Garden Interview with Barbara, Part 4.

In this series, Barbara, a gardening friend who has a wealth of knowledge to share with us and has graciously done an extensive interview for this site, today tells us about raising chickens, having a U-Pick garden for customers, the choice to raise goats, and her recommendations of perennial flowers and berries. (Note that I took all of the included photos on Barbara’s property when she lived here in Boulder.) Enjoy!

If you missed the other interviews, they are listed below:

Q: One of the charming things about your property were your free-range chickens and we loved getting eggs from you. Can you give people here some tips on raising chickens? Which chicken varieties do you recommend for egg-laying? Do you agree with Joel Salatin that chickens really help the soil and enhance the farms ecosystem?

A: Oh my gosh, do they ever help the farm. They were the reason my earwig menace disappeared. I loved allowing the chickens into the vegetable patch after the growing season was over and hated fencing them out again in spring – but of course they are quite destructive with most edibles.

Free ranging fowl are beautiful, as pleasant as flowers around your yard. I loved having them – but would not want hens if I had to confine them (unless it was a huge, huge pen) for the free movement was what made them interesting. Raising chickens on a small lot, that natural freedom would be difficult to attain. I have no plans to do so here in Washington in my new yard. My son’s family has 5 chickens but they are in a small area and I really feel sorry for them.

As to varieties, there are so many great ones. I tried lots of breeds but certainly don’t know even the majority. My faves for egg production were Black Star and Red Star. They are hybrids, smallish, don’t eat a lot and are excellent large brown egg producers. But for beauty, I’d chose the Americauna, the Buff Orpington and Australorps which are all good egg producers as well as lovely to look at. For kids, Buff Orpington are calm and good pets.

Q: You had a simple sign on your back fence that welcomed people to pick ‘n pay. Can you comment on that system and would you recommend it to other gardeners?

A: I am a lazy gardener and certainly don’t want the sort of commitment even a small CSA would entail. And the thought of spending time at a farmers’ market booth is dreadful. I’d rather be doing something fun like gardening! So since I had an abundance, I started giving it away to my kids’ families and neighbors. Then I enlarged the garden and planted more and found that others wanted some but felt they should pay in return – it just sort of happened. I really didn’t want to assign prices for pick-your-own veggies and it wasn’t that important that I get a certain amount of money. I was happy with anything and it seemed that others were happy to come at their convenient hours to pick the produce which couldn’t be fresher. It just seemed a natural evolution for someone who obsesses with growing stuff.

Q: You raised goats on the back part of your acre. Why did you decide to include goats on your little farm?

A: I got my goats because Sierra Club’s magazine introduced me to the concept of goat packing as environmentally sound. It was about 1995 or so and I had tried llama packing but found it to be problematic – llamas are truly wild animals and have absolutely no loyalty. When we moved to Colorado, I finally had a good spot for a goat pasture. That back section was weedy and full of bindweed and thistle and had a rundown loafing shed. My husband helped me fix that up and I went to Haystack Mountain Dairy to talk to them. There, I found two newborn males destined to be sent off to a feedlot barn and raised for slaughter. They were Nubians with beautiful long ears and I fell in love.

By this time I had read several books on goat packing and had learned that Nubians are not a recommended breed for that purpose. Undaunted, I brought them home that day, two neutered males, a few days old, and bottle fed them. What a joy they were. They ate the bindweed and thistle! Went back and got two more. Husband was getting scared but he came to love them too. My ninety year old mom was with us and how she loved bottle feeding them and holding the babies on her lap. There is nothing as sweet and clever as a kid. Sometimes she would just sit in the yard and watch them play for hours. If you remember our gigantic willow tree in back, you’ll recall that it had a huge sloping trunk. The kids would climb that tree and run up thirty feet or so to forage on the willow leaves there.

Anyway, I can see I’m getting carried away with my goat memories. The four boys grew into massive goats, each over 200 pounds and they were the BEST packers ever. We never had to lead them, they would jump in the trailer voluntarily, stand for loading their packs and cavort down any trail with great pleasure. They were amazingly fond of a campfire and once one even singed his long ears while he hung over the flames. They did long trips to The Holy Cross Wilderness, the Wind River Wilderness, other areas in Wyoming, and several trips around Breckenridge.

They also went on lots and lots of day hikes in the Boulder area. They attended a National Goat Packing Convention in Wyoming where goat packers from all over the west convened to camp and socialize. We did a work project jointly for the Forest Service and of all the goats there, mine were the biggest and most willing to carry large heavy weather station equipment. They willingly crossed streams and didn’t beg at mealtimes – all to the amazement of those goat packers who “knew” Nubians were lazy and unfit. And their photo was featured on the cover of “The Journal of the Working Goat” magazine! Such great goats. Finally, they grew too old to pack and retired to be pasture potatoes – which is when you knew them, I think.

So you see, I didn’t really pick them for their breed but I’d recommend them to anyone. The Nubian does are great milkers too.

Q: Tell what perennials, fruit trees, berries, and the like are worth growing and do you have any favorite varieties which you recommend?

Well, for easy care, xeric perennials are great. I always grow Rudbeckia triloba which is a lovely black-eyed susan with miniature flowers. Thomas Jefferson grew these. Another he loved was Alcea nigra, the black (really dark, dark red/purple) hollyhock and I find these so striking. I always grow lavender, any hardy variety. Gaura is so elegant and needs no care – it is one of my best perennials and kids really enjoy seeing the butterfly flowers bobbing around. And one of my standbys is Centranthus ruber (Jupiter’s Beard), another is the hardy geranium, Rozanne. All these plants can handle zone 5 or lower and need very little care.

Fruit trees are not my forte, but the sour cherry Montmorency is nice to have for pies and jam and I do love figs, which overwinter in my new garden. I’m an advocate of Mara des Bois strawberries, a day neutral variety. Elderberry is a lovely shrub that produces berries very useful for making medicinal syrup – I’m growing the variety Sutherland Gold and it’s as pretty as a Japanese Maple with its airy deeply cut leaves.

Note that this concludes part 4. of Barbara’s interview and next Friday we’ll be back with Part 5. Thank-you Barbara!

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