Very few things beat the scent of a freshly-cut hayfield.
The neighbor took a cutting off the back pasture as we don’t have enough animals to keep it mowed down this summer. It is rather novel to be able to walk anywhere in the pasture again.
Very few things beat the scent of a freshly-cut hayfield.
The neighbor took a cutting off the back pasture as we don’t have enough animals to keep it mowed down this summer. It is rather novel to be able to walk anywhere in the pasture again.
Today was a milestone day in Linda’s seminary studies. Our denomination has a “weed-out” point where a committee can say 1) you cannot be a minister, 2) go ahead in your studies, or 3) go ahead, but work on these things and check back with us at a later date. The interview was in San Francisco, and the committee looked at the results of her 2.5 day psychiatric evaluation, references, and course work. It was similar in feel to a prelim for a Ph.D. candidate.
Many of her friends and colleagues told her they’d be thinking of her and lighting a candle for her during her interview. Of course, I have a much bigger stake in her success than her friends and colleagues, so I decided, a candle would not do for me. My best option was to have a really big fire instead of a candle. So, it was time to light the back pasture on fire!
This area hadn’t been grazed for about 4 years, so it was full of dead grasses, waiting to have their nutrients returned to the soil. There was still some snow along the fencelines, I had perimeter firebreaks burnt, and always burned against the wind, so the fire didn’t move too fast. Kids, don’t try this at home – I am a professional and used to get paid to do this in a former life.
The resulting perfect rectangular burn.
This certificate that Martin made for Linda shows that the result for Linda was positive.
With the four–leggeds gone, it’s finally time to reconfigure the back pasture and take out the temporary paddock fences to make it easier to make hay.
I also need the fencing to make a place for the chickens and turkeys to roam. So today Martin and I worked on associated tasks – pulling out the fenceposts, dragging the cattle panels, cutting mulberries out of fencelines, and mowing areas for the chicken tractors to go. It was nice to work with Martin in the nice cool evening with the wind turbines in the distance.
I’ve been fighting thistles for years in the pasture, it seems. Many years ago, when we rented the pasture for cattle grazing, a big round bale that was brought it left its mark the next year by sprouting a patch of thistles. I’ve tried periodic mowing to knock them back, but since they tiller well and have big roots, it’s hard to get rid of them.
Evidently, the best way to get rid of them (as in most effective, not most fun) is to pull them by hand when they are just about to bloom, as the roots have given most of their energy to the flowering and are at their weakest ebb of the season. So, all five of us donned leather gloves and systematically walked though 1/3 of the pasture and yanked them all. My hope is, we will have to do this only one more time when the grow back again to weaken them enough to say uncle and find some other place to live. Like good fences, no blooming patches of thistles makes good neighbors!
Because of the row of new trees down the center of the back pasture, the area from the trees to the back property line hasn’t been grazed for a bout 5 years. I was time to reduce some of the biomass to let this year’s plants sprout.
Martin ready with some buckets of water, backpack sprayer, and shovels to snuff out fires.
Here, Linda spreads the backfire, moving the fire against the wind.
Once the backfires were lit, we could let the wind take the fire to the backfires.
Martin and Linda on patrol to make sure the fire doesn’t creep upwind to the pine trees. The mowed path nest to the trees does the most to stop the flames.
The final result. It’s great to have an excuse to play with fire.
Isn’t the world’s most popular poem about footprints in the sand? Well, there’s not much sand in Iowa in February, unless it’s clinging to dirty snowbanks on the side of the road. But there is snow – and footprints.
Martin and I went on a surveying mission in the back pasture yesterday. The day before this photo, he walked through the back “pond” through many feet of snow. When we came back the next day, we saw his footprints led to nowhere, for if you look in the center of the photo you can see the dark remains of footprints that were implanted in deep snow the day before are now under water.
It’s a good time of year to get out and move around a bit. Water needs to be channeled and drained, trees need to be checked on for winter rabbit damage, and boots need to get wet.
The foreground of this photo shows some of the willow cuttings I just stuck in the ground in this low area and didn’t mow or graze the last year. They were able to compete with the dense sod just fine. So, I will continue this spring with their advance down this drainage. Goats will be very happy to have browse!
