Pollinator-Friendly, Carbon Sponge!

September 14, 2018

 

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Curiousfarmer is a Pollinator-Friendly, Carbon Sponge!

What the heck does that mean?

Our farm is covered year around with perennial plants, shrubs, and trees.  Livestock are rotated around the farm, grazing plants near their peak, leaving about half, to speed regrowth.  

Plants pull carbon out of the atomsphere and deposit into the soil.  Plants managed well with rotational grazing are pulling near maximum carbon out of the atmosphere.  And we do this year after year after year.

We care about pollinators, and manage some plants specifically for them.  But even if we didn’t, rotational grazing perennial forages, without using herbicides or pesticides, results in many plants and flowers thriving which our beneficial to all the pollinators.  The Monarch butterfly is an indicator species, and I’m happy to say I have never seen greater numbers.  

This is all well and good, but I’m happy to say, we do this while producing delicious, nutritious, meat!  I am unapologetically, humans first.  I care about people, and people need to eat.  And we can and do produce food in a holistic way that feeds people while capturing carbon.

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An added benefit to capturing carbon and building organic matter is the added water holding capacity of healthy soil.  The earth covered in healthy soil becomes more flood and drought proof.

We were just about ready to take the third cutting of hay in the middle of August when the heavens opened and for about three weeks we had the wettest period I can ever remember.  Every day or every other day we received and inch to three inches of rain.

During this rainy period, other than the gravel driveway, I witnessed very little runoff of water.  The more rain water our soil captures, the more is available for plants to use and then respire back into the atmosphere in the gentlest way possible. 

 

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This is the third cutting of hay we made this week.  Phoebe, pictured above and below, is due to calve here in September.  We should have plenty of hay to feed her and her baby this winter.  The circle of life continues.

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I Hate Butterflies

July 16, 2018

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Yes, I hate butterflies.  I used to think I liked butterflies.  In fact, like many of you, I read about the plight of the pollinators, and I took action, creating beneficial habitat.

I also educated myself, reading many books by The Xerces Society, a group which works for the benefit of invertebrates.

And now, perhaps because of creating better habitat, but more likely because of educating myself, I’m seeing butterflies everywhere.

I thought that would make me happy.  But working in the fields, mowing hay, raking hay, baling hay, my mood darkened.  It took me awhile to check in with myself and figure out why. 

I’m working hard in the summer sun, sweat pooling in my butt crack, and butterflies are aimlessly flitting, floating, and fluttering.  

They lack discipline.  They lack direction.  Do you have any idea how long I had to wait by this Milkweed to get a good photo?

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Occasionally, I’ll catch two of them having sex, mid-flight.  Its not enough that they can fly and I can’t.  They add insult to my injury by fornicating, joining the meter high club.

Sidenote:  As I write this, a bee is in a death struggle with a spider outside my window.  The bee is losing and I’m glad, as I don’t like bees either.  

Bees however, I respect.  They work hard for a living.  Flying straight to flowers, doing their thing, then flying directly back to their hive.  No aimless meandering for bees.

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Butterflies practice casual sex, then lay their eggs and completely forget about their offspring.  They do absolutely zero when it comes to raising their offspring.

The eggs hatch and the caterpillars spend their adolescence eating and pooping.  They live on their food.  How charmed of a life is that?

And then, as a reward for all this gluttony, they form a chrysalis, take the mother of all teenage naps, and wake up as a butterfly.  It this fair, God?

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I reserve my worst vitriol for the Monarch Butterfly.  The Monarch Butterfly winters in Mexico.  Yes, you read that right.  The Monarch winters in Mexico.

For the longest time, scientists couldn’t figure out where the Monarch goes in winter.  Hint:  Check out a sleepy little Mexican village in the mountains, with just the right climate to spend the winter.  

It’s not enough for the Monarch to enjoy the heat and humidity of a midwestern summer, they also get to enjoy their winters, while I’m stuck here on this farm, paying the bills, feeding the stock, and chopping wood to stay warm.

