Sweet Corn!

July 31, 2018

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One of life’s four great pleasures, according to Garrison Keillor, our sweet corn is ready.  And it is good!

We tried a new variety this year, an augmented supersweet, and the corn is not only undeniably sweet, but large.  The ears pictured above are 22 and 20 rows around.  Hu-u-u-ge!

Next Saturday will be the last chance you have to try some, as we will be sold out after that.


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.

 


Electric Fence for Piglets

October 24, 2014

 

 

 

 

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My goal is to have more animals on pasture, more of the time.  This was supposed to be a celebratory post about how I am accomplishing this, but now it’s the middle of October with cold rains and mud, and I’m starting to appreciate the concept of confinement.

The piglets are four to ten weeks old.  Old enough to wean, but I didn’t need to rebreed the sows yet, waiting until November in order to have March litters.  So I wanted to wait, but the piglets were starting to turn into gremlins.

Hence, the low electric fence you see in the photo.  It runs along my driveway keeping the piglets “confined” to sixty acres or so on the south side of my farm.  In reality, they probably only use about six acres surrounding the two acres which their moms are confined in.  I’m taking advantage of the piglets’ natural inclination to stray only so far from their moms.

I gave the piglets their own shelter in the sweet corn patch and their own feed and water.  They really started eating grain, but continued to nurse and graze and eat other stuff like pumpkins.  They were doing very well, with the biggest ones weighing over fifty pounds.  They were so big in fact, a litter of ten was unable to all fit around their mom’s udder.

But I started having some problems.   The sows began to come into heat, (they were cycling to breed), at about eight to ten weeks into their lactations.  Interestingly this is about when our cows return to heat after calving.

A single electric fence separated the sows and litters from the gestating sows and Taiphan, the boar.  Until they came into heat, the single electric fence had  been enough to keep them apart.  But the desire to mate must have caused one sow to go through the fence.  The boar was too rough with her, and I found her the next morning barely able to walk.  So I put the sow into a recovery pen, essentially weaning her litter.

That litter, and the other big piglets found a way to go through the cattle lot and into the barnyard where they started desodding the yard very quickly.  The cold rains made mud, which they tracked into their feeder.  It started to look a lot less like piglet nirvana, so I made the decision to wean and house the piglets in a hoop barn.

 

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After bedding the hoop barn with straw and hay, I made a run from the lactating sows pen to the hoop barn, and in 24 hours had all the sows locked into the hoop barn.  I put an electric fence across the gate opening at sow height, allowing the piglets to come and go as they pleased.

The next morning I shut the gates and all but three piglets were in the hoop building.  I caught the three piglets with my hydraulic trailer and then sorted the sows out of the hoop barn and they were weaned.  Below you can see a photo of a sow and different ages of piglets in the hoop barn.

The piglets are doing very well in the hoop barn.  They are warm and dry.  They have food and water.  They have straw and hay to manipulate as they please.

But I’m conflicted because they are no longer able to run where they please, dig, graze.  It’s a tradeoff and balancing act, something I’ll have to continue to work on as I strive toward my goal of more animals on pasture, more of the time.

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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.


Kentucky Blue Pole Beans

August 5, 2014

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The jungle above is what happens when you plant pumpkins too close to pole beans.  I planted Kentucky Blue Pole Beans, my first try with pole beans as I never thought I wanted to mess with a fence.  But it turns out they weren’t much work, and grow well here.

I planted them in a row and after they were up and growing, I weeded and mulched with loose hay chaff from the barn.  Then I put a five-foot high fence right beside them.  They took to the fence rapidly and would have grown higher if my fence had been taller.

They were doing very well until the pumpkins, which were planted three and six feet away, made there way over to the fence and started climbing.  All the shade from the pumpkins may have hurt yield, but it doesn’t matter now as the sweet corn is ready.  We ate green beans every day, but now I realize they were just a place-holder on my plate until the sweet corn was ready.


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.