Nothing is really simple around the farm. Last year’s septic installation, for example. There’s no way getting around a lot of torn up ground. Now that the piles have had a chance to settle over a fall, winter, and spring, it’s time to re-establish desirable vegetation.
This shows a view below the tanks and the house in the background (the drain field behind us). Last week I seeded the path up to the pasture in regular lawn grass and lightly covered it with straw – the pasture part in this photo, I bought some grass and legume seeds. Getting the seeds is the easy part – first, I needed to get out the old disc we bought with the farmall cub. It had sat for maybe five years – finally got it extricated from it’s last resting place, then disced up the area, spread the seeds, raked over them, then retrieved the electric netting and solar charger to keep the chickens out, who would find the grass a legume seeds a treat to dig out of the ground. Now all it has to do is rain every few days until the seed gets established.
You may also notice a new watermark on the photos. I’ve discovered that blog photos have a life of their own on the internet. Many times people have asked me to use a photo and I’ve always granted permission. So I’m going to start putting the high hopes logo watermark on them, so if they do reappear, they will at least have a visual link back to the source without the authors having to necessarily interrupt their text with an acknowledgement.
It’s time for some soil sampling. Instead of the small little soil probe that comes with the kit, we decided to use the bulb planter, so we could easily get below the sod line for the pasture soil test. This particular section of pasture has a thistle problem and I’ve read anecdotal evidence that calcium and ph can be conducive or not to thistle success.
So, off we go getting some samples.
It’s time to cut back the willows in the willow nursery.
Here’s a curly willow before pruning.
Here’s what it looks like after it’s pruned or “coppiced.”
I use the prunings to start more willows. I put 88 in the ground. They seem to grow by just sticking them into the ground – we experimented last year just sticking them in a low spot and they survived without weeding, or even mowing. So, I will move the patch down the lowland. If nothing else, the goats will love the browse.
I’m a little bit pumped about our willow nursery. It’s taken off and I am even more excited to try expanding the willows as browse for the goats and sheep.
As soon as the ground unfreezes, we’ll cut these down and plant many more in the back pasture. The test plantings we did last year, just into deep pasture grasses survived year one, and the willows offer great food for the animals, so we’ll try doing more this spring.
I thought a seven-year-old boy would appreciate the life in the wetland, so I made it a point to bring Martin over and wax on enthusiastically about the tadpoles and diversity of life in the small exclosure when we were working on the trees in the back pasture.
A bit later, he was helping mulch some trees and ran out of things to do, so he asked if he could go look at the swamp, as he refers to it. I watched from a distance as he first climbed part way up the fence, peering in. I made a bet with myself that it wouldn’t be long before he crawled over the fence and went inside to look. Sure enough, the pull was too strong and he crawled over the fence.
A few minutes later he came running at full speed towards me, face red with heat in the 90 degree day “Dad, there’s a turtle in the swamp!”Â He shaped his hands about as big as a dinner plate and retold the story of the turtle siting. As I went back to see if I could spy the turtle he turned to me and said “Dad, the farm is getting a lot bigger now.”Â I asked him what he meant and he said “Now we have a swamp, we have a baby forest, and a wind turbine.”Â Even though you can’t buy that comment with MasterCard, I still thought it was priceless.
We started an experiment a few years ago. There was this awful mudhole in the pasture that seemed to get bigger by the day – when the grass was soggy, the cows would keep breaking hunks of sod off, enlarging the mud area.
This is what it looked like in the spring of 2005. Martin can’t float his boat. I got the idea for fencing this area off from the summer camp I worked at in northern Minnesota. NaturalistÂ and nature photographer Les Blacklock suggested that an area near the center of camp be fenced off from regular foot traffic and be called the “exclosure.”Â The idea was that a different group of plants might grow up just by leaving it alone. As no part of the farm is left undisturbed, I thought this small section could be spared.
