Early Spring Greetings!
It seems that no matter where you’re located in the USA there has been some unusual winter weather this year, and here on the farm has been no exception!
One such example is the last week in January we experienced a 55 degree day followed by a snow storm all the next day which dumped about 5" of snow. We have had a lot more snow than usual this winter, but it has sure been beautiful! Filing papers in my new filing system was one of the snowy day projects. While not perfectly clear my desk is staying clearer than it’s been in years since Dad helped me clean it off and put together a filling system!!!
Caye loves the snow too. Can you see her smiling?
HOT NEWS! Mitchell Family Farm is partnering with the Independence Downtown Farmer’s Market to bring FRESH the movie to Southeast Kansas! If you have an interest in healthy eating, food safety, sustainable agriculture or just eating in general – this movie is a must see! Mark your calendar and plan to join us at the Independence Museum on March 27 to see this excellent documentary. We’ll be sending out more information a little closer to the date. See trailers and read all about it at: http://www.freshthemovie.com/
We’re now on Facebook and Twitter. Stop by and become a fan of Mitchell Family Farm!
Studying up on some of the natural hoof care practices and techniques took a little time before putting them into practice on Belle and Blaze. For no more than they’ve had their feet picked up they did very well and were patient with this slow poke, wannabe, hoof care practitioner. It took me 2 hours to get six hooves done and close to another hour to get the remaining two hooves done on Belle the following day!
All of the dairy goats have kidded (gave birth to goat kids) since the last update! We had two sets of triplets, one set of twins and one single. They’re sure cute little bouncers and have started picking up quite a little spring in their heals! I’m here to tell you those kids are not nearly as hardy as the lambs. Before I could get around to trimming Belle and Blaze the first day I had to warm two new arrivals even though the temperatures weren’t nearly as cold (still pretty cold though) as when most of the lambs were being born.
When I found the two little guys they were so cold I didn’t know if they’d even make it. Barely able to squeak the little ones took 5 minute feedings with a syringe for a while before I could start giving them a larger amount by bottle and space the feedings apart a little more. First soaking them in warm water to help get their core body temperature back up, then drying them off, I moved them both close to the wood stove. They were finally able to go back to their respective ma’s after a few hours of TLC.
One of the little kids that got too cold had been born the day before. The second rascal, now named "Pain", was one of a set of triplets I found scattered throughout the barn. One triplet was caught between the boards of a pallet, another was by ma and Pain was hiding behind some boards and I nearly missed him…would have if he wouldn’t have squeaked up a little. The first ma took her kid back, but poor little Pain got rejected so he’s now a bottle baby. Since Pain is a bottle baby he’s underfoot every time someone is down at the barn and nearly had his wee self kicked while Mom was milking once! He came up and got aunt Belle (the cow) upset before Mom (my Mom) could get him out of the way. Thankfully Bell missed her kicking aim that time and Mom yanked Pain out of harm’s way before a second shot was taken. Here’s a picture of the little rascaldee kid!
The morning of February fourth held a wonderful surprise when we had "snowballs" falling from the sky! There was hardly a breeze to be found and wet snow flakes must have joined forces and clumped together to make beautiful, massive, delicate snow flakes. The downside was our temperatures were too warm that day for much of the snow to stay around. Yes, by then the five inches of snow had pretty much already melted.
That evening the Lord helped me get through a talk I presented at the Indy public library. Being in front of a group of folks isn’t my favorite thing to do, but thankfully the presentation seemed to go well. I do enjoy sharing what I know with others (and learning from others too! ) but sharing a presentation with a group instead of with an individual or family is quite different.
Once again on the eighth it snowed, but melted as fast as it came down. I was able to start working on building another pig pen around a patch of Johnson grass in the south pasture. The little oinkers are growing and provide a lot of entertainment with their antics!
While the eighth may have been too warm for snow to stick the ninth made up for it with a bitter wind cutting through. Dad had to leave early since he had a few days of classes in Stillwater, Oklahoma. We certainly missed him while he was gone! Since it was so chilly outside, I stayed inside and I made a few of the cardboard templates I use to mark out the grid for transplanting into the hoop houses. One of these days I hope to make something like a wheel with spikes sticking out of it to punch correctly spaced holes in the hoop house soil instead of needing to do it all with my fingers, but we’ll see if I ever get around to that project.
