Swinging for the fences

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the … Continue reading

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the cash rent. Of course, that lease meant a compromise in the form the use of herbicides and pesticides on that ground every year, but the money was hard to turn down.

Taking back over that ground has always been a part of our plan, and with the upcoming end of the current lease, it has been a regular topic of conversation for us.

This year, as the result of the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the ante got upped with the application of 2,4-D to the entire 100 acres, which fact proved to be a bridge too far for my wife and me. As a result, we’ve decided not to renew the lease and to start working that ground ourselves.

This is a significant step for us, mostly in that it involves a loss of about a third of the farm’s cash income over at least the next couple of years as we transition to new endeavors. Irrespective of the cost, we plan to follow through on this because it is the right thing to do.

Sure, maybe we’re radical and idealistic, but we actually want to leave our little part of planet earth better than we found it for future generations. And so, we will take that ground back over and farm it the way we believe is right.

For us, that means planting about 40 acres of it in grass hay and about another 30 acres of it in fast-growing hardwood trees we plan to sustainably lumber for a variety of farm uses, especially for fence posts for our animal operations. The remainder will function as both a prairie area and for small food plots.

This transition is going to be risky and stressful, but neither of us have any doubt it is the right thing to do. We firmly believe Innisfree represents the future of agriculture, and that fact alone makes what we have decided worth it.

Here’s to hoping and to swinging for the fences.

DLH

[UPDATE: Edited for content]

More gardens

Growing herbs in pots is great, but I wanted a more permanent solution to growing culinary and medicinal herbs that didn’t involve lugging large planters around. Enter 24×4 cinder blocks, lots of sticks, and lots of dirt.

These are a type of hugelkultur raised bed, which uses sticks and logs as the base, and dirt piled over them. This website has a good explanation, with pictures! And since we have plenty of sticks around here, it’s a good way to use them.

 

First, set up the cinder blocks, and add sticks. The two closest beds don’t have sticks yet, but the two farthest to the right do. Break up the sticks, toss them in, and when you have a good pile inside the blocks, stomp them down. Repeat until the sticks are more or less halfway up the blocks.

2015-04-23 17.30.19

 

Beds filled with dirt. And a chicken…

 

2015-05-04 09.57.38

 

I will be filling the side holes for herbs, but the main bed is ready to go. I’m going to let it settle for a few days to let the dirt get in between all the sticks. It’s supposed to rain, which will also help tamp down the dirt. After that, add more dirt to even it up, and start planting.

Since we have free-ranging chickens, a welded wire cover for each bed is in order. I’ll build those while I’m waiting for the beds to settle.

Cinder blocks around here are usually about $1.00. We used dirt dredged from our creek, but just about any dirt will do. You can put topsoil over the “fill dirt” if you like, or add compost. It doesn’t have to be an expensive process to get a nice raised bed. And if you decide to take the bed down at some point, the blocks can be reused, and the dirt/sticks (or what’s left of the sticks) can be spread around.

 

 

 

Day 303 – cow poop

2013-10-30 08.12.22

This is a garden full of poop! After 3 years (yes, you read that right), we decided it was about time to clean the barn out since we had to cut some beef steers out for processing, and it was getting a little sloppy in the door area.

We’ve been having some problems the soil in this garden over the last couple of years, so are doing some hard core soil amendment – manure, green manure, probably some straw, then legumes to be planted in the spring. A couple years of that, and we hope the soil is back to normal. We’ll be using the other garden for our food crops while this one rests and recuperates.

And it doesn’t stink because we periodically added straw to help the manure break down better. Animal poop doesn’t have to smell bad – it’s all about the microbes. If you give them something good to eat (like straw or wood chips), they do their job and the poop doesn’t stink.

Day 271

It occurs to me that I should be paying more attention to this blog!  With my laptop gone, I have to remember to use the “big screen” because my tablet makes it a little convoluted to post.  Here’s to good intentions! Things have definitely picked up around here – my two classes are taking their […]

It occurs to me that I should be paying more attention to this blog!  With my laptop gone, I have to remember to use the “big screen” because my tablet makes it a little convoluted to post.  Here’s to good intentions!

Things have definitely picked up around here – my two classes are taking their amount of time, and it doesn’t help matters that I’m creating everything for my humanities class. But that also means that when I teach it again, I will have much more time to tweak things and not worry about having to make a presentation for the next class.  Good news there.