Butterflies are the ultimate hedonists.  Is it any wonder they’re struggling?  

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Curious?

June 11, 2018

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Welcome visitors!  Welcome especially to the people I’ve met at the Dane County Farmer’s Market.  Thank you for your interest.

I’ve often been asked, “Why, Curiousfarmer?”  I don’t remember how I came up with the name ten years ago for what I thought would be an agriculture blog, but it seems to fit.

Obviously I’m a farmer, and curious in my own odd way, but who isn’t, right?  

The way I think of “Curious”, is the way I approach life.  With an open mind, observing, seeking to understand.  At least that’s what I’m striving for on my best days.

And “Curious”, is a natural way to live life.  Think about how we start life as infants.  Babies are almost exclusively curious.  Observing, seeking to understand, communicating their needs, and then growing and processing while they sleep.

The way we farm gives us ample opportunity to observe and be curious.  Often, I realize I’m in the middle of a unique experience I may never experience again.  

My Father, who is in his 70s, was discing his fields this spring and he observed for the first time in his life, a Snowy Owl.  I’ve never seen one.

The Snowy Owl was resting in the disced field as it migrated north.  Eventually it flew off, but the experience sure made his day of discing more interesting.

 

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The above photo shows a weedy area where round bales of hay had been stored.  My friend Jeremy asked if he could have a little area to expand his tomato production as he has a small yard in Madison.  Jeremy is also a curious guy, and is always up to something.

He planted and staked 16 tomato plants, using hay as mulch.  He has named the project, “No Fuss Tomatoes”.  

Some of the tomato plants he grafted a top onto a stronger root.  Like I said, Jeremy is a curious guy.  I’m hoping he documents his “No Fuss” tomato experience and shares with us on this blog.

I set up a rain gauge near the tomatoes and was surprised to see this gelatinous substance on top of the soil.  What is it?  I had never seen anything like it.

I’ve figured out what it is, but if any of you would like to guess, especially those of you in the Madison area, I’ll give a free pork product of your choice to the first correct guess.  Pick it up at market.  Sorry, long distance readers.

I would like you to like and guess on our facebook page as Daniele is managing that social media.  Send Daniele a message with your guess.  Good luck!

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Spring 2018: Farm Update

May 1, 2018

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Braden finished his movable chicken pens and I helped him move his broiler chickens out to pasture.  We have had the coldest April on record, so there isn’t much pasture, but the chickens seem happy in their new home.

Braden put his own spin on a Salatin style, movable chicken pen.  I hope to post with more detail in the future.  The pens are moved daily to fresh pasture.  The pen is keeping the predators away from the chickens, and the chickens are really thriving.  He is still planning on having freshly frozen chickens for the May 26th market.

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I helped Daniel rototill the garden and she has started moving her indoor started vegetables outdoors, and also started direct seeding some of her crops.

I rototilled the sweet corn plot and plan to plant next week if the soil continues to warm. We should have delicious sweet corn around the first of August.

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Winter/Spring farrowing has gone well, and I have lots of healthy feeder pigs.  My fall-calving herd has wintered well on our home-raised hay, and are chomping at the bit to get on fresh pasture.

Cattle aren’t particularly smart, but they are masters at body language.  They know exactly what it means when they see me repairing electric fence.  I’m sure they are salivating as much as when Pavlov’s dogs hear a bell.

 


2018 Dane County Farmer’s Market

April 14, 2018

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Thank you to all who ventured out on a very cold, wet, windy Saturday for the start of the 2018 Dane County Farmer’s Market!  Despite the weather, it was a great day reconnecting with old friends, and making new ones.  We are looking forward to a new season.

