Garden Tilling Time

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The sun is finally out! That bright thing in the sky that hurts our eyes and burns my pasty white shoulders after a long winter of darkness and rain. The first 3-4 day stent of sun in the spring means one very important thing for farmers, time to till the garden! It does take a little while, and is kind of a pain in the butt, but it also means we can finally get going on the family fun, food producing vegetable garden!

  I always write these blogs, with kind of the “new farmer’ in mind, or maybe some folks that find the processes and lifestyles interesting but maybe don’t have a life time of knowledge, life lessons, and farming skills that some of us grew up learning from birth. So for those of us who live it every day, it will seem pretty simplistic, and redundant. For those other lovely folks however, Hopefully I can explain things in a simple and basic way that makes sense and kind of gives some insight to the hows and the why’s of farm life. With that being said, let move onto the topic of preparing garden soil.

There are a few basic things you need for a good garden location. First a spot that receives maximum sun exposure throughout the days rotating sun cycle. Once you find a good sunny spot you then need ingredient number 2, just as important, if not more important than the first; Water!

My first year i removed the rocks and boulders, pulled out most of the stumps that were still there from 30 year old logging (still have 1 large one in the middle I still need to dig out and remove), and I tilled up the soild and planted. That first year my garden did terrible, as expected due to lack of nutrients. This was expected, and we knew every year it would get better and better. Every fall the garden is done and all the plants and vines are ripped out (most of which get fed to cows and goats). Once this is done, then I clean out the cattle barn. Manure from 16 head of cattle provides about a 6″ thick layer of steer manure on top of the approx. 80×80 ft garden. During the winter and spring all other manures get thrown on the garden as well from goat sheds, rabbit hutches, chicken and turkey coops, etc. Then comes time like today where it is time to roto-till it all together.

  Tilling accomplishes several things at once. First of all it mixes the manure up with the soil. This eliminates manure on the top and just soil on the bottom. it mixes it very well for about 8 inches deep. This also eliminates “hot spots”, or clumps of say chicken manure that may be a little too hot and high in nitrogen levels that would otherwise burn the plants. Tilling also aerates the soil, and loosens it up to a really fine powdery like loam that plant roots thrive in. During the coarse of the winter snows and rains, the soil becomes very hard pack and not idea for root systems. So tilling basically “fluffs’ it back up, easy for little roots to grow through. oxygen levels regain balance in the soil, and makes the soil a lot more ideal for water and moisture absorption and retention. Nice fluffy soil also makes weeding a dream. Ever try to use a hoe in ground that is packed so hard it resembles concrete? You can work your self to death and still have weeds coming back up cause you never got the roots out. When soil is nice and loose a hoe travels underneath weeds easily, and pops the little suckers out with effortless grace.

  So in a nut shell, i will finish slurping down my black coffee and go fire up the old tractor (nothing better than the smell of a cold diesel engine puking out black smoke in the morning!), and it is officially tilling day!

 

Fruit Tree Pruning

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It’s February now, and in some parts of the country probably still an acceptable time to prune fruit trees. Here in the Pacific Northwest however it is a little late for pruning. I did all our fruit trees in the first week of January. You want to try to time heavy pruning with tree’s dormancy. This way it will not effect their health or growth near as much. I was looking out side at my pruned trees, now covered in lovely buds which will this year be new growth, and it made me think a little. I had a father who was very good about explaining fruit tree pruning, and every year I was helping him outside in the bitter cold, getting first hand experience when i was growing up. I realized,however, probably not everybody grew up on a farm like i did, and probably did not have all those wonderful years of experience. How can other people learn if people like us never tell them? So, I thought I would write a blog for every one that has ever wondered how to prune fruit trees. 

    This will be like a tree pruning 101. There are so many factors, goals, desires, tricks, and different ways of doing things for pruning that really it mostly depends on a balance of what you know and what you are wanting out of your tree.

    The basic first step in tree pruning is shape. How do you want your tree shaped? Most trees you will want a kind of umbrella shape, for easily obtainable sunlight for the fruit, and also for easier harvesting. If you are starting with a fairly young tree, then you can decide how tall it will be by cutting out the top at the desired height, where new growth will grow a for next year. Determine the height you desire, and the general shape, and general size (circumference), and keep that vision in your head while you prune.

