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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pasture Preparation

I'v been busy getting one of our pastures ready for our intensive rotational grazing setup. This pasture is about 12 acres and is divided in to a grid of mown lines running east and west, and north and south across the whole pasture. Each square in the grid is 82 x 82 feet. I keep the lines mowed throughout the grazing months and the sheep and goats do the rest! Well not really, someone has to move the portable electric netting once every day sometimes twice this is primarily me. Our farm gets a lot of attention from passerby's on the road because of this. sometimes we'll meet somebody for the first time and when telling them where we live they'll say "oh are you at the place where the sheep and goats are in a different spot when ever we go past?" This goes to show that not many are doing intensive rotational grazing in our area. This is very sad to me it is not good for the health of the Pasture and the animals to stay in one place fore over 24 hours at a time. I if you look at a wild herd of ruminant animals their always on the move to new feeding places also in a well balanced ecosystem there are predators so they stay close together for protection. We can mimic this wonderful aspect created by God by using portable electric fencing. The fence is like a predator and keeps the herd bunched up and moving every day. Doing it this way improves the health of pasture and the herd.
This is the rotational grazing setup. The sheep&goats eat the grass and then the egg laying chickens follow then the grass is left to re grow.
sometimes we put young cattle in the fence too. We use to run the cows with the sheep and goats, but onetime one of the cows stepped on a sheep and broke it's leg so not any more
This is a wild resident of the pasture, it is a Upland Plover chick.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garden Update

Spring is advancing fast this year so I'm get the early things planted outside already. Today I planted Beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce and cabbage. The cabbage I planted in a cold frame because it likes warm temperature to germinate. Also I planted sugar beets and red mammoth mangel wurzels. These are for the animals to eat in the fall and winter months. I planted more of these beets this year than I did last year I planted them where I'm going to plant the corn in one long row about 600 feet long. While I was planting all this by hand with a hoe and enjoying the feel of the damp soil on my bare feet the was quite a contrast on the other side of the road. The commercial crop farm across the way is being leased out to a large agribusiness from down state. They seem to have a lot of money (or should I say debt and farm subsidies? ) by the look of their brand new tractors and matching red pickup trucks! The land is being leased out by one of the farmer families that has been farming this valley since the it was first settled in the late 1800's. It is sad to see this large farm gulp up more land. They own a piece of farm land across road from the land they're renting this land was once two family dairy farms with old growth trees in the fence lines. One farm even had a 10 acre remnant of Virgin forest that was the farm families sugar bush. When this big farm bought it they cut down all the trees to make way for irrigation pivots (an automatic watering system). This is bad for us as a small pesticide herbicide free farm. Last year they spayed their carrot field 20 or more times using a airplane and then when it came time too harvest they did not harvest all the carrots and let them rot in the field, what a disgusting wasteful way to "farm". This year this agribusiness is going to plant potatoes for a seed crop on this rented land for their big potato farm down state. So I guess there will be more foolish spraying than ever this year and what makes it worse it will be right across the road from us.
This is one of our gardens every thing is planted in beds with foot paths in between .
The oats, barley, and red clover are up and growing good now.
This is my propagation garden in it I have planted several heritage wheat, and oat varieties. And also a number of heirloom root crop vegetables that make seed in their second year, including rutabagas, table beet, onions, carrots, sugar beet and red mammoth mangel wurzels. I have never saved seed before from these kind of vegetables, it will be interesting to see how each one goes to seed.
This is the same part of the garden that my blog header picture was taken last summer. It is neat to see how different it looks in the spring!
The giant tractor disking up the field.

Here is a close up view
Here is a picture I took last year of the the pickle field being sprayed. Yes that is a pallet of bee hives for pollination of the cucumbers in the foreground, I'm glad their not my hives no wonder the bees are dying . I think I'm going to have to move my bees out of this pesticide strewn valley this year.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Long Days

The days are growing noticeably longer with each passing. This is my most favorite time of the year(spring in the north). I don't think I would like living in The Land Of The Midnight Sun though I would like to experience 24 hours of sunlight someday. I think 18+ hours is enough for me! It is such a wonderful design the Creator put into place for all of us who live in the north. With such a short growing season we can still plant tropical plants such as corn and tomatoes, because of the long daylight hours, though the past two years have been a struggle do to cloudy wet wether. Another nice thing is it allows more time to get things done especially getting in the hay for the winter.
I have been busy getting ready to plant field corn about( 1.5 acres) we're planing on planting it by hand. I was going to plant it with the neighbor's four row corn planter but then I decided to plant it in hills every 36 inches both ways acrossed the field. This is the way corn was planted by the Indians and traditional farmers and how I planted it last year. This way of planting corn is called checked corn. And is the best way to plant the old verities of corn. The field is all ready for planting so when the rainy wether clears and the oak leaves are the size of squirrel's ears it will be time to plant the corn
Also today we had two more kids born.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Natural pest control

