Annual Pollinator Mix, 8 Week Update, Spring Farrowing

June 12, 2015

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“Sleep, creep, and leap,” is a common saying about growing things, and it really seems to be true.  The annual pollinator/ oat mix is leaping now, 8 weeks after planting.  I’ve started grazing it with the feeder cattle and the sows with spring litters.  All are loving it, but the cattle really seem to be blooming on this mixture.  The sows are eating so much their manure could pass for cow pies.

I’m not really sure which components are contributing the most to the mixture, but I’m assuming the oats, which is probably near its nutritional peak, and the rape, which there seems to be a lot of and is reputed to be high in protein.  The sunflower is not being eaten by either species and as of 9 weeks has started to outgrow everything else.  The oats are starting to head out.  The Buckwheat is the only plant that is flowering at 9 weeks.

Below is a photo of a sow farrowing in one of the “hillbilly” farrowing caves I made using old round bales of hay and some used tin for a roof.  They really like farrowing in these spots, but it doesn’t offer enough protection from the elements.  I had to move a two-day-old litter into one of the farrowing huts I’ve written of previously as they were getting wet from rain.  Remarkably I’ve farrowed 13 sows in the spring group and the last time I counted they had an average of 10 pigs per litter.  I’m amazed at how well they are doing.  It seems they continue to improve with each succeeding generation farrowed on pasture.

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Annual Pollinator Mix, 4 Week Update

May 16, 2015

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It’s doing well.  Click on the picture for a larger image.  Most of what you see is the oat cover crop, but I’m happy to see many of the different flowering forbs up and growing as well.

In the background you can see the cattle.  I turned them into the first of many hay fields to graze.  They are loving the tall orchard grass and alfalfa, as they had been grazing their permanent pasture for a month.


Annual Pollinator Mix, Planned Pig Pasture

April 23, 2015

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I was wondering what to plant for my annual pig pasture when I stumbled across an Annual Pollinator Mix on the Lacrosse Forages blog.  I ordered it from my local supplier, and with some delays, finally planted it April 16th.

The Annual Pollinator Mix contains eight different flowering plants with many of them legumes.  Its supposed to improve the soil and benefit pollinators.  My thought is it would make a decent pig pasture as well.  I also planted two bushels of Jerry oats per acre.

The Jerry oats cost $8.20 per bushel, so at two bushels per acre the cost for the oats is $16.40 per acre.  The Annual Pollinator Mix cost $181 per 50 lb bag.  I planted 18 lbs per acre so the cost for the Annual Pollinator Mix is $65 per acre.  I actually hadn’t figured out the cost until now, and its pricier than I expected.  It better be pretty!

I came across a short Ted talk and video by Louie Schwartzberg about pollinators.  Its really good, and did I mention its short?

I’ll keep you updated as the pasture progresses.


Sweet Corn Summary and Links

August 27, 2014

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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.


Sweet Corn Planting Mistake

July 28, 2014

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I made a rookie-type mistake planting my sweet corn.  After planting my Dad’s field corn, I changed the population from 30,000 plants per acre down to 20,000 plants per acre, and I cleaned out each of the four seed hoppers in my John Deere 7200 planter.

I’ve owned this corn planter for over five years, and I’ve cleaned out the hoppers the same way every time, (dumping them upside down several times), but this time one of the hoppers had quite a bit of corn stuck down inside where I couldn’t see it.  Furthermore, when I started planting, that row was plugged and corn was not coming out.  Luckily, the monitor tells me when a row isn’t planting, so I wouldn’t have planted the whole field with a missing row.

I unplugged the row and finished planting the whole field, stopping once to add another variety of sweet corn.  I planted two varieties this year, both supersweet, but with different maturities.  I noticed there was more corn in the second hopper, but figured that must have been because it didn’t plant that one time across the field.

Fast-forward to a couple of months later.  I noticed that the rows of corn were developing differently, but figured that must have been the difference in variety.  Then we had a summer storm with strong winds.  Most of the corn was bent over from the strong wind, but some of the rows were not affected.  I still figured it was due to varietel difference.

Finally, when the corn started tasseling, with the taller rows not tasseling, a light bulb went on and I realized what had happened.  The tall rows were my Dad’s field corn.  The next thought I had was, “Oh no, my sweet corn is ruined.”  You see, supersweet corn needs to be isolated from other types of corn or the sugar in it turns to starch and it tastes terrible.  This happened once with our sweet corn when I was a kid, and it was inedible.

But then I realized that the sweet corn was tasseling, but the field corn was not.  So if the sweet corn could pollinate before the sweet corn tasseled, I would be fine.  I could have detasseled all the field corn to be safe, but you know me, my curiosity comes before my success.  So now we wait and see.

