Hello with a little sunshine mixed in!
The hoop houses are winding down now after four weeks of harvesting! There is still some great farm fresh food available this week! Green onions, mint, pure local honey and farm fresh pastured eggs! Pre-orders for beef are due soon! June 15th is the cut off date to preorder 1/4, 1/2 or whole beef for October/November pick up. For more information on our products currently available to the general public see our website at: http://www.mitchellfamilyfarm.us/this_week.htm
Chickens on fresh pasture! A proud rooster amongst his hens.
G-Jean and I made up more soil blocks while it was raining and another day was spent filling six-packs with soil and planting melons, squash and cucumbers… I’m still trying to decide what to do on the pots versus blocks since the transplanter I have now can’t accept the soil blocks because they are too large. I do know where another transplanter is that will transplant the larger blocks, but I’m in the process of deciding if it’s a wise use of money to purchase it at this time. There are also other complications as it has set for two or three years!
Since I didn’t get the early melons, squash and cucumbers planted indoors when they were scheduled I had thought I’d just direct seed them in the garden. However, all this rain has really put a crimp in that idea so back to planting inside we go! I’m even trying to start some okra indoors to transplant! Okra develops a tap root if direct seeded though and I’m not sure it will do well when you block its tap root by putting it in a pot first.
The sugar snap peas have been a flop this year as we have lost several plants (something ate part of them, we’re not sure what) and they’ve been growing extremely slowly like they’re stunted. I’ve got a theory that it’s combined causes, but can’t prove anything. Excess rain, cloudy weather along with some inopportune freezing weather and I think the oats are planted too thick (to grow as the pea’s trellis) haven’t helped. I also didn’t feed them with compost or other soil amendments, so that didn’t help either…
Harvesting spinach from the mini hoops in the rain. It’s now time to roll the plastic up and take the hoops down so we can mow when I get time!
In contrast to the peas our strawberries are out-doing themselves!!! This appears it may be our best strawberry crop since starting the CSA! I’ve heard G-Jean talk about strawberry harvests where you could sit down and pick a quart of strawberries in one spot, but I’ve never seen a harvest that plentiful…this may be the year! In a couple weeks I expect they’ll start to ripen and we’ll have delicious, lip smacking, farm-fresh, sugar-sweet, juicy strawberries for sale…We’ll keep you updated!
Many crops have grown slower than usual this spring due to all the cloudy and earlier cool/cold weather. Radishes and turnips have been noticeably slower and the cut-and-come-again crops like mustard greens, spinach and arugula have been regrowing very slowly. The cloudy cool weather has been a blessing in that all the lettuces have held much longer than I’d originally anticipated.
We also had a new calf born a week ago! "Dot" is up and going well now with first time momma Dixie!
Our raspberries and Navaho blackberries had much more winter kill than we were expecting this year, so we’re waiting to see what kind of a crop they’ll produce.
Some of the crops have not enjoyed the wet weather and there are spots in the garden where they "drowned out" but thankfully with a little drier weather and sunshine most should pull out of it. All the rain has made an extremely hard packed crust on top of the ground… I anticipate if I don’t break the crust while it still has a little moisture it’ll be hard as a rock!
Most of the broccoli and some of the cabbage haven’t enjoyed the wet weather. Some of the broccoli plants are showing a lot of stress by sending up tiny heads that are trying to bolt…
The rain hasn’t treated the corn an beans very well and it may be necessary to count the fist planting a loss…but this appears it could be the best garlic crop we’ve ever grown! I anticipate we should have garlic available for purchase to the general public for the first time this year!
Several new goat kids have been born in the last week. Mom is holding "Nutmeg".
There are certain things I want the two draft horses, Belle and Blaze, to know before I hook them up to work so I’ve spent a little time just playing with them. I’ve been very grateful to Jena (our family’s horse psychologist) who has taken time to come out and instruct me in how to play with them to get the results I’m wanting naturally, without using harsh tactics. While Belle and Blaze are well trained I want to have a relationship with them so they can trust me and I can understand them and their concerns to help them be confident in their work.
Play time in the round pen with my (and Belle’s) instructor, Jena, supervising!
This past Monday was the first time I’ve driven Belle and Blaze since bringing them home. I drove the horses individually instead of as a team so I can get used to each horse separately and they can learn to trust me instead of getting all their comfort from each other. Blaze ended up being a little nervous about the ordeal so I didn’t hook her up to anything, but drove her until she started relaxing and then ended her session on a good note. Belle on the other hand did exceptionally well and I hooked her up to the walking cultivator. We are still getting used to one another, but she did really well for having had such a long break. Jena was helping me by using the cultivator while I was driving so I wasn’t trying to figure out the driving and cultivating at the same time!
We’ve harnessed the horses other times since I’ve had them, but this was the first time we drove them. Below we’re harnessing…
and then driving Belle while Jena is cultivating!
After Jena and I got the routine figured out a little better (Belle was already used to everything!) we drove Belle over to the wide isles where the strawberries and raspberries are planted and cultivated some there.