I think this is a Tiger Beetle or maybe a Searcher Beetle, it is a good bug that eats bad bugs.
I found it out in one of the pastures today it was running in a open place in the grass and its iridescent spots caught my eye. One way I attract these good beetles is by leaving wild places around our vegetable gardens. By doing this there is no need for pesticides even the so called "organic/natural" ones such as Pyrethrum. It is the most widely used "natural" pesticide and is derived from the chrysanthemum plant. There is another one called Organocide and is a mixture of 5% Sesame oil, 92% fish oil, and emulsifiers 3%. These sound sort of natural, what's wrong with them? There all from plants and animals. Well lets look at the chrysanthemum plant where was it grown? Were rain forests cut down, or some other ecosystem destroyed in order to plant a mono-crop of chrysanthemums to meet the world's demand for Pyrethrum? What about the Sesame oil? Was the Sesame grown sustainably? Or was it sprayed with Pyrethrum to kill the bad bugs! What about the fish oil? Fish certainly grow naturaly right? Well sadly maybe not these days. As the world's demand for fish goes up and there is no longer enough fish for every one in the ocean and lakes. We are starting to see more fish raised on fish farms. And the fish are eating a mostly corn (maize) diet. Fish eating corn? Yes they are breeding fish that can grow on corn more than likely GMO. Also the fish are fed antibiotics to keep them "healthy". So if you don't Want to support all this non earth friendly stuff, but still think you "need" to use something like Organocide. Why don't I make my own? Easy, just find some very Eco friendly Seseme oil and fish oil at the local health food store. What would be wrong with this? Nothing, you could eat it, its all food grade. But wait why do you think you "need" to spray this on your plants? Oh I have this little mite sucking the juice out of some of my plants and I read this will kill them. Well mites are related to spiders and so you may be killing them too. The spiders eat a lot of bad bugs and maybe mites too. So don't spray and let the good bugs kill the bad.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Package Bees

To day I picked up 4 bee packages from a near by beekeeper. A bee package is a small screened box with 3 pounds of worker bees, a caged queen bee, and a tin can of sugar syrup so they can have something to eat on the trip up from the southern states. And is one of the ways to start new hives.
a package of bees is about 9000 bees
The four bee packages waiting to be in stalled in hives
Me taking the bees out to the apple orchard where I set up their new homes
Getting the bee smoker going
Shaking the bees out of the box and into their hive
This is one of the queen cages it is designed to slowly release the queen. It has a plug of fondant candy that the bees eat to let the queen out.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Yesterday one of the goats gave birth to three kids, one is a buck and two are does. We were surprised she had triplets since she did not look big enough. This goat has never had just one kid though, she had twins her first time. Also another Shetland sheep had twin ewe lambs a few day back so now the young of the herd is 3 lambs, and 4 kids.

Also we got a frost last night. The peach tree is in bloom and I hope the blossoms didn't freeze. The tree was planted by the previous farm owners and is on the south side of the barn. This is good for the peach tree since it is protected from north winds. Its a little to far inland to plant peach trees here in Michigan all the peach orchards are closer to Lake Michigan in what is called the fruit belt and is planting zone 6 but some of the orchards still get hit hard by frost. Which will probley happen this year since we had such worm days this early spring and the fruit trees are blooming too soon. We are zone 4/5 so we don't always get peaches from our tree. But maybe with the compost pile so close to the tree it will keep it warm at night.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Yesterday we went to sell things the farmers market. it was nice to be setup in doors out of the cold wether. Yes it went from 80 on wednesday to cold and a little snow in the air on Saturday! I was not too surprised though because the third saturday of April is the spring consignment auction day. It seems to either rain or snow on that day. This is a good thing though for the sale because, as the auctioneer once said in his opening speech "Now I pick a rainy cold day so you all can come, no one is out sunning on the beach or raking their lawn." We stopped by the auction on our way back from the market to see the goings on there. You can bring any thing to this auction to have it sold to the highest bider so there is a lot of stuff to look at. mostly farm stuff and used vehicles and a tent of antiques. There are twelve rows of stuff for sale and three or four auctioneers and hundreds of people. We did not stay long it was late in the day and cold.
A GMC pickup we saw there with a lode of goodies from the sale
Back view of the North woods style political sign!
Scrap steel is $290. a ton so it looks like the someone is going to make a few bucks!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sheep shearing day