February tenth was both a blessing and a very sad day. A gentleman from Ohio came and bought our flock of sheep. The vet had been out the day before to look the herd over and give us health papers for the herd so they could travel across state lines. I was sad to have the sheep go even before they left as they have been such a benefit to our farm. Besides the lambs being so much entertainment with their bounce acrobatics, the peaceful serenity of seeing a flock grazing across the pasture and enjoyment of walking amongst them, they were excellent weed control as well. The sheep have a different diet than most other livestock and really enjoyed munching on many of the weeds most other animals distain. Despite all the advantages to having sheep we are having to cut back on our workload one way or another and that’s one less project for us to keep up with.
Life must go on even while missing what’s been such a part of the farm for so long. That morning it had been in the mid-teens, but warmed to the upper 30’s which was T-shirt weather since the sun was shining, there was no wind, and I was working enough to keep my blood circulating good. Funny how that sounds so warm after some of the single and negative digit weather we’ve had this year! Mulching asparagus took the remainder of my day. Since I’d already cut their tops off all I needed to do was spread some cottonseed meal (a slow release nitrogen source) over the row and then mulch with some old alfalfa hay that wasn’t fit for livestock consumption. I’ve not had opportunity to use the alfalfa hay as mulch before, but it should be one of the highest quality hay mulches. Since alfalfa can have roots penetrating up to twenty-five feet deep this plant can mine many of the micro nutrients and trace minerals that other plant’s roots never reach! Also, alfalfa is another good nitrogen source. Since you harvest the young immature asparagus spears to eat, cotton seed meal and alfalfa hay’s slow release nitrogen helps naturally stimulate growth for larger and more spears.
Who are you? Storm is checking out a barn cat though a hole in the barn wall.
The following day our day time temperatures were actually warmer, but a heavy cloud cover had moved back over again and a breeze had picked up. While working on pruning fruit trees I needed several more layers of clothing to keep warm than the day before including my insulated overhauls and coat! I only pruned what really had to come off the young fruit trees and I’m trying to make time to go back and prune a little more right away before the sap starts to rise any more.
Our older cherry tree (the OLD cherry tree died last year) on the other hand got a sever hair (limb) cut. I’ve warned it for several years that it’d better straighten up or else we’d have to take drastic action! When my work was completed I told G-Jean she’d better sit down on her Yam before taking a look at it because I’d topped and chomped it so much. Here’s before and after pictures of the cherry tree. While the other trees in the background make it a little difficult to see the cherry tree, look at the stack of limbs laying on the ground!
We celebrated the twelfth when Dad came home from his Stillwater schooling in the evening! As usual Dad did excellent on his tests and is now a certified level one thermal camera operator! Earlier in the day I resumed my work on putting up an electric fence pig pen to get the pigs out of the mud they’d created in their current pens. Of course it started drying out somewhat after I got the pen completed the following day so I haven’t taken time to move the pigs yet…I really want the sows to eat more Johnson grass roots in that section of garden! I’m wondering if Large Black hogs don’t have an affinity for Johnson grass roots like other hogs though as the sows aren’t going after them like most hogs. They are supposed to be a true pastured hog breed, so maybe that’s the problem. I plan to move the pigs soon if it stays too muddy for long. Slowly they have been picking up on my idea of adding Johnson Grass roots to their diet so I hope it won’t be long before they get their game plan down.
A beautiful morning looking across the young orchard, garden and south pasture.
Saturday was split up into several smaller projects one of which included taking our Ford tractor apart some more. Did you know that on a 1967 orchard exhaust Ford 4000 tractor you have to unbolt and remove the front axle assembly to take the oil pan off? Two silly bolts hide under a piece of the axle casting and with all its curvatures there’s no way to get them out without pulling the axle and casting out! Once Dad and I had propped up the tractor, rolled the front axle out of our way and taken those two crazy bolts out, we were able to look up into the engine from the bottom side.
