Monday, July 31, 2006

A discussion on cultivator shovels


We finally got the rain we were looking for! It has rained off and on for the past few days. Sunday for instance, it rained almost the entire afternoon. We sure needed it. The lawn is starting to green up again now that it has had a drink. We had a family reunion to attend this past weekend so I didn't get much of a chance to get any farming accomplished. I came home early though and was home all day Sunday while the family stayed at the reunion. Of course, I wasn't planning on having it rain for most of the day...but I still managed to get the summer fallow worked in the morning. The potatoes are looking great! I checked them carefully for bugs and disease and aside from a little drought stress, everything looks fine. I even have some True Potato Seed pods forming on some of the plants! Most people don't realize that you can propogate potatoes in two ways...one is to plant the tubers as seed potatoes, the other way is to process the seed pods and plant the small potato seeds (they resemble tomato seeds). More about that in another upcoming post.

I wanted to talk today about cultivation and in particular, cultivator shovels and their uses. In the picture are three different shovels or 'sweeps' that I use on a regular basis. Actually with the exception of some minor differences, these are the three types of sweeps that exist to the best of my knowledge. The top sweep goes by any number of names...I know them best as "crows feet" sweeps or "cotton" sweeps. They are designed primarily for the tillage of summer fallow where weed control is desired without a tremendous disturbance of soil. The 'wings' glide under the earth and sever the tap roots of some weeds while throwing other, shallow rooted, weeds onto the surface to dry out and die. I use these sweeps for my summer fallow and other soil that is almost ready for seeding. They are not meant to be used deeply, just under the surface in order to conserve moisture. They work best with loose soil that has few clumps.

The middle sweep is called a "beaver tail". These points are used to disturb the soil in an aggressive manor, but they cannot easily penetrate hard packed or sod types of soil. A perfect use for these sweeps would be when I need to cultivate a green manure crop or stubble. These sweeps work the soil less than a plow but deeper than a disc. It is a deeper tillage designed to aerate and loosen the soil in fall and spring when moisture loss isn't a big concern.

The "chisel point" is an aggressive type of sweep that is quite narrow and sharply pointed as you can see. This point is successfully used in heavily compacted soil or a field that is deeply rooted in sod. I successfully used the chisel points in a field of quack grass. Over the years, this field was allowed to grow out of control. The soil was not hard packed, but was thick with sod, roots and wood debris. I initially tried using the plow, but it kept getting plugged up with all the debris. With several passes, the field gradually turned to dirt to the point where I could harrow between cultivations. This field will be ready for seeding this fall. It will be seeded in a winter cereal crop for grazing. Next spring, we will seed it in pasture.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Corn is Growing


Things appear to be going well with my corn. As I have mentioned earlier, it is a heritage breed of corn from the eastern portion of our Continent. I bought the seed from Agestral Heritage Seeds out of Ontario. It is called Bloody Butcher and grows to a height of 12 feet. The kernals are, obviously, a blood red colour and the plants should have a high yield of large cobs. The corn can be eaten as a sweet corn when it is young, but is mainly used as a feed corn or 'Dent Corn'. This variety of corn is a late maturing variety requiring at least 100 days in the growing season. Here in central Alberta, this is pushing it a bit. We have had a good growing season so far with lots of rain in May and a very dry and hot summer since then. As long as we continue with some good, hot weather and just enough rain to keep the plants happy, I may get some mature cobs. I am hoping to collect enough cobs to keep as seed corn. This variety is an open pollinated variety of corn and there isn't any other type of corn anywhere near our farm that would pollute the pollination. With time and selective breeding, in a few short years I should have a good 'new' type of Bloody Butcher that is suited to our shorter growing season....at least that is the plan.
Right now, the tallest stalks are about 6 feet tall and they all look very healthy. As you can see in the photo, I have had to irrigate a little. When the corn is finally ready to harvest, I will take my choice cobs and put them in the cold room for the winter for seeding next spring and then remove the electric fencing to allow the pigs to go through the corn patch and harvest the rest. Eventually, it is my hope to have large fields of corn growing on our farm. This will be a good source of feed for the animals that will require no gas or machinery to harvest! If all I have to do is move an electric fence every few days to allow for further harvesting...no problem.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chicken Day!