 Next, grab your cutting tools. (shears, loppers, a pruning saw maybe) and start thinning out unwanted growth. If a branch is totally undesirable then cut it off as close to the trees trunk as you can. If most of the branch is ok, or you want to start a new growth into a branch, then you prune the branch into how you want it to grow. Keep the part you want, and cut off the extra. Now here is where it gets kind of tricky. anything unwanted gets totally cut off and removed, but if the branch lets say has potential, but no small fruit bearing areas or “spurs”, then save desired new growth from last year, cut if off about 1/2 to 3/4 inch past a bud. Picking the right bud is the trick. The key is, which ever direction a bud is pointing, that is the direction the new growth will grow this year. For example: a bud on the left of a branch pointing out, will grow to the left and out, a bud pointing up will grow up, a bud pointing down will grow downward, and so on. So just remember when you are shaping a tree, those buds that you leave for the new growth MUST be pointed in the direction that your vision of the tree requires.

    And as i said before, for best results and sun collection I shape my fruit trees like an umbrella. Other trees that are for shade, lumber, etc. are generally shaped in more of a triangle, where a fruit tree is more of an upside down triangle. Remember you are not wanting to grow a 50′ tall apple tree, the fruit would be 30′ above your head and serve you no good.

 

 

Summer Vegitables

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So you are all probably thinking “Uh huh, he said he would update once a week, yeah right.” LOL. Well, I try, but am only getting time about every other week. Last weekend we had our Annual Helmig Farms BBQ competiton so we were a bit busy.  Every year we host a large event (about 60 people this year here at our farm, where locals get together and compete in BBQ’ing in four catagories :Chicken, brisket, ribs, and pork.  Medals and trophies are awarded,  food and drink provided for every one, and a great time had by all. Alot of visitors seemed to gravitate towards the vegitable garden and asking different questions. As for our summer garden update, we took our last picking of green beans and wax beans on Tuesday night. I still need to pull up the plants as they are all done just have not had the time.  We were able to can 27 pints of green beans out of the deal, so that will be nice this winter. When canning, the wife did her batches just plain beans and some homemade bacon that I butchered and cured last fall. The batches i did i added the same homemade bacon, but also through in some homegrown chopped up white onion.  The peas are also all done, we ended up with 4 gallons of peas frozen.  They take up alot of room in the garden but are sure yummy, and for pea lovers they are a wonderful treat in the wintertime in casseroles, on salads, etc.  The pea plants are already all ripped up. Later this weekend my Dutch Flat Head cabbage is ready, so i will need to shred it and ferment it for sour Krout. Recipes are on the internet as for recipes, it takes about a week or maybe a little more depending on volume, temp, etc. Also i notice my onions have fallen over.  Stalks have not turned yellow yet, but will today or tomorrow I am assuming. So i will need to pull them as well, bunch them, and hang them. Hang onions in a cold dry place for maximum keep time. Depending on the species you can keep for example yellow onions almost into next planting season. My white onions for example, or red onions, or walla walla’s will not keep near that long due to their sugar content. You can still hang them, but they will spoil fairly quick. Debating trying some shredding and freezing methods this year for longer keep time on the white onions.  Tomatoes are doing wonderful, growing like weeds, and fruiting, but are not yet ripe. Zucchinnis have had one massive picking already. We canned 18 jars of Zuch-relish, and I gave about a dozen Zuch’s away to my mother as she likes making Zuchinni sweet pickles. She wanted to trade me a few jars in trade for the produce, but I don’t much care for sweet pickles, so politely refused. There are about another 50 lbs of Zuchinni that are still growing but not yet ready for harvest. My garlic never did all that great, as they were from 2 year old cloves, but i will take the ones I can and hang for drying to use for re-planting stock next year. Carrots are also all ready for harvest, and are very large. I added some sand into the carrot area before I tilled it this year, and they grew a world better! Much larger in diameter and length. Will probably get 10 pints or so out of the carrots.  Peppers are also doing well, jalepenos and bells, and have been being used through out the summer for cooking. I didn’t plant a whole bunch of peppers this year as i still have loads of them in the freezer from years before.  On a side note “Sammy” our Yorkshire pig is fattening up nice also, and loving the canning season! Sammy gets all the scraps from canning, and plants i yank up, etc on top of her feed ration. So she is a happy camper, and will be more than ready to butcher in fall. Butcher time is strictly dependent upon pigs weight, and cool weather. I wait till the weather is cold so i can hang the pig and age it for a few days, but not totally cold enough to freeze, as frozen animals are a PAIN to cut up and process. usually October is prime butchering season. 

