In the early spring, when the apple, peach and cherry trees are blossoming I keep the bees interested in pollinating the fruit trees by cutting the grass very short. This keeps the dandelions down until after the trees have finished blooming. It’s my trick to get bigger fruit crops.
Later in the spring there are still plenty of dandelions to keep the bees happy . And there's a variety of clovers and flowers planted for the bees, too. It’s a pollinator paradise.
On a trip to Seed Savers Exchange I bought Blue Boy Bachelor’s Button, Lambs Ear, and Heritage Farm Poppy seeds. The bees love these.
On our farm the pollinators are safe from pesticides and herbicides. We’re an organic farm, it’s all about health and quality of life.
Recipes to Help Both You and the Bees
This lemonade is a great energy booster. Not only does it taste great it helps the honey bees and your local beekeeper.
- 1 cup Fresh squeezed lemon Juice (if you don’t have a citrus juicer this one works great)
- 1 cup local honey (support a local beekeeper, don’t by commercial honey, It's probably not be real honey, anyway)
- 6 cups water
- Put the honey and lemon juice in a blender and mix at high-speed for one minute.
- Pour into a pitcher, add water and ENJOY!
- You can add fresh fruit, raspberries or strawberries taste great. Adding ginger or mint is an extra tasty treat, too.
- Meyer lemons make this even better, they’re sweeter than regular lemons. When they’re available buy them in bulk and freeze the juice.
Bug Jugs and Bee Safe Herbicide
Plant bee friendly gardens and keep them pesticide free. These recipes protect your fruit trees and kill weeds without using glyphosate.
Save the Bees!
The Efficiency of Grazing Cattle
Working on time management skills? You might just learn a thing or two from a cow. In the 1940's Cornell University studied cattle to see how they spent their time each day. Andre' Voisin's book, Grass Productivity has the detailed study on the efficiency of grazing cattle.
The university studied cow-calf pairs on pasture. Observers learned that cattle graze for a little less than eight hours per day. No over-time for bovine. They never exceed eight hours of grazing time.
Spend time Wisely
The cattle spent about seven hour per day ruminating (chewing their cud). The time differed slightly depending on the fiber content of the forage. Some ruminating is done lying down and part standing up.
Cattle lie down for slightly less than twelve hours per day. Cows divided these 12 hours into nine rest periods of varying length.
The cattle in the study didn't deviate in their daily routine. When they replicated the study in other countries the cattle showed the same results. In areas with hotter daytime temperatures the cattle spent no more than eight hours grazing, but they did it at night. The slight variances by breed or heredity weren't much different, they didn't change the study's results.
Quality is Everything
Here's where the efficiency of grazing cattle matters.; If cattle spend eight hours grazing each day quality is everything. If they're grazing poor pastures without nutrient dense forage they're basically spending eight hours eating junk food. Eight hours of quality forage, either pasture or hay, boost the cattle’s health. Feeding quality produces quality results.And how they're grazing matters, too. MIG grazing improves soil quality and prevents erosion.
If you're spending eight hours at something be sure to get the greatest return from those hours. Junk in - junk out. Quality counts. With organic production It's about quality not quantity.
Save The Honey Bees
They're vanishing at an alarming rate.
Lets pretend that in your line of work the numbers started to change. There's a sudden decline in people needing your services. Lets pretend that you're a teacher.
One morning you walk into the school. Something's wrong, you can feel it. When the bell rings one-third of your students are missing.
A few minutes later the principal walks in and asks to speak with you. She shares that in each classroom thirty percent, and in some classrooms seventy percent, of the students are missing. The trend continues day after day. The declining enrollment is alarming. And it's not just your school. This is happening at all the schools in your state.
In the coming months you learn the trend is happening globally. 30 - 70% of school-aged children have vanished. What's causing this and where have the children gone?
Now it's getting personal. The decline is affecting your contract. Lower school enrollment equates to lower numbers of teachers. How will you meet your financial obligations and feed the family?
Seems far-fetched, right? Well, this is exactly what's happening to the bees. They're vanishing without a trace. Beekeepers have lost 30% of their colonies. In some areas the numbers are closer to 70%. Remember; one out of every three bites of food requires bees for pollination.
In the book, More Than Honey , (there's also a video available) Markus Imhoof and Clause-Peter Lieckfeld use a similar scenario;
If 70 percent of all cattle or 30 percent of all chickens were to die annually, states of emergency would be declared everywhere. The death of bees is at least that dramatic and with even more far-reaching consequences.
