Monday, March 20, 2017

Winter to Spring : Take 2

Ah yes, the long neglected farm blog.  Seems as though I had good intentions to restart the blog in spring of 2015 and seems as though I did not follow through.  I had my reasons though however none of them were very good.  Most of reasons had to do with incredibly poor weather conditions in 2013, 2014 and 2015.  Bad summer weather (cool and muddy) really wears on the mind and who wants to write in a blog week in and week out that the weather sucks.  Fortunately Mother Nature was much kinder to us in 2016.  So with a renewed spirit I sit here ready to tackle the farm blog once again.

The winter of 2016-17 was certainly unique.  It was mostly a winter that cycled through wildly weird ups and downs.  We would get a good amount of snow that never lasted more than a week or two and then it would melt.  This cycle played itself out over and over again.  February was way warmer with than normal.  I think we even set the record for most consecutive days above 50 degrees.  The old record was 8 days.  We set a new record for highest temperature in February ever.  I forget the exact number but somewhere around 73 degrees.  Then because Mom Nature likes balance, she has been giving us a colder and snowier month of March.  The up and down cycle keeps on keeping on.

So I thought I would just put together a collection of photos from the past winter that highlight the ups and downs.

December 10, 2016
Our biggest snowfall of the winter season.  The snow filled up the bed of the pick-up truck in 2 days.

December 25, 2016
Yes we had a white Christmas but you can see the snow had been melting.  Santa showed up in our woods on Christmas Day.  He looks a little deflated after pulling an all nighter.
January 10, 2017
The first week of January was pretty snow-free and then it all came back again.  We had a problem with deer this winter eating every last one of our Brussels sprouts and all of our kale.  That has never happened before.
January 12, 2017
Mother Nature had one of her bipolar mood swings and all the snow melted.  Peters Creek then become Peters Lake in the backyard.  This happened multiple times over the course of the winter.
January 23, 2017
The deer were enjoying the snow free days and cleaning up any remnants in the produce field.  An early shedding buck left something behind.
January 31, 2017
It snowed again.
February 11, 2017
Snow disappearing again. The "under the bird feeder" clean up crew was out and about again after being cooped up for a week and a half.
February 13, 2017
The rest of the snow is gone.  More shed antlers showing up in the produce field.  This time in the section where the Brussels sprouts and kale were planted.  
February 20, 2017
Right in the middle of our record breaking string of 50+ degree days with several of them 60-70+ degree days.  The dogs sure were enjoying themselves.  A tired dog is a good dog.
March 3, 2017,
It snowed again.
March 12, 2017
Mike and I immediately left town after the last snowfall.  We were enjoying ourselves out west while a huge windstorm tore some siding loose from the house and snowmageddon hit the east coast.  Perfect timing!
March 19, 2017
Home again and winter is loosening its grip once again.  The repeated times with no snow were a blessing for the chickens.  We've had past winters where they have remained indoors for 2 months or more with no breaks.  They sure enjoy life outside.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Winter to Spring

One of the best parts of living on a farm is being exquistely immersed in the changing seasons.  When I lived in the city, I never paid much attention to the outdoors especially in cold wet weather except when a weekend outing would take me to the woods.  During the week if it were rainy or cold, the outdoors was a place to dash through from my car to the classroom or from work to the car and then back into the house.  But now here on the farm, I am outside much more often.  Even though in the coldest months the chickens live in the shelter of the barn, I am still outside carrying water and feed between buildings and hauling manure to the compost pile as needed.  Being outdoors every single day I get to see the seasons change day by day.  At times the changes are nearly imperceptible, but then there is March. This year it seems as though winter does not want to leave but as the days get longer and longer, there is no choice in the matter.  Winter ends as spring arrives.  Because each year is just a little different than the last, I thought I would go through  this year's transition.  We are probably a good week behind last year and several weeks behind 2012 the year of the early spring and summer drought.  

So here goes the chronicle of winter to spring 2015:

Looking back through my pictures, I must have sensed a change was coming because on March 8th I took a picture of Peters Creek from the vantage of the culvert that runs underneath the tractor road that goes to the field.  A thin strip of open water can be seen where there once was only snow.  At this point we still had about 2 feet of snow on the ground.

On March 9th, the sun was shining and a small bit of grass started showing on the path I walked every day from the driveway to the barns.  

The opening to Peters Creek was a little wider.

By March 11th, the sun was working as hard as it could against the reflective powers of the snow.  Peters Creek opens up a bit more.  On March 12th, the redwing blackbirds returned to the farm.

Three days later on March 14th, the snow melt was happening more quickly now.  We were fortunate to have no torrential rain to add to the snow melt.  The snow melt was enough to make Peters Creek spill out of its banks and flood the bottom land.  Although this picture is taken from the exact same spot as all the others, it almost doesn't look like the same creek.

Also on March 14th, there were large enough patches of grass showing up in the yard that the chickens actually wanted to venture out of the barn.  They spent a little over 2 months straight locked up in the barn this winter thanks to a persistent ground cover of snow up over their heads.