So this mudhole was fenced off, I ordered some marsh and wet (mesic) prairie seeds from Ion Exchange and waited. The area is hard to manage as it gets runoff from the surrounding crop fields and a few times a year water rushed through like a small rapid stream, but most of the time it is dry or muddy. I thought if I could establish a canopy of marsh plants, the water might stick around longer in the shade of the plants.
Here’s a peek at one of the plants to pioneer along the edge of the mudhole – Prairie Cordgrass. It’s been a wet year (5 more inches of rain this week) and the exclosure has had continuous water since snowmelt.
Butterfly milkweed has also been successful in addition to many other plants. It is full of tadpoles, different kinds of dragonflies and butterflies, and many other things I’m sure I don’t see.
There’s always something to do on the farm, but eventually the most urgent things spring to the top of the list.
One of these items is this fence. We’ll call it the “Leaning Fence of Melbourne.” It’s a bit of a pain to tear out the old, but this one is way past its prime.
Tearing out woven wire fence involves pulling out fencing staples from old posts, pulling the old posts out of the ground and ripping the old wire away. The wire is usually the hardest part as commonly there is of soil and grass above the bottom wire of the fence that makes is hard to pull up. Here’s some detritus from the old fencing – the salvageable woven wire will be turned into tomato cages, the rest to the recycling at the landfill.
A section of new fence, standing tall and proud.
After another rainy week, it’s important to keep moving ahead, even though the saturated ground prevents us from getting the new trees and grapes in the ground. So today, we moved a fence to enlarge an exclosure in the pasture to accommodate the trees, even though we can’t plant them yet. With saturated ground, it was easy to pull and set the fence posts. It was foggy and drizzly in the morning, but stayed relatively dry in the afternoon.
Linda’s working with the post puller. This is one of my favorite pieces of equipment – it’s easy to use, virtually indestructible, and hard to lose! Since we don’t have much land to play with, we’ve opted to use cattle panels for much of the interior flexible fencing. We like the ease of installation and don’t have a lot of permanent fences, except the property boundaries, so even though it is more expensive initially, we never bought too much at a time, so the extra expense is worth it to us in ease of installation and flexibility.
Last year I frost seeded some clovers in the back pasture (frost seeding is a fancy name for just throwing seeds on the ground and the early spring freeze/thaw/rain snow moves the seeds down into cracks in the soil and puts them in a place to germinate).
The pasture was greatly improved from its grass-heavy state. So this year I’m doing a couple more types of clovers and some birdsfoot trefoil. The seed mixtures are so very colorful.
On Sunday, the temps soared to 46 degrees!
In the back pasture, the four foot high fence is nearly buried and the yellow snow is water flowing through the snow from a drainage in the adjacent field. We’ve got a lot of melting before spring comes.
A temporary river started flowing through a low spot in the back pasture. It was strange to see and hear the sound of running water. Here Martin is walking on a fence over the flowing water. This time of year the snowpack can be deceptive as the top of the snow can look white and normal, but if you step in, it could be a couple of feet of slushy flowing water just below the surface. These are fun days for the kids – to run around in conditions that often don’t happen – like water flowing through big drifts where where is usually not any water.
Now that the temps are in the 90’s – that means just one thing – it must be time to make hay! We were invited to help at Two Friends Farm this weekend.
How’s this for a date?Â Sitting on an empty hay rack after the unloading 100 or so bales is a good rest.
Starting out a new rack after one was under our belts.
Even Emma and Claire were enthused about helping and took their turns on top of the racks. It’s great to now have kids old enough to handle a bale of hay. We figured we handled about 8 1/2 tons this afternoon.
one year ago…
Today is the first in a series of views of the farm. I went to each corner of the property (and the midpoints) and took photos in different directions. This view is from the NE corner of the property. I did some of this a decade or so ago, but wish I had been more thorough as the shots are kind of hit and miss.
This is from the NE corner shooting diagonally towards the SW. You can see the brush piles from the ice storm and an old granary in the back pasture.
This is the view looking due west from the NE corner. It shows three rows of trees, this year’s planting furthest to the left.
This is the view due south from the NE corner. It shows the first row of trees along this boundary.
