It’s 40°F this morning, beef stew sounds good, so I go about gathering the ingredients for the evening meal. All the while I have in my thoughts a novel I just finished about folks who settled here in my town. Written by the great-granddaughter of the immigrants, the story tells of the hardships they suffered carving a farm out of tall timber in the rugged hills above the Columbia River. She weaves good fiction about real people and real places and makes me feel spoiled. Her great-grandmother had no freezer for beef, nor tractor to till the garden for vegetables or even a NOAA site for a pinpoint weather forecast. They walked everywhere. The author’s ancestors and mine settled here in the same time frame. I can only imagine the similarities in the two families and the situations they faced.
And I was whining about suiting up in rain gear to go move the cows. Gah. All I have to do is throw this together and put it on the back of the cookstove, and maybe whip up some biscuits at dinnertime.
Our stew ingredients do come from here, thank heavens for a farm pantry. Reading Juliana’s hardships as a farmwife though makes me feel a little weak in the knees. In the stew today (all easily come by I might add).
Beef stew meat – freezer (thawed out yesterday because I do have access to a weather report)
sweet corn – freezer
green beans – canned
carrots – canned
tomatoes – canned
potatoes – storage (optional here due to allergy, I cook them separate for individual addition at serving)
onion – dry storage
garlic – dry storage
herbs – dry storage
I’m addicted to deep bedding!
My lights are on, but I’m not home
My mind is not my own.
My heart sweats, my body shakes
Another wheelbarrow is all it takes
It’s hard not to get excited about all that BS!
Greenhouse, planting that is.
Greenhouse 2 was originally built for winter poultry keeping, complete with a foyer for feed and supply storage. Now that foyer with its concrete sill and doors is a little bit of an obstacle when you’re on a tractor… . For the most part, the tractor tracks are my paths, so with a little hand shaping this house can be gradually planted out.
This greenhouse is about planted. Outside the soil is too wet to be worked without wrecking the soil structure.
On our farmstead the unheated greenhouse season extension tool kit weighs heavily towards providing a dry place to plant. Yes, warmth and light make a big difference too. But for the most part I have planted crops that could have been planted outside, if the soil was dry enough to work, and then dry enough to maintain. But while I have been tending the greenhouse crops like a July garden, outside it’s still a wet April.
What’s nice about the early spring succession garden in the greenhouse is no bugs, yet. Usually arugula can be a trap crop for flea beetles, but look at that – not a row cover or flea beetle in sight. I owe part of this to resting the greenhouses all winter with no cover, and part to good soil amending. But it’s sure nice not to mess with row cover. It is a mistaken theory that organic vegetables always mean pests just because of lack of pesticides. It’s not that simple. When our soil wasn’t right in this particular house, we had bugs immediately. Now not so much, or not so much that we have to go the row cover pest exclusion route. Crop selection, timing the crop to match the season, and better beneficial habitat have made a huge difference.
Note to self – drying seed stock on the potting bench may lead to a colorful “weed” patch…
Jane and I ruminated over that very subject the other night.
Since “we’re” not milking, I still like to spend a little quality time with Jane. I yak, and she chews her cud and sniffs my hair and gloves to see what’s up.
She heard me rummaging around in the
tie stalls catch-alls, and was curious what I was doing. Spring cleaning was up, which is much more fun in the barn than in the house for sure. Pawing around in the dark corners near the mangers is sure to bring something to the top. Good thing bugs don’t bother me, because I am sure spiders and other fun critters abound in the recesses of those stalls. I found a little galvanized bucket of stuff, junk mostly, that I think my kid squirreled away at some point when she was tiny, and sort of a klepto. A cracked Fiestaware teacup, horseshoe, T-post clips, pliers, and a cool old fence tightener, plus other odds and ends of stuff you might find in a barn.
Actually I pondered, Janey just cudded with approval. Kind of like nodding to your spouse when they are talking… .
A clean slate? What is that? I am sometimes envious of folks who start out farming in some place new or at least new to them. Whether it be a bare piece of land that was carved off some other farm or forest, or a farm. You see it’s pretty easy to trash the previous owners when you have no connection to them or the junk piles. One man’s junk, is well, another man’s junk, if you know what I mean.
