It's worth taking a minute to introduce you to the linchpin in our efforts to achieve sustainable peony growth: our alpaca herd at Pine Lake. The herd is currently made up of 6 rescues from local goat and alpaca rescue centers. These sweet gelded boys range in age from 3 to 13-ish and bring a huge amount of value to match the wallop of joy they deliver.
In addition to the useable fiber we send to be milled, our herd at Pine Lake provides additional fiber of lower grade (called "thirds") that we use to help provide mulch/weed barriers/water retention/ and insulation in our gardens. It is so useful! Alpaca fiber has fantastic capacity to felt together and retain moisture and warmth. Adding a layer to walkways and then covering with some wood mulch provides a fantastic weed barrier. This year we are experimenting with using the alpaca fiber as an insulator for our dahlias we left in-ground to overwinter. It may also help deter slugs and deer from your precious bulbs, but I am yet to be convinced. On potted or indoor plants, the fiber can add drainage space to the bottom of your plant, or be left at the top of the pot as a deterrent to fungus gnats. Find instructions for this here.
Perhaps the best kept secret about alpacas is that their manure is referred to by gardeners in the know as "black gold." Here is a breakdown of the NPK ratios from Island Alpaca fertilizer brand:
"Alpaca Manure (1.7-.69-1.2)... has the highest N-P-K of any natural fertilizer. It is lower in organic matter content than the manure from most other barnyard livestock (cows, horses, goats and sheep) creating a higher concentration of nutrients as well as improves soil texture and water-holding capacity. This lower organic content allows alpaca manure to be spread directly onto plants without burning them. It is the decomposition of organic matter content of the manure that indicates their efficient digestion system. The nitrogen and potassium content of alpaca dung is comparatively high, an indication of good fertilizer value."
I could go on about how great alpaca compost is--low in salt, weed-free--but it's more fun to show you.
Wade and Domino, who are likely either siblings or a father son pair, were the first alpacas we rescued. They are our oldest alpacas being somewhere between the ages of 10 and 13. Wade, with his torn ear and clear sense of humor, tends to lead while Domino, possibly deaf which is not uncommon with blue-eyed white alpacas, tends to follow close by. Logan, who thinks he's a rock star, is always trying to hang with them. The three amigos are often found resting in a prime spot in the cedar grove.
Our remaining 3 boys are the younger set. Hank, around 8 years old, Alexio 5-ish, and Tater Tot age 3. Tater Tot is our only Suri alpaca, the others are all Huyaca. These three are often bounding through the woods or racing the pygora goats.
Infrastructure allowing, you may see our alpaca herd out grazing at Vashon Peony Co. in subsequent Spring seasons. These shy, gentle animals are very curious and will eagerly watch farm visitors pick flowers or accept a handful of alpaca treats. Please enjoy the zen their presence brings you, in addition to being some of the most efficient and environmentally friendly livestock out there!