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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Goodbye barn. Hello grass.

Yesterday was moving day for the meat chicks, but I thought I'd take just a moment to catch up on the 2014 farming season so far.

It's been quite the spring farming season.  The weather, as usual in farming, has dominated what has been happening, or rather the lack of what has been happening.  In a repeat of last year, the skies have rained and rained.  We have had standing water in the fields since June of last year.  In a so called "normal" year, we would be starting field work in late April or early May.  A short recap of this spring's activity goes like this:

May 27th was the first day it was dry enough for a plow to touch the ground.
May 30th tomatoes went into the high tunnel.
June 1st the first sweet corn, peas, green and lima beans were planted.
June 3rd onions planted.
June 4th the soybeans got planted.
June 8th we had an all day rain that totaled just a little more than an inch. 

That little event on June 8th brought everything to a screeching halt.  June 11th would have been dry enough to do some light field work and then it rained.  June 12th we had a little more rain.  June 13th was deemed dry enough to start tilling.  Mike and the girls were just ready to start laying plastic and then it rained.  The ground will now need tilled again before any plastic can get laid.

Back to the chickens.  Their move to pasture was delayed as well.  The target date to move them was June 8th, but that was the day it rained over an inch.  The entire next week the weather service was predicting the possibility of thunderstorms and I certainly did not want to introduce them to the outside world and then have them sit through a storm their first night out.  And so I waited.  And waited.  But yesterday was the day.  Almost always I will have the pasture pens ready to go and just have to get up in the morning and move the chicks.  But all last week it rained or the wind would blow or both and so yesterday I had to prepare the pens, move the chicks and the feeders and waterers.  Along the way, I took some pictures.

The pasture pens are based on Robert Plamondon's hoop house.  You can find more information about them on his web site:  CLICK HERE.  They are floorless pens that are 8 feet X 9 feet in dimension.  This allows the chicks to have access to the grass.  In the winter, they sit out in the grass all naked so yesterday's first job was to get them dressed.

"Dressing" involves several tarps and lots of bungee cords.  I always seem to be tarping up the pens by myself which is why I had to wait for a day with light winds.  I've done it before in the wind.  It doesn't work well and when doing this job by myself in the wind, the words "flying solo" come to mind.

Next job to move the chicks.  This part is good exercise.  My brooder pen is about 12 feet by 12 feet.  I built it in the bottom of our bank barn with scrap wood that had been left behind by the farm's previous owners.  One wall is plywood.  One wall is pressed fiberboard.  One wall is T-111.  You get the picture.  For some reason that escapes me now, I built a 4 foot high and 4 foot wide ledge that runs the back of the pen.  It creates a space for the chicks to try and hide from any human trying to catch them and makes the human chasing them have to crouch down and waddle like a chicken.  Humans are not meant to crouch down and waddle like chickens.  Thus, this part is good exercise.  After numerous leg squats, all chicks were rounded up and transported out to the pasture pens and divvied up between the pens.

Next I had to go get the feeders and waterers.  Even though they are on grass where they get to eat plants and bugs, they still need some chicken food.  These are fast growing eating machines.  Plus it takes them a little bit to figure out grass and bugs are food.

And a final view of the pens with my little red tractor with my little red wagon that I use to haul feed and water out to the chicks.  We'll be butchering them in 4 weeks.  Fast growing little buggers.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ice out and other signs of spring

The farm pond is officially one year old and last weekend was its first official ice out.  It happened fast too.  On March 23rd, the pond was frozen solid.  I'm sure I could have easily walked across it.

7 days later after a couple days in the 50's and 60's and some rain, I wandered back to the pond and except for a small raft of floating ice that the wind had blown to the far southeast side, the pond was free of ice.

It was a chilly but sunny day and the dogs and I took a nice 3 hour walk around the farm.  Peters Creek was wide and spilling over the bank that day.  A pair of mallards has been visiting the creek daily and if you look carefully at the picture below, you can see them just on the horizon as they took flight off the creek as I walked by.

