Celebration in the Straw
July 31, 2012, 1:18 pm
Filed under: July 2012

Re-baling Straw

                                                      July 31, 2012

     It is a celebration here today. After almost two seasons, I have fixed my small square baler and have it tieing knots like it is new! I am so impressed with myself that I can’t believe it. I am not the most mechanical guy, but I figured this one out… and it actually works 😮

     The large bales of straw that we are rebaling, have been stored inside since last summer. They are just as dry and nice as the day they were made. I am very happy to be putting them into small square bales. The small bales go up in the hay loft above the horse barn. It is like money in the bank!

     The straw was made from my last crop of speltz. That straw is the best in my opinion. It is absorbent, bright and easily broken down. The soils love it almost as much as the baby pigs. I will have just enough to get us to next year when the speltz crop will be once again harvested.

     I am having a great day watching the bales get tied knot after knot. The little knotted bales keep coming out of the baler like turds out of a rabbit. Yep, it’s a great day here!

     They say,” Hillbillies Love it in the Hay” , but this hillbilly is having a celebration in the straw!


Sweet Corn!
July 29, 2012, 3:22 pm
Filed under: July 2012

                                                   July 29, 2012 

     Today we enjoyed fresh sweet corn. It was grown locally by a produce farmer. It was delicious! It is so funny how that first sweet corn of the season opens up a flood of memories… and makes a guy’s eyes bigger than his belly.

      I am reminded of picnics and dinners of my youth where sweet corn was almost the entire menu. Later in the summer, fresh tomatoes and potatoes were added to the table, but those first meals when the corn became ripe were awesome 😮

      Our first planting of this years corn did not do well. I turned in under and planted again. That planting too came up sporadic at best. I am sure that we got some bad seed. It happens I guess. The drought is also playing havoc with the growing corn, but I think we will get enough to fill the freezer.

      This year I planted sweet corn in the plastic mulch rows with the pumpkins. It is just now making ears, but I believe it was a successful venture. We only had to weed the crop once. That job only involved pulling weeds from the holes in the plastic, from where the corn grows.

      I would say, check out your local growers, find a source of local, fresh sweet corn and schedule a party. You can invite friends and neighbors, or just family… and if nobody else comes you can have a party in your mouth!

      It is the simple things in life that make it so very wonderful. Fresh sweet corn, garden ripe tomatoes or the first bite from a tree ripened peach can make your taste buds roar. These things are awesome and don’t even touch on the scent of a favorite perfume or the feeling of a sweet kiss that lingers on your lips. Yep, for me it will always be the simple things! … Now, pass the butter!


Rape and Turnips
July 26, 2012, 6:37 am
Filed under: July 2012

Rape and turnips coming up!

                                                     July 26, 2012

     Despite being in a drought, the likes of which have not been seen since 1988, my little field of rape and turnips are starting to grow. We got a sprinkle overnight and more rain is forecasted for today. The moisture will help everything especially these tender seedlings.

     Rape grows much like kale. The leafy vegetable has much protein and nutrients for the pigs and sheep. The pigs eat it like candy. They also eat the turnips tops. They don’t seem to be too crazy about the turnip bulb, but the sheep love them.

     This is one more way to balance our farm and it gives great testimony for mixed-specie grazing. The sheep will follow the pigs in this case, but each will eat different forbes, making great use of the pasture and everything in it.

     There is some grass coming up in the small field. No doubt, there are some weeds too. The rape and turnips should smother out much of thier competition, but what survives will be eaten by somebody 😮

     As king corn prices continue to rise, thinking outside the box will be the ticket for small farmers and homesteaders. I didn’t have to think much at all. I just consulted my “Morrison’s Feed and Feeding” book. I have also tried this combination in years past.

     The little field will most definitely yield some feed for our stock. The grass based feeding continues to help with profitability, without compromising quality. This fact embraces sustainability and that is what it is all about!


Made in the Shade
July 24, 2012, 9:10 am
Filed under: July 2012

Our sheep chilling in the shade

                                                      July 24, 2012

     Yesterday was another hot day. The temperature was 91 F. The weatherman said it felt like 94 F … I think he should have been helping me cut firewood..seemed hotter than hell to me 😮

     Our sheep are wise creatures. They seek the shade in the hottest part of the day. They just lay there and rest, choosing to graze in the morning and evening. I think they have it figured out!

