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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Spring has sprung, and farm life is busy. It has been busy for a while, really, with calving season now almost finished. It has been a good season, with only three losses so far and well over a hundred calves born. One mama who had twins last year– and nursed both– did it again! We are quite proud of that mama!

Two donkeys, mother and daughter, joined us in January for coyote control. We have them in with the mama cows, in pastures on opposite ends of the farm.

Cocoa, the mama donkey

Cocoa, the mama donkey

The mamas and babies don’t seem to notice the new guardians. They were very curious, however, about me in the farm truck:

Sniff, sniff... got any hay in there?

Sniff, sniff… got any hay in there?

Mamaaaa...

Mamaaaa…

Today I planted the hellebores I bought yesterday, and potted the lemon balm and rosemary so I can bring it inside until well past the last frost.

 

rosemary and lemon balm

rosemary and lemon balm

This afternoon was gorgeous, bright and cool, but this weekend promises more freezing temperatures and possible snow. Seriously? Snow?

spring sky

spring sky

apricot blossoms

apricot blossoms

our wild yard (mint family)

our wild yard (mint family)

 

sunset over the shed

sunset over the shed

Whatever the weather, happy spring!

 

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We welcome winter this morning after a night of blistering winds and a high for today of 44 degrees which has already passed. Outside the blindingly bright sun belies the frigid temperature as we begin our return toward longer days once again. As high cirrus clouds sail across an icy blue sky I find it hard to believe that today is this blog’s one year anniversary. Although life has had its twists and turns (as it always does), and I have not met my goal for the number of posts over the course of the year that I had hoped to achieve (as I never could), I did at least carry on. Sometimes that is the best we can do.

Last month we finally put Lumpy down, the mama with the swollen jaw who lost her calf last year. The swelling never responded to any treatments and had finally gotten so big that she could no longer eat. Still it was hard to accept; I suppose culls always are. You just can’t help wondering if you did everything you could. In better news, we bought two new bulls at the last sale to increase the genetic diversity of the herd. We have been feeding hay on a daily basis for some time now, the grass in the pastures dying off a little early from the dry fall it seemed. Winter wheat has been planted and now struggles to come up. All the mamas-to-be have been sorted into pastures near the house and barns for the upcoming birthing season. I hope to bring two donkeys onto the farm before birthing begins to help keep the coyotes at bay. Driving on nearby roads I see other herds with some new babies already, brown, white and black packages of bovine adorableness. Although I appreciate the black Angus breed for what it literally brings to the table, at times I wish we had a little more diversity in the field, if only for visual interest…

My middle child is pestering me for her garden gloves. Soon we’ll bundle up and head outside to set out a few pansies around the blueberry bushes. I am tempted to postpone this task because of the wind; our Christmas lights clattering wildly against our front windows scold and warn like crows taking flight. I know myself, however, and one postponement will lead to another and another. Eventually the pansies will not forgive me, and then I will not forgive myself for not just planting the stupid things. So, out into the ripping wind I go. It isn’t that many pansies.

pansies waiting

pansies waiting

Happy Solstice everyone!

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Halfway between summer solstice and fall equinox, today marks another turn of the wheel of the year with the traditional first harvest festival, Lughnasadh, and we are in full swing canning tomatoes.

pressure canning tomatoes

The pressure canner made its maiden voyage, no one was decapitated, and we now have twenty-something quarts of tomatoes with more to come. Our five-year-old discovered that she loves tomato juice, so we hope to put up a few batches of that as well, and today I aspire to begin cooking sauce.

We did get some crucial rain, our crops continue to survive… we learned this year that when corn tassels during extreme temperatures like we had the first week of July, it won’t pollinate. Our fields are staggered but we’ve seen some of this in the sweet corn we’ve been picking: spotty kernel formation, big gaps on the ears, sometimes nearly nothing at all. We have been more fortunate than many– we’ll still make a crop– but the final measure will be made at the grain elevator in the fall.

The veggie patch may have been saved by its dampness and our delayed planting earlier. Look at the sunflowers!

my happy place

Most still looks good…

veggie patch: eggplant, basil, tomatoes, sweet corn

Melons are just starting to get ripe. Hopefully this means a few weeks of market sales.

melons!

Wishing everyone a happy harvest and more rain as needed!

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Today saw 104 degrees. Stepping outside, the breeze that normally cools the porch felt instead like the rush of heat from an open oven. Crossing the yard, grass crunches underfoot like leaves in fall. Yield losses mount as we try not to watch the skies. Even the corn looks to be holding its breath, folding itself up against the oppressive heat and high pressure. A quick walk around the field roads left me drenched and exhausted.

the popcorn patch

The milk thistle shows its evolutionary wisdom: to survive, it must die.

milk thistle, fully dried down

 

Although the air was so hot it felt difficult to breathe, the drying clover along the field ditches smelled like honey, and even the browning grasses held their own special beauty.

We celebrated our daughter’s fifth birthday on Tybee Island, Georgia, earlier in the week. We returned home to discover the chicken pen project was complete! Notice the windows on the coop!

chicken fence and coop

The fence is secured along the ground, with trenches dug out and PVC pipe stabilizing the bottom edge so that our next batch of chicks will be just as safe as the larger birds. The compost is contained inside the fence so the birds will have access to it.

meat chickens

These boys are nearly grown; almost all the birds are contained now. Tonight Brad hopes to catch the three remaining rogues and put them in with the others.