Here’s a picture of our new portable electric fence. The name of this fencing is “Permanet” as it is designed to be left up for the whole season, if necessary. We get our electric fencing from Premier Fencing in Washington, Iowa. Many people swear it is the best you can get.
We’ve used some of the poultry electric netting and been pleased with it, so when we found this version that is taller and firmer, we thought we’d use it to start some rudimentary rotational grazing in the back pasture.
This picture cracks me up – it shows that forbidden grass is always better than grass you’re allowed to eat. The goats were just turned loose into this pasture that goes all the way to the fence in the distance over the goat’s back. Where do they choose to eat first? They stick their heads through a fence guarding a tree to get at the “good” grass.
The boundary fence was completed in short order.
“All” that is left boundary fence-wise is to re-string the electric wire around the perimeter and this new line. Eventually, if the planting goes as planned, a new fenceline along the east edge will be in order as well. But that is a much bigger project.
Another nice June-like day in the upper 70’s. Started working on some more fencing (it will never end). Went to town to pick up wholesale buying club order, got some cardboard sheets and more cattle panels and T-posts. Martin is a great 5 year-old worker. Sometimes he asks what work we can do outside.
Here he wraps up the rope that held the panels down on top of the truck. It’s a pain to load/unload them from on top of the truck, but I don’t have a trailer that approaches 16 ft and the truck does, so up they go. The truck has now graduated into the heavy-duty farm use where scratches and dents only add to the value.
Martin was able to drag the panels into position (as long as the location was downhill).
He also was good at distributing the fenceposts – he moved about 75% of the posts to the correct places along the fenceline. All I had to do was get the panels off the truck, drag the uphill panels, and take the binders off the posts that banded them in groups of five and Martin did the rest. The fence is in position, we just need to pound the posts and put up the panels. This is the fence along the SE property boundary.
The weatherman promised rain most of the day, but it really didn’t seem to come as heavily/often as we were led to believe. That gave us a chance to get some much-awaited spring chores done. First was overseeding the back pasture.
Martin’s job was to reseed the cow trail. He did a good job and seeded all the way to the property boundary. We spread about 25 lb of seed over the 2-3 acres.
I’m also behind on fruit tree pruning. Between the cold until early March, ice storm/snow, and week away, it is a little later than I’d like.
I was able to get 90% of it completed. Linda started all the seeds that need a jump – flowers, tomoatoes, peppers, etc.
Martin was a good helper, filling the peat pots for Linda. I also got new fittings on a water tank, so it comes out a one inch hose instead of a garden hose. So the things that had to get done, got done today.
Here’s a look at the furthest east side of our pasture. You can barely see the rows of Christmas trees on the far side and you can see the fencing of the hardwood trees on the left side. For now we’ve decided pasture is not the highest and best use of this ground since we have so little land and need a higher return than we can get from a few grazed cattle.
There’s a bit of higher ground on the far east side, and you can see where a couple of rows of Christmas trees will go. Down the center of the picture, we are investigating woody ornamentals that can stand wet feet. They’re in a low spot that floods maybe once or twice a year if we get a quick, heavy rain in a short time when the crops aren’t in the adjacent field. It doesn’t stick around for long, but does move through pretty good.
We’re looking at curly willow and other brightly colored willows and perhaps some marsh-loving plants like iris in the low area. The willows can be mowed every year and as a side benefit will offer great goat browse as well. I must admit – I do like researching and planning a farmscape like this. A great advantage of doing something totally different than the rest of the county is we’re the only one doing it. Of course, the disadvantage is that we’re the only ones doing it! I do however like the diversity and experimentation that we can indulge in on our little piece of old prairie ground.
It’s not often December 30th brings 50 degrees – we used the opportunity to get a start on some work that is usually done in late March or early April – pulling up and putting in fence. We’re moving the entire line of fence on the north side out another 10 feet so we can plant another row of trees in the north windbreak/Christmas Tree patch.
Here’s Marty working the post puller. It was actually so wet, that we didn’t need this – the posts could just be pulled out.