Summer Time Annoyances On The Farm

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Summer is in full swing. Work is super busy and we have been working 12 hour days (some times 13 hour days), and every other week we are lucky enough to have to work Saturdays as well. Life on the farm has been just as busy! Talk about burning the candle at both ends. Peas and beans are needing picked  and frozen/canned, along with many other veggies that are becoming ripe and ready to pick/pull. Weeds and grasses are going gangbusters, and water consumption for animals is at a yearly high. Every aspect of the farm life is busy and buzzing. Which brings me to my first “Summer Time Annoyance.” Here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest we have a plethora of Bee’s called “Yellow Jackets.” The nasty little boogers are making nests EVERYWHERE this time of year. My big farm truck has sat in one spot for about 2 months now, and I went to get something out of the toolbox in the truck bed, as soon as I opened the lid I was swarmed with about 50 angry little bees and saw their nest is already about the size of a softball attatched to the underside of the toolbox lid. For any one not Familiar with the Northwest Yellow Jacket, their are not actually a Bee per-say, they are a Wasp, and closest animal relative is the aggressive Hornet (definition per Wikipedia). Honey bees for example tend to want to do their job, and will only sting if threatened, and once stung the stinger pulls out killing the bee. A yellow jacket wasp however, hates humans with a passion and will go out of their way to sting you on site! Their stingers stay connected to their bodies and can sting you over and over and over. This is especially no fun since once they see you, they will drop what they are doing and come sting you, and as you run away they will fallow you in a cloud of large numbers all stinging you over and over again, and pack a healthy dose of venom in each sting causing massive sting swelling. Long story short, I HATE these little boogers! So i went and bought some wasp and hornet killer (3 cans of the shoot kind of spray). I went all around the house spraying all the years new nests (as this is an every summer event. Yellow jackets make nests in shady protected areas of all types, including mouse holes underground, under house and building eves, under gutters, truck bed tool boxes, truck beds, anything they can crawl under and dont get rained and snowed on. Twas a good year for the Yellow jacket this year. Killed 13 nests under the house eves, 4 under the pump house eves, one in each side of the truck tool box, 3 inder the lips of the bed rails of the pick up, found one underground one that i used a large 4th of july smoke bomb on and covered the hole with dirt after lighting it and throwing it down the hole, and 2 in the woodshed! 25 in nests in all! Take that you mean little suckers! 

Brush Removal Day (F**K*NG Sotch Broom!)

