Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Climbing pigs and broken trucks

My first adventure of the week since I last wrote began just hours after Wednesday CSA pick-up. We had finally arranged for a load of beautiful horse manure to be brought to our vegetable field so I headed over to meet the truck and show it where to dump. It was supposed to be a quick project (this is the way many farm projects begin). However, I soon learned that the dump truck they brought the manure in was a very special sort of dump truck, specifically a dump truck that does not dump. Needless to say we spent a good hour trying various methods to unload the truck. In the end we faced the inevitable and got out the shovels. But all is well that ends well and now we have our first load of manure in our field for next year’s crops.


We have discovered that we have a rare breed of climbing pigs! Our younger pigs here on the farm are so eager for any compost we might be bringing them that they have developed the ability to climb up to a standing position using the fence panels of their corral. They love to investigate the sound of running water when we fill their water tank. They use their noses to dig all around the bottom of the tank searching for the source of that tantalizing sound. Just watch out if you get in with them-they love eating shoelaces and nibbling on clothes.


If you aren’t careful farming can be a very isolating occupation. Animals and plants require attention every day. On top of that there is always the next thing to be done so it is all too easy to work, work, work. No matter how much one loves what they do, it is tiring to do it non-stop. A wonderful way to break the routine (while still convincing ourselves that we are working) is through “continuing education.” We had a great weekend of reuniting with several old friends from school who are undertaking various farming ventures of their own. We got to swap chicken raising methods with a friend who worked for Joel Salatin and now has her own place in Virginia. We also spent time with a friend working on several organic vegetable farms in the triangle area. To cap it all off today we attended a field day at a NC state organic field research station. There we learned about the development of disease resistant tomatoes, grafting tomatoes, growing fall broccoli, and the efficacy of various weed control methods.


Talking and cooperation are not always traits that come easily to people, especially independent type-A farmer personalities. But an open dialog between farmers, consumers, wholesalers, government researchers and regulators, and of course farmers talking to other farmers, is one of the biggest changes needed in our food system today. Our food is, more often than not, produced behind closed doors (closed even to regulators as is evident from the latest egg recall). Farmers are hesitant (or even prevented by agreements with companies such as Tyson) from sharing ideas with each other or with their customers. It is a system designed to bamboozle, confuse, and hide. It hides environmental destruction, health safety problems, corporate profits, destroyed rural communities, and societal health impacts.

A great NC organization that works to promote the kind of dialog we need is the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. They provide action alerts on food legislation that could harm small farmers, work to educate consumers, and especially promote farmer to farmer networking. Their biggest event of the year is a conference held each December to bring farmers from all over the Carolinas (and sometimes further afield) together to participate in workshops, network, and squeeze in some socializing. We hope to attend this year’s conference in Winston-Salem to continue our “continuing education.” If you are interested in learning more about the organization check out their website at http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/index.shtml

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Some August news

Could it be that fall is just around the corner? We notice the mornings are darker. In fact, they are dark enough that chores can’t start until 6:15-a whole 15 minutes later! Even though it doesn’t feel any cooler in the sticky August air, it hasn’t actually broken 90 out here on the farm for the last four days or so.

In case we couldn’t tell it was fall by the weather, the calendar tells us it is. At the end of July we started out fall Swiss Chard. The hot and humid weather caused some fungus problems with the young transplants, but many survived. Today we were out in the garden planting our babies. It is great to see little rows of greens in the ground again. Its time for transplanting again!

We need to get these fall greens in now because before we know it days will be short and nights will be cold. At that point the plants really won’t do much growing. So we need them to be large enough to harvest right around the time of first frost. The trick is dealing with the late summer pests. We sprayed a cocktail of items to give them a fighting chance: fish emulsion for nutrients, Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillar pests, and a kaolin clay to word off sucking insects and provide some “sunscreen” cooling the surface of the plants. To cap it all off we pulled out some of the white row cover you heard so much about in the spring. That will help exclude insects from the garden bed.

On the animal front I had an amusing task yesterday. We needed to estimate the weight of our hogs to see if we could take them to the butcher a month earlier. Since we have no scale we use a measuring tape much like tailors use to fit people for clothes. But this tape measures the pigs length and heart girth (the roundness just behind their front legs). With these two numbers we can estimate their weight. Our friendly pigs really enjoy attention. This usually makes the measuring easier. However, they have been spending their days totally covered in mud to cool off. Then they like to scratch on trees-or people. So as I measured around the pig’s bellies they were trying to rub on me. So I got to hug 200 lb, mud encrusted friendly pigs. Needless to say I needed a pre-rinse before coming in the house.

Today the pigs got an extra fun treat. I took down their fence and moved their paddock to the next space over. After some careful exploring to establish where I had placed the electric fence they started running around, and around, and around snorting and bucking. They thought it was great to be in a new space with fresh ground to root up. Incidentally, a new study has confirmed that pigs can express optimism and pessimism depending on their environment. Pessimistic pigs run from new stimulus while optimistic pigs move toward something new-our pigs are a bunch of sunshine!

Some Photos of the Farm


Chickens exploring


A chicken exhibiting its athleticism to catch an insect-too fast for the camera!

You know its time to be more social when buckets become your best friend

Flowers always brighten the day

Rain is nice, but it sure makes the grass grow!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cooler August?


July flowers make?


August peppers!


Everyone and everything at Bluebird Farm has enjoyed several days of cool, cloudiness with the temps not breaking 80 degrees. How refreshing! That meant the soil cooled down from 90 degrees to the mid 70’s. The plants loved the perfect soil temps and we’ve been watching the veggies and grass grow. It was also the perfect time to transplant more cilantro, the last succession of squash and cucumbers, and an attempt to get snow peas seeds to germinate. Hopefully these last squash and cuke plants will have good growing conditions and we will all swim in their fruits.


Cooler weather lets the pollinators do their job


The flowers aren't complaining about the weather!

We move the sheep flock every few days to a fresh patch of ground. This improves both the flock's health and the health of our pasture. Usually when we move them they all put their heads down to dive into the fresh salad bar. They look like this:


But, we have one silly ewe who kind of loses all her sense when there is fresh food available. She ignores, the flock, ignores us, and snarfs up the grass. The funniest part is that she actually snorts as she eats. Can you spot the bad sheep?