By March 21st, the farm pond was still frozen solid, but I found the first evidence that groundhogs were waking up from their winter slumber underground. The wild turkeys started to leave their wintering grounds across the road and showed up on the farm.  Right on cue, the turkey vultures returned on March 22nd.  Although they did not stop this year, I heard the swans pass by after dark on March 22nd.

On March 29th I heard the first woodcock singing its "peent" call in the pasture and on March 30th, the farm pond, although still covered in ice, had a rim of open water along its edge.  Last year the pond was completely ice free on this date.

On April 1st, the wild honey bee hives that live in the old chicken coop became active.  It was nice to know that both hives survived the winter.  Official "ice out" of the farm pond came on April 2nd.  That same day I heard the chorus frogs for the first time and on April 3rd they were joined by spring peepers.

The extreme cold of this past winter has made me hoping for an early spring but nature as always doesn't care what I want.  Even so, try as it might, winter cannot hold us in her grip forever.  The transition is underway.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February 2015: One for the record books

The results are in and it's official.  February 2015 just set the record for the coldest February ever in these parts and the second coldest month ever.  The coldest month on record was January of 1977.  So in honor of a record setting month, I figured a little documentation was in order.

We were cruising along through January with a little snow here and a little snow there.  It was cold but not unbearably cold.  By February 1st the base layer of snow was around 6-8".  Not too bad.  Then the first week of February we had a foot of snow on a day when 2" of  snow was predicted.  Then three days later we had another foot of snow.  The first foot of snow looked like this:

A few days after the second foot of snow I turned the beagles loose in the pasture to get some exercise while I did barn chores.  That one small act turned into a bit of an adventure.  The dogs ended up finding rabbit tracks back by the high tunnel.  Of course they wouldn't come when I called them so off I went to round them up.  I was also concerned about the weight of all the snow on the high tunnel roof so I grabbed a push broom from the barn.  I figured if I was going to trudge all the way back to the high tunnel to get the dogs, I might as well be useful and knock some of the snow off the roof.  Trudge does not begin to describe what happened next.  Figuring the creek would be mostly frozen over, I decided to take the direct route to the high tunnel.  That meant crossing through the creek bottom land which I discovered acts as a big bowl when it snows.  The knee deep snow in the pasture behind the barn was bad enough.  The creek bottom crossing turned into wading through crotch deep snow.  I suddenly realized how people who get trapped in a snowstorm in the wilderness become exhausted and die.  But since I had a job to do, I kept going.  By the time I got to the high tunnel, my legs were jelly and I was sweating profusely.  Looking on the bright side, it's always nice to find a way to burn a lot of calories in the winter.

After spending some time knocking the snow off the high tunnel roof and turning my arms into the same jelly-like condition as my legs, I thought I would take a break by getting a picture of the produce field in winter.  Since the Brussels sprouts were about the only thing tall enough to be sticking out of the snow, that's where I set my sights.  Halfway there I had to cross over a large rutted wet spot at the edge of the field.  Of course it all just looked like flat snow, but when I stepped into the wet spot, I was reminded how well snow insulates the ground.  Instantly I sank through the snow and down into a deep rut and ended up with my boot stuck in the half frozen mud and standing crotch deep in the snow once again.  OK that was not going to work.  I got my foot extracted from the mud and used an old physics trick to get to the Brussels sprouts.  I distributed my weight over a larger surface area so that I would not sink through the snow.  This is the principle behind snowshoes of which I had none.  Instead I crawled the rest of the way on my hands and knees.  Success!  The produce field in winter.

The fact that I am typing this shows that I successfully managed to make it back to the house.  But that little adventure was worth several pieces of peach cobbler.

Then Mother Nature looked out across the land and said "I have given you lots of snow.  What can I give you next?".  She gave us cold.

The first egg from our pullets decided to show up during this time.  Every year I anticipate that first egg.  Well this first egg was laid early in the morning several hours before I got out to the barn.  When egg meets cold, it freezes and cracks and ends up in the trash.  Still it is a picture worthy event.

 Oh yes the cold.  There was February 16th:

Followed by February 17th:

And just to add a little flare to an already cold winter, we had February 20th:

After February 20th, all the lows temperatures below zero became pretty mundane but we had several more lows in the minus single digits and minus teens.  Ho hum.  How boring.

We made it through with frozen pipes (thankful for no busted pipes) and lots of calories burnt due to a broken snow blower.  Time will tell what this will mean to the farm.  Our biggest concern is the blueberries which is the only fruit we raise commercially.  Last year's cold winter damaged our peach trees, apples trees and blackberries and we had no fruit on any of those, but the blueberries were fine.  I feel very bad for the local fruit growers and I'm not sure how this will impact the grape growers that had severe losses after last winter.  Our other concern is our pond which is small.  Last winter some of the small farm ponds in our county experienced 100% fish kill.  We just stocked our pond last spring.  

