Friday, June 25, 2010

Compost, garden, and blackberries

I hauled two loads of composting material from the sale barn yesterday. It looks like some nice stuff. I dumped it behind the ridge at the end of the pile two loadsI built back there a few months ago. pushed into a pileUsing the loader tractor, I was able to push it all up together. Now, we’ll let our little bacterial friends do their work, turning the material into black gold, ready to enrich the soil and grow awesome gardens next year!

The original pile I built behind the ridge has shrunk in size quite a bit during the few months it’s been there. We planted some watermelon at its base a few weeks ago which are coming along fine. butternut winter squashWe planted some butternut squash at the base of another small pile. It’s looking happy.

corn fieldI thought I’d share a photo of our poor stand of field corn. We were able to hoe a lot of the weeds and grass out of it last week. I still ought to run the tiller between the rows to get rid of a few more weeds and grass. I hope to be able to get at least enough corn out of it for next year’s seed. I hope the crows aren’t a problem again.

freshly picked blackberriesBefore lunch yesterday, I went out to pick some blackberries. It’s that time of year. With all of the hot weather and lack of rain, it looks like the berries are going to ripen within a short period of time. My dad has been out a few times to pick berries, and he came along and picked with me and gave us the berries! He’s kind like that. Anne canned nine quarts of blackberries after we brought them in.

 jars of blackberries

Friday, June 18, 2010

The work of summer

There’s an amazing amount of work to be done every day. We keep plugging away. I’ve been devoting a lot of time to our house project. We’re making some good progress. You can check it out on my other blog, if you haven’t already.

swimming in the pondThe children and I have enjoyed swimming in the pond several times. They actually ask me if they can go in the pond nearly every day. Usually, there is no real reason not to. The pond isn’t holding water as I would like it to. Water seeps out in several places around the dam. I don’t know if this is something that will correct itself over time as the dam settles more, or not. It’s not a fast leak, but the water level has gone down a fair bit.

We’ve been enjoying some produce from the garden. I didn’t get in a hurry to get the garden planted this spring, so we’re not enjoying things like tomatoes and squash yet. But, those things won’t be too long. We’ve had some nice salads, and the sugar snap peas were awesome! We had new potatoes with our first picking of snap peas a couple of weeks ago. The asparagus did quite well this year, especially considering the small size of our asparagus bed. I think I need to set out about a 1,000 plants!

We’ve been eating fresh black raspberries for the last two weeks. We’re also getting blueberries off of our older plants. Soon, it will be time to begin picking blackberries. Some of the early ones are ripening.

tomatoesYesterday, we got the tomatoes staked up. I like to keep them mulched and hold them up off of the ground. I used to let our Roma tomatoes sprawl out, but now I stake them up, too. They are so much nicer to pick and do better this way.

I drove small posts in the ground and strung baling twine I took off of bales last winter between the posts to hold up the Romas. I’m trying a new method for the Mortgage Lifters: using livestock panels in an A-frame. I learned about this method from another individual who regularly uses it. It is certainly a quicker, easier way to stake up tomatoes.

pole beansWe’re growing pole beans this year. Usually, I plant bush beans. I built a frame work using sycamore poles for the beans to climb on. I may add a few more poles. I have one more row to take care of. I’m thinking I’ll use the livestock panels that we had for the peas. I’m going to save the rest of the peas for next year’s seed. So, they are about done with the panels.

mulched peppers and sweet potatoesThe boys have been working on mulching the plants in the garden. They mulched the potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and squash so far. There are still some more sweet potatoes and tomatoes to mulch. Maybe this next week.

The children, dad, and I spent some time in our small corn field this week. The crows about ruined our corn crop by eating the corn out of the ground before it germinated. I replanted between what came up the first time that the crows didn’t get, but the stupid birds ate most of that, too. I don’t know how well it will produce, but there is some corn growing in the field. The weeds were threatening to take over, though. I tilled between the rows, and then we all worked in the rows with hoes. It was hot and sweaty work, but we got most of it done. I have 4 or 5 rows to do this coming week.

I was able to haul one load of manure and bedding from the sale barn last week. This is a slow time of year for them. Also, since they had to do a thorough cleaning a month or so ago after the flood, there’s been less need for cleaning out. When I can see myself clear to do so, I’m going to start hauling some of the old sawdust from the sawmill.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rotational grazing milk cows: my method

If you observe how a cow eats, it makes sense to rotationally graze them. Ideally, you would give them a new paddock every day with just enough to graze on for that day. They will make the most use of the forage, eating it down more evenly. You can then control their impact on the pasture by not letting them on any area for more than one day every few weeks.

With my milk cows, the ideal is harder to replicate than it would be for a beef herd, because I milk them twice a day. It’s not easy to set up a milking station in a temporary paddock twice a day, at least not for me. I also don’t have water readily available in the pasture where I wish the cows to graze.

