Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's time for planting, not blogging

Farmers have 2 times of year when they are the most busy: planting and harvest.  Although quite delayed by the wet spring (the tv news reported last week that we are running about 11" above normal for rainfall), we are finally in the midst of planting.  The good news is that we have made a LOT of progress in the last 9 days.  What it also means is that blogging has been pushed aside a bit.  My weekdays go something like this.  Slide out of bed sometime between 5:30-6am, do my morning chores (feeding chickens, cats and dogs), eat breakfast, get ready for work, go to work at the clinic, work overtime because the clinic is incredibly busy right now, come home, sit down for 20 minutes to catch my breath, do evening animal chores, tack on some kind of farm chore or mowing the lawn or walking the dogs (which is a BIG priority in my book), waddle into the house between 8:30-9pm, make dinner, relax a bit and then slide into bed around 10pm.  Last weekend was filled with an all day volunteer activity and then a family cookout the next day.  Nowhere in there was there a spot for blogging.  Or house keeping for that matter.  I'm thinking of hiring an armed guard to stand at my door and keep people from coming inside and seeing the total clutter that exists right now in the house.  OK, it hasn't quite reached that level, but you get the picture and it ain't pretty.

On to the progress in the farm.  As usual, my vantage point standing next to the pasture fence at the edge of the garden, shows no progress.  Once again, I remind that this will be the last area to be worked on this year.

However, by walking straight forward, you come to where all the transplanting of the greenhouse started plants has taken place the past 9 days.

A week ago this past Monday, I got to ride the transplanter with Melissa while Mike drove the tractor.  We planted all the tomatoes, all the watermelons and most of the eggplant.  Here are Melissa and Mike filling the water tank on the transplanter as we get ready to plant the VERY tall tomato plants.

And here I am after a day of transplanting.  It's not very physically demanding work, but it is VERY dirty work.

The tomatoes on the left and the watermelons to the right are coming along nicely a little over 1 week after being planted.

And there the cucumbers are starting to grow well too.

And because all the flats of greenhouse started plants that are not yet planted are up off the ground and sitting on our hay wagons, the hens are now off house arrest and are allowed to freely roam the yard once again.  They are very happy girls.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Progress? Yes, if you know where to look

Progress is slow but steady.  We've had a few rains that have slowed us down and today was market day.  The fields are finally prepped for transplanting.  24,000 feet of plastic has been laid.  Now we just have to wait for the availability of the transplanter and a few dry days.

5 days ago this was the view of the progress of the garden.  Doesn't look like anything much has been done, eh?

This is actually the last part of the field that will be planted.  So I took a little stroll straight ahead and found Mike on the tractor.

Busy working the new tiller and getting the field ready for the plastic laying machine.

I haven't taken a stroll back to the fields since the plastic has been laid.  That will be on tomorrow's agenda.

I did also saunter past the plastic where some cucumbers had been planted and lookie here.  A baby cucumber plant.  I love cucumbers.

On a totally different subject, last week we had an example of how nature and farming sometimes collide.  Every year this seems to happen on at least one of the tractors.  Turns out a robin built a nest on a tractor that wasn't being used yet because of all the rain.  One day while the guys where working fixing something on the tractor, they accidentally crushed a robin's nest.  Felt kind of bad about that one, but it happens.  The tractor then sat for another week or two and then last week when Mike started using it again, he found another robin's nest. This nest didn't get crushed, but a moving tractor is not a good location for a bird nest.  Mike left me the nest in my little red wagon as a present.  Those eggs in that nest sure are pretty.  But that robin definitely needs to be more selective when it comes to choosing a housing location.

And last but not least, a few of the 16 week old Gold Buff pullets (young hens) started laying this week.  Good girls!  Here are 4 pullet eggs next to 4 eggs from the older hens.  The pullet eggs are much smaller, but in a month or two, the eggs will be near normal size.

The pullets are getting a little braver every day about venturing out of the barn and into the yard.  Last night when I went to shut the pen door for the night, I had to "rescue" one that was walking AWAY from the barn and it was getting quite dark out.  All the other pullets had gone back to their roost in the barn on their own.  Or so I thought.  Then this morning, I found another one that I had missed seeing last night and she was loose outside and trying to get in the coop where the older hens stay which is a totally separate building.  So I had to catch her (not all that easy) and carry her back "home".  I'll see if I have any wanderers tonight when I go to lock them up.

