Plugging along, this is the March weather we expect. Cool and rainy. So most “garden” work is really in the greenhouse. Seeding, weeding, and biding our time. All the first direct seeded plantings of carrots, beets, peas, and cilantro (major food group here) are up, and wanting some liberation from weeds. Cabbages, kale and lettuce have been transplanted, and we’re eating the first of the bok choy as greens. No sense in waiting for the heads to form, that will happen soon enough, since I try to seed this every week or two. Spring tonic best describes the feeling and taste of the first tender greens that are young and vibrant, after weeks of raab and nettles, this bok choy and arugula sate the longing for tender young greens.
Seeding list 3/22/15
Cabbage: Nash’s Summer Green, Tokyo Bekana
Cauliflower: Vitaverde, Cheddar, Denali
Mustard: Joi Choi, Ruby Streaks, Early Mizuna, Pink Lettucy
Lettuce: Parris Island, Little Gem, Thai 88, Flashy Green Butter Oak, Hyper Red Rumple, Simpson Elite
Alliums: Ed’s Red Shallot, Blue Solaise Leek
I’ve had some spotty germination on peppers much to my dismay, and after much hand wringing and thinking about the dilemma I decided that I must have a cold spot in one of my heat mats. So I switched a few flats around and finally I’m seeing a little action in the slow pepper rows. I may need to reseed a few varieties. It’s always something, I think, with farming and gardening. A couple of steps ahead and one back. Moving ahead today and potting up tomatoes, they all germinated.
I haven’t written my garden notes down yet for my weekly garden post, but I just had to share these great photos of the English Muffin making marathon the other night. They’re too good not put on the blog, the muffins so-so, I forgot the salt and soda…but the photos, they’re outstanding. You may have also noticed that I started an Instagram page. Not to take away from my
long-winded long hand blog, but more as a way to share day-to-day stuff that never makes it to the blog or would be included in a blog post. Not that every second on the farm isn’t important, but sometimes it’s pretty mundane. Life is made up of small little happenings, some planned some not. I’m not a poet, don’t get it actually, but I sure can see the poetry of farm life. So I’ll leave the blog for what I want to say, and use Instagram for what I see minute to minute. I also think Instagram may provide a more well-rounded snapshot of a day on our farm.
The “problem” with these muffins is that you can’t just eat one, luckily I have lots of starter left, so I can redeem myself and include the salt and soda this time.
As the name implies, deep bedding is an apt description. That’s the idea, you are capturing as much manure and urine with carbon as you can, while you’re resting your pasture.
See that gate in the back? It’s mounted high with a hog panel attached at the bottom to accommodate the bedding buildup and to keep folks in…yes, cows go under things too, besides over. Enamored with the idea of Polyface Farm’s feeding shed we decided that might work here too, so we built this simple shed onto our existing haybarn. Logs and telephone poles, oh my. Poor boy building at its best. Especially if you’re a little skeptical if the idea will work or not.
Besides making the feeder gate moveable so it could accommodate the bedding buildup and allow the cows to eat comfortably, we needed to install the rub log in sort of the same manner.
The rub logs in this barn in the photo above are fixed, and since the barn is sided with wood siding we don’t allow the bedding to build up. But rub logs or something similar are pretty important in the feeding shed to keep the cows in, or from knocking over the cattle panels we have installed as a makeshift fence.
Certainly logs or poles are stronger than dimensional lumber too, and in our case we have them on hand. In case you’re wondering…there is a fence in that blackberry hedge but it’s hard to maintain due the fact it is a shared fence line with a neighbor. But back to the log, and the raising it as the bedding builds up. Too low and somebody will get knocked over it during horseplay or fighting. Don’t ask me how I know this. The cows buck and kick and fight in here all the time even though they are basically getting along. The log is a simple, inexpensive solution to a problem.
When I see the log only at hock height on the cows, it’s time to raise it. If we leave it too low, someone (someone meaning a cow) will get knocked over it and possibly get hurt, or if it’s too high a calf can squirt right under it. In the course of the winter feeding period the log may need raising several times. Right now the bedding is almost three feet deep as indicated by the hog panel attached to the end gate.