     I keep going on as usual. I still wear dark-colored t-shirts and bib overalls. I keep thinking I can will it to be cooler…maybe even scare up a little rain. The sun, however, just laughs at me and continues to bear down on our small farm.

     Yesterday while I was scouting the pine forests looking for lumber candidates, I found that area to be very cool and inviting. I spent a little too much time there for just “tree looking”.  I guess I would have to say, that I milled around enjoying that spot away from the hot sun.

     The woods are much cooler than any part of our farm. The shade from the canopy of the leaves makes it a wonderful place to visit on a hot day. The pine tree forest seems even cooler. I can’t decide if it is because the needles on the ground are soft and inviting, or because the canopy is thicker, blocking out more of the heat rays.

     The sheep seem to choose the pines to lay under. I guess they too are baffeled..well then again, maybe not.. They are smart enough to lay and rest in the mid-afternoon… I guess they have it made in the shade!


A Walk In The Pines
July 23, 2012, 4:59 pm
Filed under: July 2012

Our white pine plantation

                                                        July 23, 2012

     We have a few small white pine tree plantations on our farm. They were planted in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. They were planted in rows by a machine coordinated with the Soil and Water Service. I think the government expected our hardwood forests to be waning, so by planting the white pine seedlings, a landowner would profit from the mature trees.

     The idea sounded good, but most people only gave up a small portion of their land to try the idea out. Most, like this farm’s former owner, took a “wait and see” approach. Some folks went whole hog on the idea, because the government agencies were to build and secure a market for the growing softwood lumber.

     The market never came. Most plantations were neglected so the trees didn’t grow the best lumber either. Many plantations, like ours, were not thinned or groomed in any way. The trees are too close together and actually short to boot.

     They have almost no commercial value…. BUT, if you need building material, they are like a savings bank. I am picking out a few crowded ones to cull and salvage. I am planning an addition to our pig barn, so the native lumber will work fine for that project.

    I will drop the trees, trim them and haul them to a loading area with the horses. A friend of mine with a small sawmill will cut the logs into the lumber I need. Any boards that are left over, will just be stacked and saved for another project. The softwood will dry and still take a nail many years from now.

     I have selected a few trees that need to come down. Some are shading other trees. One has a big “first” log, then quickly turns into three small limbs for a top. The first log will be long enough to become the ridge board for the addition. It will also provide some 2″x4″ and some siding boards too.

     The holes in the forest canopy will soon be filled by other nearby trees. Some of those trees are other white pines that are craving space and sunlight. I will only use 5 trees and one that got blown down by a storm. The rest will be left to grow in our woodlot savings bank 😮


The Gathering
July 22, 2012, 10:21 pm
Filed under: July 2012

Our hens sharing a meal

                                                      July 22, 2012

     Today we had a get together for our family. My wife’s granddaughter came home from Arizona. She brought her two children too. They are our great granddaughters. We think all of our granddaughters are great, but these two actually get the tittle 😮

     Our farm was a showplace for its visitors. The animals were on their best behavior. The lawn was cut and looking good. The sun stayed out all day. I forgot to wear a hat and now I am nursing sunburn on my balding head!

     We had a nice day. I had fun with the little ones. Our great-grandson was here too. The children make life fun, after all, that is what we live for ……

     The dishes and chores are done. Tomorrow is another day, as they say. Work will continue, but the pause for the gathering was great!


Daisies and Daylillies
July 21, 2012, 9:06 am
Filed under: July 2012

Our Garden Border

                                                     July 21, 2012


     Is there anything more beautiful, honest or unexpected that blooms from a flower? I guess in this case unexpected doesn’t apply. I have seen, however, blooming flowers in odd places where they were blown by the wind or perhaps just forgotten.

     Spring daffodils blooming in a brushy wooded area, defining the old foundation of a house long gone, always gives me pause. The little flowers bloom year after year, providing smiles, even though the one who planted them has been gone for generations.

     I think flowers are a delight. They reward you season after season with minimal care. The old perennial varieties of daisies, daylillies, and cone flowers adorn our farmstead. They please me.

