive by, I swear I can see them doing a double take. Hey, they might be saying to themselves, wasn't that barn over THERE yesterday? Occasionally I go out to tend to the goats or chickens and momentarily forget where they are located. This is not because the neighbors are delusional and I am absent-minded, but because all of our animal housing is portable. We move the chickens every day, so they always have nice fresh grass and bugs to nibble on, and there is no smelly chicken yard. The goats get a new pasture every two or three weeks, which lessens their exposure to parasites, provides them with new and delicious plants to eat, and saves us from having to muck out their barn. In exchange, though, we have to endure the process of moving them, which is exhausting, but ultimately worth it, we think. Here's what happens:
Packing Up
Farmer Fin Clearing the Fence Line
First, we measure out a 300-foot area. That's how much portable electric net fence we have. Then, we weed-whack the fence line. The stalks have been getting pretty tough in the past couple months, so we need to use heavy duty trimming line, and it still breaks three or four times. Fun! When the fence line is clear, we make a small pen for the goats with half of our fencing, and pick up the other half. There are about 12 12-foot panels of netting anchored by step-in posts. More about that later. Once the fence is out and the manger, milking stand, and feed dishes are removed from the barn, the real fun begins.

Moving Out
The barn is built on skids so we can drag it all around the hill. We pull it around with our pick-em-up truck. This can be kind of nerve-wracking, as clumps of weeds or anthills can cause the skids to bind up, which could potentially tear the whole thing apart. Farmer Fin drives and I run along beside the truck, shouting observations, warnings, and encouragement.

Setting Up
Now it's time to fence in the new pasture. Our portable electric netting is awesome. Because the "soil" on our hill is solid rock beneath a few inches of clay, you have to find the sweet spots to step the posts in. Farmer Fin wears heavy boots.

Moving the Milking Stand from the Former Barn Site

After we set up the first fence, we free the goats. The first couple times we did this, we felt like we had to lead them on leashes or corral them from the old location to the new one, or else they would run off to live with the deer in the woods. This was really stressful. I think the goats are smarter than deer, though: they recognize the benefits of shelter and electrified enclosure. Plus they just like to follow us around. For a few minutes they run around, all keyed up on sensory overload, wild raspberry bushes and mouthfuls of leaves. Meanwhile, Fin pounds in the ground rod and sets up the charger while I trim weeds around the fence line. The goats get pretty curious about all this activity and soon discover that their shiny new pasture is as rad as the rest of the hillside around it.

Chilling Out
For the rest of the day, the ladies get fat on green leaves. We gather up all our tools, head on down the hill, and crack a couple of well-deserved beers.


The Wagon

Once upon a time (in the 1950s), there was a feed grinder. It worked very hard at its job.

Gehl MX65 Feed Grinder/Mixer

But eventually, it was disassembled. The frame was left to rust away, until a nice family called Andrews rescued it. With love and care, they sanded away all the rust, gave the frame a nice coat of paint, found some wheels (which they painted grass green) and tires, and built a wooden body on it. Finally, they attached the finishing touch: a beautiful sign. Hooray! The wonderful wagon was a wing-ding of a wedding gift for the wide-eyed whippersnappers at Cotton Hill Farm.

Our tractor is indispensable here on the hill, but the wagon truly completes it. We use it to haul things up the hill, like this:
Here's the wagon transporting the chicken pen up the hill.

Thank goodness we don't have to drag all this brush up to the firepit!

The wagon is also a crucial part of our current irrigation system for the garden, which unfortunately involves transporting 50-gallon garbage pails full of water across the property.

We drag all kinds of stuff around in it:
I'll catch a ride in the wagon any old time, and a certain fuzzy farmdog thinks it's the BEST place for a nap in the sun.


Strange Bedfellows: Companion Planting Experiments

We gardeners appreciate the benefits of companion planting. Plant marigolds, nasturtiums, onions and other strong smellers around the garden to repel insects. Grow beans with corn to replenish nitrogen in the soil. And of course, as Louise Riotte's classic title states, carrots love tomatoes.

This year, I took companion planting to a new level. You see, we love eggplant. Last spring, when we started our seedlings, Farmer Fin's eyes lit up at the possibility of a summer filled with tubs of baba ganoush. A few months later, I watched helplessly as flea beetles made lace of the little leaves, killing the plants within a couple weeks. This has happened every time I have tried to grow eggplant. I hate those little bastards. You can't even squish them, because every time you close in on one, it jumps to another leaf. Grrr. I never seem to get it together to protect the seedlings with row covers, so I've tried spraying various concoctions of garlic and soap and hot pepper, year after year, to no avail. So this year, I decided to trick them instead.

beets love flowers

In some ways, it worked great. I think the insects really were fooled. We have lots of gorgeous veggies this year, eggplants among them. We maximized our space, always at a premium with raised beds. Visitors to my garden remark on the vibrant snapdragons, and the cucumbers that surround them.
watermelon loves peppers love basil

There are a few negative aspects of extreme companion planting though. One is that if I'm cooking a big dinner, I can't easily send anyone else out to harvest things. It's much easier to send someone looking for a bed of basil plants than it is to direct them to one basil plant, in the first long bed in the back, between the nasturtium, the pepper, and the slicing cukes. More importantly, I kind of forgot that some plants need to cross-pollinate, which may explain why the lone eggplant in the kitchen garden isn't doing too much.

peppers love eggplants love basil loves nasturtiums

All in all though, I'm pretty pleased with it, and will definitely repeat the experiment, with some improvements, in next year's garden.