Thank you to my buddy Jake, for assisting me at our stand and photo credit.  And thank you to Sarah Elliot, DCFM market manager, for all her help as we start our new venture as Curiousfarmer, bringing you the same great beef and pork some of you have grown to love.  Braden and Daniele have started their enterprises and are excited to bring you pastured poultry and vegetables starting about Memorial Day weekend also.

We plan to be at every market this season.  We will try to set up near the same spot we are in today.   We enjoy our neighbors at the DCFM.  If any of you want to make sure we have something saved for you, email me with a preorder and we can be sure you will get it.

Thanks again!

Matthew Walter

oakgrovelane@yahoo.com


Red-winged Blackbird Returns

March 12, 2018

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My old friend, the Red-winged Blackbird, has returned from his winter home, March 11, 2018.  There is usually a male who sits in the apple tree in my yard as I practice my disc golf putting.

While he probably isn’t the same bird, there is a chance, as the longest living wild Red-winged Blackbird was nearly 16 years old when scientists studied him.  If he isn’t the same bird, I’m sure he’s kin.

The photo above was taken in June or July, five years ago.  You can read more about Red-winged Blackbirds on my blog, here,  and here and here.


New Partners, Braden and Daniele

October 23, 2017

 

For mid-life reasons I don’t care to discuss, my direct-marketing partners decided to get out of this gig and sell their farm.  It was a good partnership for about nine years and I was sad to see it end.  I wish them the best.

This summer I upped my marketing since Eric wasn’t active in the partnership.  I sold most Saturdays at the West Side Farmer’s Market and I made many restaurant deliveries.  I fully intended to take over the business and buy out my partners’ shares in the LLC.

I guess we should have talked price earlier in the process, as when we finally did, we were so far off it wasn’t even worth negotiating.  I’m glad I didn’t buy them out as I knew I couldn’t do it all on my own, and I wasn’t thrilled to think about managing employees.

So when my disc golfing buddy Braden mentioned one day that he and his significant other, Daniele, would really like to have a small farm someday, and raise chickens and vegetables, the idea germinated that perhaps I could find some new partners.

I’ve been reading and rereading the Joel Salatin books on business and marketing.  He says that if you are in your 40s or older and there is no one younger in your business, your business is dying, or something to that effect.

So I approached Braden and Daniele about partnering with me.  I could give them access to land and a market and a few years experience which I hope has been distilled into wisdom.  They could give me youthful energy and help marketing.  Each offer other skills as well, (Braden is an electrician.  Daniele is an elementary teacher).

To their credit, it took them a week to get back to me.  Because I feel a bit like Tom Sawyer as this opportunity I’m presenting them, to quote Thomas Edison, is “dressed in overalls and looks like work!”  But that’s what most opportunities look like, and I think by the end of the first year they will at least know if this is still a dream worth pursuing for them.

The first thing we did as partners was to go to my old partners’ farm sale.  We ended up making a bulky purchase of chicken crates, which we will need if Braden raises broiler chickens as he plans.  After we made the buy we had to figure out how to get the crates home as we only drove a truck to the sale.   I said I would go back to my farm and get my cattle trailer.  They could stay at the sale and bid on a couple more items we were interested in.

When I returned, the sale was over.  By myself I would have been stressed gathering up all the purchases and loading and unloading the trailer.  But they already had our purchases gathered in one spot.  We loaded quickly, drove back to the farm, and unloaded quickly.  I understood what Joel meant by youthful energy.

I like to strike when the iron is hot, and even though I am not ready to sell meat under our new name as we don’t have labels, etc.  I thought it would be good to check out our spot at the Dane County Farmer’s Market at the capital.

We could have just drove up and walked around, but we got on the ball and gathered up some fall decorations to sell.  Daniele made a sign and business cards.  Our stuff didn’t sell very well, but we made some more contacts for Thanksgiving turkeys and started getting our new name out there.

Even though it was a long day with an early start, Braden and Daniele seem as enthused as ever.  I plan to document this partnership with this blog and video, the new medium I’m exploring.  I made a slide show of our first market.