Saturday, August 18, 2012

Drought 2012 and other challenges

We have had a lot of people asking us how the drought has affected us this year.  Well it hasn't been good, but I can say it's been somewhat better than some of the pictures I have been seeing from farther out in the Midwest.  We have had three rainfalls since early June.  1.6 inches on July 3rd, 0.4 inches on July 19th and 1.5 inches on August 10th.  It's pretty bad when you can remember when it rained and how much it rained for the last 2+ months.  The July 3rd rain really saved the day for a lot our plants that were newly transplanted in the ground.  However, the plants that got transplanted after July 3rd only had that little bit of rain on July 19th so they are pretty stunted.  In fact walking back through a good bit of the vegetable plants gives the feeling that I am walking through the land of the Lilliputians.  Mike was not thrilled when I said I was going to be posting some of these pictures but I told him that this is the year of the drought and people should see what challenges farmers face in dry years.  Now some of the vegetables are doing halfway decent and I'll save those for future blogs, but here is a tour of how the drought has affected our vegetable farm.

These celery root plants were planted about a week or two after the July 3rd rain, so they have been in the ground for over a month.  They are still smaller than my cell phone.

The broccoli plants themselves are not too bad size-wise, but they are either not forming a discreet head, more like a cluster of little shoots like in this plant

Or if they are forming a head, the broccoli heads are very small.

I couldn't find any good comparison pictures of an individual broccoli head from past years, but here is a picture of some large bins of broccoli that we sold in 2010 (These bins are the size of the big bins that you often see watermelons stored in at the grocery store).  A big difference in size to be sure.

Then here are some green beans that are out in the field right now.  The plants are not much bigger than this water bottle and they are starting to flower and will be forming pods soon.

Then there are two different patches of sweet corn that were planted at approximately the same time.  The first patch should be taller than this, but it is growing in the wettest corner of the field and actually produced pretty well for us.  This is the corn that my mom, my sister and I put up in the freezer last week to enjoy all winter long.

And there this is the patch that is planted in a drier area of the field.  This sweet corn variety normally produces plants that are about 7 feet tall but they are tasseling and are not even waist high.  I have no idea why I am smiling in this picture because I really really REALLY love this variety of sweet corn and it is sad to see it like this.

Mike has replanted some of the cold tolerant plants such as carrots, spinach and beets and is hoping for a late frost.  Those seeds are just starting to come up.  All of the earlier plantings died in the ground due to lack of rain.

And since the blog is entitled "Drought 2012 and Other Challenges", I thought I would show a few pictures of how wildlife can impact crops.  We actually have not had too many problems with raccoons in the sweet corn until just this past week.  Perhaps it was because we wiped out the family that decimated the early blueberry crop and it took awhile for new ones to find their way over here.  Who knows, but they are here now.  We are tolerating the damage right now, but will have to start setting traps again if the problem escalates.

And then last but not least is a look at the soybeans planted this year.  The bushel per acre yield will be lower than average but so much better than what has been happening in the hardest hit drought area of the Midwest.  Overall the plants do not look too bad.

But you don't have to look far to find areas of the field that sit next to a groundhog den.  Pretty impressive groundhog damage shows why farmers hate groundhogs.  From standing in waist high beans in the previous photo to standing in beans that aren't even knee high.

I asked Mike if he thought last year's disastrous year when we had over 2 feet more rain than normal was better or worse than this year and he said it was too early to tell.  It really depends on what happens with all the late plantings of vegetables.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Yard Aquarium

My husband likes to refer to our chickens as "the yard aquarium".  I think that is a very fitting description.  The laying hens especially provide as with ample entertainment as they get to free range in the yard most afternoons as long as the snow is not piled chicken-deep on the grass.  Our amusement comes from two sources.  One is that they are chickens and we are people.  So often we are left wondering exactly why they do what they do.  The second is that because they are chickens, they have tiny little brains.  They have a hard time finding solutions for obstacles in their lives.  So this blog is a collection of minor happenings in the lives of the chickens on our farm.  It is the reason we have a yard aquarium.

