Mershka Calico

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since May 17, 2016
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goat dog forest garden
A couple folks and I live on a 60ish acre off-grid piece of land in semi-arid Northeastern Oregon, in the US. We're working towards a balance where we can feed and for the most part take care of ourselves while building a healthier ecosystem. This land was bare and overgrazed when we got it, and we had no idea what we were doing. The last 10 or so years has been quite the adventure but now we seem to be on a steady track with a clear plan and a ton of work to do. The two largest goals right now involve the restoration of the creek and riparian area and the implementation of better pasture management through rotational grazing and reducing pasture dependence by growing and supplying different sources of food. Currently we have chickens, turkeys, lowline angus cattle, goats, and livestock guardian dogs.
Spring of 2016 will be the first year we implement some major tree-planting since I removed the majority of western juniper trees which were springing up and hastening the erosion of the already deteriorating streambanks.
I myself am a bit of a jack of all trades. I love things which grow and working with my hands, and so I do a lot of gardening. I also draw a lot, and have recently gotten into some wood carving. I left college as a chemistry major after realizing my disappointment in the educational system as well as realizing my own debt-doom since I'm not interested in an industry job. I pursue such things independently now.
I frequently find myself browsing these forums and I figured it was about time for me to actually sign up!
Northeast Oregon, US
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Recent posts by Mershka Calico

Oh my gosh you two, thank you so much.
It's nice seeing the options you talked about and I'm going to look up salt tolerant veggies later today and change my plans for that area. I still might turn it into a tree zone though, it seems like a nice idea now that I'm used to it.
4 years ago
At some point, someone who didn’t know any better broadcasted some minerals around the soil of one of the garden areas. There is a trash can containing the minerals left down there. After noticing unusual growing characteristics (a general lack of growth, and chlorosis in some plants) of some plants in that area, I had a terrible thought which made my heart sink into my stomach. I went over to the trash can, opened it, and gave the minerals a taste. Salt. They used livestock minerals on the garden. After getting over my initial feelings of sadness, anger, confusion and -face palm-, my mind started getting to work. I don’t know how much of that area was salted, nor to what degree. The fruit trees seem to be growing well, but they’re on the upper half of the area and not where the veggies are grown. My first thought was just to fill the areas where veggies don’t grow well with salt-tolerant trees, like locusts, the local alders, hawthorns, etc. The majority of the veggies which we’d like to put down there could use the extra shade during the summer anyway. That’s assuming there are spots without much salt in there somewhere. And I still have no way of knowing where the salt is and is not, and where it is in the highest concentration. I’ve thought of flooding the place somehow, but we really don’t have enough water for that, plus the feet of heavy clay soil can make that difficult, as far as I know.
Does anyone have information or tips on how to deal with this? Is there some magic solution? Am I best off with the salt-tolerant trees? It’s my understanding that they’ll eventually take up at least some of the sodium, but I don’t know to what degree or how long it would take to make a difference.
My cabbages are suffering!
4 years ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:So are you making your living ranching these days? If so, success! If not, every little step helps.

Almost!!! We're having some financial troubles at the moment, mostly just because of land taxes (we're 20 acres short of the exclusive farm use tax benefits, even though we do exclusive farm use). We relied on a steady input of funds from city-jobs to get everything setup but now we have almost none of that because my dad left. But it's actually been a huge motivator to branch out not only towards providing our own resources but also into selling our products. We sell livestock and puppies, and my mom's been getting some incredible feedback on her (all organic) lotions and goat milk soaps so we've been marketing that. We're in a state of flux and managing to hang on. It's tough, but highly rewarding! We just gotta stay fluid and accept all that life gives us.
4 years ago
Wow! Thanks for your reply, looks like I have a lot of reading material to keep me Busy! Good timing too because I have some free time while waiting for more seeds to sprout.
I'd love to share more about what I'm doing. I can get some photos later on when the weather's no so damp and I finish mulching everything. We have two major zones with trees growing, one was established when we were first moving out here and we planted the other one last year. They're both in low-lying depressions near the creek. So far they're planted with your average fruit trees: apples, peaches, cherries, nectarines, paw paws, a pear, two hazelnuts, and two almonds. The first batch was mostly apples and only took a couple years to establish and now require no maintenance. I heavily mulched the new batch and have a little water line set up for them. All those ones are clones, too, which I'd like to stop planting. They're a nice jumpstart to get some food growing but I really prefer seed-grown trees and so that's the focus from here on out. I've planted 5 or 6 paw paw seeds this year and am crossing my fingers that they'll come up a-okay. I like to paint the trunks of the trees with white diluted latex paint to help keep them cooler during the first few years which I think has been making a good difference. I want to plant a lot of perennials and ground covers between all these trees to break up some of the grass and help out the soil, so far I'm thinking rhubarb, goji, currants, pea trees, asparagus, the native willows and roses, as well as various veggies (filling up empty space). Filling up empty space is also important to me because it insures no water goes to waste. We only have one well and so every drop especially counts.
Outside of those two areas, I just set up a small space along the creek where I just planted a few goji seedlings. I will continue setting up little spaces like, taking advantage of nice spots along the creek as it meanders to and fro. The only downside of the creek area is how cold it gets! It is reliably several degrees colder than up in the pastures or on the ridge so I'm focusing on things which can handle that stress, or else I'll just baby things along for the first couple years I guess. I plan on growing lindens, black and honey locusts, black walnut, sea buckthorn, mulberry, and a lot of hazels down by the creek, along with willows, alders, birches and hybrid poplars for some fast-growing biomass as part of the restoration.

