It’s All There!

September 18, 2014

 

 

DSCF1925The 2014 Midwest Wild Harvest Festival was held at Badger Camp, overlooking the Wisconsin river valley.  I loved it.  The people were friendly and excited to learn.  The instructors were inspiring.

I learned about food preservation from Leda Meredith.  Sam Thayer was his usual irreverent self.  And Doug Elliot was as entertaining as he was informative.

Below is the largest poison ivy vine I’ve ever seen.  Doug said loggers used to eat a little bit to immunize themselves against its effects.

 

DSCF1915

 


I visited with Doug over the course of the weekend and I heard him say, “It’s all there,” several times.  It’s a vague enough saying you can use it just about anywhere.  I think the first time I heard him say it was out on a nature walk, and the next time was in exclamation of the excellent chili, (great food, by the way).

It’s all there, that’s your motto isn’t it?” I asked.

“Well I don’t know if it’s my motto,” Doug said.  “But’s it’s not a bad one to have.”

“It just about says it all,” I said.  “I think I’m going to make it my motto.”

And I am.

I think about my boys who used to love to put lego projects together.  We would scissor open the bags containing all the tiny pieces, and they would follow the instructions step-by-step, ending up with the prescribed toy.  I remember the drama that would ensue if one piece was missing, as now it wasn’t all there, and everything was ruined.

Now we have a drawer filled with loose lego pieces.  My five-year-old nephew makes a bee-line to that drawer when he comes over.  He happily builds something excellent, and then we let him take it home.  We joke that we are slowly transferring the contents of the drawer to my sister’s house.

But we never worry about drama with the lego drawer.  I think it’s the combination of  passion with autonomy, and the sense that it’s all there.  Nothing is missing, and they are confident in their abilities to create something cool.

 

 

DSCF1923

 

 

 

 

 


Attracting Native Pollinators

September 8, 2014

 

 

 

DSCF1866

I lost my mind for a couple of months this past spring.  I purchased and planted, weeds.  As with many insanities, mine started with the premise of a good cause.

I’ll admit to being a sucker for good copy, and the marketing department at Prairie Moon Nursery has got to be one of the best.  They don’t even call their spring catalog a catalog:

“Native Gardner’s Companion. Presented by Prairie Moon Nursery. Seeds and Plants of Authentic North American Wildflowers for Restoration and Gardening.”

There isn’t even the word catalog anywhere on the cover.  They aren’t in business to sell me something.  They want to partner with me to restore North America.

I had an open area in my permaculture windbreak which could use something, but I didn’t want large trees or bushes.  So, in the interest of restoring North America, I purchased the “Butterfly and Hummingbird Kit for Moist Soils” from Prairie Moon.  Below is a photo taken June 20th, a couple of weeks after planting and mulching.

 

DSCF1752

 

 

This next photo was taken August 10th.  It was fun to see results so quickly.  The flowers are already attracting many native pollinators.

 

DSCF1855

Attracting Native Pollinators” is a book published by the Xerces Society.  The Xerces Society works for invertebrate conservation.  I read their book and I studied the Prairie Moon Nursery catalog and website, as well as the Prairie Nursery catalog and website.

As a consequence of all this learning, I now see flowers.  It amazes me every time I learn something new and my vision changes.  We see with our brains, not our eyes.

So I couldn’t help but notice this huge colony of pink flowers along Highway 23 between Darlington and Mineral Point.  It’s Joe Pye weed, a great flower for native pollinators.  The top photo in this post gives you a closer view.

And I realized how crazy it is for me to plant wildflowers thinking I’m helping the native pollinators.  If I really wanted to help the pollinators, I would start a movement to stop cutting and spraying herbicide along the roadsides.  There are acres and acres of excellent habitat alongside every road.

 

DSCF1869


Twin Beef Calves are Trouble

September 1, 2014

DSCF1871

 

Twin beef calves are trouble.  Maybe some of you have a breed of cattle that regularly takes care of twins without human intervention, but my cattle do not.  Invariably, a cow will claim one calf and forget about the other one.

Fall-calving started about the middle of August.  These two twin heifers were born one evening.  Since they were both wet and hadn’t nursed yet, I decided to wait and see if the mother would claim both calves, or at least allow both calves to nurse once to receive the valuable first milk called colostrum.

Colostrum contains antibodies from the cow which provide passive immunity to diseases until the calf begins to develop its own immunity.  Antibodies are able to pass through the calf’s stomach because it is porous.  A calf’s ability to absorb colostrum through its stomach wall diminishes rapidly, and is pretty much done within 24 hours.

The next morning I checked and found the cow had taken one calf and left the other.  So I took the abandoned calf home and gave it a bottle of Colostrx.  This is a purchased product which is a substitute for the mother’s colostrum.  That night I gave the calf a bottle of milk replacer.