I passed the heifers’ pasture at the end of my walk. Some had ventured out from the shade for a drink:

thirsty pregnant heifers

Brad and Max waited for the sun to go down before working in the veggie patch, staking tomatoes until they couldn’t see. Tomorrow we’ll all continue where we left off today, stopping when it gets too hot and waiting for the rain.

 

 

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Ferdinand, one of our three black Angus bulls, is almost five years old. For those who are cattle-familiar, I don’t need to tell you that he is a bit on the large side. When the vet visited last summer to check last year’s calves we weighed our bulls as well, out of curiosity. The other two were large at around a ton apiece, but Ferdinand here was over 2400 pounds. He got slightly stuck in the chute and there was a moment of wondering whether he would take it with him. And yes, he does love flowers.

Through the winter the three bulls were together in the large pasture behind the house. Each would wander off into a different corner, then when they would all find each other again they would repeat their process of determining who was in charge. More than once I watched the two “little” ones try to take on Ferdinand together, all their heads pushing together, their bodies in a Y formation. Ferdinand would surely and very steadily plod forward, pushing both bulls backwards until they gave up. I wish I had thought to film them.

Ferdinand’s sheer size made me nervous when we first moved here, but as I watched him ignoring absolutely every living thing passing by (including a coyote) I realized he could not be bothered by something so small as me, even when clattering past with my own noisy offspring in the double stroller. Earlier in the year, before his lady friends had joined him in his pasture, he would lumber up to the fenceline right behind the house and bellow at me. He was most definitely complaining, perhaps for lack of company, as he is now too busy to bother me anymore. He walks slowly, somewhat stiff-legged, perusing the fresh new growth for a snack or a meal. What a creature to build from grasses!

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I knew this phrase as a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but it was not until last year that I gained first-hand experience of its origins. Pa Ingalls wasn’t using diesel-driven tractors and rakes, certainly, but haying bears the same urgency it always has: get it up before the rain, or risk losing a portion of next winter’s feed.

front yard baled

This small pasture had already been knocked down last week, but the risk of rain was finally upon us yesterday, so brother-in-law Drew dragged the rake over it all to fluff it, then Brad finished up behind him with the baler. The kids went out to climb and play haybale tag only to be chased indoors after just a few minutes by the rainstorm that blew in.

running in

Brad and Max also managed to start setting out tomatoes in the veggie patch, following the rows created by planting the sweet corn. They didn’t get far before getting caught in the downpour, but it is at least a beginning.

tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, waiting on the porch

Max went to the patch this afternoon to check the plug trays left behind yesterday and found several cows; fence repair is now next on the agenda, before we set anything else out and absolutely before the corn starts coming up. With the fence wiring grounded out in several places the new calves are learning to come and go as they please instead of learning to avoid the fence like their mamas. They’ll be surprised (dare I say shocked?) after it’s all fixed and carrying the proper amount of current again. I’ll just have to hope it doesn’t take too long to sort it all out. You just never know what’s going to come up.

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Julia Child rose, very fragrant and a prolific bloomer

May is already upon us, and the fertility of earth swells forth everywhere. Calico blankets of white clover, buttercup and hop clover soften field road edges, their honey-like fragrance enticing local pollinators. Spiky wands of milk thistle wave their pink poufs high above the grasses they punctuate. The heifers have been inseminated and the bulls bellow and whistle, claiming their respective herds. Spreaders trundled back and forth all through April, feeding the soil that feeds the grass that feeds the cows, and we’ve baled the first field of hay from this year’s growth. Nightshades and peppers grow strong in the hoop house, and corn planting has begun, with the planters now resting mid-field, awaiting the next rain.

when there's rain...

This has been a month of tragedies and triumphs. My first order of chicks got lost in the mail, arriving a few days too late and putting a damper on everyone’s expectations. The unceremonious roadside disposal of thirty-five dead chicks reminded me of the indifference of experience. I was raised to not spend much time grieving over animals; I wonder if I am too cold, too detached. It is what is, however, and arguing with reality wastes precious time and energy; so, onward. The hatchery sent me a replacement order the following week and while the survival rate was not stellar we now have two crested girls that we’ll keep for layers and twenty boys. (Apologies for their blurriness, they wouldn’t sit still for anything!)

"heavies" from McMurray Hatchery

In better news, Brad found one more calf in the field, at least two weeks old, born after the mamas and babies had been sorted into separate pastures for breeding. Thus we have one bull from this year’s birthings, a mother to identify and extra attention to pay in a few months when we’ll need to separate him from the others.

The calves nearest the house have a particular disregard for the electric fence, browsing the field roads and the yard many mornings:

just another pretty face

mmm, figs

in the clover (and perhaps the blackberry canes)

the grass is greener over here

My raised beds are built, filled, and planted; seeds sprout in flats, and we’ve begun preparing the field that will be the veggie patch. If all goes well (this is also the season of tractor repair as things break or malfunction periodically) Brad will put the sweet corn in the patch today, while I am once again headed for market this afternoon, with eggs, cornmeal, grits, and polenta. Happy Beltane!

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