June 28, 2010

'Tis the Season

The first spell of dry weather in June can mean only one thing...it's haying time again.  Ryan started cutting about a week ago, and after curing and tedding, we started bringing the hay to the barn yesterday.  Here Ryan loads the wagon while Igor picks up the small piles in the corners of the field that the loader can't reach.  Ed has taken lots of great photos of the whole process - from field to barn loft -  that we'll share in the next few posts.  So far, we've put up seven wagon loads, and we're keeping our fingers crossed that the weather continues to cooperate...at least for another day or two.

June 16, 2010

Not Impressed

Poor Tom.  He's tried all his best moves, and still Peahen ignores him. She's been hanging around the coop for a week or so, but I think she's more interested in the grain we feed the chickens and turkeys than in Mr. Big Stuff's dashing good looks.

June 13, 2010

Preening Owl

For those of you who like the bird photos more than a discussion about compost...thanks to Laura for this great shot.

June 9, 2010


Here are our two compost piles that sit on a concrete slab near the barn. As all farmers and weekend gardeners know, compost is organic material that has broken-down through aerobic decomposition. In addition to providing a fertilizer, compost also conditions the soil and acts as a natural pesticide. Obviously, with six horses and a pony in the barn, we get plenty of organic material on a daily basis. To this we add (when possible) green organic material from the garden…weeds, clippings, plants that have gone to seed, and anything else that isn’t fed to the chickens or pigs. For the microorganisms in a compost pile to work effectively, four ingredients are necessary: oxygen, water, nitrogen and carbon. The carbon and nitrogen are supplied by the organic matter; green and wet materials are high in nitrogen while dry and brown materials contain higher carbon concentrations. According to the experts, ideal composting occurs with a carbon to nitrogen ration of about 30 to 1, which, by volume, means just about equal parts green and brown materials. And since the microorganisms also require oxygen, the compost pile has to be stirred on a regular basis. The heat generated is a result of the microbes oxidizing the carbon, and water is produced and released as steam. The heat also kills the unwanted weed seeds and any pathogens in the manure.
We use the compost as an ingredient in the soil blocks, mixed directly into the planting beds, and as a compost tea. The pile in the rear of the photo is currently being used, and with the garden (and weeds) really starting to grow in earnest now, we have started the new pile in the foreground.

June 1, 2010

Threshing 3.0

One of the casualties of the centralization and industrialization of agriculture over the last 60 or 70 years is that of small, diversified farms growing small acreages of grains. Time was when nearly all farms grew a few acres of oats, wheat and barley. The farmer's family and his livestock were fed from the grain grown right on the farm. Now the growing of grains has, for the most part, been concentrated into certain favorable geographic regions, and has adopted the use of giant machines and mountains of chemicals.
The small farm resurgence that the country is currently enjoying is an exciting thing to witness, with its' invigoration of local food economies. One thing missing from this new farm momentum, however, is the growing of small grains. A lack of small scale harvesting and threshing equipment is partly to blame. There are simply very few options for the small farmer to efficiently and economically harvest and thresh grain. One must look oversees, to Asia for example, where there is still a strong culture of small scale grain growing; or one must look to the past and try to find and restore the machines which formed the backbone of the American farm economy from the 1850's to the late 1940's.
I realized years ago that to truly create self sustaining operation a farm must grow it's own grains rather than buying them at the local feed store. It has been a long time coming, but finally this last month we threshed the grain we grew and harvested last summer.
We harvested the oats and rye using a McCormick-Deering 7' binder, which cuts the grain and ties it in sheaves which are in turn stacked by hand into shocks in the field. We acquired a very fine 28"x 48" McCormick stationary threshing machine and a beautiful Farmall Super M to power it with. After meticulously evaluating and rejuvinating every function of the thresher we were finally able to fire it up and feed it some bundles of grain last month. The result, after much trial and error, was 36 bags of grain stored in the loft of the barn ready to feed to ourselves and our stock.
Just last weekend we used our new hand cranked roller from Lehman's to roll our own oats. Honestly, I was shocked at the incredibly rich taste of the homegrown oats- almost as much difference as a carrot or tomato from the store when compared to those fresh from the garden.