The next day I checked the cattle again and was surprised to see the other twin had not nursed.  The mother of the twin had large teats, but not excessively large, perhaps the twins had a difficult birth and weren’t quite bright enough to find a teat.  I saw that the calf was hungry and trying to find a teat, but I could tell that none of the teats had been nursed.

I called my Dad to come and help me take the calf out of the pasture.  I anticipated a more difficult time, because the cow was very attentive to this twin, unlike the twin she had abandoned.  It was a good thing I called him because after picking up the calf and carrying it away on the ATV, the cow followed close behind and I needed his help to get out of the gate and keep the cow in.

I gave the second twin a bottle of milk replacer.  I didn’t bother with Colostrx because the calf was 36 hours old.  Now I had two bottle calves, and wasn’t looking forward to the morning and evening chores of feeding two calves.

I thought about the way the cow followed me on the ATV.  There isn’t any cattle-handling facilities in the rented pasture, but there is a round horse pen.  I thought that just maybe, I could lure the cow into the horse pen.  I knew there would be no way to chase her in, with acres of wide-open spaces.

I set up a small hazing fence near the horse pen with some panels that were nearby.  I opened the small gate to the horse pen and then drove my ATV out to the cow.  When she saw me she began to follow me.  As she started to slow down, I made my noise which sounds like a calf mooing and she picked back up.  I stopped the ATV a ways away from the gate and got off and walked into the horse pen.  I bent over in the weeds like I was doing something with a calf and made the mooing noise.  The cow followed right through the small gate.  I jumped up and shut the gate behind her.

I called my Dad and he brought my truck and trailer and we hauled her to his corral.  The next morning we put her in the catch chute to restrain her, and started the slow process of teaching the calves to nurse an udder.  The cow kicked a little, which made our job more difficult, but we got both calves to nurse enough.

We did this process maybe three more times, then we transitioned to a small pen, with one person keeping the cow’s attention, while the other person maneuvered the calves towards the cow’s udder.  We did this process three or four times, morning and night, and now they’re nursing on their own and she’s claiming both calves as her own.

We will still keep them in the corral for a couple of weeks and then transition to a pasture away from the other cattle after that, to ensure she doesn’t lose one of the calves.  As the calves become stronger, they will also make sure they don’t get lost.  Oftentimes the twins will stick together as the mom goes off to graze.

I’m thinking I’m going to have to stop calving in the rented pasture.  It’s impossible to check them if they want to hide in the thick woods.  And there isn’t any handling facilities if there is a problem.

I’ve been pushing my luck for too long.  If I prepare for trouble, I’ll probably have very little.  If I continue to not prepare, I feel I’m due some bad luck.

 


Sweet Corn Summary and Links

August 27, 2014

DSCF1863

 

My go-to meal for the last three weeks.  The sweet corn was raised without herbicides or pesticides.  It’s a wonderful experience when a successful experiment results in such good eats.

I planted a rye cover crop last fall, rotovated twice in the spring, rotary hoed twice after planting, and cultivated twice, keeping the corn ahead of the weeds long enough to produce a good ear of corn, even though the weeds are thriving now.

The last time I tried to raise sweet corn without herbicides was a disaster, with the weeds getting ahead of the corn, resulting in production losses.  That time I only chisel plowed, disced, and cultivated once.

My plan for next year is to use the same protocol as this year, except possibly not using the rye cover crop.  That may prove to be a mistake as the rye has alleopathic properties.

I wonder if I should be looking at weeds differently.  Instead of a problem to overcome, maybe I should consider them as a volunteer crop.  Instead of weeding, maybe I should be harvesting.

Tama Matsuoka Wong is a businessperson who has taken her interest in wild edibles to a new level.  She partners with restaurants to put wild edibles on the menu.  Her website is  Meadows and More.  Discovering the way Ms. Wong approaches wild edibles is invigorating my thinking about weeds.

Finally, while I’ve spent the summer thinking about sweet corn, I wonder how much corn I’m getting from other sources.  “Children of the Corn” is an interesting infograph if you’ve ever wondered about the corn industry.

The one problem I have with the infograph is when they talk about water usage.  Sure, corn uses water, but it gets cycled back into the atmosphere.  It’s not like it’s being used up, never to be seen again.

Comment if you have any thoughts about these topics.


2014 Midwest Wild Harvest Festival

August 21, 2014

m, swinging

I’m all signed up and excited to attend the Midwest Wild Harvest Festival, September 12th-14th at Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin.  It’s three days and two nights of foraging fun at Badger Camp.  I can’t believe it’s been seven years since I attended something like this.