ImageLooking out my Living room picture window this morning, hot cup of Folgers in my hand, the aroma from the coffees steam drifting up my nostrils, and the sun beaming into the living room from the East. “This will be a great day to do some spraying!” I think to my self. I havn’t posted anything in about a week, i started a new job as a machinery operator and overtime has kept me pretty busy. Yesterday (Saturday) was my first chance in a week to tend to the farm. We have new baby goats born earlier in the week that have taken up my workday evenings in feeding and casterating and general care. So saturday i grabbed the trusty Troy Built brush cutter and set out on the 20 acres with a full tank of mixed gas and a vision. “Brush Be Gone!” here in northwestern Oregon “Scotch Broom” and “Tansie” are the two main culperates. Tansie will actually kill alot of livestock, especially cattle if they injest it. So it’s a must for removal. I spray the hell out of it every year. Or if I am walking by and see a plant I will try and pull it up by its roots, leaving the roots exposed to direct sunlight to kill the little bugger. The other bad weed we have is Scotch Broom. This stuff isn’t really poisonous to livestock, but it literally will completey take over a farm around here in a matter of a couple years! It’s a real booger to kill. It’s a bi-annual plant, so it only comes back every two years, so just when you think you got it all killed, cut, sprayed and all gone, the crop from year before last comes up and you got a whole new crop of the stuff. The other problem is seeding! There are probably 10,000 seeds on one single plant. So once it goes to seed, one single gentle wind and the stuff has seeded it self over literally 5 acres! I will admit during bloom it is very pretty, but it starts off like a thick 1 ft tall carpet, by the next year it is 6 feet tall. After a couple years, I am not exaggerating, this crap will be an inpenetrantable solid wall 12-15 ft high! Spreading and seeding itself every year along the way and spreading. Long story short, who ever got this stuff started here in the Pacific Northwest should have a red hot fire poker shoved up their ass! Every year i spray, and cut, and spray and cut and spray and cut. Our farm was over ran with the stuff when we got it, part of why we got it so cheap. Every year it’s a constant year long effort, and every year I gain about an acres worth, it’s a hard battle to just break even and keep the stuff nuetral with out getting worse, let alone making head way one it. But, what i have been doing and has been successful so far, is i spray it a few times when i can, then go and cut it off with the brush cutter. I build a fence around the area etending the pasture, and put goats in it for about 2 years, as they eat off any new shoots and seedlings coming up. This seems to work pretty well, but is not cheap, and is a lot of work. Any ways, so yesterday, I took out the brush cutter. I cut a piece about 3 acres in size (yes, by hand with a darn weed eater with a blad attatchment, hence what I mean by alot of work). Some of it was sprayed and dead, other spots were not, and were still healthy growing plants. I cut them off any ways, so at least they will not goto seed on me, I can keep it kind of nuetral this year, and allows me to focus my real hardcore scotchbroom killing and removal efforts in other locations. And since the sun is going to be out today, as soon as the morning dew is heated off the grass, and everything is dried up a bit, I’m gonna fill up my back pack sprayer and head off. I will do one pack sprayer of CrossBow to spot spray Scotchbroom, tansie, black berry vines, and any other broad leaf weeds vines and plants i do not want. Once that is done, i will mix up another backpack sprayer full of my own custom mix. I will mix 1/2 Crossbow (and not water it down as much as reccommded) and the other 1/2 will be Round-Up (It too will be a little more concentrated that recommended). The reason for this mixture, is i use it along my fence lines, the driveway, etc. It pretty much kills everything. My fences have a hot (electric) wire running about 10 inches off the bottom wire, so i spray the fence lines to keep things from growing into the electric fence and shorting it out. I do this every year, and the result is about 6 inches on both sides of the fence line, that is just bare dirt, where nothing grows. PERFECT! It also makes fence repairs, removal, etc ALOT easier not having grass and weeds and vines growing up through the fence and making it all tangles up and hard to get out of the ground. Also, the less organic matter that grows, the less that dies, which leads to the least amount of decomposed organic matter, resulting in a LACK of top soil getting taller and taller each year, which in turn for the general farmer means that the bottom wire of your fence pretty much remains where you originally put it, instead of the bottom wire getting covered by dirt, rusting off, and comprimising your fence strength, usability, and helps the bottom line of actually keeping critters inside the fence where you want them. In case some people are not familiar with general herbicide applications, CrossBow is very useful, and kills broad leaf plants only(It WILL NOT kill grass), it great for spot spraying unwanted plants, weeds, vines, etc and not killing all the grass or having big dead spots all over. Round-Up is another very useful spray, but it kills grass, and smaller kinds of weeds like dandilions and that sort of thing. This is great for spraying along fences, spraying driveways or walkways, around flower beds, that sort of thing. Always be sure to read labels, and try and think ahead of what you really want your end result to be. In other words, if you want grass around to grow and look nice, or to feed livestock, or to choke out young upcoming brush and weeds, then keep Round up the hell away! On the other hand, if you are trying to keep grass out and keep vines or berries or other broad leaf organics alive, then keep the crossbow away from it. As i write this I keep checking outside, the sun is up pretty good now, I can feel the heat from the window, telling me it’s about time to go out and start mixing up some weed killer! Thanks for listening folks.