Last night after my ballgame it was time to load chickens to take to the processors. The only processing facility available for us is over 2 hours away and in order for them to be processed organically they have to be delivered by 7:15 a.m. We didn't want to leave them in a stuffy trailer for too long so we waited until the cool of the night and at around 10:00 p.m. we loaded them up into the horse trailer. Actually, it is everything but a horse trailer to us! We only had 36 chickens to deliver to the processors this time...it isn't really worth the trip for that few chickens, but this was our first group and we had experimented with their food rations and didn't want to commit to too many chickens while we were experimenting. Last year we fed them a commercial organic chicken ration. Things worked well and they tasted great. This year, we fed them our own ration of ground organic grains and pasture. Not sure about the taste yet, but they gained as they should and were much healthier than last years' birds. No twisted toes or lameness. Cindy is delivering the birds this morning while I head to work. She should get back home fairly early in the day with the early start she got. Here is a picture of the birds in the trailer...next trip there will be more than 100 birds. The plan is to build two levels in the trailer using angle iron and plywood. The plywood will slide in and out of the trailer resting on the iron. In this way we will be able to install the plywood floors for the delivery of chickens and then take them out for any other livestock we need to transport.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bringing the pasture to the pigs!


With the drought and heat, the pigs pasture simply isn't keeping up with the pigs. I have not had the chance to get any fencing done lately in order to give them new pasture...so, I am doing the next best thing. I am bringing the pasture to them. It is simple actually. I go out each evening and mow two full bags of clippings from the pasture down by the pond. This is somewhere under 100 pounds...probably closer to 80 actually. The pasture by the pond is shaded and close to the water, so it is lush and fresh. It is very rich in clovers too, which is perfect. With the bags of clippings, I spread them out amongst the chickens and pigs. It is a regular feeding frenzy as everyone loves the fresh salad! I can't help but think that next year will be so much better...even if we have another summer of drought, we will have an extra field of pasture. Chicken pens will be out there along with some electric paddocks for the porkers.

As you can see in the photo, Bubbles sure loves his greens.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Potato Patch


This year was our first year with planting potatoes on a large scale. I decided to go with some specialty varieties and chose Russian Blue and Banana Fingerling potatoes. Both of these types are late varieties and will be harvested after the first killing frost this fall. That is the problem with organic potatoes...harvesting must be done after the potato plant foliage has died. This process "sets" the skin of the potato and makes less damage when going through the digger. When an early variety is chosen, you have to come up with a way to kill the foiage to allow for harvesting. In regular potato fields, the plants are sprayed with Round Up herbicide or something similar. Actually, potatoes are one of the most heavily dosed crops. They are sprayed for weeds, sprayed for insects and sprayed for other diseases on top of being sprayed for harvesting! Yikes! Needless to say, we don't eat regular commercial varieties of potatoes anymore. With proper rotations and selecting varieties that are resistant to disease, we are quite happily able to produce a good crop of potatoes without ever touching them with any type of chemical.
You can see that I only planted a few long rows. I needed to test all of our equipment without a big expenditure of capital on seed. The planting went well with our little one row planter. Cindy sat on the back as I drove down the row on the N. The shovel opened the furrow, Cindy dropped the seed and a set of blades on the back of the planter covered the seed...all in one pass. Cindy had to get good at quickly dropping seed potatoes down the chute! I also had to experiment with row spacing and the inter-row cultivating and hilling that needed to be accomplished. All-in-all, I think we did quite well. Next year's rows will be slightly closer together, but that is about all I will change.
This year, with the good drought that we seem to be in the middle of, the potatoes are doing quite well. I do not know how much more they can stand though. There is already a little wilting going on. There is some rain in the forecast, but with this sandy soil, we will need a lot in order to help.

Spreading Manure Baby!



Not one of my favorite tasks, but it is very necessary for our soil building process. In our back field, where we are growing our test patch of specialty potatoes this year, the soil is very sandy and dry. Almost devoid of organic life, we are working hard to replenish the organic matter and build the soil up. This will take years of manuring, green manure crops, cover crops and rotations of beneficial plantings. I purchased an old Case manure spreader this spring. It is a ground driven model and the N pulls it nicely. I'll tell you one thing though, it holds 95 bushels of manure and that is a lot of shovelling! Because all of our animals are pastured, it is actually quite hard to accumulate enough manure to be able to use the spreader. In the spring, after the animals have spent 6 or 7 months huddled around the feeder, there is quite a bit to scoop up. Right now though, I used the old pig pen and some straw and waste hay that had accumulated over the year in a couple areas. I ended up with a good load of matter and headed to the Back Field. I didn't spread the manure over the growing potatoes, instead I spread it over the summer fallow. A little later this summer, I will seed this area in Fall Rye and then graze it in early winter and then again in the spring after it greens up. After it is finished being grazed, I will let it grow up some more and then plow it under in preparation for a full crop of potatoes. The little area that grew potatoes this year will be seeded in another cover crop...probably Buckwheat.

