Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Farm update

  In terms of soil moisture we've more than caught up from an extremely dry April in the last week.  Now we're itching for it to dry out enough for at least a little bit so we can get the next round of crops planted.  We're super busy these days between building up nucleus colonies for next year's honey crop, finishing spring time manipulations with this year's honey producers, moving fences for the livestock, milking two cows, grafting fruit trees, and all the work in the fields of working up ground, planting, weeding, and harvesting.  Strawberries are especially time-consuming to harvest (and sort and process the ones with bad spots, etc.), but we're very happy to be doing that work, especially after a couple years of poor strawberry harvests.  Besides moving hoses and watering, etc., it seems like we spent most of April covering and uncovering the strawberries and other things from the couple freezes and all the light frosts we had (as well as the frosts that the forecast threatened that we didn't have), and we're glad to have made it through that with hardly any losses to the strawberries and minimal losses to other things and to now be able to turn to work that seems more forward-moving.  We've had an early start to strawberry season this year, so we're hopeful for a long harvest season, but the strawberry season is especially unpredictable. 
  The first planting of field corn (for cornmeal, hominy, etc.) is up and growing well.  Our wheat crop -- we grow two varieties, a hard wheat (mainly for yeast bread) and a soft wheat (for biscuits and pie crusts...) -- are noticeably short (in height) this year, presumably because of the dry weather in April, but the heads of grain still look pretty good, so we're still hopeful for a decent wheat harvest.  We weren't able to get any oats planted last year because it stayed too wet at the time we needed to plant, but the oats look pretty good this year, despite the weather delaying planting fairly late and then turning so dry.  This will be our third oat crop.  We're growing a "naked oat," meaning the grain mostly threshes free of the papery hull, making it feasible for us (without industrial-scale processing equipment) to use the oats for human food.  We've basically just been multiplying out our seed so far, but we have enough planted this year to hopefully plant all we want next year and be able to start eating the oats, too.  Best case scenario, we may be able to offer shares of oats to Full Farm CSA members for 2018.
  The Irish potatoes are off to a good start already.  The overwintered garlic crop looks very good.  The spring peas/garden peas haven't done well this year, between poor conditions for germination and the very dry weather that followed.  Our attempts at direct seeding mustard and turnip greens completely failed in the dry weather, but we have a smaller area of transplanted greens that are doing very nicely.
  We have about 8 additional, new-to-us sweet potato varieties to grow this year.  We're excited to try them, especially in hopes of finding new types to enjoy for unique flavors or in different ways.  Another new crop for us this year is pumpkin seeds/pepitas.  If any of you have experience (or know someone with experience) growing any Mexican/central American variety of squash (as opposed particularly to the Austrian/cooler climate varieties) selected and grown particularly for the seeds, we'd love to learn from another grower (particularly about post-harvest processing, especially relating to the hulls), but in the meantime we're going to try to move ahead and figure things out on our own.  We're also excited to have discovered chayote by the recommendation of the same gardening friend that introduced us to roselle, yacons, and a bunch of our sweet potato varieties.  Chayote is a squash, especially unique in terms of how it grows.  It's very roughly similar to summer squash in flavor but comes much later in the year.  These new and experimental crops are a fun part of what we do.
  After two extremely cold winters ('13-'14 and '14-'15) that killed our figs back to the ground, we're happy to have had a milder winter with hopes of plenty of figs again.  We were able to cover a couple figs -- we built a 20' wide "fortress" around one fig with a light bulb (the kind you can't buy any more) in the middle for heat -- to protect them (particularly the early "breba" crop) from the late freeze in April, and we wrapped a couple other figs in Christmas lights to give off that little bit of heat.  The new growth on a couple other figs was killed back, but the wood is still fine, and they're leafing out again and should still make a good main crop.  We love figs, especially after two years almost without!  The blueberry crop is also looking good, even on most of the bushes that we weren't able to do anything to protect from the freezing nights in April.  Even mid-bloom, blueberries seem to be able to take a lot more cold than other things.  Persimmons and mulberries are mainly what Eric has been grafting this grafting season.  We're especially drawn to persimmons lately: selected native persimmon varieties, including some seedless varieties, as well as Asian varieties, including non-astringent types that are good to eat firm and the astringent-until-ripe types for eating jelly-soft and that are best for drying, plus unique/distinct Asian-American crosses.
  Our little herd of Jersey cattle is growing.  A second cow just freshened a couple weeks ago, so we're milking two cows now.  She was bred to an Angus bull, so we have a Jersey-Angus cross calf to raise up for beef.  We also have a heifer due to calve late this summer and a Jersey-Texas longhorn cross heifer not quite old enough to breed yet.  We sold our billy goat, so we just have two nannies now, but they both appear to be pregnant and should have their kids around the end of June/early July.  The kids will probably take all the milk for the first five or six weeks, and then we'll start milking them.
  We had very minimal winter losses with the bees, and they've done well all spring.  We've made up more nucleus colonies ("nucs") this spring than we have in a long time.  We use our nucs especially to draw new comb, so building up a more generous supply of drawn combs is a big part of our goal with the nucs.  Of course, a generous supply of combs is relative to how many hives we have, but we're not looking too far ahead.  The bees have already started making honey in earnest.  If the weather clears for good flying there's hope for another two or three or more weeks of nectar from the tulip-poplar and holly trees and the blackberry brambles -- the April freeze may have gotten the flower buds on the blackgums -- which could make for a very nice honey crop.  If the weather and the trees cooperate, the bees seem to be in good shape to take advantage of it.
  And on the family front, we're expecting an addition, number 5, to our family in early June.  That's probably not the best timing on a farm, but we're all excited about the new baby.