We haven’t liked the feel of things since we hadn’t been able to turn the Ford’s cylinders even with the head off (no compression) and really didn’t like what we saw in the bottom of the oil pan… pieces of yet another bearing. We are coming up to a point rather quickly where we’re needing to make some decisions.
Great grandpa Mitchell bought our Ford tractor used and each of the four Mitchell generations who have now lived on this farm have used that tractor for a lot of things. That means there is quite a bit of sentimental value rapped up in it, but we’re needing to see how much it will approximately cost to fix her up again. It will probably be cheaper to buy a rebuilt engine rather than fixing this old one because the bearing that blew is one of the main ones. If we chose to either fix the engine or buy a rebuilt one we have no guarantees there wasn’t something else in the transmission that got stressed when that transmission bearing came apart (the one we replaced this past summer) and just hasn’t broken yet. On the other hand I added it up and you can buy, brand new, a forecart, a sulky (riding) plow, harness for a team of horses and a few other small items to hook up another team of horses for approximately the same price as the rebuilt engine for the Ford. That doesn’t include the cost of another team of horses though and there won’t be as many horse power in four horses as the old Ford had. Buying a used tractor doesn’t guarantee we won’t have problems with it breaking down soon after purchasing it and when we priced what another new Kubota, the size of our Ford cost… whew! We added it up and we could buy another team of horses, completely outfit them with all new harness, buy nearly all new equipment for the four horses (the four includes Belle and Blaze) for a few thousand less than a new tractor! Decisions, decisions!
The fifteenth I cleaned out part of the Belgian’s barn and used the manure/hay pack bedding to mulch and fertilize most of the blackberries. During the winter months the horses waste a little more hay along with having some stemy hay they don’t eat which usually generates enough waste hay to make a nice bedding for them. During the growing season I usually have to use sawdust to bed their barn with since they aren’t eating as much hay and instead are enjoying all that wonderful green grass.
Typically right after berry harvest is the best time to fertilize, prune out old growth and mulch blackberries, but I didn’t get the mulch spread last year so decided to do it now before the weeds started growing too good again. Most of the manure and hay should be well decomposed by berry harvest so ideally I’d probably mulch them again after this summer’s harvest.
I had to unload a trailer load of the hay/manure pack the following day since Dad had helped me finish cleaning out Belle and Blaze’s barn about dark the night before and we didn’t have time to unload it before chores. Granddad had bought three ricks of wood so I helped him and G-Jean stack that on their wood pile then hauled all my tomato and pepper cages I’d made out to where the other cages are stored for the winter. With a limited time between chores and the next task I hauled more wire up from the recycle pile and pre cut it to desired cage lengths. There are a lot more cages to be made this winter, but so far I’ve just built a few here and there between other projects as they’re something quick and easy to start and quit on.
February seventeenth was a gorgeous, beautiful day! The sun’s rays were scrumptiously brilliant most of the day with a light breeze tickling each tree’s bare limbs. When the delicate sun slipped behind a cloud for a few minutes it felt a lot cooler, but the 50 or so degrees was still a lot warmer than other days we had prior to that!
Seizing the opportunity of a warm day I cleaned plug trays outside so they’d be ready to plant in. Later that afternoon I hooked Belle up and she pulled poles I’d cut for tongues, and decided were too crooked, from the driveway where they’d been laying for way too long, down to the recycle pile. She did extremely well for no more than I’ve worked her within the past year. We just need to do more of that type of thing to build our relationship more and get to know one another’s cues better.
When Belle and Blaze came home last spring they were pretty thin so I’ve been trying to get them to gain weight and it’s taken quite some time. For the past couple months or so they’ve been needing to stay on maintenance diets though as Belle seems to gain weight pretty easily and Blaze doesn’t need to gain any more. They’ve both been put on diets, but while harnessing Belle up I discovered she needs to be but on a very, very stringent diet with lots more exercise than she’s been getting! I’d noticed she’s a little overweight, but when I put her collar on I discovered she was quite a bit too fat… I let her collar out all the way and it was still too tight! Removing the pad allowed her collar to fit just right which means she’s gone up at least two and maybe three collar sizes since she first came home! Since I was only doing light work that day I decided to leave the collar pad out so I’m not sure what I’ll need to do when some heavier work needs to be done. I really don’t want to have to buy a new collar for her just so I can help her exercise enough to shrink back into her correct collar size!
