February 15, 2013 – Sometimes a Candle isn’t Enough!

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.

August 6, 2012 – Reconfiguring Back Pasture

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.

June 4, 2011 – D$%N Thistles

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.

canadian thistle bud stage

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!

one year ago…”First Celery”

March 26, 2011 – Burn, Baby Burn!

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.

one year ago…”Landscape Architecture Class Visit”

February 15, 2011 – Footprints in the Snow

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!

one year ago…”Feeding Chickens in Winter”

May 3, 2010 – Spring Seeding

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.

one year ago…”Another Skystream Meets the Wind”

March 24, 2010 – Soil Sampling

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.

one year ago…”Garlic Up!”

March 31, 2009 – Planting Willows

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.

one year ago…”Claire at Mock Trial”

February 23, 2009 – Winter Willow Nursery

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.

one year ago…”InBIO Park”

July 20, 2008 – Martin’s View of “The Swamp”

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!”  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.”  I asked him what he meant and he said “Now we have a swamp, we have a baby forest, and a wind turbine.”  Even though you can’t buy that comment with MasterCard, I still thought it was priceless.

one year ago…”Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge”

July 19, 2008 – Wetland Success

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.  Naturalist 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.”  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.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #70″

April 27, 2008 – A Constant Battle

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.

one year ago…”Not in Our House”

April 19, 2008 – Moving Fence

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.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #68″

March 25, 2008 – Pasture Overseeding

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.

one year ago…”Ice Storm Cleanup”