Like I mentioned before, mulch is very important to what I'm doing. Good mulch can hold in SO much moisture and really make a happy environment. I love sticking my finger into the mulch on cold days and feeling the hot moisture and seeing all the bugs in there. All the left over debris in the hay barn and the buildup of bedding in the animal barns makes for some great mulch, I'm really happy with it. Especially when we cleanup the highly nutritious waste in the chicken coop. The only downside is that the top can get crusty so periodic deep watering is much better than frequent little waterings. Water has trouble penetrating the heavy clay soil so periodic deep waterings seem to work better anyway.

Outside of the creek area gets very dry very fast. I have a couple little spots set aside for growing more of the locusts and pea trees (and some jujubes) and I take advantage of places which get water from livestock tank overflow, faucets, leaky hoses, etc. I want a LOT of pea trees as a source of feed for our livestock. I'd love to get some burr oaks too, I've heard they can thrive even in the most inhospitable soils and some can produce great acorns. I feel similarly towards hickories, even though they take FOREVER to grow.

I have a lot of plans and ideas. As time goes on it will become obvious what does and does not work and so I'll be refining the plans as time goes on and following the paths of least resistance for the most part. Oh gosh I just get so excited by all of this! All the planting makes me so happy, whether or not failures prevent some of the directions!
4 years ago
Pleasure to be here, my name's Mershka (Mer like 'merry' and shka like, uhh... 'shkuh').
My parents, one of my brothers and I have been transitioning from urban life to homesteading/ranching since we bough this land about 10 years ago. It started getting more serious once my mom moved out here about 7 years ago to get everything started, and it's been moving slowly but surely ever since.

We raise angora goats for fiber, nubian goats for milk, chickens and turkeys for a lot of reasons, boer goats, pigs and lowline angus cattle for meat, and we have two horses too. Our animals are kept safe due to our Kangals, which are Turkish livestock guardian dogs (except the birds, which don't get a dog). Our kangal dogs allow us and our livestock to live harmoniously with mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, and all other manner of predators with whom we share these lands. Birds aside, we haven't had a single livestock loss from predation in the 7 years we've had our animals! As we’ve been getting our own ranching practices together more and more, an increasing amount of effort is going towards protecting the natural surroundings and working with the environment to maximize the amount of life which is capable of flourishing in our little corner of this region. We were all totally green when starting out and so there are some areas we really dropped the ball in, particularly with pasture management and getting early starts with tree-planting, but we learn more and more as we go along and improve as we're able!

I was going back and forth between the ranch and a town we used to live in during the early days and then I had a couple years where I was off at the University of Montana as a chemistry major directed towards botany, but ranch life has drawn me back! Sometimes I like to say, "I didn't choose the ranch life, the ranch life chose me" hahahahaha. I still study chemistry, botany and biology in general in my free time and I really appreciate that kind of book-learning and all the logical puzzles which go along with it, it keeps my brain busy, but I really don't do well with urban living. I also do a lot of art in my free time. I can have trouble expressing myself at times so that's a nice outlet for that and it's a break from physical labor and brain-food.

I've always liked visiting this forum and I think I finally have my stuff together enough to sign up, post about my projects, contribute to threads, and continue hearing everyone's input.
So yay, It's nice to be here!
4 years ago
I've been thinking about this for a couple days with a bit of difficulty.
I don't have a gardening/horticultural system nailed down yet and so the staple crops vary year to year as things move along. And my climate is so unpredictable that even if I did have a system nailed down, seasonal fluctuations would promote better growth of one crop than another year to year and so allowing for a lot of flexibility is beneficial for me. For two years I got a lot of potatoes, other years were mostly leafy greens and brassicas, and last year most of the calories came from fruit while the rest of the garden totally failed, hahaha. Most of my calories probably come from animal products at this point although I suspect that will change as I hone in my horticulture. I'm planning to continue the diversity of crops but I'd like to try growing more amaranth and corn for starchy goodness. I live along Corncob Creek, which got its name because of loads of corn remnants left by Northern Paiute people which were found by the first homesteaders and I suspect they'd know what was best for this area, even though the climate was cooler and wetter back then.
4 years ago

Tyler Ludens wrote:Very interested in your creek restoration project - it seems similar to my own.