Below is a photo from a foraging weekend near Lacrosse, Wisconsin.  Sam Thayer is in the left of the photo.  He and his wife Melissa, are two of the organizers of this festival.  A fun added benefit for me, and for the rest of the campers, he said modestly, is that my pork will be served at some of the meals.

I don’t think it’s too late to sign up.  If you are interested in wild edibles, this will be a weekend you won’t forget.  I hope to see you there!

matt-in-the-water.jpg


Herd Boars

August 16, 2014

DSCF1618

Tater, the best boar I’ve ever raised, and the pinnacle of my attempts to create an Oxford Sandy and Black for the midwest.  Alas, Tater had one crucial problem.  He was sterile.  Or at least he was functionally sterile.  He would make a few feeble attempts, but quit before achieving the proper insertion.

When I told me son about Tater, he said, “If he’s so good, couldn’t you collect his semen and use it to artificially inseminate.”

“I think that’s what has contributed to this problem.  Twenty-plus years of artificial insemination has led to the rise of problem breeders,” I said.

My memory may be fooling me, but it seems like boars used to do a better job with natural service.  Part of the problem may be I don’t keep enough boars around.  You would think I would be smarter than this with close to forty years of experience.  We always said it starts with the boars.  If you don’t get the sows bred, you are out of the livestock business.

Fortuitously I had kept a backup boar, just in case Tater didn’t work.  Chris is pictured below, half Yorkshire, half Landrace.  He sired all the winter/spring litters.

DSCF1625

And then we come to Taiphan, pictured below.  Mean, ugly, difficult to be around, and he gets the job done.  I forgot what a truly aggressive breeding boar is like.

When a boar is sexually aggressive, you have to worry that he gets enough to eat.  I remember boars from years ago that we had to remove from the breeding herd to let them gain some weight.

Taiphan was in the first litter born in 2013 in a snowstorm.  Most of his littermates froze, so we know he’s tough as well as aggressive.  His dam was a Duroc sow and his sire was DRU semen from SGI.  So he’s 3/4 Duroc and 1/4 French Muscolor.  He sired the early summer litters.

DSCF1663I have some new litters out of Duroc and Landrace semen.  They look ok so far.  I kept quite a few boars, hoping I can keep from running short in the future.

It’s not easy.  You have to have some redundancy in case something goes wrong.  And if everything happens to be perfect, pour yourself a glass of lemonade and enjoy the two or three minutes while they last.

 


Dewalt Level, Making a Permaculture Swale

August 12, 2014

DSCF1692

 

I continue to study permaculture, and swales are very popular within the permaculture community.  A swale is a ditch which holds water, instead of moving it from one place to another.  A swale is dug on the contour of the land, and its purpose is to slow the runoff of rain water, so it infiltrates into the surrounding soil instead.  The Permaculture Research Institute has an excellent post if you want to learn more.

Last year we had a couple of landscaping consultants come to the farm, and while they were here, I asked them to help me lay out the contour where I wanted to plant my permaculture windbreak.  They used a builder’s level.  I was glad they did, because my eye would have made a lot different contour than what the tool said.

This year I knew I wanted to plant my evergreen windbreak on the contour,and I also wanted to make a swale.  The consultants charged me enough last year that I knew I wanted to do it myself if at all possible.  I needed a level.

I looked at some of the plans to make an Aframe level.  It seemed doable, but slow to use.  I looked on Amazon and started researching levels.  I decided to purchase the Dewalt DW090PK level.

I could have spent more and purchased a laser level, which would mean I could do the job by myself.  But I thought it would be quality time to lay out contours with my sons.  I could have also purchased a transit level, which I guess would have allowed me to do vertical angles.  I didn’t have any experience with this stuff, so my understanding may be off.

So after much research, I got my level and started practicing with it.  It turned out to be a good purchase.  I really enjoy using it, and am amazed at how far off my eye is.

Below is my first swale.  After flagging out the contour with my level, I built it with my loader.  It’s about 100 feet long.  Five plum trees and six currant and jostaberry bushes are planted along the ridge. I mulched with hay to keep the sides from eroding.

It got dry after I made the swale and I wanted to see how much water it would hold, so I filled my Dad’s liquid manure spreader with water and put it in the swale.  It can safely hold over 1000 gallons of water.  We have also had rains of over two inches and it had no problems taking that amount of rainfall.

No matter how wet we have been, almost all the water has soaked in after 24 hours.  And all of it has soaked in after 48 hours.  I haven’t had to water the plantings, and we’ve gotten pretty dry in August, so it appears that the concept is working.

I’m not sure how practical swales are.  I like the concept, as I hate to think of rain water running off the land.  I think they work best for smaller-scale agriculture.  As I plant more trees, I think it would be wise to plant them on swale mounds as this will help with their watering needs.

DSCF1756


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers