Avid Gardeners need to be Best Friends with an Alpaca Farmer!

Alpacas are more then adorable to a gardener. There are two other reasons an avid gardener should make quick friends with someone who raises alpacas.

  1. Alpaca bean fertilizer
  2. Fiber thirds/waist from shearing to be used as mulch

Talking Dirty
Alpaca beans are very low in organic matter, allowing the gardener to use them without having to compost completely. Alpacas are very efficient at extracting nutrients from their feed, which helps keep the organic matter lower on the output. Hundreds of species of bacteria and protozoa can inhabit the digestive system of ruminants and camelids. Also the amount of time the food stays in the camelids three compartment stomach helps them to extract more from the feed then other ruminants do.

Lower organic matter means less composting or ‘heat’ is needed to release the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium quickly into soil. Some would say that alpaca dung has the highest N-P-K of any fertilizer. All I know is the stuff works great as evidenced by my lush gardens.

How to use alpaca beans
What is the best way to use alpaca beans to fertilize your garden? There are several good options depending on your access to alpacas. If you do not own alpacas you should hurry up and meet someone who does. I will share links and ideas about connecting with an alpaca farm latter in this blog. Some companies and alpaca farms sell dried alpaca fertilizer which has very low odor and is easy to use.

I call it Poop Soup, but most refer to it as ‘compost tea’. If you let the beans or dried fertilizer soak in a bucket or tub of water, you can then ladle or pour the liquid on your soil around your plants. If you dilute the soup even more by adding it 1 to 1 to water you can spray it directly on leaves.

POOP SOUP IS THE BOMB
your plants will explode with flowers and produce!

The live organizims in the fresh tea/soup can help fight some leaf fungus or spotting. If I use it in a spray bottle, I put cheese cloth over my old red enameled ladle, secure it with a rubber band and pour it into a large spray bottle using a funnel. A little gross, but easy enough. Be sure to use your poop soup within a few days of making it and store it out of direct sunlight if you wish to take advantage of the live organisms in the poop soup.

Where can I get alpaca poop if I don’t own any alpacas? These days of course you can order anything online. Here is a short list of a few folks I found that sell powdered or /shreaded alpaca fertilizer online.
GreenBudz – Alpacas of Montana
The Archers at The Larches Homes and Garden Store.

You can also try your local farmers market. Many alpaca farms have booths where you can purchase different alpaca products, including fertilizer. If you have access to an alpaca farm in your area they may let you collect some manure for free, or a small fee as long as you are doing the ‘collecting’. We personally host many open houses or you can call for an appointment where you can purchase a bag of dried beans in our farm store or collect the wet stuff for a small donation (bring your own bucket). For information on making an appointment or attending an open house at Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm, click here.

I made alpaca poop soup and all my plants died!
It’s true, this happened to me about 6 years ago…read on

GRAZON BEWARE
Let me tell you the story of how my garden was put to a slow death one year. There is a herbicide product called Grazon that some farmers will use to clear hay fields of broad leaf weeds. It is said to pass through the animal without harming the animal, but….and a big but it is….it will stay in their poop and in your compost/soil for up to five years, killing everything in your garden…except grass. ALWAYS KNOW YOUR HAY SOURCE WELL and ask them if they use Grazon if you intend to use alpaca fertilizer in your garden!

ALPACA FIBER MULCH!

Oh my gosh, you would waist gorgeous alpaca fiber by throwing it on the ground in the garden? Well, not all alpaca fiber is created equal. Some is just too dirty (with hay matter or other vegetation) to mill and some is just too course or short due to extreme age, illness or poor quality genetics. A fleece is divided into threes. The ‘Firsts’ or Prime fleece is used for fine products that are usually meant to be worn. The ‘Seconds’, like the mid hip and neck can be used for items like socks, the ‘Thirds’ usually end up in the bin…if we are perfectly honest about it, and sometimes the seconds end up there too.

The fiber that is skirted off the prime, or waist fiber such as arm pit hair, makes great mulch. If you don’t use your seconds or thirds for anything else this is a great way to use them too.
Two Ways to Use the Fiber
1.) Use as a mulch for the walkways in-between your garden beds. I have been doing this for years. I simply toss my waist fiber down then spread a thick layer of pine mulch on top.
2.) Start an ‘instant’ bed using alpaca fiber as the weed barrier.

Another nice thing about using the fiber as mulch is that it helps maintain moisture levels. It absorbs the excess moisture when it rains heavily and holds it for latter. Eventually the fiber will compost. I usually redo my trails every few years.

Make an Instant ‘raised bed’.
Ok, maybe my beds aren’t raised in the technical sense since they are not contained by wood panels, but they work just the same.

1.) weed whack where you want your raised bed.
2.) Spread a thick layer of alpaca over the garden bed space.
3.) Spread a 6 inch thick layer of good organic raised bed potting mix over the alpaca mulch, completely covering it.
4.) plant your seedlings or seeds, keep seedlings moist until they sprout.
DONE!