You may wonder why I’ve chosen to farm with horses… Here are a few of my reasons and, while there are pros and cons to tractors versus horses, I’ve come to the conclusion the horses have won out for me. There are some things we will still use the tractor for, but the goal is to transition to using horse power as much as possible. Below are some of the pros and cons on the horses versus tractor debate:
(1) Tractors don’t reproduce themselves while with mares you can wake up in the morning and have a new baby "tractor!" This makes the horses more self-sufficient.
(2) Tractors burn petroleum over which I have no control of the prices while horses can raise their own fuel, hay and grain. Also, tractors don’t give you anything back besides power while the horses (even on "idle") always produce fertilizer which can be composted and used for plant nutrition. One plus for the tractor is that it doesn’t burn fuel while the key is "off." Horse power will help our farm be more sustainable.
(3) You can have a relationship with the horses, but have a hard time developing that with a tractor!
(4) Noise pollution is much less with horses.
(5) Not that I’ve done a lot of it, but the horses seem to create a much more relaxed atmosphere to work in. You can listen to the horse’s hoof beats, hear the heel chains and evener clink, get a sensation of the horse’s movement through the lines, see all that’s taking place as you’re going down the row, hear if the equipment has a problem (the tractor makes so much noise you can tear something up real bad before hearing that something is wrong) and relax and enjoy the ride.
(6) I believe this is a draw… Horses can come up lame, get sick and even die with a big vet bill trying to get them better. Tractors break down and you’ll have to go get parts in town, hope you can fix it yourself or else you’ll have a huge mechanic’s bill. Eventually both tractors and horses need replacements, but that’s where the horses have a leg up…they can reproduce while tractor dealers love you to come by and buy!
Five reasons to farm with horses, one reason that is a draw… looks like we’re farming with horse power!
G-Jean hoeing in one of her flower beds. It’s been so wet we’ve been unable to weed very much outside. When the ground dries up enough G-Jean hits it hard hoeing all day until it rains again!
I’ve looked at some more equipment since the last update, but haven’t decided to purchase any yet as parts aren’t readily available for some things like the small 30-36 grain drills I looked at. However, Dad did help me pick up a horse drawn sickle-bar mower! It needs some repair and it’s been a yard ornament for years. After looking it over though I don’t think it will require a lot of time to fix it up to be field ready. Dad has already drained the oil/water mix that was in the gear box and rinsed it out with diesel. The water must have come from condensation, but surprisingly the gears and other internal parts only had minor surface rust!
Dad, Jena and I took a trip and found the Amish country store near Dennis where I picked up mower parts and found the Blacksmith shop where I ordered a double tree rigged with the single trees and a single tree alone. We could make the single trees etc. but it took so much time to make the first one I decided to buy one set and then I can make more later as I have time.
We’ve had a couple big storms move through one which was memorable because I’d just taken the horses out to pasture a few minutes earlier. It had been cloudy all morning, but I had finally decided to just take them out anyway as it hadn’t gotten serious about raining. Wrong decision! It started pouring shortly after I took them out so I ran back to the round pen where they were grazing (it was too wet out in their "regular pasture") and started to halter them. Since they hadn’t been out long Blaze decided she didn’t want to be haltered! I ended up calling Jena to take Belle to the barn and then she helped me play with Blaze until Blaze allowed me to put the halter on. By that time we’d worried Mom to death in the house for about thirty minutes since it was thundering and lighting all around. My, by the time we got Blaze to the barn Jena and I were both soaked despite the rain coats we were wearing and the storm was about over!
Dot and the lamb, Paint, playing.
The second big storm came last Friday when I was washing up equipment about daylight for harvesting CSA. The wind came up and then down (or sideways) came rain! The rain kept going in circles and couldn’t make up its mind which side to blow in from! It was blowing so hard I’d try to wash a tote and, literally, the other five would fly off the table! I finally gave up on cleaning and just went to the house. Dad told me later we’d had what was considered an inland hurricane! I was thankful we missed the worst of it though. We didn’t receive as much rain as some and so far have only found minor wind damage to tree limbs and trees that fell, along with minor crop damage. Some of the limbs did make a mess of a few fences though so after completing the harvesting, washing and packing of the CSA shares I was privileged to get the chain saw out and cut up some limbs that had fallen on the electric fence. Dad helped me finish up that project when he got home.
Belle munching on some leaves from a hackberry limb that fell in their pen.
Our Friday storm probably only lasted 45 minutes to a hour, but the wind made it seem longer. Thankfully we also didn’t get much hail (what we did get was small) which was predicted to be up to baseball size! The crazy thing was that preceding the storm it was calm, during there were extremely high winds, directly after the storm the wind died down slowly until before long it was calm again and then throughout the day it picked back up. Some sunshine started coming out too and with the recent rain it about steamed us to death! I was very thankful it stayed partly cloudy all day!
