Category Archives: goats

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!

Garden Interview with Barbara, Part 3.

In today’s Part 3. Interview with Barbara about gardening, we cover soil and her low tech greenhouse. Note that Barbara was an exemplary gardener here in Boulder, but has relocated to Washington State along the Columbia River. This series of interviews mostly covers her garden here in Boulder but draws upon her lifetime experience of gardening in different places. If you missed the first two interviews, they are here:


This is Barbara in her backyard. You can see her free ranging chickens, her vegetable garden, greenhouse, and coop, all in the background.

Q: Please explain your soil practices. What was your annual routine and did you you see your productivity change as time went on and your soil improved?

A: My soil practice was never to till, just to feed the soil life and that meant tons and tons (literally) of rottable material over the years. I began with cardboard over the grass and weeds, vast quantities of grass clippings from landscape maintenance folks and manure from local horses. All was piled up into large sheet compost blankets to rot down. The goat manure and chicken manure went on selected areas – it was perfect for the lawn and some heavy feeders in the garden plus the potted plants. I do miss the animals and their manure now!

Annually, I put down the same materials whenever I could get them but the biggest annual push was the leaf bags in autumn. I trundled over 1000 bags from the front drop off zone to the back garden most years. Sometimes a bit less and occasionally a bit more. They all disappeared into the soil thanks to my faithful worm workers. The productivity did improve but it was a great gardening area to start with since it’s in the alluvial floodplain of South Boulder Creek. However, I found over time that digging and planting became much easier in the resulting enriched layer. It became several feet deep in the oldest garden areas.

Q: Did you ever use compost tea, and if so, describe how you made it.

A: Yes, I tried it in the greenhouse but found it was such a bother. The only benefit is to foliar feed with it and it seemed much easier to mix up liquid fish fertilizer or kelp fertilizer with a bucket of water for that. I tried it with manure + water and then again with alfalfa pellets + water before abandoning the idea. As to the aerated tea – way too much fuss for me although I know others swear by it.

Q: Have you gardened with soil Mycorrhiza in mind? If so, explain techniques that you think enhance soil Mycorrhiza and how much does that stimulate garden growth?

A: Mycorrhiza will save the world – yes I believe that indeed. I read Paul Stamets’ Mycelium Running years ago and believed it completely. So in Boulder, with all my leaves and hay, the mycorrhiza and other fauna had a smorgasbord to eat and I found fungal strands all through the soil. Here in Washington it was pretty barren and I bought a mycorrhiza starter last spring which I used to inoculate the entire vegetable garden and was overjoyed when small mushrooms sprouted up everywhere. I think the biggest problem with keeping them happy after feeding them is not letting the soil dry out. Mulch helps a lot. By the way, I’m growing Blue Oysters from Fungi Perfecta on several logs here – they are small still but we anticipate some good eating.

Q: You always advertised to people driving by your property in the fall to leave their leaves with you. How many bags of leaves did you add to your garden each year and please explain how harvesting large quantities of leaves played a role in your garden?

Well, it varied from year to year but it was between 500 and 1000 big black plastic garbage bags of leaves. In the zone 5 garden, they were invaluable. I used them everywhere as normal mulch to keep the ground from drying in the winter winds and summer sun. I used crunchy dry ones as goat or chicken coop bedding (which made its way to the garden eventually), used them to protect my tender perennials like the dahlias which often lived through zone 5 winters in the ground under huge piles of leaves. I plopped the plastic bags full of leaves over the carrots, beets or parsnips and covered the patch so well that the ground didn’t freeze and we could harvest in the coldest months just by picking up a bag and digging.

The worms and other tiny critters absolutely thrive with lots and lots of leaves. I used leaves often covered by hay to demarcate paths through the garden and it was easy to change those pathways from year to year. A huge wall of leaves went up against the two long walls of the greenhouse every fall and stayed there through the winter as insulation against the cold. I always throw a few inches of leaves in the bottom of any decorative pot I plant – food for the worms that I make sure are included as well. Now I live in such a mild climate the leaves are not quite as critical. However I still am making my gardens with many sheets of overlapping cardboard (to kill the lawn without rototilling) and with a thick layer of leaves on top.

Q: In your experience, did the way in which you enhanced and mulched your soil greatly reduce your irrigation requirements here in Boulder where we, on average, get only 18 inches of rainfall per year? If so, could you please give us pointers on how to reduce water needs through good gardening practices?

Oh, improving and then maintaining the tilth is critical. A healthy soil with lots of humus keeps moisture down at the roots and of course the mulch minimizes evaporation. You want your soil to be a sponge, to encourage the millions of critters that live in a healthy garden. They will aerate and enrich the soil as they move through it, eating each other and rotting material (like your leaf mulch). They fertilize with their manure, they open channels for rain to permeate, they create tilth – they are essential to soil life. So the best gardening practice I know is to let them live their lives as undisturbed as possible — and mulch to keep them happy.

Q: You had a lovely and simple low-tech greenhouse on your property here in Boulder where you started plants from seed. Please explain whether you think a greenhouse project is worthwhile and what did you use yours for?

A: I think a greenhouse is great for long season gardening – no frost from perhaps April through October and it’s possible to extend that if you are faithful in covering up on cold nights and days. Of course some crops don’t die off in freezing weather, so they are fairly easy. I loved being able to enter another growing zone by opening the door to the place and breathe in green growing smells.

I used it in winter for parsley, arugula, mustard, kale, lettuce (some like Winter Density, Winter Marvel and Sea of Red are pretty hardy) although the plants don’t actively grow through the low sunlight time of year and when you are snipping greens, you can’t take too much. Greens grown out of the stress of wind and extreme cold are really tender and sweet. There was a row of 9 (I think) 55 gallon drums filled with water on the north side that served as thermal mass, along with the damp ground. I also used that environment to overwinter my tender perennials like fuchsia, geranium, taro, etc. as buried in heaps of leaves, they never froze. They died back of course, but grew from the roots in spring. I loved being able to keep them alive year after year and that would never have been possible in our small house.

In spring, the greenhouse was my seed starting haven. The sun there was usually so bright that the tomatoes, peppers, etc. could be uncovered by day and then snugged under blankets of bubble wrap or floating row covers for cold nights or days. I loved growing plants “indoors” during that iffy spring season. The greens kept going strong.

In summer, the eggplant and peppers were planted in the ground to flourish in the quite hot environment under the greenhouse plastic. However the double doors at the east and west ends were opened plus the entire long south side plastic wall was rolled up 4’ from the ground so there was a good flow of air circulating. I had a big fan but never used it unless I needed to direct it at me to cool down. It NEVER got too hot for the plants there who love warmth. One summer I also grew melons and they liked it as well but they took up a lot of space.

In autumn, I continued to harvest peppers, and eggplant long after frost outside. I moved the tender perennials in for their vacation and sowed the winter greens. The greenhouse was in use 12 months a year.

[End Part 3. of interview. Come back next Friday for Part 4. Thank-you Barbara!]