Even though the ice is off the pond, the ground is still quite frozen.  When it warms up during the day, there is a thick layer of squishy slick mud on top, but underneath the goo on top, the ground is still quite firm.  So it will be some time yet before plow meets earth around here.

Last weekend also brought about a long overdue project.  Last fall, I started a new batch of laying hens.  They came to the farm as day old chicks during the first week of October.  I set them up in the 8'X12' brooder pen where I start my meat chicks in the summer.  Starting the pullets in the brooder pen meant I could let my older layers and roosters have full run between both pens in the layer barn.  This gave the older chickens more room during the snowy months when they don't have a chance to go outside in 2 feet of snow.  Most winters we will see some sort of brief January thaw and I figured that would be a good time to divide the two pens in the layer barn and move the young pullets over just before they started to lay their eggs.  Well this winter wasn't like most winters.  We never had a thaw and the weather stayed cold and snowy.  It was too frozen to try and strip pens and get the pullets moved over.  And so the pullets stayed in the brooder pen.  I moved a bank of nest boxes over when they were ready to lay eggs.  The brooder pen does have fold down roosts for them, but they are less then adequate for long term use.  Then as the snow started to melt I started having issues with water coming in the brooder pen.  Issues that I never have had in the summer with the meat chicks.  That was a pen management nightmare, but I was able to keep on top of things for the most part.  FINALLY last weekend I was able to strip out the pen in the layer barn and move the pullets to their new abode.  Their tiny little chicken brains were totally freaked out by the move, but after one week, I think they are finally adjusting.  Another week or so and they will get to start free ranging in the yard with the older birds.

This past week also brought the first groundhog sighting of the year.  OK, it was down the road a bit, but I'm sure a few of the farm residents are out and about too.  Two nights ago, I did evening chores to the sound of spring peepers.  Yesterday, a walk back in the field found the garlic shoots starting to emerge.  Spring is progressing step by step.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Supposedly spring

You know it's spring when ......  your local farmer who has been hibernating all winter thinks about starting up this year's blog.

You know it's spring and it's still cold when ..... your local farmer has time to sit down and write in the farm blog.

Spring equinox arrived last week.  Although there have been a few "warm" days thrown into the mix, spring so far has been what can only be described as a continuation of one helluva a winter.  The weather service tells us we aren't even close being the coldest winter on record, however it certainly has been the coldest in recent memory.  The number of sub zero degree readings and the weeks of sub-normal temperatures have been amazing.  January temps were 6 degrees below average for the month.  February temps were 6 degrees below average for the month.  March is a little over 5 degrees below normal for the month so far.  And on it goes.  We are hopeful that all this cold weather killed a lot of bugs that feed on vegetables.  Thinking positive here.

Needless to say, outdoor work that normally takes place in March is not getting done.  So sorry, but I am not going out and pruning the blueberry bushes when it is 20 degrees out with single digit windchills like it has been today. (Normal high is 49 degrees).  Just ain't happening.

Indoor work is going on.  Seeds have been ordered and the UPS truck is making regular stops at the farm.  Some of our seeds have been started in greenhouses.  Hints that someday it will be warm or at least that's the rumor.

And in spite of the cold, spring is here.  You have to look no farther than the birds.  They have no choice.  Nature dictates that for the most part, their behavior changes as the length of daylight gets longer and longer.  Three weeks ago the redwing blackbirds arrived.  Two weeks ago a few turkey vultures and a few robins showed up at the farm.  Last weekend, we were blessed by the tundra swans migrating through and making a brief rest stop on the farm.  In years with more open water, they sometimes say longer, but this year I heard them for three days in a row and then they were gone.  I was able to get a few pictures of them at the far end of one of our picked corn fields.

And on Friday, the day after the spring equinox, I stepped out of the house in the morning and was greeted by the song of a woodcock in the pasture.  And Friday evening as we were loading the car up for Saturday's farmers market, a turkey gobbled from the woods across the road.  The birds know spring is here.  Now Mother Nature just has to turn up the thermostat.

The farm pond: March 23, 2014.  Ice, ice Baby.