There’s something about working in a warm rain – I’m not sure it reminds me of camping, or if the rain provides a slight sense of urgency to get done before the rain increases. It was not unpleasant and good to get out.
Although it might not be as noticeable in this late evening, low-light photograph, this shows how rotationally grazed pastures can hold up better in a drought.
In the center there is a long rectangle fenced off from the rest of the pasture where we have planted trees. The grass outside of the fenced off area is continuously grazed. Inside the fence simulates rotational grazing (periodic mowing). The grass is much happier (and greener) since it has a chance to recover between grazing episodes.
If a tuft of grass is eaten once, it grows back – if it is eaten a second time, before it has had a chance to recover and grow, its roots can’t keep up and it gives up. The lush grass in the middle shows the power of periodic, instead of rotationally grazing. The net effect is the same amount of pasture can maintain more grazing animals and be healthier.
Today, the oat buffers along our farm were baled. Since all my wagons were occupied and there were only 13 or so bales, we just used the truck to pick them up.
There was a short waterway that we couldn’t get to using the tractor and baler, so we snuck the truck in and picked up the loose straw hay (still has the oats attached)
We’re looking forward to using this as bedding in the chicken coop in the winter as it will give the hens something good to scratch in the winter.
It was good work (it didn’t take long) and there’s something about making hay that is rewarding, no matter how little.
Today’s entry doubles as this week’s Photo Friday Contest entry. This week’s theme is “Summer.”
I had just a little bit of raking to do today on the buffer strip in the neighbor’s field. I borrowed the neighbor’s rake and hitched up the Farmall Cub to rake the oat straw.
Nothing says summer like making hay on a hot day.
Today was a day for some fencing configuration. First we put up the portable electric netting fencing.
Martin is hauling over the “power posts” for the netting. You can see it is all laid out, the path is mowed, and today’s good fortune was that the 164 foot length was about perfect from the side of the chicken coop to the fence next to the pine trees. It was also close enough to the electric fence in the main pasture to hook onto that instead of putting the solar charger out.
Here’s the fence ready for action – works on chickens and goats alike. Love this stuff.
We also took an odd portion of the main pasture and fenced it in with cattle panels to keep the cows out. Thought it was time to put the goats on a different pasture for a while, plus there are some mulberries they’ll mow down first.
What more could a guy want than a tractor to do the heavy lifting and a wife to do the pounding! It was nice to have the tractor to save the back by pulling out and putting in posts.
Martin and I finished mowing and hand weeding around the trunks of the new trees. I want to make sure there are not good mouse/rabbit hiding places in the the tall grass, so out it comes. Then we distributed one truck load of mulch to about half the trees. They are looking good. I has been very warm the last few days – 88 today and humid – more like August than October. By the end of the day I was wiped out as your mind doesn’t wrap around the fact that it really is hot out in October.
One of the baby Bur Oaks, the state tree of Iowa and the central feature of native prairie savanna.
A southward look at “hardwood alley” the center of our back pasture planted with bur oak, sugar maple, black walnut, black cherry, and chestnut. Perhaps someday it will become the nexxus for a raceway rotational grazing track.
An eastward look at “conifer alley” on the north edge of the pasture, perhaps offering Christmas trees and/or a windbreak.
Had our first light frost – nipped some tips of tomatoes and some scattered frost on grass but didn’t kill much. Oh well – I was hoping for an end to it all!
Here’s a fall picture of the goats on a very green late September pasture.
Today was the tree planting day. The trees were mostly all too big to spade an and some were 3-4 ft tall, so we ended up digging a lot of holes in the black soil. It was rainy/drizzly most of the day until about three. So we went through 2-3 sets of clothes through the day and didn’t have any pictures in the rain, but took a few in the afternoon.
We had reinforcements come near the end of the day for that last boost over the hump.
We even let Kraig take one break in the afternoon.
A special thank you goes to Emma, who spent many hours with us digging holes and fetching water!
We got a jump on the tree planting planned for tomorrow – brother Kraig down from Twin Cities.
We had many hands tonight working on the northern pine border.
We planted Canaan Fir today, Iowa’s best equivalent of Balsam Fir.