That is the weekly round up.  I looked back on last June's blog and we are totally even with when we were transplanting plants last year.  The difference is last year we had more sweet corn and beans and such planted by this time then we do now.  Fingers crossed for a good planting week coming up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

T-storms and turtles

About a week ago we had a pretty impressive squall line come out of Canada, across Lake Erie, and dump over an inch of rain on our farm.  The line was making its way across the lake as I was outside feeding and watering the baby chickens out on pasture.  I could feel the energy in the air even though I could not yet hear thunder or see the storm clouds.  I am always happy when the storms hold off until after I do my morning chores.  For some reason, wild turkey gobblers LOVE to gobble in stormy weather.  Across the road on the neighbor's place, I could hear a turkey gobbling almost non-stop.  He was gobbling when I stepped out the door to start my morning chores.  I could hear him while I was feeding the baby meat chicks in their outdoor pens.  And I could hear him as I was turning off the hose and finishing up chores about an hour later. 

Mike in the meantime was in a hurry.  He had prepped one section of the field for planting beans the evening before.  Not expecting the storms to be rolling through so soon after sunrise, he had anticipated a more leisurely morning before jumping on the tractor.  But the storm was moving and Mike got on the tractor as soon as it was light enough to see well.  Out to the fields he went to plant beans before the rain came.  The wind started whipping around and thunder was rumbling when I heard the tractor coming back up the lane toward the barns.  I grabbed the camera and took a few pictures of the approaching storm.  The cloud pattern was spectacularly beautiful. 

Fortunately we had no damage from the storm.  A few trees were blown down around the county, but nothing serious.  Quite the spectacular lightning show accompanied the storm as well.

As I left for work in the morning, the backside of the storm was still raining on us.  Just down the road from our driveway is a low spot in the road where a small streamlet goes under the road through a culvert.  In times of heavy rain, this low spot has been known to flood the road.  The road was not flooded this morning, but there ambling down the edge of the road was a very decent sized snapping turtle.  It was quite coincidental since just the day before I was reading an article online about how the area's female snapping turtles were on the move looking for places to lay their eggs.  Unfortunately, the storm made the lighting pretty poor and the only photo that turned out was one with a flash.  It was a cool sighting though.

Little did I know that would be the first of 3 snapper sightings in the next 4 days.  The following day, Mike was out in the garden digging up some onions when he came across this not-so-little lady hanging out right in the middle of the onion patch. 

Then 2 days later I was again on my way to work and came to a bridge over a larger creek about 1.5 miles from the farm.  There was another snapper walking across the bridge on the yellow line.  I guess the article about turtles being on the move was correct.  3 snappers in 4 days was pretty cool.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Soybeans and baby plants

The other farming that got done last weekend is the big field and side field were planted with soybeans.  I kind of chuckle inside when I say "big field" because in the scope of farming, it is not big.  For someone like me who grew up with a yard just shy of one acre and that one acre yard was the biggest in the neighborhood, well, the "big" field is enormous.  When we bought the farm 15 years ago, there were two fields that were being used as hay fields.  A 40 acre field that sits behind the house and a 20 acre field that is part of a larger parcel of land that juts off to the side.  And so without much thought, the 40 acre field became known as the "big" field and the 20 acre field is called the "side" field.  Pretty ingenious, eh?  At first, all 60 acres were planted in a corn/soybean/sometimes wheat rotation.  Over time though, the vegetable "garden" grew and grew and grew.  So now the vegetables take up about half of the 40 acre big field.  The other half of the big field and the side field are still in a corn/soybean rotation.

One of the things I love about living on a country road is the variety of traffic that travels up and down the road in front of the house.  Of course we get the usual cars and pick up trucks, but there is also a decent sized Amish community here and so horse and buggy traffic is a daily occurrence.  Hearing the clip clop clip clop of the horse's hooves and the sound of the buggy wheels rolling on the pavement is a familiar and enjoyable sound.  We also have a good bit of tractor traffic.  If Mike and I are in the house and hear a tractor coming, we always have to look and see whose tractor is coming and what machinery the tractor is pulling behind if any.  There is just some fascination with farm equipment I guess or perhaps it is just the neighborhood watch program in action.  Last Sunday when I was out putting the tarps on the movable chicken pens out in the yard, I was treated to the sight of Bill driving down the road with the soybean planter.

And pulling into our driveway .......

And crossing Peters Creek culvert on the road that goes back to the fields .......

After a few broken equipment delays that Bill had to deal with on some of the other farms he plants, he was finally able to make it over to our farm on Monday and get the soybeans planted in both the big and side fields.  This picture is Bill and Mike finishing up loading seed in the planter.

Mike's other accomplishment last weekend in the world of catch up farming was he went and picked up about 75% of our started vegetable plants from our neighbor Betty with the greenhouse.  So now we have flats of baby plants scattered here and there, but all within reach of the garden hose.

There are plants sitting in the yard behind the garage ......