     Our drought year has all but killed our lawn. The flowers however, are in full bloom. They seem to be a bit shorter than usual, but just as vibrant as ever. The birds and bees think so too 😮

     We divided and planted the new bed along the fence last fall. The flowers have taken root and residence. They look as if they have been there forever. I will divide more later this year to be planted by the sugarhouse and my mom’s place.

     I read something somewhere about things to do while we are here on this Earth. One of the lines simply said “Plant Sequoia” I considered the age and size of those giant redwoods and decided that it is a noble person who plants trees of any kind, but especially Sequoia!

     I am sure there is a reason why we take flowers to sick people, lay them on graves and give them to our lovers…flowers speak to our hearts… I know mine feels better from just looking at them.


The little field that almost wasn’t
July 20, 2012, 11:03 am
Filed under: July 2012

The little field planted to buckwheat

                                                        July 20, 2012

     This little field of about 2 acres was a brushy, tangled mess when we came to this farm. I kept working at it after we had it mowed by a large commercial brush chopper. The animals grazed the area the next several years. All I did was mow it with a brush hog once a year.

     It was lumpy and bumpy. I believe it had been plowed at one time, but never harrowed. The water layed in spots and ground hornets built nests in the hollow places. Mowing that field was a real job!

     I think the animals did as much for the field as I did. They ate much of the new growth from the old brush and brambles. They deposited manure all over the place. I grazed it hard, right down to the ground in mid-summer. I was brutal to this little field as I waged war against multi-flora rose, red brush and hawthorn. The weeds were no real problem because the animals ate most of them.

     Finally, after waiting several years for the stumps to rot, I plowed this small field and planted corn. The field did very well. The corn crop was excellent. The deep roots of the corn started a process of cultivation that continues today.

     The field is part of our rotation. The farm has 14 paddocks and all but one is planted to field crops every 5 to 7 years. The rest of the time they are in hay or pasture. They get manured and limed while they are in the grass part of the rotation. This system works out very well for us.

     One look at this little field, when we were setting up our farmstead, made me shudder. There was a lot of work that would have to be done before it would ever be of any use to us. Thanks to that big mower, multi-specie grazing and my tenacious nature, we now have a productive field.

     Currently the field is planted to a cover crop of buckwheat. The last crop was corn that didn’t get picked until late this spring. The buckwheat will suppress weeds and mine the soil of valuable nutrients. The buckwheat residue, laden with minerals for the next crop, will be disced into the soil. A crop of speltz will be planted in just 60 to 75 days from now, following the sacrificial buckwheat.

     I use buckwheat, not for the grain, but for all the other properties mentioned. I will mow it once or twice depending upon how well it does. The last mowing will be covered with a good layer of compost. The whole plot will get harrowed, thereby incorporating  all that goodness for the crop to follow. The mowing and the buckwheat itself controls the weeds. The speltz will get of to a great start and winter over well.

     We got six tenths of an inch of rain yesterday. Everything is much better off for it. The newly planted buckwheat should germinate and get growing in the seedbed. Our little field that almost wasn’t … has become a productive part of our farm.


In a Bind
July 19, 2012, 8:37 am
Filed under: July 2012

My corn binder waiting for the harvest

                                                                   July 19, 2012


     Our dry weather has my corn field looking pretty bad. The rows are uneven. The color is not bad but it sure look bedraggled. I was very hopeful of a crop. It started out very good, but now, I am not so sure. Of course it is in a field by the road where all my critics can gawk at it.

     I do quite a bit of work with my horses. I catch the head shaking from many people. I refuse to go completely into this century…heck I barely fit into the last one 😮  They never stop to say WOW when things are going very well, but they line up to scoff when things are not so good… No matter, the whole thing tickles me.

     I spread my manure with the horses. My powercart has a small engine that runs the spreader. We will spread tons of manure in just a few days. My expense for fuel will be much less than my big neighbors. Both of us will get our manure spread, so really what is the difference?

     If my corn crop doesn’t get any rain and is what the experts will call a crop failure, I will bind mine. I will set up shocks and eventually run the fodder through my husker shredder. The ears that make it will be husked and cribbed. The rest of the plant gets shredded. The animals eat what they want, then use the rest for bedding.

     The price of corn is headed for $8.00 per bushel as I write. King Corn will drive the price of many things up. It is good to be mostly grass based in times like these. My corn crop goes mostly to feed our sows, boar and the pigs we grow for market, to supplement their grazing. The sheep and cattle do well on grass and forages that we plant, harvest and store.

     I will take comfort in the fact that I embrace the old ways. I will be thankful that I know how to cut, bind and shock my corn. I will be especially glad this year, for if my crop is not the best, it will still be a success. The hogs may get more pumpkins and squash along with third cutting birdsfoot trefoil, than corn, but come spring, they will emerge fat, clean and happy.

     Some needed rain will save my crop, but it’s always good to have a contingency plan. This farm emits diversity and sustainability. It pays its own way. In todays debt ridden agricultural society, we are the oddballs. Perhaps that is why they scoff, “whatever” ….. it works for me!


Chicken Tractor
July 18, 2012, 7:47 am
Filed under: July 2012

Our chicken tractor made from scraps

                                                      July 18, 2012


     The other day, when we thought it was going to rain, we worked inside,  building this movable pen for chickens. This style of pen is called a chicken tractor. I am not sure where the name came from, but they sure do work!

     This pen allows for rasing chickens outside, on pasture, without the pressure from predators. The chickens are very safe even when they are small. They have access to feed and water always and get the benefit of fresh grass every day too.

     The pen measures 8 feet by 8 feet. I had some left over pieces of 10 foot steel siding that I used for the roof. The extra that sticks over the sides, will just offer a bit more protection from the sun and weather.

     The pen gets moved every day. It is just slid forward 8 feet. This gives the chickens a new place for scratching and eating. It also keeps them nice and clean. There is no build up of manure because of the constant moving. The soil and grass left behind gets the benefit of the chicken droppings.

     The cage has a 2 foot by 8 foot door on top, on hinges. This opening allows for easy entry to keep the feeder full and the water fresh. It also allows for catching the chickens at butchering time. I use a wire hook attached to a broomstick to catch the fryers by the feet.

     A small child or much more agile adult than me, could probably crawl under and grab the chickens, but for me, I use the hook. It is simple and the chickens don’t take offense to it.

     The coop is 28 inches high. I chose 28 inches because that was the length of my shortest leftover pieces of wood. This whole project was made from scraps and leftovers, from other projects around the farm. The poultry netting was 36 inches, so we trimmed it down after it was stapled up.

     The hook and eye closer and the hinges were also mixed in with some of my treasure. The duct tape on the end of the door, just keeps the netting from ripping my shift … I hope 😮

     I put two wheels that came from my father-in-law’s stash of stuff, on one end. I am thinking that it will pull easier, thanks to the wheels. I raised the tractor up about an inch in the back so the wheels would carry that portion of the pen.

     The nylon strap in front is just what I use to pull it along the ground. It too, was a left over. Some guy thought you could use it to tie stuff down with in your truck… Doesn’t work too well for that but will work out okay for a soft handle. The nylon construction won’t rot, is easy on the hands and keeps one more piece of trash out of the landfill.

     The chicks go into the tractor at about 2 weeks of age. I wait until they are feathered out. They will be raised in this pen for another 4 weeks. Then the Cornish cross chicks are ready to butcher.

     I can put them in the lower end of the pumpkin strip field. I will move them 8 feet each day when they are small, then twice a day as they grow bigger. By the time the 4 weeks are up, I will have moved the pen up closer to the barn.

     We will make one strip up the field, eight feet wide, by the time the chickens are ready to butcher. The strip will be well fertilized. The chickens have been safe from raccoons and other predators. The chicken tractor will get sprayed down with a bleach and water mixture and left to dry in the sun. It will be ready for chicks as soon as the next batch gets their feathers.

     Here is a way to grow your own food in the city. The chicken tractor can be pulled around the lawn. In one month from the time the chickens go in, your lawn will get the benefit of grooming and fertilization without chemicals. The chickens stay confined yet content in the roomy pen.

     I only grow 25 chicks at a time in this sized pen. This way, even fully grown birds have plenty of room. Also, I find that by the time I am done butchering 25 chickens, I have had enough for the day. It is an easy job, done in just a few hours, but still not one of my favorites. The finished product however, I really enjoy… fried, broiled or barbecued!