The barn is filled with hay – next step is to go back out and mow the second cutting. For that, we all need to be healthy and able to sit on a tractor for hours. We’re working on that. It may be a touch of the flu, it’s definitely allergies, and all the bean/corn dust in the air from harvesting isn’t helping one bit. If you’re driving down the road in the morning and notice what looks like smoke hanging over a harvested field – that’s probably dust still hanging in the air from the combine harvesting the day before. And it is horrible for breathing!

Remember these cute, fuzzy things?

IMG_0370

They now look like almost proper chickens, just smaller:

2013-09-28 08.26.46They still have the fuzzy chick head, but the rest of them look like proper Barred Rocks. I didn’t know this, but their legs have black bands on them.

Lovely harvest moon the other evening – hope you had a chance to see it. Yes, those are geese!

2013-09-18 19.27.31

 

We have a couple large stands of pampas grass (a tall, decorative grass) that the dogs love to hide in. You’ll be walking around and hear “swish swish” as they move through. I found Prince hanging out in here the other day:

2013-09-18 14.00.12He’s such a silly dog.

Interwebz shopping is just about awesome. Click, click, and here comes the UPS or FedEx truck with your goodies. I don’t remember ordering this though:

2013-09-19 14.32.27

 

The garden is finished – we got a lot more tomatoes of the vines, harvested the potatoes, and pulled the last cabbages. Now for the clean-up crew.

2013-09-28 08.25.34They’ve done (as always) an amazing job of eating, and they haven’t even been in here a week. After they’re finished, we’ll put them back in the “test garden” to work in there some more, then start our soil amending in this garden – cow/horse manure, straw, and green manure (a seed mixture that fixes nitrogen and other good stuff in the soil). After the green manure has a chance to get started, we’ll probably open the gate for the chickens to scratch around and do their thing. It’s going to be a lot of work (well, what isn’t around here!!), and a lot of poo to move, but in the end, we’ll have better soil for food growing.

If your garden didn’t perform “up to snuff” this year, chances are you may be missing something in the soil. Our corn was pretty lack-luster – small stalks, small ears that weren’t all filled out – so that was our clue that the ground needs some TLC. You can buy soil analysis kits at home improvement stores – try one and see what your soil is telling you.

 

 

 

Day 271

It occurs to me that I should be paying more attention to this blog!  With my laptop gone, I have to remember to use the “big screen” because my tablet makes it a little convoluted to post.  Here’s to good intentions!

Things have definitely picked up around here – my two classes are taking their amount of time, and it doesn’t help matters that I’m creating everything for my humanities class. But that also means that when I teach it again, I will have much more time to tweak things and not worry about having to make a presentation for the next class.  Good news there.

The barn is filled with hay – next step is to go back out and mow the second cutting. For that, we all need to be healthy and able to sit on a tractor for hours. We’re working on that. It may be a touch of the flu, it’s definitely allergies, and all the bean/corn dust in the air from harvesting isn’t helping one bit. If you’re driving down the road in the morning and notice what looks like smoke hanging over a harvested field – that’s probably dust still hanging in the air from the combine harvesting the day before. And it is horrible for breathing!

Remember these cute, fuzzy things?

IMG_0370

They now look like almost proper chickens, just smaller:

2013-09-28 08.26.46They still have the fuzzy chick head, but the rest of them look like proper Barred Rocks. I didn’t know this, but their legs have black bands on them.

Lovely harvest moon the other evening – hope you had a chance to see it. Yes, those are geese!

2013-09-18 19.27.31

 

We have a couple large stands of pampas grass (a tall, decorative grass) that the dogs love to hide in. You’ll be walking around and hear “swish swish” as they move through. I found Prince hanging out in here the other day:

2013-09-18 14.00.12He’s such a silly dog.

Interwebz shopping is just about awesome. Click, click, and here comes the UPS or FedEx truck with your goodies. I don’t remember ordering this though:

2013-09-19 14.32.27

 

The garden is finished – we got a lot more tomatoes of the vines, harvested the potatoes, and pulled the last cabbages. Now for the clean-up crew.