To day I sheared ten of our twelve sheep. I was not planing to shear to day but I noticed that one of the Shetland ewes was rubbing against a bush to snag her wool off. Shetland sheep are a primitive race of sheep and they will shed their wool on there own if it is left on too long in the spring. So I sharpened up the sheep shears and started shearing the one that just had a lamb the same one that was rubbing. This was the sheep's first shearing so the fleece is called a Hogget fleece because the tips of the wool locks is the wool the sheep was born with last year. I shear with hand shears they are shaped like two chef knives on a loop of spring steel which is the handle and look like a giant pair of scissors and are razor sharp. I can shear a sheep in 15-25 minutes depending on the size of the sheep. This is a lot slower than someone using power shears though the man who taught us could do it in 8 minutes. The 2 sheep left to shear are going to have their lambs any day so I'll wait till after they lamb to shear them.
Shearing a Polypay sheep
and shearing a Shetland
All done, Ah that feels much better
New mother takes a rest with her lamb after a bad hair day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Northern Lights

Last night we got home at dark from visiting friends. While unloading a sheep we picked up at my sisters house I noticed a glowing ark from east to west above the wooded hills to the north. At first I thought it was the lights of Traverse city lighting up ice crystals in the sky, which sometimes happens. Then the ark began to dance and swirl and spokes of light shot up from the the ark like spokes on a wagon wheel. Than the ark became a wide certain of light rippling, folding, and swirling. The lights lasted for half an hour slowly shrinking out of view. It was nice seeing the lights again we had not seen them fore several years. This is because we have had a period of low solar activity that causes northern lights. I had read that we should be seeing them again in 2011 so I'm glad there back early. It is nice to live in the North and be able to see this great work of God in the heavens.
Here is some pictures of aurora borealis or northern lights I got off the web
This picture was taken in our area on Lake Leelanau.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

New lamb and kid

Today we had two babies born one was a Shetland lamb, and one was a kid goat. Both where first time mothers all went well and there was no human intervention. I was planting seeds into soil blocks in the sugar house when I heard the goat cry out a couple times I finished planting the onion seeds and then went to the barn. I was surprised to see that the kid was all ready out and taking its first breaths! This all happened within a half hour since the goat was last checked on. Then I looked to see if the ewe had a lamb, It did! there the lamb was lying in a sunbeam the mother, grandmother, and the great grandmother ewes were all licking it of! This I how I think the birthing should be even in a domestic animal. It is encouraging to see that I am getting closer to my goal for a herd of low maintenance animals that do good on grass only and live a long live without a lot of inputs. Such as commercial grain mixes, and trace minerals. And no pharmaceuticals such as selenium, vitamin B, and calcium shots. All this I believe can be done away with by feeding good quality hay, and selective breeding that focusses on not money and weight gain by a certain live stock sale but on good health and weight gain by eating only forage(grass and weeds). Our last batch of lames grew very well on just pasture and were almost to fat at butchering time. They were not the "right size" for bringing much money at the sale though. When you bring lambs to the sale they should be 100 pounds or more to make money or at lest brake even. Our lambs were 60 pounds or so and dressed out at 20-24 pounds this would not bring us much at $0.90 a pound live weight at the lamb sale. But by selling direct to the consumer at $5.00 a pound we can make more than one would make at the sale.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spring snow

Yesterday It snowed all day, the snow was wet and so was the soil so it did not accumulate until the evening. And now this morning there is a light dusting of snow. In 2007 we got a big dump of snow at this time, close to 2 feet of snow. It was sad because it had gotten very warm and all the song birds were back from the south. When the snow melted we found a lot of dead Robins and Meadowlarks. No meadowlarks nested in our paster that year nor the next, last year one pair nested, and this year they seem to be up again in population and I can hear them singing their song that sounds like they're saying. "spring O thee year...... really? YES! O spring..... spring O thee year!" as I write.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"The Dig"

"The dig" is a special place on our farm it is an old narrow gauge railroad grade that was built in the late 1800s' for hauling logs out of the virgin forest by the Buckley&Douglas lumber co.It is now home to hundreds of wild plants and a wide selection of re growth trees. Red oak, sugar maple, Hornbeam, Cork elm, American elm, Basswood, Poplar, American black cherry, Stag horn sumac, and White and Red pine. We call it "The dig" because the original farmers used it for a dump.This junk has been removed but we still dig up some artifacts now and then some are old glass pop bottles and old parts to horse drawn equipment and the such, we have it on display in the back shack.

Blue cohosh
Dutchman's breeches flowers on the side of ''The dig"
An up close view of Dutchman's breeches. They look like little pants on the clothesline!
Some dug up junk on a stump
Moss on a stump
mullein leaves with dew on it
Yellow rocket weed
Solomon's seal root, the circle is what inspired the name
This is a new sprout of Solomon's seal plant
Each year when the plant dies back for the winter it leaves a "seal"
Looking East down "The dig"
Looking West down "the dig"
A trillium about to bloom
This is a Trout Lilly leaf, it looks out of place in this northern climate, more tropical than the other plants around it. It grows in a colony and reproduces by bulb clones and will also sometimes bloom and make seeds with a yellow lilly flower
I do not know what this plant is, it looks like it could be in the Lilly family too.