So, because I am always trying to fit new things in with the old, I get pulled up short quite a bit. You would think planting a row of raspberries would be a simple thing. Just do it.
Well, I have to say our berry patch has been the bane of my existence for the last twenty years. Here you either build an eight foot fence around your garden compound for deer and elk abatement, or you place your gardening plots close to your house and keep a dog or three. So my choices are either take up more space in the pasture and add a wildstock fence, or stack that berry patch in the zone within close proximity of the house. Complicating that second choice is that the only open area is right where an old building used to be. Namely a shop that spanned horse power days to petroleum days. We have learned over the years that old building sites that contained fuel, batteries etc., are not always the best place for long-lived perennial plants like berries. I had one row left that I knew was a good, clean berry loving spot.
So what becomes a simple – strip the sod, amend the soil type of afternoon turns into an archaeological dig of sorts spanning more than a couple of decades. And unlike a new to this land person, I am curious about my findings. Whose hands touched those metal reminders of farming seasons past? I don’t cuss them for leaving a mark, it’s a tiny connection to the what living and farming went on here before. It’s part of my past. But it’s not a clean slate by any means. It’s more a diary of farming in the days before plastic. I shudder to think of the next hundred years, drip tape, row cover, greenhouse plastic, plastic gas cans, even in the woods, a plastic wedge and a pop can will show how far we’ve come. Rusty old metal parts and pieces do eventually blend in. Plastic not so much. I’m torn, I’m pretty used to the wonders of plastic, and I know that legacy will be with us in the future too, just like all this stuff in the farm shop turned berry patch.
This is just what we found this time, when we first worked this up with a disc and harrow twenty years ago, we found things you don’t want to find with a disc…
This week’s haul ranged from rein terrets, railroad spikes, square nails, round nails, round stock, glass shards, babbitt, buggy parts, and hooks, right up to a modern-day fuel pump piece and some kind of shaft from some long ago beat up piece of farm equipment.
So I sifted and inspected.
Added to replace what I took away, and in the row that contained the few heirloom raspberries I have saved, (for what reason I am not sure, they are not that productive – a connection perhaps?) I planted a nice bundle of new berries.
his time of year will tell you if you planned your pantry well enough last year. Pantry planning and preserving the harvest is a tall order to fill. Many times you do have to strike while the iron is hot and preserve a bounteous crop. Crops fail, time runs out, or life gets in the way. Our once in a blue moon crop is Italian prunes. My favorite. We’ve had two good years in a row, I can’t escape the feeling that we won’t continue to be so lucky. It’s about the same with wild mushrooms, you just never know what you’re going to get until you get it.
So as a preserver you soldier on planning for a good crop. You also try to hedge your bets by using a variety of techniques to bring food to the table year-round. I would be lost without our freezers, but to have a well-rounded pantry you can’t just rely on a freezer, you need to dehydrate, ferment, can, store and push your seasons by eating fresh for as much of the year as you can.
Looking at my canned stores right now I can see if my planning worked out and matched our food needs this past winter. I didn’t can near enough tomato soup, but I have too many whole tomatoes. I tended to reach for the glut sauce that was a mix of tomatoes and herbs much more than the plain whole tomatoes. Tomatoes figured heavily in my canning efforts last year, and we’re low on sauce, salsa, soup and glut sauce. Sigh. All those tomatoey dishes also leaves me short on canned summer squash.
and dried oregano.
Soon we’ll be eating fresh again. My thanks to the greenhouse.
Besides canning stores, I have to stare into the depths of the freezers and really reassess what we used, and make adjustments to my seeding and planting plans if need be. For me the freezer tends to be never-never land unless the item being frozen is in a recognizable form. Soups and precooked foods just end up being dog food here. Actually old dog food, because I have good intentions when I commit the item to the freezer and then when I thaw it out – yuck. Now I just save a step and electricity and give it to the dogs when we’re tired of eating it. I always have a stock pot going making bone broth, so to take some broth, add some vegetables or leftover meat and make soup is like convenience food in my kitchen.