All of this is just life on the farm though.  Last night was a beautiful sunset on the farm.  Time to start looking forward toward spring.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 review in pictures and a few words

Time to sit down and write up the annual year in review blog.  Once again, like 2013, not a whole lot of blogging going on this past year.  While 2014 wasn't quite the disaster that 2013 was, it was not far behind and once again I was trying to avoid doom and gloom blogging.  You know, it is quite difficult to fully grasp the concept of global warming when you live day in and day out with colder and wetter conditions than normal.  A warmer December doesn't mean much when there are no crops growing.  A warmer summer would be nice.  But there were a few bright spots along the way and it is always nice for me to be able to look back through the blog to remember when things got planted (or not).

January was a cold cold month.  We had a polar vortex visit us, one of several that visited during the winter of 2013-2014.  My January picture file has no farm pictures.  This was however the first winter that we sold frozen produce and that went very well.  In spite of the cold weather, I was able to get out and do some hunting on the farm.  We eat a lot of wild game such as wild turkey, deer, rabbit and squirrel in addition to the chickens we raise in the summer.  My hunting photos from January contain lots of layers of clothing and trying to look happy even though I was freezing.

February brought more cold although for a farmer that is not all bad.  The colder it is in the winter, the more bugs that are trying to over-winter in the soil are killed.  The local deer herd took every advantage of visiting the produce field for leftovers.  There was a lot of napping in the house.  And Mike showed off his cooking skills by making a very delicious frittata.

March continued with cold weather and more single digit temperatures.  The pond was still frozen solid on the 23rd of the month but a warm up in the last week brought official "ice out" one week later.  We were very happy we did not stock the pond with fish last fall as several area pond owners report 100% winter kill in their smaller ponds.

There is still not a of farming to be done in April, but nature slowly started to emerge from a frigid winter.  Hibernating critters started to come out and about.  The pond got stocked with bluegill and bass and I had fun identifying the various toad and frog egg masses that were laid in the weeds around the edges of the pond.  The new batch of pullets were moved from the grower pen to their home in the main chicken barn that has access to the outside.  And I spent one whole day being terrified at a chainsaw safety class that ended with me successfully felling my first tree.

May was a very scary month.  This is normally when planting begins, but in 2014 it rained and rained and rained some more.  The first picture is a collage of farm fields from the area that I took the third week of May.  No one had put a plow in the field yet and lots of standing water.  There was lots of farmer anxiety in these parts.  Then on May 25th the party started.  First was discing of the old biodegradable plastic mulch followed two days later on May 27th with chisel plowing of the fields.

It took all of June to get the fields ready to plant.  Rain would put a halt to everything.  Then it would dry out just enough to start working in the field again for one to two days.  Then it would rain again.  Highlights from this month include a rare appearance of yours truly working in the field both on the plastic laying machine and the transplanter.  The first batch of meat chickens were moved out to pasture.  We had our first known visit to the farm by a black bear.  And the last week of the month we had a Deja Vu all over again flood similar to 2013.

July was more continued stop and go but we were able to finish planting (and I think we were done earlier than good ol' rainy 2013).  The first picture from July 12th is of the final flats of plants waiting to be transplanted.  The second picture was the produce field on July 21st.  As you can see, the crops were not very far along at all.  July ended up being the third coldest July on record and with all the added rainfall, many of the transplanted plants drowned.  What wasn't killed by the cold and rain was horribly stunted.  The last picture is of the celery root to show that we had pretty much had non-stop standing water in between the rows of crops all month long.

The first part of August brought a nice dry patch of weather and there was a glimmer of hope.  The early sweet corn ripened so I froze some for the winter.  The county fair was the second week and I won some ribbons for my baked goods and Mike won some for his produce.  And then it started raining again on August 13th and that put an end to our optimism for an average year.

September was more of the same.  It would dry out and then just when things were looking brighter, it would rain.  I don't have any pictures from the farm in September except for some jars of green beans so we must have had green beans to pick and sell.  Most of the broccoli, melons, cauliflower and cabbages approached a 100% loss.

When crops do not get planted until July, October turns out to be a big month for harvesting.  The celery (and later the celery root) was one of the shining moments from 2014 and we had a couple large orders leave the farm.  The turkeys were growing out in the pasture pens and the soybeans got harvested on October 25th.

November pretty much brings an end to the farming season.  There are always a few cold tolerant plants that can be harvested (such as kale and cabbages).  We had a very snowy middle of the month.  And of course November saw the turkeys being taken to the processor for Thanksgiving dinner and pumpkins were turned into pumpkin puree and then into pumpkin pie.

December has been much warmer with very little snow compared to years past.   The laying hens sure do appreciate not being "cooped" up for extended periods of time.  We are in the middle of the indoor winter farmers market season and Mike did gear up by getting a much larger variety of frozen produce ready to sell.  And Christmas always brings with it a feeling of peace and remembering that in spite of all the trying times, we have many many reasons to be thankful.  And the end of the year always brings renewed hope for a wonderful new year.