The Pig Set-up


There always seems to be a lot of questions about how to get set up for pigs. I suppose that it is always a little daunting to acquire livestock with which you have little experience. Like most other livestock, hogs require very little to be quite happy. A good three sided shelter with a roof will keep out the rain and wind. Even the coldest of winters are happily spent in the shelter as long as the straw is measured in feet instead of inches. A good pasture is also important when it comes to heritage hogs. They prefer a pasture that is rich in legumes such as clover and alfalfa. A good mix is preferred so they can pick and choose what they want to eat. One other important consideration in keeping hogs is that they do need a place to wallow. Pigs do not sweat and in order to stay cool, they will roll in the mud and then siesta all afternoon...doesn't that sound like a great way to spend the day?

When fencing for hogs, there are also some considerations. Hogs have an instinct to root and for whatever reason, they will always root along the fence. If you do not have a solid fence along the ground, they will be able to get their nose under the mesh and, combined with the hole they've dug, squeeze themselves through to freedom. I use a simple rough cut 1x6 nailed to the fence posts. Other alternatives are just as effective such as electric or simple barbed wire stapled right along the ground. I simply prefer the boards as they are rigid and the hogs rarely test their strength.

You can see that I have a simple shed for my pigs. Typically, they do not spend any time in it during the summer months, preferring instead to sleep under the stars. I feed them a combination of ground barley, vitamins & minerals, salt & charcoal (free choice) and lawn clippings to supplement their grazing activities. The charcoal is an old time remedy for parasites and seems to work quite well actually. I have my sows in with my new boar right now. Later this summer, when they are bred, I will move the pigs to the Deer Field where they have much more space and they will farrow. In the foreground, on the other side of the electric fence from the pigs, you can see my corn patch. This is a heritage breed of corn called Bloody Butcher. I am attempting to breed this corn, which reaches heights of 12', so that it will flourish here in our climate. This process will take several years, but once I take my choice cobs of seed the pigs will have access to the rest and will harvest the corn for me...feeding them at the same time.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Grinding Feed


Grinding feed is a fairly common occurence on our farm. We can only process a bit at a time with the facilities and equipment we have. Not only that, but we do not want to feed our animals stale feed that loses its nutrition. I usually grind feed once per week and try to process as much as we need for the following 6 or 7 days. The chickens are going through quite a bit of food now as they are growing quickly in their pens. Again, I use the "N". This time though there is a pulley attachment that I bolt to the pto shaft. This is then connected to either the hammer mill or the burr mill by a long canvass belt. The grain is then shoveled into the hopper of the mill and gets spit out the bottom. I can adjust the fineness of the grind depending on what animal I am feeding or what age the animal is. Young chicks and hogs need a finer grain while adult chickens can almost utilize whole grain...this feed is ground quite coarse. Yesterday, I was grinding organic wheat screenings. The screenings are what is left over from a seed cleaning operation and is full of weed seeds and other volunteer grains. In this case, there is an abundance of alfalfa pods, canola and buckwheat...an almost perfect mix of grains that is very healthful for our chickens.

A new addition!


I went out to the Deer Field on Saturday morning to check on our new cow "Henny". As I came around the corner to where I know she likes to hang out, there was another cow standing there! Imgine my surprise to have a brand new calf standing, shakily and wet, beside his mom. It was a little bull calf...actually, not that little. He was huge compared to her! She is a small, heritage cow a Highlands/Galloway cross and her calf looked immense beside her. She was bred to a Highlands bull. I swear he looks like a Buffalo. We were hoping for a heifer calf so that we could expand our 'herd'. Since this is our first calf, it would have been nice to be able to keep it indefinitely. But, he is a bull calf so he is destined for the processor at some point in time down the road. Fittingly, his name is T-bone and the kids have been forewarned that he is not a pet. Too bad. The birth was obviously uneventful...it had only happened a short time before I arrived. Henny is a great mom and is completely unaggressive to us even though she doesn't really know us all that well. All is well and we are grateful for the beef that will fill our freezer next year. Now I need to learn how to castrate a cow!

I forgot!


