Rotary Hoeing Sweet Corn

June 3, 2014

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If a city person asks you if it will rain tomorrow, you couch your answer based on the likelihood of their plans being ruined. If a country person asks, you answer based on how dry or wet it is, and if we need rain or a break in the rain to get some field-work done.

We were getting dry, but it was moist enough for my sweet corn to germinate.  It was coming out of the ground about a week after I planted.  I rotovated a second time, then planted.

The second rotovating pretty much took care of the rye.  Unfortunately, whatever alleopathic properties the rye had also seemed to dissipate.  About a week after planting I could see small button weeds shooting up.

So I took the rotary hoe, pictured, and ran it over the field.  It took some of the weeds out, but not all.  Then we had some rain.

Yesterday I could see more weeds, (pigweed, lambsquarters, and foxtail), poking out of the ground.  I read online that you can rotary hoe until the corn is six inches high without much damage.  So I rotary hoed a second time.  It took out more weeds and didn’t damage the corn.  I’ll probably have to switch to cultivation between rows for weed control next.

My sweet corn is coming up uneven.  I dug and found some of the plants struggling to come out of the ground.  I think the ground was so mallow after two rotovatings I ended up planting too deep.  I had reduced the depth from my Dad’s field corn, but apparently not enough.  Sweet corn has a shrunken kernel when compared to field corn and it doesn’t appear to be as strong pushing itself out of the ground.  Learning.


Stinging Nettle

May 27, 2014

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You know how you like adventure, but there is always discomfort in any adventure?  Stinging Nettle, (Urtica dioica), represents that for me.

When I was maybe six or seven, it occurred to my classmate and I that it would be possible for us to walk across the fields, as the crow flies, and explore.  If our Moms drove us, it was about four or five miles, but if we walked , each of us would only have to walk about a half mile to meet in the middle.

We did just that, and I can still remember the ideas we had about the caves which must be under the creek, and how we could dig to find them.  Exploring at six years old  is such a rush.  I’m sure our Moms could probably see us, but it felt like we were at the ends of the earth.

At some point we walked through a nice stand of Stinging Nettle, wearing shorts.  And then we started itching.  Which just makes it worse.  I’m not kidding you, these memories are vivid, even though I’ve probably never told this story to anyone.

Another Stinging Nettle story I remember is with my college friend, Konrad.  After graduating from college, my friend Doug and I drove down to Florida, all the way to the Keys, and I bought a surf board in Miami.  It was a short board, and I should have purchased a long board, as long boards make it easier to catch marginal waves.  I think Wisconsin would have to be the definition of marginal waves, right?

So I felt stupid when I brought the board home, but we started a sport based on a magazine article Doug read.  We called it “Streaming.”  What you do is tie a rope to a bridge where the river current is strong.  We modified the current with some logs we found to make it faster.

You grab the rope, and if the current is strong enough, and your balance is true, you stand, and you are stationary surfing!  So of course we had to share this with all our friends.  Did I mention you had to walk about a mile on the edge of a cornfield, where the weeds were over your head?  That’s just part of the fun!

My college friend Konrad came over for a visit.  I told him he may want to wear jeans, as the Stinging Nettle was bad, but he said it was never a problem for him.  Why am I such an asshole that I didn’t insist on him wearing jeans?  Of course he walked through the Stinging Nettle, and of course he itched.  I can still picture his face as he stood in the cold river water and splashed it up over his legs.  He was actually moaning.

So Stinging Nettle and I have a history.  The final chapter I guess is finding out it was edible, summoning up the courage to put it in my mouth, cooked, and enjoying it.  And then finding a woman who will cook it for me!

 


Rotovating Rye Cover Crop

May 13, 2014

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I rotovated the rye cover crop last week.  The rye was about twelve inches tall and growing fast.  I used a Howard rotovator I borrowed from my partner.  Its a fifty- inch wide model.  I rotovated to a depth of about five inches.

The rotovator has blades which travel downward, pictured below, cutting through the plant and soil, mixing and tossing it backwards.  The gate at the back of the rotovator can be raised or lowered with a chain, which will leave the field very rough or fairly smooth.  I thought I may plant after this, so I tried to keep it smooth.

I wasn’t sure if I should plant sweet corn right away, so I did a google search.  When Curiousfarmer came up on the first page, I realized that unless I’m suffering from dementia, I’m unlikely to learn anything from myself.

So I called my old organic farmer friend and he told me to wait a week, then rotovate it again, then plant immediately.  He thought I could kill any weeds which may have germinated, and hurt the rye again.

A week later and I’m glad I’ve waited because although I don’t see any weeds, owing to the alleopathic nature of rye, I do see some of the rye greening up.  The rye is very tough.  Any larger root-clumps of rye look like they will recover and grow and compete with the sweet corn.

 

 

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I have mixed feelings about tillage.  When I garden, I like to keep the soil mulched.  But in a larger planting, mulching is impractical, and tillage seems to be the best way to make a good seedbed and set the weeds back.