I only wish we had gotten on it years ago! Better late than never though. There's a little stream North of us which has carved a nice canyon for itself which is 20 feet deep in places with near vertical walls! I'd like to avoid that fate, especially since the creek which runs through our place carries steelhead. I work on it little bits every day, building up juniper branches on the eroding banks and clogging up the particularly deep spots. There was a good washout a few months ago which cleaned out a lot of silt and clay and that gave us all fresh eyes on how much the creek has been cutting downward. A local biologist really likes what we're doing with the creek and gave us some tips, and they even felt confident that once we get the willows and other trees and bushes established beavers could move in! That would be really neat.
4 years ago
Hey all,
I thought I'd like to share parts of mine and my family's plans for this 60ish acre off-grid ranch. We're in a pretty arid grassland/ shrubby-steppe part of Northeast Oregon with very hot summers, and we can also get some brutally cold winters and there's usually late and early frosts. We'll get between 8 and 14 inches of rain per year but it's been on the very low end of that spectrum for some years now. We have goats, lowline angus cattle, chickens and turkeys, a couple horses, and turkish kangals (livestock guardian dogs). We're also setting up three orchard/tree spaces with annual and perennial veggie gardens in and around them. We're trying to make a balance where we can do our human stuff like feed ourselves while also improving upon this ecosystem.
Right now we have three major projects we're working on, and they're all tied together. 1: Better pasture management for our grazing animals. 2: Growing useful trees. 3: Riparian area restoration, particularly with the quickly-eroding creek which runs through a good portion of the property.
The pasture management plans include implementing rotational grazing (need money to get some more fencing in!) and adding other food sources to relieve dependence and stress on the pastures. We have a grain sprouting system which can produce over 140 pounds of fodder each day which provides nutrition for all of the animals during the winter months, leaving only their need for ruffage which can come from many sources.
The riparian area restoration, at this point, consists of adding as much woody debris as possible to fill up the creek, lift it from it's current path (it's busy making a little ravine since our soil is just layer after layer of volcanic ash), and nudging it away from the eroding banks. This last year has been the first time we've really been tackling that chore. There were a couple hundred western juniper trees all along the creek which I removed in the spring of 2015 because they're really terrible for this area. This year I've been placing debris (branches, small trees) along the eroding banks in such a way as to maximize the accumulation of gunk when the creek level rises during the winter and spring months. Lots of the willows, alders and birches are growing better without the junipers and I'll be planting loads more willows and hybrid poplars along the creek to further woody growth, shade the creek, and increase sources of debris. We'll also be using the riparian area for planting things like lindens, paw paws, locusts, hazelnuts, fruit trees of various sorts, witch hazel, berries, currants, etc. I'm planning on making some of that bone-tar stuff to keep deer and our goats away so I don't have to use up all our field fencing for the purpose of containing the new trees and shrubs like I'm currently doing, hahaha.
Then we have the tree and gardening projects. I want to grow a lot of pea trees (C. arborescens) as a major source of future ruffage for our animals. Thankfully they appreciate dry soils and do very well in a town nearby so I have high hopes for them. I also want to grow a lot of honey locusts and black locusts. The honey locusts can be for mainly for ruffage, shade and firewood, while the black locusts will mainly be for firewood and fence posts. We're interplanting with all sorts of other woody and perennial stuff, and until it all gets established those areas are also where our vegetable gardens are growing. Two of the tree-growing areas extend away from the creek into some pretty dry soil, so mulch has been a big help keeping moisture in, as well as being a major source of nutrients since our mulch is full of goat and chicken excrement.
Eventually I'd like to try making hedges with the locusts, hawthorn, and a spattering of other drought-tolerant species as a way to phase out barbed wire fencing in some areas, don't know when I'll be getting to that however.

I'm really excited to see how things progress in the gardens as summer comes in and the temps start rising. The honey locust and pea tree seedlings seem to be rocking it, so do the surrounding veggies, more of which will get planted a couple days from now because we're in a bit of a cold snap. One of the veggie areas has a misting/drip line system for watering, the other has many little canals and both systems seem to be working very well thus far. And the black locust root cuttings which i took and potted are sending up shoots now, so they're growing and will be planted in the ground next year!
One of my largest concerns has to do with the trees and perennials in the dry areas. Once the riparian area is more greatly expanded and getting healthier there'll be an easier time planting stuff but I worry that the trees in the dry spots will be dependent on my watering system compared to the trees in the riparian zone which don't need help once they get established. The honey locusts seem to be growing some monster taproots, same with the pea trees and paw paws, so that gives me hope but I think this will be something I'll have to play by ear and adjust as needed. There's certainly work with swales which I could do and that will help once I find the time to do it!
It's an awful lot of irons in the fire and so I'm trying to be as flexible as possible and work with the natural surroundings. It's just a lot to take in! And we were all so green when we started this lifestyle, this is the first year I feel like we're really getting a grip and busting out with productivity and a solid direction!

I'd be happy to hear any suggestions or questions anybody has, it seems like there's a wealth of knowledge and different perspectives which have all come together on this website so I'm all ears for anything from anyone. I'm happy to have circles of friendly people in my community and on places like here. After all, it takes a village!
I suppose I'll keep this thread updated as big progress with those three projects continues to be made! I'm probably most excited for the riparian area restoration, it's going to be so rad. Heck, it already is so rad!
4 years ago