I forgot to report that on Tuesday evening we spent some time getting the last of the hay off. We only had one load left and it was fun to know that we were finally complete with our haying duties. The whole family came out to help. Cindy and I did the loading and the kids had the important job of wandering around on the trailer packing the hay down so we could get it all on in one load. Everyone had to have a shower afterwards with all the hay dust! This is one of the first years that we have put away hay without one drop of rain falling on it. It is very high quality hay because we had such a wonderful spring for growing...lots of rain and sun.

Field Work


Nothing out of the ordinary all last week. I was out of town in a construction safety course and then a jobsite on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday I had off and spent some time on the tractor working the summer fallow. This is in the back field where I have potatoes planted. We have had some really hot, dry weather lately. I didn't want to work the sandy soil too much and the weeds got away from me. I took care of them though with the Ford N and a Dearborn springtooth cultivator with wide sweeps. The cultivator is 7 feet wide. In 1st gear, the tractor worked well. It would have been nice to be able to move faster in order to kick up the weed roots a little more, but the tractor didn't have the power to pull the cultivator in 2nd gear. The later model 8N's had a 4 speed transmission, I would think that a 4speed would be more useful than 3.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Meet Bubbles


I still have to post for Monday the 3rd. I didn't get any pictures of us gathering the hay, but we still have a little more to do tonight so I will get some photos and post tomorrow. I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce everyone to our new boar, Bubbles. I have no idea why I named him that way. He is a bit of a goof though, so perhaps that is why I gave him such a name. From the day we got him a couple months ago, he would flip over on his back for a belly scratch at every opportunity. He is very vocal when he greets me each morning and has a squeaky sort of trumpety grunt that is unusual. Bubbles just seems to fit him. As he is young, I have had to go slowly with him as I introduce him to our sows. Right now, I have a sow in with him and they are starting to get to know each other and are settling down. Once they are buddies, I will move our other sow in with him and things should go smoothly. He is gaining weight and is a tremendous looking pig. I am guessing that he weighs well over 200 pounds now.

Raking Hay and Hilling Potatoes


Sunday, the 2nd I spent on the tractor again. In the morning I decided that I had to hill the potatoes. I put two middle buster plows on my Dearborn toolbar and adjusted them to fit between the rows. As I drove over, with the row centred down the middle of the tractor, the plows spilled dirt onto the potatoe plant from either side. It worked quite well, I was pleased. The potatoes are just starting to flower now. They are planted in a rather sandy area of our property, The Back Field. I am surprised at how well they are faring in this heat and drought that we are in the middle of. I don't know how much longer they will stand it though. There is a slight chance of rain over the next few days, but still it is going to be very hot with temps. in the high 20's and low 30's.

Once I got the potatoes hilled, I needed to rake the hay. I waited until later in the day when it was at least somewhat cooler. At about 9 pm, I hooked up the rake to the 3pt. hitch and headed out. Several hours later, I was done. The N doesn't have to work too hard to pull the 2 wheel rake...it could easily handle 4 or 5 wheels. The hay was nice and dry and smelled sweet. Good weather for haying. You can see in the picture that I am wearing a breathing mask. I am somewhat allergic to Aalfalfa and a lot allergic to Sweet Clover. The mask helps a great deal when I am dealing with hay.

Canada Day!


Today is Canada's 139th birthday. I spent Canada Day cutting hay. As I have mentioned, we have had the absolute perfect weather for haying. This is rare, as it is a rule in the universe that the day I cut hay is the day before it will rain...regardless of the forecast. That rule did not hold true this year though. The cutting went flawlessly and the little N did its job as it always does...without complaint. In the picture, it looks like we cut way more than we actually did. That is our neighbors field in the background. I only cut about 5 acres this year. It didn't take long at all. We would like to get more land into useable, hayable condition. We are working on it.

Gold Forest's First Cow


We had a busy long weekend here at Gold Forest Farms. I have taken 5 Fridays off instead of just taking a week off work. The Friday off of work combined with the Canada Day holiday Monday made a very long weekend. That was good because there was plenty to do. Friday we loaded our two Classic Llamas and made about an hour trip west of our farm to drop them off and pick up our new cow! Her name is Henriette. She is a sweety and is due any day now although the farmer is unsure exactly when. Her bag is full and she looks very loose in her back end. The watch is on.

Henriette is a Galloway/Highlands cross. She is quite small and extremely docile which is good. The meat from these heritage breeds is top quality and while it is lean, it is moist and tender. This is our first cow, and we are excited about the new addition to our farm...the beginning of our herd!