Freezer stores here consist of meats, butter, berries, fruits, mushrooms, peppers and some vegetables. Now in early April we are right about where I expected we would be, things are dwindling, but as greens become available, the need/want for berries and fruit seems to wane. As the years have gone by I have tended to freeze less vegetables in favor of seasonal eating of some crops and just some eating some crops fresh. Snap peas come to mind. I have several gallon bags of pods still in the freezer, and peas up and growing in the greenhouse. We did not eat them at all.
Dry storage crops like potatoes, winter squash, onions and garlic are holding up well too. It looks like we’ll have a good overlap which is where I like to be this time of year.
So again a learning experience with the pantry. I’m trying to see the extras as chicken food and not a total waste.
Did you preserve anything last year that you decided was a waste of time?
It’s that time of year. The daffodils, cows, breeding calendar, and the hay stores tell me it’s time to get the cows back out to start the grazing season. Sacrifice is the name of the game. Sacrifice grass, cows, hay? I need to get the cows out to get some spring tonic (greens) through them to get them in shape for calving. Our first calf could be born as soon as May 12th, so if I want to stick to my 30 day rule of grass before calving I need to get on the stick. You never win on all counts. If I graze too early I will lose some production on the grass side. If I leave the cows in I will feed hay that I feel I can’t spare. Most importantly I want the cows in good shape and ready to calve in May. The grass will grow, it always seems to take forever and then the next thing you know it’s so tall you can’t believe it. So you make a choice, and go with it. Once I start the grazing season I can’t stop until December. I’m a little wistful about the chore change. It’s been a nice break to trek to the haybarn and feed the cows. If there’s a rainstorm, I can duck inside and wait it out. Not anymore. Rain or shine, I need to keep to my schedule of moving the cows every day. At the same time. Just like milking. Talk about a relationship. I am married to my cows.
Transitioning into spring grazing means going through my fencing supplies and making sure every thing is in working order. That task usually amounts to straightening bent posts, checking insulators for weak spots, and then out to the field to check fencing, and build some preliminary fences for the first quick rotation of big paddocks. No small paddocks this time of year, I need to baby the grass like the salad plants in the greenhouse – a leaf here and a leaf there. Tender spring baby grass = big paddocks, tall summer grass = small paddocks.
Straight enough for another season. That’s why I like rebar posts for temporary electric fencing. They are inexpensive, and they last for years and can be recycled right on the farm when they suffer from metal fatigue from being bent too many times.
I have learned over the years that if I leave some of my temporary fence up (un-electrified) during winter, the deer know it’s there and either go over it or under. This saves a lot of time the first week of grazing because not much is new except the cows are back, and the deer aren’t surprised by a fence that suddenly appeared overnight. This two-way gate pictured above actually was a three-way gate for pasture division during winter, but I took out the third one when we moved the cows to the feeding shed for the deep bedding period.
I won’t be dividing the pastures small at first so these gates are not needed this early on, this just becomes a line fence. Tomorrow it will be but a dim memory of what happened here in January because the cows will be onto the next paddock. We will cut hay here so the pasture will grazed lightly for one day, and then rested until hay time in July. Now I will remove all these fences and put them into service in other pastures.
Most of our electric fence is powered by a 12 volt battery system. Maintenance here at the fence hub consists of checking the ground rod connections, mounting the energizer, and installing a freshly charged battery. This hub is placed at an end brace in one of our permanent cross fences. Three separate pastures are powered from this hub, gate handles at the terminus or beginning (depending on how you look at it) allow me to unhook the power to the fences I am not using so I can conserve my battery, and not have to spend time to check fences I don’t plan to use immediately.