Vanishing Bees is a Global Crisis
The more personal an issue is the more meaning it has for you. The declining bee population does directly affect you. One of the reasons for the decline is due to herbicide and pesticide use. Studies show that when hives are located close to genetically engineered crops both honey and pollen contain toxic levels of chemical residue. Bees suffer with memory loss and nervous system disorders after visiting plants genetically engineered with systemic pesticides (neonicotinoids). The toxins create confusion, the bees can't find their way back to the hive.
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) has a free publication; Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects.
Planting a cover crop of Buckwheat is great for honey bees and other pollinators. It will improve your garden, too.
Please, Save the honey bees.
August 20, 2016 is National Honey Bee Day.
I love this picture. The grasshopper catcher is a perfect example of Necessity being the Mother of Invention. Insects are a great source of protein. Free range poultry fill up on grasshoppers keeping the pests under control. It's a seasonal feast, though. The pioneers solved this by catching grasshoppers in the hayfield and drying them for winter feed. This is just one example of alternatives to corn and soybeans.
Summer through fall our chickens, ducks and turkeys move through the pasture catching insects and eating greens. Take advantage this summer and send the kids outside with a net and a bucket. Let them catch bugs. Have them turn over rocks and look under logs. They'll find plenty to feed the chickens.
A couple of years ago I heard about the benefits of goji berries so I planted some. They're full of vitamins but they taste terrible. Now, instead of using them myself, I dry them for chicken feed. Apparently the chickens don't mind the bitter flavor. Goji berries are easily dried and stored for year round use.
In certain areas of the country its not easy to buy small grains. Here in Iowa corn is king, followed by soybeans. Finding wheat is tough – no one grows it commercially in this area. There's no market for it here. Growing food plots gives the flock both exercise and superior nutrition. Plus, you'll have healthy eggs and meat. A food plot of small grains; wheat, oats, and barley inter seeded with clover and alfalfa provides a balanced diet when grazed green or cut and dried for winter feed. These plots are terrific for growing chicken feed.
This is the time of year to think about feeding the flock in the winter. Learn to sprout grains or grow fodder. The nutritional value of the two is quite different. In sprouted grains the white tap-root is full of enzymes. Once a green shoot develops the enzymes are lost to the sprout, but the green sprout is full of health qualities, too. Your hens will be healthier with the forethought.
And, if you'd like healthy meat and you're not raising poultry yourself we'd be happy to have you as a customer.
Muscovy Duck Can Fly
Keith hung up the phone, “Are we missing a duck?”
“I don’t think so, why?”
“Robin called, there’s a duck sitting under her pine tree. She said two eagles were attacking it as it flew into her tree this morning.”
Robin lives across the field and down the hill from us. It’s a good distance from our farm.
I checked the barnyard. Sure enough, one of our Muscovy hens was missing. I called Robin back. She explained that she saw two eagles chasing after a white bird. Looking closer she realized they were attacking a duck. The duck flew into the center of the pine’s branches. The eagles alighted at the top of the tree. Eventually the duck fell to the ground and rested under the tree where the branches camouflaged her from the eagle’s view. She sat quietly at the tree’s base.
Earlier in the morning Maisey was sitting under our pine tree barking at a bald eagle perched above her. Miley sat off to the side, eyes fixed on the bird. These two dogs keep the farm safe from predators, however, they're not equipped for airborne assaults. Neither was the duck.
Muscovy duck can fly. They don’t usually fly very far. They’ll fly from the barnyard to the pond or just circle the barn a time or two.
Once the hen was back home we gave her a thorough exam. She’s missing a few primarily flight feathers and was in shock, otherwise she seemed fine.
She’s started laying eggs again. More than likely she’s grounded until her ducklings hatch. So, until then, Maisey and Miley are on guard. Eva and Spike don’t pay attention to eagles and Grant’s the most likely to get carried off. His saving grace is the fact that he’s exceptionally heavy, which is a nice way of saying he’s fat.
New calves, kid goats and lambs
When there are new calves, kids or lambs the entire herd likes to check out the newest members. The bull calves and 'freemartin' heifers are wearing red tags this year, the heifer calves have yellow tags.
Some friends called and asked if they could stop by on their way home from picking up their new puppy, of course they could. I love my friends and puppies. The eight week old pup explored the yard. She ran from a curious hen, chewed on everything she found, and then fell asleep on a blanket in the car.
As they were getting ready to leave the couple looked at each other with curious expressions. Through a few not so subtle head nods and eye rolling maneuvers they finally asked the question I suspect was the real reason for their visit.
“Could you tell us if we have a male or female puppy?”
“Really, you can’t tell?” I started to laugh, “It’s a girl.”
