March 25, 2010

Latest Arrival

Here's Lily and her new heifer calf that was born yesterday morning out in the lower pasture.

March 24, 2010

Break Time

The farm version of the office water cooler.
Thanks to Laura for the photo.

March 20, 2010

Spring Arrives

That's 10:32 a.m. Pacific Time the Sun's ecliptic path crossed the celestial equator going north and Winter was officially over.  But a look around the farm would tell you that Spring actually started a week or two ago.

March 18, 2010

Do Fence Me In

Here on Littlefield Farm we have, by my rough estimate, a little over four miles of fence.  With five strands of wire on each fence, thats twenty miles of barbed wire.  Add to that something like 2200 t-posts, 230 wood posts, and a dozen or so gates, and you can see why that whenever I think that I have everything done, I'm just kidding myself...because there's always fence to fix.
  Aside from a sometimes ornery bull, the biggest challenge to keeping the fences intact are the large trees - alder, maple, cedar, hemlock and fir - that line almost all the fence lines.  Every storm brings limbs and often whole trees down...and always right on top of a fence.  In the winter, if I hear the wind blowing at night, I know there's a good chance I'll be out the next day with the chain saw and the wire stretchers because, as Ryan is fond of noting, cattle and horses are like water...if there's a hole, they WILL find it.
  In this photo you have a stretch of fence torn apart by the cows last week when they decided to move themselves from the lower pasture into the Shire pasture.  To fix it, I pulled the wire as tight as possible, but the posts are set in very soft ground just a few feet from the river and will probably have to be replaced sometime this summer when things dry out.

March 17, 2010

Getting the Garden Ready

Almost every day now, we're doing something in the garden to get ready for planting.  After a few warm days, we've returned to what I'm told is a more typical Spring in the Pacific Northwest.  So almost everything is still in the greenhouse, except the garlic, onions, and the asparagus that I've been waiting on for two years now.  Here the cover crop is being turned over to get ready to make planting beds.  That's Clark and Fred doing the work, while Ryan admires the beautiful, straight furrows the riding plow is leaving behind.

March 16, 2010

Soil Blocks

I spent the better part of the day making soil blocks for the mangels (more about mangels, which are huge beets, in a later post).  In addition to eliminating the need for thinning later on, the reason for starting them in blocks rather than as seeds in the field is that we are able to keep down any weeds in the planting area until the mangels are big enough to shade out the competition (not that we ever have weeds in the garden, of course).  To make the soil blocks, we use a recipe from The New Organic Grower, which has always worked well.  It calls for:

30 units brown peat 
1/8 unit lime
20 units coarse sand or perlite 
3/4 unit fertilizer 
10 units soil 
20 units compost

Your "units" can be whatever container is handy, as long as the ratios remain the same.  I use a bucket and measuring cup.  The ingredients are all mixed together dry in a wheelbarrow, and then enough water is added until you have a soft mud.  I've had more success with a very moist mixture which keeps the soil from sticking to the sides and top of the block press.  Once the seeds are planted, the blocks require vigilant watering, especially in the warm environment of the greenhouse.  Above is the pak choi (or bok choi) that we started recently.

March 15, 2010

Walla Walla Onions

We've already started a lot of different seeds indoors so far this spring, but today was the day for planting the Walla Walla onions outside in the garden.  These sweet onions are a big favorite here on the farm, so hopefully almost two whole rows will be enough.  The Walla Walla onion was first developed around 1900 by Peter Pieri, a French soldier who brought the seeds with him to eastern Washington from Corsica.  Selective breeding has produced the large, round and sweet onion we know today.  These seedlings should be ready around the end of July, or the first part of August, when the tops start to wither and turn brown.  They don't keep forever, so plan your grilled hamburgers, jambalaya and French Onion soup now!

March 12, 2010

Moving Day

This morning we moved cattle from the Shire pasture to the pasture below the Sage House near the river.  There they have a loafing shed and plenty of tasty new grass...and now there will be more peace in the barn.  That's Aidan helping out (on Josie) and Brendan bringing up the rear.

March 11, 2010

A Good Place to Start

I suppose there's no better way to start a farm blog than to announce the birth of a new heifer calf to Peaches. The photo was taken in very low light since I didn't want to use a flash on those brand new eyes, and so I apologize for the quality. They are Dexter cattle, originally from Ireland, which makes them perfect for the Pacific Northwest.

According to Wikipedia: "The Dexter breed originated in southwestern Ireland from which it was brought to England in 1882. The breed virtually disappeared in Ireland, but was still maintained as a pure breed in a number of small herds in England. The Dexter is a small breed with mature cows weighing between 600-700 pounds and mature bulls weighing about 1000 pounds. Considering their small size, the body is wide and deep with a well-rounded hindquarter. Although usually black, a dark-red or dun Dexter is sometimes found, all animals are always solid, with only very minor white marking on the udder or behind the navel. Horns are rather small and thick and grow outward with a forward curve on the male and upward on the cow. The breed is typically a dual-purpose type, although individual herd owners often concentrated on growing either a beef or a milk animal."

Part of the reason Ryan likes the Dexters is that calving is an easy process (I'm sure he'll have more to say about Dexters in a later post). This little heifer was born around 4 or 5 in the morning (my guess), on the coldest night in a month, but her mother found the warmest, softest spot in the barn, and the little girl was up and exploring within an hour or two. And like all the Dexter cows, Peaches is a very good mother. Unlike the other cows, unfortunately, Peaches can be a little surly at milking time....which is a real shame since she has the nicest udder in the herd (if you milk, you'll understand). Fortunately, as far as the milk is concerned, Blossom has a little steer that is about a month old, and Blossom is a very pleasant cow. Here's a clip of the little guy in action last week.