This is my newest bed. Pumpkins and Sunflowers. Literally took me less then three hours to complete. Including my little “keep the damn ducks out” fencing. It went from just a mess of tall weeds to a pumpkin patch in less then a day.

How do I cozy up to an alpaca farmer, I love to garden and need to meet one or become one!
Check with your regional alpaca organizations, you will find a list of them at the AOA website (Alpaca Owners Association), click here. Research the internet for alpaca farms in your area. Not everyone that owns alpacas is going to be members of their local or national alpaca organization, although it would be nice if they did.
Attend an alpaca show (list of shows here), check out your local county fair and farmers market, or reach out to your local 4 – H or FAA program. If you are toying with the idea of purchasing an alpaca (must have two, three is even better). Please do some research first, by visiting farms and attending shows. They are easy keepers, but they have special needs that any responsible animal lover should understand before making an alpaca purchase. Another good route to try…follow the fiber. Where there are knitters, spinners, felters and weavers (Fiber Guilds and Art Guilds) there are usually alpaca owners. Good luck and Happy Gardening!

Bee Like a Dandelion

I am so excited that dandelions are finally becoming vogue. They have so much to offer… still they are humble, yet resolute. Bee like a Dandelion!

Dandelions are the first thing on the menu for early spring pollinators, especially bees, but also hover flies, beetles and some butterfly species. Sparrows and goldfinches enjoy the seeds. They also provide humans with a food source. We are so busy trying to dig those deep rooted buggers out of our grass and gardens, most never notice the value they have.

Why are they called Dandelions? (Taraxacum officinale), are named after the French dent de lion, meaning lion’s tooth, which refers to the shape of the dandelion’s leaves. Due to it’s effectiveness as a diuretic, dandelions are also referred to as ‘wet-the-beds and ‘pissy-beds’.

The leaves of the dandelion can be eaten in a salad, suated or even made into a soup. It is best to pick the young leaves as the older ones tend to be pretty bitter. Following are some links to interesting recipes I plan to try. At the time of writing this, our dandelions where just barely getting started and I couldn’t find enough leaves to collect without potentially harming the plants. I wanted to leave what little I have coming up for the pollinators for now.
Dandelion Soup
Dandelion Tart
Dandelion Pesto
Sauteed Dandelion Salad with a kic
The flowers can also be made into wine and jellies.

Leave, Leave, Pick.…It is always a good rule of thumb when you are foraging to pick the third plant you find. Leaving the first two for the forest friends. This helps ensure you will be able to find some next year. Also be sure what you pick has not been sprayed with any pesticides or chemicals.

Are Dandelions nutritious? Yes, they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, sterols, flavonoids, carotenoids, and sesquiterpenes. Dandelions have been used by herbalists as remedies for illnesses including liver problems, gastrointestinal distress, fluid retention, and skin ailments to name a few.
other benefits click here for a full list.

Dandelions are in flower from late March through late fall, and at their peak in May. They produce seeds asexually without the need for pollination. Who, as a child, hasn’t picked up a dandelion puff ball, blew and made a wish? I still do. If you never have, try it. If you don’t like dandelions and don’t like your neighbor, you will probably want to blow the seeds a drift in their yard. Hey, maybe they like dandelion tea and you are doing them a favor.

Another popular use for dandelions, is to make a tea using the flower buds. Simply steep them in boiling water. It is supposedly good for calming a stomach ache. You can also make a dandelion coffee using the dried, ground and roasted roots.

Dandelions make a wonderful ingredient for soap making. I love to make infused oils that can be used in soaping and dandelions are great for this. Just fill a mason jar half full with dandelion buds and fill with your favorite oil. (olive oil, almond oil, avacodo oil, etc). A pretty simple dandelion soap recipe comes from one of my favorite blogers, The Nerdy Farm Wife.

Her soaping book, Simple and Natural Soapmaking is a must for first time soapers. Wonderful recipes and loads of pictures.

Another great way to use dandelions medicinaly is by making a salve. Salves are easy to make and you dont have to worry about messing with Lye, which is very caustic, like you do in soap making.

I will have dandelion soap and salve available in our shop soon, well sort of soon. It takes 4 to 6 weeks to cure a soap. I cant wait for the dandelions to flourish and bloom on our farm, so I can make more of these wonderful things mentioned above and take advantage of all this ‘weed’ has to offer.

Click here for more information on other fun classes and events at Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm/ Lardworks Glass & Fiber Studio.

Alpacas started this journey

My husband and I have raised alpacas together since 2000. Through the years we have learned so much, not only about alpacas but also about ourselves. Our interests have developed and changed but one thing has always remained…our love for alpacas.

As is with most folks it was love at first site. The more we learned about them, the more we knew we wanted them in our lives. Now they are so much a part of daily lives, I just couldn’t imagine not having them. From hosting farm tours and fiber art classes to creating one of kind art creations using the fiber…it is all because of them.

“You are the Master of your fate and the captain of your soul” – Henley