Last year, I moved the cows to different paddocks in which they stayed for a few days at a time. This happened in a somewhat disorganized fashion because I didn’t have their movements planned efficiently. I also provided them with access to the barn near which I kept their water trough. I would have to herd them to the barn at milking time every day. Sometimes this involved a walk of considerable distance because their pasture was a long ways from the barn.milking shed and pen

This year I fixed up a small roofed structure I built a couple of summers ago. I intended to make it a milking shed near the pasture I wanted to graze the cows. So, finally, this spring I made it a functional milking shed. It has a small pen to hold the cows during milking time and a stanchion to use while milking. It works quite well for me.

After reading about some others’ experiences and methods for rotationally grazing their cattle, all of them beef cattle, I have developed my own method/routine. It involves corridors for grazing that are the length of the pasture and 45 feet wide. These corridors are fenced with a single strand of electrified high tensile fencing. I subdivide the corridor into paddocks for the cows. Ideally, they would only have access to the new paddock each day, but that would necessitate moving their water every day. So, I creep them down the corridor, giving them a new section in the morning and another new section in the evening after milking time. It takes a week to ten days to creep them the length of one corridor.water for the cows

I keep the cows water near the milking shed. I haul water in a 325 gallon tote which I fill by siphoning water out of our pond and then move on a trailer. This isn’t a perfect situation since they do spend a fair bit of time near the water trough which concentrates their manure in that area. However, it does simplify things for me.

Here are a few photos illustrating my method:

This is the pasture in which I graze the cows. It’s about five acres in size (my guess).

Here are three corridors that have already been grazed. The cows finished on the greenest two and a half weeks ago. They were then on the section visible on the right. On Monday I moved them off of the corridor in the center of the photo. I will bush hog it tomorrow.
  grazed corridors 
This is the last line of high tensile fence I put up. I’ve been adding fence to make corridors as needed. I dig fence post holes at either end and insert cedar posts into them. I’ve found that making the holes about the size of the post, tapering the end of the post, and then pushing it in with the loader on the tractor makes for a tight post that can handle the tension of the fence wire.
 high tensile line
I use poly wire for creeping the cows down the corridor. I have used solid metal electric fence wire, but it’s more of a pain than the flexible poly wire. I tie it to the high tensile wire with a piece of poly baling twine.
 spool of poly wire tied to high tensile wire
The spools I use are ones that came with regular electric fence wire. I had three empty spools, so I use them. I put it on a fence post held near the end with an insulator. This allows me to roll it up and move it easily. With the 45 foot wide corridor, I have a fence post with insulator at either end and one in the middle. I have three poly wires up at one time so that when the cows are in a new section, there are two more ready to go. When I take one down, I move it 8 paces ahead of the last one (8 paces has been the right amount for the cows so far).

spool on fence post
I put the fence post at the end in place so that I can hook the poly wire to it. I formed a hook with electric fence wire to hook onto the insulator. With this method, I can set up the temporary wires while the charger is still on – it’s only electrified when the spool end is wrapped around the high tensile wire.
 wire hook
Since there is no electrical power at my milking shed or near the pasture, I use a solar fence charger. I’ve been very happy with it.

solar fence charger
After I finish milking in the morning and evening, I fill the cows’ water trough and then move the temporary fence line to open a new section. The cows quickly caught on to the routine and are ready to get to the new grass as soon as its available.

happy cows grazing 
I will be adding more high tensile wire to define more corridors in the coming weeks. There will be 5 to 8 weeks between grazing time in the same corridor. The corridors are also wide enough that I can make hay in ones that the cows will not be able to get to.

So far, this system has been working well. It’s easy to move the cows to new grass, keep them where I want them to be, and to get them to the milking shed. They’re usually waiting for me at milking time. I don’t let them into the milking shed pen except at milking time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gardening and house work

We’ve begun another week of work. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to labor on our own projects here on the homestead. It involves a lot of sweat, soreness, and tiredness at times, but there is a simple joy in such work. I think I often take for granted the The new housesituation we enjoy in which there is no one dictating my activities. Reporting for a “regular job” every day with a supervisor telling me what to do would not be nearly as enjoyable.

I’ve been working on our new house. You can read a little about my efforts on my Cedar Ridge Farm blog. It feels good to be making some visible progress on it.

While I’ve been devoting time to house-building (and more extreme composting soon), the children (all four of them) have been taking on more responsibility for the garden. They’ve been pulling a lot of weeds. The boys mulched some of the potatoes the last two days and will mulch more plants today. They also pick potato bugs off of the potato plants. I do pay them a little for removing the bugs as an incentive. We’ve found that if you pick them off and then keep up with them, the number of bugs is greatly lessened to where they aren’t much of a problem in a couple of weeks time.

One of the gardensMulched potatoes and some salad greens
The bean fieldHere is a photo of the field in which I planted the beans for dried beans. It also has squash, winter and summer, and several rows of popcorn that I just planted this week. I also planted a small plot of red indian corn near a compost pile in another place. The Wapsie Valley field corn that I replanted hasn’t come upRoses yet, and the crows are actively picking the kernels out of the ground.

We have lots of roses blooming. There are some light pink and dark pink ones. The children love picking them and presenting their mother and mammaw with bouquets. These roses apparently were started in years past by the residents in the old cabin and have spread over time.

  © Blogger template 'Minimalist G' by 2008

Back to TOP