For the first day the cows will be in a small field adjacent to where this fence has been all winter, and since this fence was already here, I just needed to change how it ended and have it almost ready for the second day of grazing. Electric fencing does not need to be connected in a continuous circuit, it can just end. This is the goofy fence with the gate in the middle in the photos above, so basically I have two spools of fence running from the insulator with two loops from the middle of the run and they end with spools at opposite ends of the pasture. Many of my fences are long runs for a strip built along a keyline, with shorter cross fences for making paddock divisions. From a top view it looks like a ladder – the sides are the long runs and cross fences are the rungs. I confess to some OCDness, but I draw the line at measuring out electric fencing on a daily basis. (Acreage measurements aren’t as important as teaching yourself to use a grass eye. You need to be able to judge forage instead of space.) So I walk twenty paces (I’ve got long legs, my daughter is shorter and she needs to go twenty-four steps to go the same distance) and put in a post, and continue in this manner until I reach the end of the line. Kind of. To keep things simple (because this fence won’t be here very long) and to use what I have on hand, I place the second to last post less than ten paces from the end to act as brace for the long fencing runs. At the end I use two posts close together to hold and store my fence spool, rather than tying it off with twine to something or just hoping it will stay put on one post. If you figure I have just spooled out 200 yards of wire I need something solid at the end or the weight of that fence will pull over my spool. Hence the brace post placed with closer spacing near the fence end. I pull the fence taut, wrap the wire on the insulator on the brace post and then reel out the wire to the end two posts, wrap the wire on the insulators and install the wire spool on the two posts making sure no wire is touching the metal rebar post. Using the brace post close to the end insures that my fence won’t get pulled over in the night either by sheer tension, or any shenanigans that happen in the dark…
Electric fencing works because it is a psychological barrier, so I have no need to build Fort Knox every single day. It’s too much work just to be taken down again the next day. I can end my fence “near” the permanent fence. The cows will not get near that gap because they fear that shock. That’s why you can turn off your fence, build your new fence and the cows will stay put. It’s all psychological really, they know the fence is likely to be on, or could be, and they also know because your such a diligent farmer that you are there to “feed” them with new pasture. So if you’re committed to rotational grazing your cows, make sure you don’t damage the relationship with a skewed schedule, strive for about the same time for paddock shift everyday, just like milking a cow. You have to be there or plan accordingly.
Day two for that spool that wasn’t connected? I’ll release a loop and lightly twist it onto the hot wire that comes from the hub and runs along my permanent cross fence, now this section is the electrifying portion and I can drop the first fence from the system. This is just one scenario, and the way the fence is yesterday and today. Next time it may be a gate hooked into the hot wire instead of the spool. Just remember to keep the temporary idea in temporary fencing. The “gate” is also a state of mind. This morning I released the spool and moved the cows through here instead of making them go to where the actual gate handle was. We see gate handles, cows see a hole in the fence, they are much more flexible than humans.
Since we’re easing back into daily moves, I try to take every opportunity to call the cows and reinforce that when I call them, they need to come to me. Water trough placement depends on where your fence is going to be, so many times I don’t move the trough until the new fence is in place, trying to take into consideration if I can span two paddocks and save a day of hauling water. The cows weren’t thirsty yet yesterday when this photo was taken, but they still came when I called. They politely took a drink, checked the minerals, gave a cow shrug and then walked off to graze, run and play. This type of remedial training helps the young ones understand what is expected of them.
Some key points to remember:
♥ Don’t build temporary fence like a permanent fence. If you make the system too complicated, you won’t be as apt to move it often enough. Cows are the simplest animals to confine with electric fencing, a single wire does the trick. Anything more is overkill, which in turn takes more time to set up and then you can defeat the purpose of rotational grazing. Keep it simple.
♥ Provide fresh range and fresh water daily. This goes for any species – if you don’t want to drink the water your animals would prefer not to also.
♥ Transition your animals onto fresh grass slowly, watch their left side for rumen fill and if they are indented a little in front of the hipbone, feed some hay to help them balance their digestive system. Spring grass is a tonic, and doesn’t offer much in the way of feed value, offer free choice loose minerals too for balance.
♥ Take notes or make a grazing map and date it. Paddock size depends on time of year and grass growth, you’ll be amazed at what you forget. My forage changes so much that where I have one large paddock now, come July that same portion of the field may yield twenty-one days of grazing instead of one. Seeing it on my maps later is helpful information.
♥ If your cows are reluctant to move to the next paddock you’ve made your paddock too big, if they are chomping at the bit, you’ve not allotted enough grass. Adjust your plans to match the cows.
♥ Most of all remember that you’ll misjudge the forage from time to time. Don’t sweat it, and strive to make amends with your cows on the next opportunity. They won’t hold it against you, I promise.