2013-09-28 08.25.34They’ve done (as always) an amazing job of eating, and they haven’t even been in here a week. After they’re finished, we’ll put them back in the “test garden” to work in there some more, then start our soil amending in this garden – cow/horse manure, straw, and green manure (a seed mixture that fixes nitrogen and other good stuff in the soil). After the green manure has a chance to get started, we’ll probably open the gate for the chickens to scratch around and do their thing. It’s going to be a lot of work (well, what isn’t around here!!), and a lot of poo to move, but in the end, we’ll have better soil for food growing.

If your garden didn’t perform “up to snuff” this year, chances are you may be missing something in the soil. Our corn was pretty lack-luster – small stalks, small ears that weren’t all filled out – so that was our clue that the ground needs some TLC. You can buy soil analysis kits at home improvement stores – try one and see what your soil is telling you.

 

 

 

Day 76 – what chickens do

076Chickens can be rather focused and destructive little creatures – scratching and pecking their way through the yard.  They can demolish seedlings, vegetable plants and flowers in a heartbeat.  But their scratching and pecking also serves to aerate the ground, eat up weed seeds, and in the case of the above picture, demolish an old hay bale and improve the soil.

There used to be a round bale here.  It was set up on end, for the rain to more easily soak through and hasten the rotting process.  That allows worms and such to enter from the bottom and do their thing.  The chickens work on getting the grass seeds out of the bale, discover “hey, there’s worms in here!!” and start tearing it apart.  It takes them awhile, but the bale is still rotting and also being shredded, then it all gets worked into the soil.  Poof!  We’ve just improved the soil quality in that area!  All with very little effort on our part, soil has been aerated, and fertilizer has been added.

 

 

Day 56 – wasted, but not really

056Goats, at least ours, waste a lot of hay.  They tear into a bale, eat through the center, it collapses, then they trample/poo on more than what they end up eating.  It’s irritating, and we could fix it by putting the hay bale in a feeding ring or something, but it’s not all a loss.  The goats are being wintered over in the test garden – there is also a large fenced-off area where we keep the meat chickens while they are growing..

What do messy goats have to do with chickens?  Well, plenty!  There are lots of little wiggly things now living in that big pile of hay the goats are standing in – wiggly things that chickens love to eat.  And there’s poo, which chickens also love to scratch through for little nummies.  Between the goats stomping around in it, and the chickens later scratching and stomping around, this hay will further decompose and become – soil!  Which will be home to lots of little wiggly things for chickens to eat.

So, this looks like a big pile of wasted hay, but in the end, it will still feed the chickens, which will feed you!

 

Spring is in the air, which means mud on my knees

I haven’t disappeared: I”ve been farming. As you might imagine, spring is a busy time of year. This year started with banding steers and selling off our excess calves, interspersed with planting our garden. We got our next load of … Continue reading

I haven’t disappeared: I”ve been farming.

As you might imagine, spring is a busy time of year. This year started with banding steers and selling off our excess calves, interspersed with planting our garden. We got our next load of 75 meat chicken peeps in (they’ll be ready in Septemberish) and we’ll be adding to our laying flock in the next month or so.

We built a mobile pen system for our mowing goats, which makes moving them from place to place much easier than it was last year. I hope to detail that undertaking in a separate post.

Also, the warm spring means haying time is already here, and we’ll probably have our first cutting down in the next few weeks.

What kind of food production activities does spring bring for you? Let me know in the comments.

DLH

Spring is in the air, which means mud on my knees

I haven’t disappeared: I”ve been farming. As you might imagine, spring is a busy time of year. This year started with banding steers and selling off our excess calves, interspersed with planting our garden. We got our next load of 75 meat chicken peeps in (they’ll be ready in Septemberish) and we’ll be adding to […]

I haven’t disappeared: I”ve been farming.

As you might imagine, spring is a busy time of year. This year started with banding steers and selling off our excess calves, interspersed with planting our garden. We got our next load of 75 meat chicken peeps in (they’ll be ready in Septemberish) and we’ll be adding to our laying flock in the next month or so.

We built a mobile pen system for our mowing goats, which makes moving them from place to place much easier than it was last year. I hope to detail that undertaking in a separate post.

Also, the warm spring means haying time is already here, and we’ll probably have our first cutting down in the next few weeks.

What kind of food production activities does spring bring for you? Let me know in the comments.

DLH

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