Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A spring morning in the woods

There are two things that can make me stray from the topic of farming quicker than an Ashtabula County Cherry Blossom is killed by a spring frost (can you guess we haven't had any cherries in several years).  First are food related topics such as recipes and how to prepare food for the table.  This one makes perfect sense though because when you live on a farm that grows food for people, it stands to reason that you develop a love for preparing fresh from scratch food for the table.  The second is anything to do with nature.  And I guess this one isn't such a stretch either because when you live on a farm, you live outdoors with nature every single day.

Yesterday was my first walk down the path that leads to the back of our fields in several weeks.  I came across a few areas sprawling with May Apples.  Just another sign that spring is way ahead of schedule.  There is a reason these things are called "May" Apples and not "April" apples.  Unbelievable how far along these wild flowers are at this time of year.

I also saw quite a number of a single species of butterfly.  I am not much into the names of butterflies.  More like I am into just enjoying their beauty.  Still I could not resist some time spent with an online butterfly guide to identify this Red Admiral butterfly.

And while this blog may spawn from a couple hours I spent out in the woods yesterday morning, my love of being outdoors started long, long ago.  From my earliest childhood memories, I loved being outdoors.  I remember finding snakes out in the woods and bringing them home, although there was that incident with the garter snake that bit my little kid finger and drew blood.  That incident must not have scarred me too badly because I still enjoy a good snake encounter when one occurs.  (I can't say the same about critters with 8 legs, but then phobias have only a minimal relationship with reality.) Snakes are not one of those creatures that I purposely seek out so I don't see them all that often, but yesterday I came across one slithering through the grass ahead of my footsteps.  Especially these days, snakes remind me of my childhood and the time spent in the woods behind my house when I was a kid.  Nowadays I leave the snakes alone to do their thing, but those childhood memories are there for me to enjoy.  And if anyone can I.D. the snake from yesterday's encounter, I would love to know what kind it is.

Back in my early adult years, my main enjoyment in nature was in the form of hiking.  I did a lot of hiking in groups and loved the social aspect.  Later I took up backpacking and while my early trips were with others, they evolved into trips with just me and one of the dogs.  Backpacking was still more about hiking and putting on miles than anything else until hunting entered my life.  I could probably write pages on my evolution into the sport of hunting, but I won't bore with all of that today.  The point is that hunting brought a whole new way of enjoying nature into my life.  It brought me sitting still and blending with nature and I often go to the woods to do just that and nothing else. While I still like to hike, I love finding a quite spot in the woods and just sitting still.  For hours.  Perhaps I am just getting lazy.  But the act of sitting still out in the woods makes the woods come alive in a way that is very different than what happens during a walk in the woods.  No longer am I walking down a path and seeing a hawk taking off out of a tree.  I am sitting still and seeing a hawk landing in the tree in front of me.  There is a huge emotional difference in those two encounters and I crave more of the latter.

Yesterday morning I parked my butt in my cushy Crazy Creek Chair / foam pad combo and sat up against a big maple tree standing alongside one of our fields.  Within an hour, a large tom turkey came out in the field.  He was in full strut and the sun was shining off his iridescent feathers creating a spectacular scene.  I watched him parade back and forth across the field for the next 45 minutes until two hens walked by him and he followed them into the woods and parts unknown.  This is what I live for.  I will gobble up these moments in life as long as I am able.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Borrowing and lending

William Shakespeare certainly didn't understand what it means to be a farmer when he wrote the line "neither a borrower or a lender be........".  Perhaps in the days before the mechanization of agriculture, borrowing wasn't quite as necessary.  Perhaps when it comes to the large mega-farms, borrowing isn't necessary either.  Those things I do not know about.  What I do know is that in operating a small farm there are many days of the year when one of our tractors or farm implements is spending time on someone else's farm and there are many days when we have someone else's tractor working on our farm.

Now for the most part, us small farmers try to be self sufficient.  Since things like plowing and planting and harvesting tend to happen in very narrow windows of time, it is hard for two farmers to share the same piece of equipment.  But there are times, when sharing equipment works well.  Today was such as example.  It is early in the season.  There is not much field prepping going on right now.  Most farmers are concentrating on fixing and preparing their equipment for the upcoming season.  It is an ideal time to borrow (or lend) a piece of equipment that is most likely sitting idle.