Meet Lucy.  She is one of our laying hens that work for a living.  As such, until about a week ago, she did not have a name.  Names are generally reserved for those lucky few hens that get elevated to pet status, but sometimes a working chicken does something special to distance herself from the crowd.  About a week and a half ago for no apparent reason, Lucy decided that she did not want to go back into the barn to roost at night with the other hens.  She's a skittish little thing and I don't know if you have ever tried to herd a chicken across the yard, but it is very difficult.  And so it came to pass that I just decided to let her do her thing.  It took a few days, but I finally found where she was staying at night which was tucked in behind some old railroad ties that are stacked behind the chicken coop.  Every evening I would tell her she really should go to the barn because she was in danger of being eaten by a variety of predators that wander through the night, but being a chicken she could not grasp the concept of something she could not see right then and there.  Well that and she doesn't understand English.  Every morning I would start my morning routine by walking to the chicken coop saying "here loose chicken, here loose chicken".  She would come out of her hiding spot and I would feed her some vegetable scraps or a little cracked corn.  It didn't take long for "loose chicken" to become "Lucy".  And that is how a working chicken manages to snag herself a name.  This behavior lasted about a week.  Then 4 nights ago Lucy went back into the pen with the others to roost.  3 nights ago, she stayed outside by the railroad ties all night and now the last 2 nights in a row, she has gone to roost with the others in the barn.  Crazy little chickens.

Leaning up against one of the barns is a collection of old pipe gates that are not being used right now.  A few weeks ago I was walking out to the barn to lock up the chickens for the night.  It was just starting to get dark and as I passed the front corner of the barn where the pipe gates are standing, I heard a long pitiful "bawwwwwk".  I looked over and there was a chicken wedged between two of the pipe gates.  Probably in the quest for finding the best bug or worm ever, the hen had walked in between the gates until she could go no further.  And because she is a chicken with a tiny little brain, she could only think of one solution to her problem and that was to go forward.  And in her attempt to go forward, she found herself trapped with her wings awkwardly wrapped around the rungs of the gait.  All it took from me was to gently push her backwards about two chicken sized steps and she was free.  She must have been there for some time though because the first thing she did after she was set free was to run to the waterer and drink for several minutes.  Tiny brains.

One of the other big jobs I finally got done last month was the summertime stripping of the laying hen pen.  With the hens being outside most of the time and the hot weather we have had this summer, I put it off longer than I should have but I finally got it done.  I always wait until late afternoon to do this chore.  By that time the chickens are done laying for the day and they are out in the yard foraging.  It really messes with their tiny little chicken minds to be in the barn while I am shoveling, scraping, sweeping and using the shop vac.  But the confusion for them does not end when the pen is clean and the brand new wood shavings are spread across the pen floor and all is quiet.  Wood shavings that are months old and mixed with chicken manure and dander take on a very drab gray-brown color.  Brand new wood shavings are bright in color with almost a pinkish hue.  Mix together a sudden change in floor color with a very stupid animal that can see in living color and it becomes rather amusing.  The nighttime going to roost isn't too bad as colors are subdued in the fading light.  However morning is a different story.  When I walked into the barn the morning after I cleaned the pen, almost all the hens were still on the roost even though it had been light for a good hour.  You should have heard are the squawking and carrying on they were doing.  The color change was too much for them to comprehend.  They acted like they new shavings were hot coals.  If one of them happened to teeter off the roost and land on the new shavings, it would set of a commotion of wing flapping to get back on the roost as quick as possible.  Every time I do a major clean out of the pen it is the same.  Fortunately it only takes a few hours and the girls do figure out that the new shavings are not dangerous.  It can be tough being a prey species thinking everything is out to eat you.  Tiny little brains.

The new layer chicks are five weeks old today.  Last week I finally started introducing them to food items other than the chick feed they have been eating.  First up, zucchini.  This is always a favored treat among the hens.  The chicks on the other hand have only ever seen feeders filled with crumbled feed so squash is a foreign object to them.  At first as usual, the sight of squash sent terror into their minds and they all huddled in the back of the pen.  One brave Americauna chick did finally come to "look" at the dreaded zucchini before retreating to the back with the others.  I never did see any of the chicks peck at the squash while I was in the barn, but by morning it had disappeared so they figured it out.  Since then they have enjoyed watermelon, tomatoes, spinach and apples.  Each new food item is getting less scary.  

It won't be long until I toss some scraps into the pen and a feeding frenzy will ensue like it does when I toss treats to the hens.

And so the yard aquarium continues to make me smile.  I get such a kick out of looking out the back window to see chickens hanging out on the back deck.  Even chicken droppings on the front porch make me smile.  The chickens act happy and they make me happy.  And although I don't have the room or the time to have a larger flock, it's nice to know that my chickens are feeding a few families with their eggs.  For that I am thankful.