Our sunny days haven’t seemed to last long and by the eighteenth it was clouded back up again. While the first half of our winter seemed fairly mild this last half has been something else! Along with some cooler temperatures it seems to me we’ve had a lot more cloudy weather than usual. Due to the combination of cold and clouds I’ve held off planting seeds for the hoop houses longer than I typically would. Because of the later planting I expect our CSA season may start a little later than usual. However, even if I would have planted at the usual time the plants would have pretty much just set and waited to grow until there was more sunshine anyway, so saving the propane bill seems to make the most logical sense. Lord willing we’ll start getting some more extended periods of sunny weather soon!
Since we couldn’t hold off any longer, and it was another cloudy, damp day, G-Jean and I started planting the morning of the eighteenth and from start to finish we worked about five hours. In that amount of time we were able to plant: spinach, kale, nine varieties of lettuce, bok choi, tatsoi and a succession planting of broccoli and cabbage. All told we planted 3,752 plugs plus however many seeds we accidentally double planted! I decided to use the plug trays this time since cloudy weather has been so prevalent. Plants can be kept indoors longer, without hurting them as much, when they’re planted in plugs instead of soil blocks.
In two or three weeks it will be time to plant another round of crops that mature quicker such as arugula and also plant a succession planting of most of the crops we’ve already planted. This should allow us to have a staggered harvest over a longer period of time with the same crops and continue having new types of produce coming on as the season progresses. Our onion and leek plants are growing well!
The following day, Saturday, Dad and I cut a good sized load of wood since our wood pile was looking a little sparse again. It hasn’t taken nearly as much wood the past couple of weeks as when the temperatures were in the single digits and/or the north wind was howling through like a freight train! Thankfully we were able to make pretty good time cutting the wood since one pile we cut up was some oak and hackberry we’d cut into 4’ or so lengths awhile back and stacked. The second wood cutting project was witling down a Kentucky Coffee Bean tree which had blown down over our scrap metal pile. We finally got around to cutting it up so we don’t have to traverse over, around and through the tree each time we want to get a piece of scrap iron!
For the previous week our soil surface had started turning from sloppy mud to a drier consistency. Never fear Kansas is here! That Saturday night we got 1-7/10" of rain. O boy was it muddy again! Funny how that much rain wouldn’t seem so bad along about July, or even during our rainy spring weather, but this winter, with the freeze and thaw cycles which keeps things gooshy anyway that really did it. The soil couldn’t absorb much apparently as our little wet weather creek which drains about two square miles across our place was running nearly bank full!
It’s sad to see all the muddy water go down our creek as you know each increasing degree of muddiness means more erosion is happening. Our dream is to build a series of dams across our creek to slow the water down and drop the sediment to the bottom. Once the soil has settled out we could drain one pond and scoop it out, compost the material to get rid of any bad things that may be in it (when composting correctly the compost will heat up enough to kill most bad weed seeds etc.) and then spread it over our pastures. This would basically mean we were spreading topsoil back over our pastures each time! That’s a dream, but in reality it takes time and money, both of which seem to run a little short most days. To help keep erosion to a minimum on our farm we try to keep as much soil as possible covered either with mulch or living ground covers such as grasses and cover crops.
Tuesday I got chores done early and took off for "cousin" John’s. While we aren’t blood kin John Crisp, his wife Ramona and I can usually find something to discuss since our interests overlap so much, including gardening fever. That bug seems to be getting pretty bad now as we’ve recently had a few sunny days, the seed orders have arrived and temperatures are relatively nice during the daylight hours. I found gardening fever wasn’t quite as high around John and Ramona’s farm since there was about 1/2" of ice and a thin layer of snow blanketing everything in the Americus area where they live. Nevertheless we were all chomping at the bit ready for our temperatures to warm up and stay there…no more late freezes please! So we could play in the soil some more! With the snow/ice cover outdoor projects were limited so us all hillbilly cousins took a lil’ time to sit down and enjoy a chit chat with exchanges of gardening and local food conversations mixed heavily in our dialogue. The main reason for visiting was so I could pick up my order of natural fertilizers and poultry supplement since Shepherd’s Valley, John’s farm, is a dealer in Fertrell products.
