Thursday, June 26, 2014

Farm Update 6/24/14

Lots of tomato blossoms in the greenhouse!





Summer Farm Update 6/26/14 











In the Greenhouse...



Half of the greenhouse is all but empty of seed flats and plants to go out to the field, while in the other half the plants have taken off! The cucumbers and tomatoes are being trained up a single string up to the roof of the greenhouse, and are now about waist high. The cucumber's are full of fruit and flowers, and our shareholder's will be seeing the first slicing cucumbers in their shares this week! The peppers and eggplant have been growing well, though, as usual, the eggplant has been the target of multiple insect species' hunger. The tomatoes are full of flowers and are setting fruit, can't wait to see how soon we'll be enjoying fresh tomatoes again! 



In the Garden...






It's been a rainy spring here Michigan. Luckily we're not seeing the 100-year flood level of rain we saw last year and that many other places are experiencing around the country, but we've been getting our fair share. We finally got the pasture cut yesterday, it was at chin height, the alfalfa in full bloom. You need about three days without rain for the grass to dry before it can be bailed without ruining the hay with mold. While the rain was holding back the hay-cutting until now , the garden has been soaking it in and loving it. We're fortunate that our farm has excellent drainage. It used to be a gravel pit after all. We've got sandy soil and we basically live on the side of rolling hills, so we don't have any problems with standing water. In the garden the crops and weeds have been flourishing with the balmy 70+ degrees and everyday rain showers. It's been too wet to plant the last of the cool season plantings, so we've been catching up on the weeding.



There's always plenty of that to do! The weeding has been going quite well this year. We changed up the garden design so all the crops are in long straight rows, one after another. We also planned for enough space between the rows for our Mantis garden tiller to take care of weeds growing in the isles. Last year we tried more to maximize our space with square foot gardening in wider beds, but it made weeding a bigger chore. 

As for planting, we've kept mostly on schedule until this rain has pushed back our last summer cool season planting. This is going to go in a nice partly shaded area nearest to the hedgerow. We're excited for this section of the garden, where the soil is nice and dark from years of composting leaves from the trees on the hedgerow. It gets hours of afternoon shade, which we help will keep our lettuce and other cool season crops from bolting as we head into the heat of summer. We've had some trouble with bugs in the garden, but no devastating squash vine borers that we had to surgically remove like last year. A few bugs on the tomatillos and ground cherries, a handful of squash bugs, but mostly an infestation of cucumber beetles that have been snacking on the cucumber and squash plants and that we've been keeping back with Neem Oil. And flea beetles of course, always flea beetles. 


As for the deer and rabbit situation, while we've spied a few deer prints in the garden, most of the plants have been left untouched, except for some leek plants that got topped. We've had a hawk move into Mirkwood, and he seems to be taking care of the local rabbit population for us, hopefully that will sate him until we process the chickens in two weeks! 



In the Pasture...




The chickens are growing big and fast, as usual with the Cornish X breed. We've moved the chicken tractor and electric fence every week for the chickens, fertilizing our orchard and lawn and pasture.


 We have had some problems with lameness again this year, but we think this may be the result of having a straight run (getting both females and males) rather than them outgrowing their legs' ability to carry them. (This can happen folks, these chickens are genetically bred to grow grow grow, so it you don't watch their feed and take it away at nights, they can grow faster than their legs ability to lift them). 



Their legs seem much stronger this year, probably because they're getting more exercise inside the electric fenced pasture. Rather, we've noticed problems with the roosters getting aggressive with each other and the females, causing some injuries. So, next year we'll either get a batch of roosters or of hens, but not of both together. Other than that they've been very happy and healthy, running around mowing the grass and munching on insects. We'll be processing them on-farm, Sunday July 6th, to be picked up on-farm that day after 5 pm or on Monday after 5 pm.  





Rosie and Pippin are doing well, we set up a pasture rotation for them on their hill, but now that Arya is gone we have them in her pasture mowing down the tall grass there.





We have found that Rosie may be a bit too maternal for Once-A-Day Milking, she tends to hold back milk and cream from us for Pippin, but the convenience of the set up still outweighs the lack of cream. This could be her personality or her breed, she's a Jersey, a dairy cow; whereas dual-purpose breeds are reputed to be less maternal. 




Pippin is still a bit skittish, but he's haltered trained. If you can get the halter on him that is. His coat has developed a brown undercoat lately, maybe from all the sun's he's been getting. He's a cutie though! 








In the Pig Pen...




Saturday, June 21st, was our gilt Arya's last day on the farm, on Sunday we took her to Pinckney Hill Meat processor in Saranac, MI.

Arya has been a great pig, super friendly to everyone (human and animal),and we were very hopeful that she'd make a good sow. She survived the Long Night and the Polar Vortex this winter, and never got a sunburn on even the hottest of days. And she had fourteen nipples. Fourteen!






 But a 400+ lb pig does not a pet make. And if she's not making babies, then that is what she's become, a big pet. Despite our multiple efforts to breed her to a boar and through a.i., she refused the boar and has failed to conceive. But we're glad that we kept her and tried to breed her, that she got to have a happy life in the sun with her nose in the grass, surrounded by other pigs, cows, and chickens. Living a life to the piggiest, in full pigness. We'll miss you Arya, but, we are also out of sausage links and brawts, and you did eat a lot. You were, after all, a pig. 



The piglets on the other hand are growing! After Rosie mows down Arya's old pasture we'll be letting them into this area as well, we can tell they're getting restless in their current pen. We finally decided on names for them: Sheldon, Leonerd, Wolowitz and Penny. Because they all look so alike, except for Penny the smallest almost all black one, we mostly tell them apart by the length of their tails. Their tail length corresponds to the character's height they are named after.






The piglets have been rototilling parts of their pen with their noses
The farm that we got them from raised them in farrowing crates, a small metal caged area on concrete. Piglets tend to get bored being confined to a small area 24/7, and in their boredom will start to bite and chew at each other. Often they will bite each other's tails off, which is why some farmers who raise their pigs in confinement indoors simply cut off their tails when they do castration and clip the tusks.

 The way we raise our pigs, problems like tail biting are not an issue because they have plenty of space and things to do. But, because Arya failed to conceive, we were glad to get piglets from a farmer we know and trust. 




Hugelkulturs...





We've got three hugelkulturs set up and planted now. Two of them are a mix of rhubarb, strawberries, herbs, and flowers, and a new one that is mostly herbs, both perennial and annual. We didn't have enough compost for the fourth, so we are taking donations of compost! Bring us your dirt piles, your towers of mulched old trees, your kitchen scraps! We'll take it all! 





In the Coop...



The chickens have been loving free ranging, and we've been loving it too because they clean up after Rosie and Pippin pretty well, eating the fly larvae out of their cow patties and spreading the manure for us so we don't have to go around picking up after the cows. With that said, we have seen a significant drop in their egg production. We've found eggs in the barn, but we think most of them are being laid up on the hill that Arya was pastured in. Likely she was also snacking on them as well, because there aren't many to be found. After the meat birds are done in July we may be moving their electric fencing back to the egg layers. That, or following the chickens around when we hear the tell-tale squawking of an egg being laid and finding their secret stashes.  




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