The were relieved, they’d wanted a female. The confusion came from the puppies pot belly with a protruding naval stump.
We all laughed. Sometimes what seems obvious, isn’t.
My friend is not perfect - nor am I - and so we suit each other admirably. - Alexander Pope
Lambing season is almost finished, just a couple of ewes to go. Keith leaned on the gate and looked over at me, “See that sheep over there. She’s never going to have lambs.”
I looked at the sheep he was pointing at, “How do you know? She’s a healthy ewe, maybe she was just a late breeder.”
“Nope. It’s because she is a he,” Keith chuckled.
Sorting sheep is a big deal. In the fall we move the sheep through a series of pens to separate the females from the wethers (castrated males). Not only are the sheep separated into pens but they’re identified with livestock marking paint. Each sheep is cross referenced according to their ear tag. Throughout the sorting process each animal gets examined no less than four times as they move through the pens.
Despite this ‘fail safe’ system all four of us misidentified him. I looked at Keith and laughed, “Really, you can’t tell it’s a boy.”
What seemed obvious, wasn’t.
Here's more information on organic grass-fed lamb
'Know Your Farmer Know Your Food'
'Farm to Table'
Really great slogans. But, what’s really happening on the farm that’s producing food for your table?
Close your eyes. Imaging a farm. Do you see lush pastures. Animals grazing. Pigs sleeping in the warm sunshine surrounded by shade trees and green grass.
I drove past a farm yesterday with a new van parked out front. The signs on the side read, 'Farm to Table’ and ‘Know Your Farmer Know Your Food’. This particular farmer has several confinement hog houses.
Do they qualify for the ‘Farm to Table’ campaign? Of course. They’re farmers. They sell direct from their farm to customer’s tables.
Do they fit the model for the ‘Know Your Farmer Know Your Food’ campaign? Yep, they do.They sell at farmers markets. Customers get to know them.
But, DO YOU, as a customer picture something different when you support a farm?
Are you thinking of pigs in a pasture or hogs crowded inside of a building.
Are you thinking of cattle grazing under a blue sky and sunshine or steers stuffed under a shed roof with just a few square feet to move around.
Across the mid-west farmers markets are re-opening for the season. I suggest that you really get to know your farmer. Ask questions. Things aren’t always as they seem
How familiar are you with these terms:
Free Range vs Cage Free
Pasture raised vs Confinement
Organic vs 'Beyond Organic'
The California Supreme Court ruled that producers who mislabeled products as organic are open to lawsuits as protection from fraud in the organic industry.
I’m not sure whether the farms that label themselves as ‘Beyond Organic’ will have to change their advertising but it 's food for thought.
And remember; If we are what we eat most of us are fast, cheap and easy. Lets change that!
Four years ago we completed an area of direct seeding trees; Walnuts, oaks, and Chestnuts. The walnut trees are about twelve feet tall, the oaks four to eight and the Chestnuts about five.
The project was so successful that we’re direct seeding other areas. One of them is along the lane.
Some years oaks don’t produce many acorns, last year was one of them. For a successful direct seeding it’s best collecting from trees within a fifty mile range. Outside of this range the variety of tree may not grow as well as local species.
We spent most afternoons last fall scavenging acorns from our timber. On windy days there would be a windfall, other days were sparse. Because our own trees weren’t producing many acorns we kept a nut roller and bucket with us. Everywhere we went we’d search for trees shedding nuts.
In October, Decorah, Iowa hosts the annual Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour. It’s wonderful. In one neighborhood in particular, Shagbark Hickory vastly out number all other tree species. I looked forward to the artwork, Keith looked forward to collecting hickory nuts for our direct seeding. While I toured the studios Keith visited with the locals and collected seed stock.
In the fall a seed bed was prepared. Then nuts were scattered across the tilled ground and finally, the seeding rolled for good ground contact. This winter we noticed fat squirrels, with full cheeks, running back and forth from the seeding area. It’s OK, we seeded heavily. The direct seeding is a collection of acorns and nuts from burr, red and white oak along with shagbark hickory.
The faster growing walnut’s in our fourth year direct seeding trees are shading out the slower growing young oaks. Next winter the walnuts will be coppiced (cut at ground level) to allow the oak’s to grow above the canopy. The walnut trees will be stunted but make a full recovery.
Last year Keith and I took the Master Woodland Managers program through Iowa State University. It's a wonderful class with combined teachings in the classroom, on timber walks and through volunteer work in managed timber. We’re continuing our education through reading, observation, and attending more classes. And of course, traipsing through the timber. I highly recommend this forestry program, and the book, Forest and Shade Trees of Iowa.