I’m not an expert, but the way I understand it is that one drawback of tillage is that it burns up some of the organic matter in the soil.  Another thing I don’t like is the potential for compaction, which can happen anytime you drive on a field, but especially in the spring when the soil is moist.

When the rotovator cuts through the soil, it ends up smearing the soil and creating a compacted layer at its bottom depth.  It leaves the soil above this very fluffy, but I wonder if the corn will have trouble growing its roots though this compacted layer.  Remind me to dig this summer and see what is happening with the roots.

Rotovators are very popular with the organic and sustainable crowd, so I am glad to be able to borrow this one from my partner.  I also don’t think I would try to kill the rye without herbicide with any less aggressive tillage.  So all in all I’m happy with the way this experiment is going, but I am still working well outside of my comfort zone.  Stay tuned.


Wild Edible: Curly Dock

April 28, 2014

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Curly Dock, (Rumex crispus), is very common on our farm.  I found it was edible in Sam Thayer’s second book, “Nature’s Garden.”  I was excited to try it, because its been a long winter and this plant starts growing even earlier than Stinging Nettle.

Sam recommended cooking it, and I concur, or possibly using it raw as part of a salad.  It’s a little too bitter for me to make it my entire salad.  I eat eggs nearly every morning and it’s a welcome addition, as pictured below.

Besides wild berries, I’ve only been learning and eating wild edibles for the past eight years, inspired by Sam’s first book.  Something I’ve learned is that even though I’m an adventurous eater, I need to try something a few times to get a taste for it.  By the next year when the plant is ready for harvest, my taste buds, or brain, or something, is primed, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it for many meals.

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2014 New Hay Seeding

April 12, 2014

The snow all melted and ran off and we found out we are in a drought!  We’re dry.  The ditches which always run with water in the spring are empty.  Still, there is no cure for a drought like a good rain, and they are calling for rain this weekend.

I’m happy because I planted my oats/hay seeding the last two days.  I saw John and his Dad  in town on Tuesday pulling their purchased oat seed on a flat rack trailer.  I told my Dad we’d better get our oat seed picked up.

So we picked up the oat seed Wednesday morning, and started discing Wednesday afternoon.  We were worried about it being too wet, but it worked up nice, didn’t ball or stick to the disc blades.  I let the soil dry for a day, then hit it with the disc again, then planted.

I thought it would be good to report on my planting this year, as I’ve tried many different recipes in the past, but have kind of settled on a favorite.  All of the following figures are per acre.

2.5 bushels Jerry oats as cover crop.  Plan to cut and bale sometime in boot/dough stage in June.

13 lbs FSG 408DP alfalfa.  I paid a little more for this variety because they say it’s for hay or grazing, with lowerset crowns than the typical alfalfa.  The crowns are where new growth comes from and they can be damaged by wheel or hoof traffic.

4 lbs Extend Orchardgrass.

2.5 lbs Gain Festulolium.

 


First Day of Spring, Rye Cover Crop, Egg Balancing,

March 20, 2014

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It seems like a long time since the last photo of the rye cover crop in November.  You know it’s been a long winter if you feel like a different person come spring.

Spring always has an effect on me.  Along with being outside more, I’m reading and writing more, and sleeping less.  It’s a funny thing, I always think I’ll get more reading and writing done in the winter, but it appears I enter a state of semi-hibernation, only to emerge revitalized in the spring.

The bottom photo shows a tradition in my family of balancing an egg during the spring and fall equinox.  Egg balancing research says that this is a myth and eggs can be balanced any time of year.

We’ve tried it various times, and it’s so easy now, yet so difficult at other times, I find it difficult to believe science.  Experts speculate my delusion fuels my success, and I’m open-minded enough to admit they may be right, but I’d rather be a successful delusional than a know-it-all failure.  Cheers!

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2014 Winter/Spring Farrowing Update

March 11, 2014

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It was much colder than average for this time of year which made it difficult.  One morning was eleven degrees below zero F.  One snowstorm of several inches occurred.

I only opened the huts to let the sows go out to drink, eat, and urinate/defecate.  Keeping the huts closed help to keep some of the sows body heat in the hut.  Having the huts in the hoop barn kept the moisture from the snow from being a factor.  I used about one bag of wood shavings for each hut and gave a fresh slice of straw daily.  This was on top of a base of wood chips from Menard’s.

The sows all farrowed within a week of each other.  They averaged over 11 piglets born alive.  Now, about ten days later they have an average of 8 piglets nursing, so there was a good deal of loss.  When conditions are this difficult, it seems that piglet vitality plays a large part in survival as well as the mothering ability of the sow.

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As the temperature warmed into the 30s F, I left the doors open and put the rollers on to keep the piglets in but allow the sows to come and go as they please.  The piglets only stayed in for a few more days before they began to jump out.  So I’ve removed all the rollers now and the piglets are able to explore.

The piglets in these photos are only a week old.  It’s amazing how precocious they are.  Look at the open mouth on the black and white piglet below, trying to decide if my boot is worth eating.

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