Next year I know exactly what I will do differently.  I’m going to upend each hopper, removing all the visible corn.  Then I will put the planter in the ground somewhere out of the way, and plant any remaining seeds until the monitor tells me each row is empty.

On a side note, you can see the pumpkin and squash is growing gangbusters.  In the foreground you can see a new purchase I made: Racoon Net from Premier fence.  The three-strand electric fence I always made in the past helped, but didn’t completely keep the raccoons out of the sweet corn.  I’m hoping this netting works better, and I’ll try to remember to let you know how it does.


Corn Roots in Rotovated Soil

July 21, 2014

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I expressed some concern when I rotovated the soil in the spring that the smeared soil at the bottom of the rotovated soil may prove difficult for corn roots to penetrate.  So I decided to dig up a plant to check.  If the roots had a difficult time they would be turned and/or short.

I took these photos June 24th, and am pleased to see that this corn plant appears to have had no problem.  By the looks of the rest of the field, its safe to say my fears were unfounded.

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Contour Strip Cropping, Farm Update

July 19, 2014

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There must be some sort of dubious record I am setting this year.  The top photo was taken July 6th.  It shows the contour strips, which is how we farm the hillsides in Wisconsin to prevent soil erosion.

The green in the foreground is a little strip of hay next to the road which was cut and baled in June.  Next up in the photo is very mature, cut hay.  Yes, the last of first cutting was made in July.  The green strip in the middle of the photo is hay which was cut and baled in May, and is now ready to be cut for a second time.  The light colored strip above that is my oats and hay new seeding which is cut and drying, waiting to be baled.

So, yes, I made first cutting hay in May, June, and July.  I know of no other farmer who is as on the ball, and behind, as myself.  At least I’m still laughing.

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The bottom photo shows my sweet corn on June 26th.  Beyond the sweet corn are the farrowing huts.  I’ve had 14 beautiful June litters.  Beyond the farrowing huts are my grass-finished steers.  I started them grazing hay fields at the end of June.


Sweet Corn Update, June 2014

June 25, 2014

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I cultivated between the rows on June 16th.  The soil was quite dry.  We received five inches of rain over the following four days.  I snapped these photos the morning of June 20th.

Now the corn is too tall for mechanical cultivation, so we are left with hand weeding.  We’ve been doing some of that, especially around my garden area.  That’s the beautiful thing with organic production, I can plant other crops amongst the corn and not worry about the herbicide killing them.

The bottom photo shows where I ran out of corn for a couple of rows.  Instead of panicking, I planted pole beans and squash and pumpkin in the empty rows.  Since this picture was taken, I weeded and mulched and put up a fence for the pole beans to climb on and it’s looking pretty good.

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I have mixed feelings about the weed control.  On the plus side, I definitely think I controlled the weeds enough that the corn yield will not be limited.  Research shows that much of a corn’s yield potential is determined at a very small size, (around four leaves I think).

But I can see a lot of weeds coming now.  I wonder if I let them escape and go to seed will the weed pressure continually worsen?  Maybe I have let too many weeds go to seed in the past?

I can see the allure of using herbicide to achieve a “clean” field.  It’s just that I can also see that there is no such thing as “clean”.  Life is messy!


Sorghum/Sudangrass and Forage Peas for Pig Pasture

June 20, 2014

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I planted two forages for a pig pasture this spring which are new to me.  I’m very pleased with the forage peas.  I’m not happy with the sorghum-sudangrass, but don’t feel I utilized it correctly.

I no-till planted both into last year’s pig pasture on April 23rd.  I used my single-disc John Deere grain drill, which is not considered a no-till drill, but works great when the ground is mallow in the spring.  I planted about 25 lbs to the acre for each.

Above you can see what most of the pasture looks like.  Three-foot high forage peas growing thickly.  The warm-season sorghum-sudangrass has been overpowered by the cool-season peas.

Below you can see an open area where each plant is growing side by side.  The sorghum-sudangrass is thriving here.  It looks like corn.  The pea is the green and white leaf on the left.

The sorghum-sudangrass is called Surpass BMR 6, and is from Lacrosse Seeds.  I can’t even find the forage pea on their website.  It’s safe to say the pea did better, but I believe it’s all in how I used them.

Planting them together and early in the spring is an advantage for the peas, and the results bear witness.  I shouldn’t have planted them together, but I wanted to try both plants and wasn’t sure I would have another spot to plant in this year.  Waiting another year is just too much.

I also think the sorghum-sudangrass would have like to have been planted deeper, but no-till into mallow ground worked great for the pea.  On a side note, Buckwheat no-tills very well in the spring, although it is not supposed to tolerate frost.

 

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I couldn’t resist including the photo below with my model sow amongst the purple and red flowers of alfalfa and red clover.  The sow was pictured last September as a gilt with her beautiful litter.  She has large, erect ears, which make it seem as if everything is exciting to her.  Maybe everything is.

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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.