And flats of plants sitting on one of our trailers .....

And flats on one of our hay wagons and beside the garage ........

And flats in the yard beside our bank barn .......

We did get about 1/4 of an inch of rain last night, but the forecast is for dry and breezy the next few days.  If all goes according to schedule, tomorrow will be the start of laying plastic and planting baby plants.  But farming never seems to stay on schedule so time will tell.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ketchup ........... Catsup

This is the official catch up blog from the past 11 days.  It has nothing to do with a sweet tomato sauce that is commonly eaten with french fries or hot dogs, but any time I hear catch up, I think of ketchup.  So there you have it.  I guess since planting is SO far behind on the farm that we are playing catch up in the fields, it is only fitting that the blog follows along the same way.  Actually I WAS going to make a post last Monday, but our internet was out from 5pm to 6am Tuesday morning.  Then it was back to work at the clinic all week and I decided to choose going to bed at a decent hour rather than blogging.

So here is the scoop on the last week and a half of farming:

Last weekend we had dry weather the entire weekend.  At least I'm pretty sure it was because I spent at least 2 or 3 hours each day on the mower Saturday, Sunday and Monday too.  I did get the yard mowed, the pasture mowed, the area around the lower garden mowed and various paths I use take walks to the woods mowed.  Whew!

The new tiller was put into action and Mike tilled up ground where the green beans and corn are going to be planted.

Plantings included about 1 1/4 acres of "soup" type beans including kidney, black, yellow eye, black eyed peas as well as some edamame.  All the onions, rhubarb, horseradish and some new strawberry plants are in the ground. A few rows of squash and cucumber seeds are planted now.  Once again, slowly making progress.

Sunday evening I was out transforming my "chicken tractors" from their winter time stripped down look..... their tarped summertime look ready for the 4 week old baby meat chicks that I moved out to the grass on Monday morning.

The chicks are always a little freaked out by being moved from inside the barn where they are bedded on wood shavings to outside where they see and feel grass for the first time.  Having a combination of a tiny little brain and being what we call a "prey species" (meant to be eaten by larger animals) makes for major freak out anytime anything in their world changes.

Fortunately, they are also food driven so once I got the feeders and waterers set up in their outdoor pens, all was right with their world.  These meat birds can be a little tricky to raise sometimes, but so far this batch is doing well.  I started with 59 day old chicks and moved 57 out to pasture.

Chick moving morning is always confusing for all the animals because it is a total break from their routine.  Basically this means that no one gets to eat "breakfast" until the job is done.  The chicks don't get fed until after they are moved because that makes moving day much nicer for me.  I learned this lesson early in my chicken rearing years.  Those early years I would finish the move to pasture and have brown spots of chicken manure all over my shirt, shorts and legs.  Now all I have to show for my efforts are a few scratches from the chicks' VERY sharp nails and some sore muscles the next day from bending over and catching 50 something chicks.  The dogs and cats have to wait to be fed too because when I start my morning work, I am on a mission to get the job done.  This confuses the heck out of them.  Every morning when I feed the cats they are all eagerly waiting by the food bowls.  By the time I finished moving the chicks on Monday, there was not a barn cat to be found.  I guess they decided they'd better go out and see what they could catch themselves.  Molly, the 14 year old Brittany, had the same idea.  While I was getting the chicks settled into the outside pens, she was out coursing through the grass.  She's always been pretty good at catching voles and moles in the yard and I am amazed how well she still hunts as old as she is.  I looked over just in time to see her snatch up a vole and in under 30 seconds it was devoured.  We got Molly from an elderly couple who lived in town when Molly was a year and a half old.  We laugh at how well she has transformed herself from a city dog to a farm dog. 

I was also able to start letting the 3 month old layer pullets outside for the first time.  Actually they think everything is going to eat them too so they spend most of the time standing on the concrete pad at the doorway of the barn.  But they are slowly learning to come out and forage for bugs and weeds.  It will be several weeks until they really get this outside stuff figured out.

Meanwhile the four pet hens are on temporary house arrest since the flats of greenhouse plants have arrived on the farm and are scattered in various locations in the yard.  The hens have quite the fondness for plants such as broccoli and if the hens are allowed outside in the yard, the broccoli plants end up with huge bites taken out of their leaves.  The hens do have access to a rather large fenced in outdoor area, but they are very used to being able to go everywhere around the barns and house. Their vocalizations while standing by the pen door make it quite clear that they want out.  They will live though and in a week or two, if all goes well in the fields, the hens will be back to pooping on the front porch.

There is more to catch up on, but that is enough for now.  Darkness is approaching and I need to wander outside and close up the chicken pens for the night.  Oh and some dinner would be nice too.