Raising the log could be done with a tractor with a loader or forks, or the simplest way is to use a come-along. It takes all of five minutes. Usually raising the middle first, then one end is all that is required.
The beauty of the simplicity in materials is that it is low-cost, and multi-use. If we ever decide to use this shed for something else, the log could always be firewood or…
It’s felt like spring for quite a while now, but the beef cows are in the feeding shed/sacrifice area until the first part of April at least. Waiting for grass to grow is agonizing. Feeding out the winter’s hay supply is also agonizing.
Every morning the shed looks like this. The front of the shed where the feeder panels are is the most soiled, and most compacted due to the fact that the cattle stand there to eat. After they fill up, they lounge in the back.
So every morning, we run the cows outside so we can bed in peace. A dog helps, while we don’t use our pups for herding, they sure come in handy to keep the cows out of the barn. Aussies are nice that way, they need a little bit of a job, but not too much.
Rather than have a sacrifice pasture, we have a sacrifice area. The smaller the better, because it will forever be a
ruined sacrificed area. So much impact, so much manure and urine, it grows weeds mostly through the summer. So you either build a gigantic barn or you have an area like this. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not pretty.
Our bedding material of choice is straw, usually oat or barley depending on what is available from the farmer we buy our straw from. Economics plays a part here, as the grain straw is the most affordable. Shavings or wood chips would be great and have a higher carbon component which translates to a higher manure and urine absorption rate, but wood products are expensive. If you have access to free wood chips from utility crews, nab the chips. We’re always on the lookout for carbon to add to the fertility machine. This might be a good place to add that the higher the carbon bedding material is, the less time you have to spend laying down bedding. Other factors too are the number of animals and the space. You get a feel for it. You want the animals to have a clean, comfortable bed but it doesn’t have to fair stall quality either. Basically just avoid the caked on manure look that is unfortunately too common.
After we banish the cows we put the determined amount of bales in the shed. Wet days we use more, dry days less. About once a week we add shavings/horse manure to up the carbon ratio a bit, and maybe a bag of lime. You’ll develop an eye for what is needed. Just remember this is fertilizer you are making for your farm.
We keep close track of the twine, it either ends up in a cow, or in the compost and wrapped about the beaters and other various parts of the manure spreader. Neither option is good. Sick cows and a mad husband are two things I really don’t want to see.
Our tool of choice for breaking up the straw flakes? A three-tined pitchfork. These are our hay forks and never to be confused with a manure fork. That being said, we are very careful to only stab the clean straw flakes with the tines of these forks. 1) I want to keep manure away from the hay the cows have to eat. 2) It’s easier, manure forks have more tines and don’t glide as easy into the straw. So cleanliness and less work. If that’s still confusing, just think of your household and the toilet brush, yes, it’s a brush but you probably wouldn’t use it to scrub anything your food touches. The pitchforks are tools and have specific uses. Our manure forks are always stored away from the hay areas, and the hay forks are usually stored stabbed into the hay or straw.
I have to say, I bed Jane’s stall by shaking a few flakes of straw after picking her stall each day, and that is about the limit for my hands and wrists. It’s the one chore on the farm and in the garden that kills my hands. The pitchfork method is much easier on the wrist, but it does take some forearm strength to shake those bales out. I split a lot of firewood and hand milk so that seems to keep my forearms in shape for this chore.
Inside starts are begging to be transplanted.
Or germinating at a fast rate. Plants seeded on Wednesday the 11th are already peeking out of their cells. One good thing about doing custom seeding is that we can experiment with varieties we may not buy for ourselves. We always seed extra to make sure we have enough to fill the custom order, and many times we end up with an extra or two to grow out.
This weeks seeding list:
Super Sweet 100
Japanese Black Trifele
Amish Paste Kapuler
Red Ruffled Pimiento
Numex Joe E. Parker
Basque (same as Espellete…maybe)
File this under oddity, or things that happen on old farms, I found a can of bean seed in the basement this weekend. I thought the coffee can was empty and when I picked it up I felt the heft. I was getting all CSI with my free Harbor Freight flashlight, and lo and behold there are those Aztec bean seeds my mom had saved, and I was sure I had thrown away. Those will be on the germination test list this next week. We’ll see if thirty year old bean seed will germinate.