Catching Rain

I am sitting in my comfortable recliner, some annoying cartoon on tv that my 3 year old is watching, the fire next to me roasty and toasty, and on the window panes the rain beats hard. The past week or so it has been half way decent weather out, but here in early spring with fresh new fruit trees in the ground, seeds planted in the garden, we need a rain. Which brings me to my topic of the day. Catching, and using rain to our benefit, not work against us, and here in western Oregon we get TONS of rain! Lets start off by first mentioning that in spring, rain is needed to help growing trees and shrubs establish root systems, and provide water for the growing plant to begin structural growth, bud development, and over all cell structure. With out the rain, plants would just wither away and die. Same for seeds planted in gardens or flowerbeds. The rain is needed to keep these seeds moist and germinate so they can sprout and grow up through the earth. One way of harnessing rain that some may not think of, is i store rain water. I have rain collection units around teh farm here, from 5-gallon buckets at the bottom of gutter down spouts, to rubber maid tubs catching rain off the wood shed roof. Why would I collect rain water you ask? Well, if I was in the city the use of rain water for plants would be super beneficial due to city water containing so much cholorine and flouride and such and would provide the plants with a more pure and nitrogen enriched source of water. However, we do have a well here on the farm, so the purity of the water is not an issue. Mostly i use the collected water for animals. The rabbits and the chickens both live off the collected rain water (except in the summer, then it is well water). Its also handy sometimes having some easily accesible water for washing off farm or garden tools, rinsing off eggs, washing off dirty hands what ever. Rain is our friend, not our enemy, and has a million uses. As the years progress I intend on expanding my rain catching system to something a little more substantial, but in the mean time what i have will have to work. Happy rain catching every one.

Cuttin’ Kindlin’

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It was a bit chilly this morning so i made my way out to the wood shed for an arm load of wood and a handfull of kindling to get rid of the morning chill in the house. I saw my Kindling box was empty. An often occurance that I am sure many of you know. So i packed the wood into the house, then set off back outside for some morning twilight kindling chopping. Usually I will chop enough to fill my box, and stop there. The box is approx 2ft long x 1.5ft wide x 1.5ft tall. It holds enough kindling for a couple of weeks any ways. So If illed the boxy, grabbed and handful, and went back into the house and got a fire going. With the fire soon roaring and wood stacked into the stove and heat for the morning secured, I thought about my often occuring lack of kindling, and how much I really don’t care for chopping sticks in the freezing cold right before daylight. So I figured I should go out and chope a little more to play catch up. I filled the box to the brim, and still had some left over. I had an idea, and just kept on chopping. Once i had a small mountain of kindling all chopped and a couple of hours gone, I went to work tying bundles. Basically a bundle holds a few handfulls of kindling sticks (probably 2-3 days worth in each). Tied the bundles with extra pieces of string, crap rope, and bailing twine, just what ever cordage i had laying around the wood shed area. In all I chopped 15 bundles, on top of filling my box. My thought, is I stacked all the bundles into the wood pile, and will save them for next year’s use. The box I will use for this years. Next time my box gets empty, I will fill it and chope 15 more bundles. Doing the same process of storage. I figure that way it wont take but a few more cuttings, and i will have enough kindling for the whole winter next near.

Every year once fire building is all said and done, and we are into long hot summer days. I go to the wood shed, and throw every single stick of wood into the lawn. I then add and stack all the wood I cut during the winter to season into the back of the wood shed, stacking my way out. Once all of the wood I cut in the fall winter and spring are all stacked in there, then i restack all the dry wood I threw in the lawn from before. This gives me a good, and evenly dry/drying Cache of firewood. It is a bit of work, but like food or water storage, you gotta rotate. Any ways, this summer when i will be restacking all my wood, I will add these kindling bundles into the wood pile here and there every couple square feet. i am thinking this way, for next winter, when i go out to the shed to get wood for the day, i can grab an arm load of wood, grab a bundle, and all my fire needs will be met in one single trip, instead of one trip for wood, and another trip out in the eraly morning snow and/or rain to cut more kindling that I ran out of. So any ways, gonna give this idea a try, thought I would post and update the folks here on wordpress that fallow “Prepper Farming.”