American Toad Tadpoles

June 20, 2017

 

May was a wet month with rain every couple of days.  My pig wallows filled with water.  One wallow that had yet to see pigs this spring was used as breeding grounds for the opportunistic American Toad.

The frog species on our farms almost exclusively use my parents’ pond for breeding since it was built in 1992.  Toads are not as picky and will breed in any standing water, sometimes to the detriment of the resulting tadpoles as often these water holes will dry up if the rains stop.  And that is what happened here as the first two weeks of June saw warm temperatures and no rain.

I was looking forward to thousands of baby toads in my yard, so I intervened with a garden hose, adding water every day or so until we got two inches of rain a few days ago.  Now I’m starting to find the little toads hopping around.

The tadpoles almost seem to shrink as they develop legs.  Its as if the fat tadpole body repositions itself into the skinny legs as the tail shrinks.  I love the American Toad.


Resilient Swine

December 18, 2016

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December 18th, 2016, 4 pm.  3 degrees below zero Farenheit, 17 degrees below zero windchill.  8 week old piglets with their mothers.

Pigs are resilient.  I continue to be amazed at just how resilient.  My background and education in the commodity swine industry tells me these piglets should just die in this environment, but I’ve always tried to be one who observes what is actually happening, rather than closing my eyes and “knowing” what should be happening.

I have a hoop building cleaned and bedded with feed in the feeder.  I’ve been trying to let the piglets self-wean for a few days, and even though they are going in the hoop building to eat feed, they prefer to spend their resting time with their mothers.  I guess I’ll corral them one of these days to finish the weaning process.

 

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Sharpening Chainsaw Chain

January 13, 2016

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I’m frustrated.  Look above the S in the word Stihl.  See how its black on the cutting edge.  That means the person who sharpened this chain got the metal too hot and it will no longer keep a sharp edge.  My buddy, a professional tree trimmer told me this.

And it makes sense because the chain had a lot of life left in it when I took it to the shop to be sharpened, but when I brought it home and tried to cut Elm, it went dull very quickly.  I tried to touch up the edge with my file but the steel feels different.

I suppose  a person could cut a softer wood and maybe not notice, but Elm is one of the hardest to cut in our area.  I put a new chain on my saw and it cut right through the Elm.  It is truly amazing the difference a sharp chain makes.  Now I’m thinking of the Abraham Lincoln quote.    I don’t know how you spend four hours sharpening an axe, though.

Why do chains get dull besides regular use?  Dirt dulls a chain quickly.  This is why I usually lift logs off the ground with the bale carrier on my tractor.  And if I’m not paying attention, another way to wreck a good chain is to hit metal, so I have to be careful not to cut through the log in a place where the metal bale carrier is underneath.  Interestingly though, chainsaws cut through ice without getting dull quite well.  Hence the hobby of some sculptors to use chainsaws to make ice sculptures.

 


Native Beneficial Insects

January 26, 2015

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The above photo was taken August 10th.  It’s my Native Pollinator Garden which I grew from transplants, planted in June.  Insects were attracted to the garden, with a favorite plant being Hairy Mountain Mint, small white flowers near the top of the photo.

The orange and black beetles, pictured below, blanketed the Mint.  I had never seen this beetle before and I immediately thought, “Oh no, I’ve attracted a new pest.”  Looking back, it’s amazing to see my negative bias.

 

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This winter I picked up a new book from The Xerces Society, “Farming with Native Beneficial Insects“, and in there was a picture of my beetle in the Predatory Insects section.  The Goldenrod Soldier Beetle eats insect larvae and eggs, aphids, and slugs.  The adult Soldier Beetle needs nectar and pollen to survive, which they were getting from my garden.  My garden was doing exactly what I wanted it to do, but my negative bias kept me from recognizing it.

In the photo below you can see what I think is a Blue Mud Dauber Wasp, which provides size comparison to the Soldier Beetles. I should also say Soldier Beetles are related to Fireflies, which we see plenty of on summer nights.

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The photo below is of some type of Tachina Fly.  I’m amazed to say I’ve also gained an appreciation for flies.  I guess the ability to see insect nature up-close is helping me appreciate it.  I enjoy seeing the megafauna like deer, turkey, bald eagle, but you never get to really examine them unless they are dead.  Most of these insects, however, don’t mind your nose being a foot away.

It’s not all peaceful though.  Much is written about the plight of the Monarch butterfly, probably exaggerated, but I try to leave some Milkweed growing and keep an eye on the Monarch population.  I’m happy to say I’ve seen many Monarch caterpillars, but am sorry to say I haven’t seen any pupate.

I watch the caterpillars daily.  Once you know where they are it’s pretty easy to find them again.  One day I checked a big caterpillar twice, only to find it shriveled to a third of its original size, with a predatory Stink bug in the process of sucking the remaining juices out of it.

Even though I was disappointed the Monarch caterpillar was dead, I left the Stink bug alone.  I realized it’s always a balance, and beyond creating a decent habitat, there is little I should do.

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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.


Father’s Day, 2014

June 15, 2014

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Happy Father’s Day!

This is a photo our friend Jeanenne took of my Dad helping me move farrowing huts about a month ago.  Click on the picture to enlarge, and click again for more detail.  She has a nice camera and took the photo without us even knowing it.  Zooming in changed the perception, though.

The bare dirt in the background is my Dad’s corn field about a quarter mile away.  The white water tower with the Redbird on it is about three miles away as the crow flies.  In the foreground you can see how tall the rye bordering the sweet corn has grown.  There are some flags in the sweet corn field where I planted squash and pumpkins.

When Jeanenne gave me this photo she told me how nice it is to see family working together.  And she’s right, that’s one of the benefits of farming.  I’ve spent many hours working with my Dad.

There is also a little time for play.  I remember one Christmas, Dad  put up a basketball hoop in the barn.  My sisters being too little to play against me, I always bugged Dad to play.  He would usually indulge me in a quick game, especially after chores were done.

Thank you, Dad!


Outdoor Wood Burner/Wood Pig

March 3, 2014

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It’s been a long winter.  As I write this on March 3rd, it’s 11 degrees below zero F.  I’m tired.

I’m back to hand-to-mouth wood cutting.  Everyone who burns wood says they’ve burnt way more than normal.  I need a bigger pile next year though, because the crusted snow in the woods makes it nearly impossible to drag in logs.

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In a bit of serendipity, I met an old schoolmate who burns wood also.  I told him I had an outdoor wood burner.

“Oh, you’ve got one of those wood pigs, too!”

“What’s that?” I said.

“It really goes through the wood, doesn’t it?”

He’s right.  I’ve finally realized that an outdoor wood burner is not a very efficient way to heat a house.  However, it is a safe way to heat a house and I’m stuck with it for now.

He told me about a lumber yard that sells scrap lumber for twenty bucks a bundle.  They’re good-sized, eight to ten feet long, dry wood.  He burns it in his burner.

Not being a fast thinker, I had to let the idea germinate for a few days.  I think I gave myself permission to buy wood when I nearly got the tractor stuck for the umpteenth time.

I called him up and asked him to bring me a load and he delivered eight bundles.  If I’m not reading the calendar wrong, that should be enough wood to get me to the point where it’s hot enough I’m forgetting how cold it’s been!

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