Our last batch of continuous rain from the previous update ended after eight days with rain coming either all or part of each of those days. Monday we had a break and a little sunshine then it rained again Tuesday! Since then it hasn’t made up its mind what to do being sunny, cloudy and rainy all in the same day!
The mamma Killdeer has hatched two baby chicks! Mom got to see one of the chicks just as it hatched and was all wet! Below you can just barely make the little wet guy out next to two unhatched eggs amongst all the rocks…
…and then what they look like after the babies are dried off!
The mamma killdeer abandoned her nest for several days after hatching two eggs and now she’s back (we assume it’s the same one) and has laid a couple more eggs!
I have caught one more swarm of bees since the last update. They were another easy-to-catch swarm out of the cherry tree, but although being a nice sized swarm it wasn’t as large as the first. During last Friday’s storm the hard winds tipped two bee hives over and Granddad set them back up after the storm passed. Those bees weren’t happy campers for awhile though and challenged anyone around the garden! Thankfully they decided to stay home instead of flying off.
G-Jean and Granddad enjoy watching the birds and have several bird feeders. This week they’ve had a lot of indigo buntings, quite a few gold finches, a painted bunting (beautiful bird) grosbeak, oriel and the usual visitors.
With little snatches of time here and there I’ve been able to finish fixing the manure spreader chain using a few links I picked up from the Amish country store. On one of the sunny days I also oiled the manure spreader floor and the sickle mower’s new tongue. After a couple days (when the boards dried from the rain again) I was able to oil both of them once more.
We took the manure spreader for a couple empty test drives to make sure everything was working. Then Thursday evening Dad went out with me since the ground had dried enough we put about 1/3 of a load of compost on and spread it! We found a small modification we may do if we have time, but it worked well enough we may leave everything as is. It’s always nice to see a project we’ve been working on finally come together enough so we can use it!
Dad worked on the work sled (converted hay bale forks) and after we figure out how to finish the runners it should be ready for a test drive too!
Wow! This was a beautiful sight as the sun set and shone through some clouds… Pictures can never do God’s handy work justice!
This past Tuesday we did things a little backwards to our usual CSA day routine. Most CSA days it’s full bore ahead to just get the regular CSA shares ready with no other projects except for chores until the shares are ready. However, the ground was just dry enough to till lightly and more rain was predicted for the afternoon. Since there weren’t a lot of extremely time consuming crops to harvest such as arugula I decided to try getting a succession planting of turnips, radishes, carrots and green onion sets planted. I also decided not to take chances on the first planting of beans which haven’t been coming up very well and planted a few more beans. The kohlrabi hadn’t come up very well so a little more of it needed replanted as well.
I had tilled up the ground the night before so everything was ready to go. Our friend and working share member, Mary, came out and helped us hand plant two rows of seed. For a little while I wondered if I’d done the wrong thing as the sun started peaking in and out of the clouds warming things up to the point it was going to start wilting the greens before we could get them to the cooler! After a little time though more clouds rolled in and it started thundering…shortly after the thunder started it was sprinkling, then raining lightly. That’s Kansas for you! In the end I was glad we had taken time to plant seed earlier in the morning as it ended up raining 3/4" again!
We got a late start on CSA since we’d planted first thing in the morning, but G-Jean, Granddad and Jena all helped me get the shares ready and thankfully we had them ready in record time!
All the cover crop of ryegrass has matured too much since I’ve been unable to mow it due to the heavy rain fall. I may have a "weed" of ryegrass now since the seed heads are shooting up and mature! We’re planting seed in the photo below and the over-mature rye grass is on the left.
About 550 sweet potato slips arrived by mail this week, so now we’re waiting on a little drier weather to set them out! I was really hoping to use the transplanter to set out the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, melons, squash and cucumbers but it may be necessary to mud them all in by hand!
Most of my Thursday afternoon was taken up covering the two outside rows of potatoes in the bed we’ll be harvesting for new potatoes. I’d planned on coming back shortly after planting the bed and covering the outside two rows better, but I’d wanted to lay out some insect barrier fabric first so I could figure out how wide to allow the leaf mulch to spread. Well, I never got back around to the insect barrier so the potatoes have grown with little mulch covering them. There wasn’t enough cover for them to produce well so I had to go back and cover them up… I still hope to get the insect barrier over the bed before the potato bugs come out in force!
Three hurrahs for the ladybugs and lacewings! Especially the ladybug population has exploded and the voracious aphid-eating ladybug larva have been severely chomping into the aphid populations in the big hoop house! Way to go ladybugs! That’s a "natural" way of handling the aphid infestation without sprays.
Ladybug laying eggs
We’ve gotten pretty far behind in the field work due to the wet weather so I’ll probably not have time to write an update while I’m trying to get caught up. Mom will likely be posting photos to the blog now and then to keep you informed as to what’s happening on the farm.
Have a great summer!
Farmer Josh and the Mitchell Family Crew
Daisy Fleabane (wildflower)