Because our grand "cousin’s reunion" ended too quickly we all decided we needed to find a good excuse to get together again real soon!
Wednesday Curtis Miller generously came out to volunteer and help with some projects. We planted Little Finger carrot seed intermixed with a few radish seeds in the little hoop house and also made a few tomato cages in the big hoop house. We closed up the hoop houses and it got nice and toasty in no time with the sun shining and the hoop houses capturing it’s solar gain. Our breeze was the coolest thing that day as the temperatures were up, but while working in the hoop houses we never had a problem with getting cold!
Curtis needed to leave after lunch and I went out to prune a few fruit trees until chore time…they really got whacked off this time! I wish I knew what I was doing better, but I continue to live and learn as the trees (hopefully) continue to grow and mature. Each year it seems you prune them back hard and that makes them grow all the better the following year, even growing stronger than if you’d just left them alone! Here’s another side by side comparison of a plum tree before and after pruning.
Most of both February 25th and 26th were taken up trimming the horse’s hooves. I was even slower this time than last time I trimmed Belle and Blaze! However, they all did pretty well for my slowness and one reason for the extended trimming session for each horse was due to me being a little more aggressive in trimming some of the excess sole some of them had. The 25th I did Belle and Blaze then on the 26th I was able to trim Tartan, Spice and Storm.
As I came back from trimming horses at the barn the 26th I found G-Jean digging in her flower bed. She was transplanting some plants that weren’t where she wanted them! I asked if it was pretty wet as several places I’d been were still very muddy but G-Jean said the ground was ok. While our black gumbo clay soil is still well saturated we went and checked the red dirt garden (it’s a silty clay loam) and found it had dried enough that I could work a small section of ground with the Troy Built tiller so we could plant sugar snap peas! It was nearly dark by the time I finished tilling so I had quit on that project. Never fear though, there’s always plenty to do after dark! These farm updates are fun to write, and I come and go at them as I have opportunity, but they do take a few hours of work if you counted all the different times I work on them and then Mom proofreads. They are nearly always written after dark to maximize the daylight hours.
G-Jean and I planned to sow pea seeds the following afternoon. After lunch she and I got in touch and she looked up some of the details of the variety of peas we’d ordered. To our horror we discovered I’d made a mistake in my order and had bought sugar SNOW PEAS instead of sugar snap peas! The snow peas are quite different than snap peas, but we’ll give them a try this year as it would cost about as much to ship snap pea seed as the seed itself cost. G-Jean and I were able to plant our snow pea seed after our initial shock so they should be popping up soon Lord willing!
Amongst all the other projects I finally got my income taxes put together and sent off so hopefully, if I did everything correctly, that should pretty well be taken care of for the year. Another project I’ve finally completed is oiling the draft horse’s collars again. Oiling their leather collars helps keep each collar soft and supple which in tern also helps the collar wear better.
Believe it or not spring is around the corner! For the last couple of weeks more and more crocus, daffodils, surprise lilies, peonies, garden phlox and hyacinths have been popping up. They’ll soon be blooming again (except for the phlox that bloom in summer and surprise lilies which bloom in the fall) and we can start the year’s bloom report! We also had a flock of Robins migrate back to this part of the country again.
Well, things are gearing up for the growing season here on the farm now and it’s getting busier and busier. I’m looking forward to the continuation of this slightly drier weather if the Lord sees fit and keeping a little more sunshine along would be nice. One thing about it though… I’ve loved to see and work in the beautiful snow this winter. I also prefer it staying winter as long as it wants just so, when it wants to turn spring time, it stays that way instead of warming up and then sending a late freeze like it’s done the last few years. That’s hard on everything!
May you have a blessed week!
Farmer Josh and the Mitchell Crew
The LOOK of orneriness!