Yesterday Mike started lifting more rows of plastic off the vegetable field.  He already had three rows lifted when I got home from work.  After feeding the hens, collecting and washing eggs and feeding the dogs, I walked back to the field and helped Mike remove 4 more rows of plastic.  In addition to the work we had already done lifting plastic and the adjacent ground that had no plastic on it last year, that left a large square of land ready to be plowed.  Mike traveled over to our farmer friend to see about borrowing his large tractor and chisel plow.  Several beers later (I suspect), the arrangements for Mike to use our friend's tractor and plow were made.  And so it was that a nice large section of the vegetable field was plowed today.  Our friend's tractor is bigger than any tractor we have and our barn cat Blackie seemed to enjoy having a higher perch to look out over the driveway.

So while it is still too early to be doing much planting, it sure is nice to get a little of the field prep work done.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The tree swallows have returned

Just in time.  I finished cleaning out the last two nest boxes on Sunday.  One of the earlier cleaned out nest boxes is already housing a bluebird pair.  I thought about checking to see if they had eggs laid yet, but thought better and just let them be.  I need to be vigilant about watching for house sparrow invasion.  Both boxes that I cleaned out yesterday had one unhatched tree swallow egg in each box.  I was glad to get them cleaned out especially after today.  While walking back to the fields to do some work, there was a tree swallow pair, one on a newly cleaned out box and one on a nearby fence post.  I had not seen any sign of these strikingly gorgeous birds until today.  I love watching them soar above the creek in search of food.  In the sunlight, the blue-green sheen of their feathers is spectacular.  This is one of our favorite farm birds and it is good to see them back.

Meanwhile, Mike and I did do a little field work this morning.  I had a couple hours free so the two of us went back to start lifting up the old plastic mulch in the vegetable field.  Because of the horrendously wet year last year, there are sections of the field that have not been touched for 2 years.  The plastic in this area is really starting to deteriorate.  We worked on pulling up the plastic from 2 of the old rows before switching over to the easier project of lifting plastic off of a row that was laid out last year.  Then my couple hours was up and it was time for lunch.  Getting all the plastic lifted is going to be a big project this spring.  Here's hoping the weather cooperates.  I took this picture as I was walking behind Mike driving the tractor and plastic lifting machine back to the field.  You can see how the leaves on the trees in the woods are just barely starting to come out.

Another first this past week (just for the record): first lawn mowing.  Yay!  OK, not yay!  Actually this is one job that I don't really mind doing as long as I have time.  And I did not mow the entire lawn, just the highest parts. 

We are also starting to see the wild turkeys hanging out on our farm again.  Most years, they spend the whole winter in a winter flock and live across the road from our farm.  It is nice to see them back on our side of the road.

Three nights ago I heard a woodcock in the pasture again.  During the warm spell we had in March, I heard them all over the place.  Then when the weather turned colder, I quit hearing them at all.  I have a hard time believing they are all done with their courtship this year so I was happy to hear one this past week.  Seems like most years I hear them well into May so I am guessing the cool down is to blame for not hearing them recently.

Mike planted the first seeds of the season last week: chard, radish, beets and spinach.  Most of the field is not ready for planting, but there was a small section that got disked up when Mike spread the fertilizer and lime on the asparagus.  I am so looking forward to the asparagus being ready, but it will be some time yet.

I've been checking the blueberries all week.  The blossoms are very close to coming out and so I have been nervous about all the morning freezes we have been having.  So far so good.  It would be horrible to lose the blueberry crop this year.  We have wild growing cherry trees and all their blossoms were killed by the frost.  It makes me worried about what happened to all the local cherry growers.  We have a few peach trees that are small and in their second year after planting.  Their blossoms suffered some damage from the frost, but it did not seem as severe as the loss of the cherry blossoms.

That is about all for this check in.  Nothing earth shattering and not a lot happening.  A bigger cool down is expected this week with even some wet snow showers possible.  I am ready for our next warm spell.  That one back in March was REALLY nice.