Even the smallest hands helped haul water. Rachel and Martin brought us buckets with a gallon or so of water at a time from a stock tank on a trailer. They also helped move carts.
Photos courtesy of Claire.
Today Linda burned up a use it or lose it personal day. It was a pleaseant, not windy, sunny day. We ripped out most of the fence around the cement animal lot and put in a new one. We mulched the remaining unmulched chestnuts and put fence around the ones along existing fences.
The first fruit trees are setting out flowers. Here’s a cherry tree showing off its splendor.
In preparation for the tree planting, our neighbor came over and loaded all kinds of conveyances for hauling wood chips (saves us a lot of scooping).
The first things are coming up in the garden – spinach, radishes, lettuce, and onions.
The rains of the last few days filled up the mudhole, but did not flow through it, which I’m hoping is good for the marsh seeds I planted the morning before the rain.
The girls were exploring the drainage a few hundred yards downstream from the mudhole and found a big crayfish. I didn’t think anything was living in there!
Today is another of the ever-popular Martin-Daddy Days. This morning we were errand boys – first emptying the truck of mulch. Martin and I were “mulch guys” and we delivered the load to his playground to be. Then we gathered up a pick-up load of garbage (something the previous owners found hard to do) and went to the landfill – always a Martin favorite. Then we went to town and got gas for all the farm gas tanks, a few more fence posts, some animal food.
This afternoon we worked on putting up more fence. 352 more feet of fence moved up today. Martin was extremely happy to play in the mudhole in the back pasture for a good two hours. It must be pure boyhood bliss to have your boat and shovel and so much dirt to work with. Wouldn’t it be great to focus on play for that long!
We got 6 more sections up after dinner with Claire’s help. The first frogs of the season were peeping.
You know when you do a repetitive task for too long in a day, you shut your eyes and see that at night? It usually happens picking berries or something like that – I think I’ll be seeing this when I close my eyes tonight.
It was a warm calm day and a laundry list of things were completed. We moved 62 of the cattle panel fencing and some of the poles to the pasture. We had them on a small hay wagon, but it was dicey hauling it as the panels were too long and tractor couldn’t hitch to the wagon, so we had to drag it with a chain. But we got to a place where the wheels got twisted hard to the left on a hill and we had to stop since the tie rod is weak from a previous bent out of shape experience hauling hay on the road, flat tire and a longer story than I care to repeat, but we found that we could slide 10 or so off and just drag them with the tractor and chain.
After spreading those around the pasture, we loaded up the posts we had and as I drove the tractor slowly, Linda threw one off the wagon every eight feet or so.
I was able to pound in the posts and put the fence up on the northern border, about 300 feet of fencing altogether.
The girls helped as well today, picking up sticks from the trees that were cut down last year, cleaning the aspargus patch, and general hauling. Linda got one row each of spinach, lettuce, and radishes planted in the garden and the statice (flowers) planted in the house. I had to bring Claire to Ames, so while there, took the truck and loaded up a pick-up load of free mulch.
It’s officially spring according to my definition – spring comes the day I see the first earthworm in the soil. That means the ground is unfrozen and life once again appears in the earth.
This morning Martin and I tried a low-cost experiment. We broadcast (by hand) some seeds into two acres or so of ho-hum pasture. We spread some Birdsfoot Trefoil, clovers, and some pasture mix grasses. It was a cool, but sunny day and not too windy day to do this. Now we just wait for the freeze/thaw to gently place the seeds where they need to be for spring rains. We also cleaned up part of the barn.
Late in the afternoon the UPS man came with some marsh seeds from Ion Exchange for the small mudhole we are trying to renovate – a mix of sedges, grasses, and flowers. Yesterday the UPS man brought beehive boxes for Joanne’s supers.
There’s been a story off the radar – Iowa’s biggest grass/brush fire, consuming between 12-25 square miles, including burning down some homes and farms. It happened this windy weekend.
I checked the Secretary of State web site, and found a new company! High hopes gardens L.L.C. is now a registered entity. So, also applied for IRS EIN number for tax reporting. Also worked some on adding farm store survey to web survey tool