Growing Oyster Mushrooms  (click on the main title above to see the beauty of these mushrooms)

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Keith and I decided that we were under utilizing the timber ground of this farm. We planned a few projects to re-connect us with the beauty of the forest. The first two projects were; tapping Walnut trees and inoculating logs for mushroom production.  At the time of year when we would normally be inside the house these projects brought us outdoors to enjoy the timber. This past winter we cut aspen trees for growing mushrooms.   In February we set up a production line to inoculate the logs.

Last March the inoculated logs were stacked on pallets in the timber.

This week we harvested the first mushrooms. We're growing both Grey Dove and PoHu Oyster mushrooms. Now that the mushrooms are growing the next step is to stand the logs up on end in a tepee fashion. These logs will actively produce mushrooms for the next few years.

We bought our supplies at Field and Forest Products   An added benefit of buying from them is that they sell certified organic mushroom spores.

 

 

 

 

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Resident Evil vs Visiting evil

For the past eight years there's been a family of coyote living in an old stump pile in the timber. When we first moved here there were a few encounters with them. Like the morning Keith and Garrett saw a large female trotting through the pasture with one of our turkeys in her mouth. Soon after that we got Miley and Maisey. They patrol at night and keep the livestock safe. Eva works the day shift. Spike's twelve, he does what he can.

DSCN0009(27)The dogs and coyotes had a respectful agreement. The resident evil, i.e. coyotes, stayed away from the livestock and out of the barnyard area. In return the dogs kept their distance from the coyote’s den. For years the agreement held, until recently.  This year we haven't seen them or heard their cries at night.

A few weeks ago Maisey and Miley were barking in the distance pasture. They were getting louder as they brought the sheep in closer to the barn. While they were some distance away Keith looked out and saw a young, lone coyote standing in the yard. He turned Eva out and she chased it off.

Last week, in the middle of the night, we heard the dogs start their chase. Their barking grew fainter as they ran farther into the field. With the barnyard area unprotected another predator, probably the young juvenile coyote who visited earlier in the week, killed six ducks. One duck was dragged behind the barn but managed to escape. She's injured but should recover.

Kit Pharo, of Pharo cattle Company has written about this issue and I agree with him. A pair of coyotes and their pack will dominate a territory. They'll keep intruders out of their hunting ground. The resident coyote knows the parameters of where it's safe to hunt and which animals to hunt within their territory.

This summer our peaceful nights are filled with barking dogs and animal's cries. Something must have happened to the dominant pair. I am assuming that coyote hunters in the area took down the dominant female or her mate.  In their absence the farm is open to visiting marauders. The cries from these other packs fill the twilight hours. The rules are no longer defined.

The threat from a resident coyote is less frightening than the visiting evil of outside packs. For the coyotes the hunt is on. Our livestock need protection, so, for Maisey and Miley the hunt is on, as well. I'm hopeful a new pack will move in and learn the boundaries set up by our dogs. Resident evil is always safer than visiting evil.

 

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Murphy's Law of Farming

Murphy's law of farming
Murphy's law of farming

1.  The week your new chicks or bees arrive so will a cold snap.

2.  You'll ONLY have problems with the planter on the rows most visible from the road

3.  Animals ONLY escape when you're running late and DON”T have time to round them up.

4.  As soon as the hay is raked a pop-up rain shower will bless your farm

5.  The hay baler ONLY breaks when you're trying to beat the rain

6.  If you borrow something it will break

7.  The day that guests, or the vet, come to the farm everything goes wrong and the chores don't get done

8.  The newer your clothes the more animal slime they'll collect

9.  While lecturing your children on the importance of closing gates the one you've just latched will swing open behind you.

10.  You'll discover you're wearing your barn shoes when everyone in the grocery line starts sniffing the air and looking around.

11.  When you are trying to finish your own project (gardening, canning, cleaning) your husband will interrupt you at least 300 times. When you need his help he'll have vanished.

Feel free to add your own in the comment section...

 

Cussing is Livestock Abuse... what?

Ewes 9-15-13

"Hey, ewe are they swearing at us?"

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a formal complaint to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Australia that sheep are offended when sworn at.

One of PETA's volunteers recorded this abuse while working undercover at a sheep station in New South Wales.

The rancher, Ken Turner said, “To my knowledge there was no actual cruelty on the job. The allegation was that bad language was used by an employee on the property in front of the sheep and that they could have been offended by the use of bad language.”

RSPCA in New South Wales chief executive Steve Coleman says the complaint was rejected, but not because it was bloody stupid in the first place. He said the video footage was ruled  “not legally usable.”

Having worked with both sheep and goats for over twenty years I confess to cussing, in their presence, on multiple occasions. Especially when I find them eating the apple trees and running through the garden.

Sometimes, I forget....

...I forget what store-bought eggs taste like, how pale the yolk is.

...I forget that store-bought chicken doesn't have flavor, that the flesh is pale, the texture rubbery. Pastured poultry is superior to conventionally raised in every way.

pastured poultry
pastured poultry

...I forget that pasture raised pigs don't smell bad, the meat is tender, juicy, and the fat is beneficial.

...I forget that most families don't cook with lard. They've never tasted homemade pie crust or biscuits.

...I forget that walking out your front door to pick cherries, raspberries, gooseberries and apples, from the trees you've planted, is a luxury. It's a special benefit of arranging your life differently than most people choose to do.

raspberries
raspberries

...I forget that fresh garden produce is a choice. It's trading your time, planning, and labor in exchange for a plentiful harvest.

I forget that there's nothing sweeter than homegrown peaches or the sight of baby ducklings chasing after a bug.

I forget that most livestock producers don't believe in the restorative powers of MIG grazing. Instead of planning a grazing program they allow their animals to forage randomly. This creates a barren pasture, soil depleted of nutrients, and not enough organic matter or cover crop to control evaporation. These poor decisions, made by many farmers, are a choice. A choice that negatively impacts water quality, wildlife, and climate.

There have been several visitors to the farm recently who've enjoyed the beautiful views and learning about grass based farming. Many of them recall memories of their grandparents farms which were like ours in many ways.

Their grandparents had pigs in the pasture and chickens pecking in the yard. Small orchards provided fruit and cider. Large gardens fed the family and everyone worked together. Picnic tables were sheltered under shade trees where cool breezes relieved the heat of the day.

Sometimes I take for granted that each day is my own. I'm greeted by beautiful surroundings with the people I love and the life we've chosen. Our farming practices are intentionally organic.

Bug Jugs, Homemade Herbicide, Garden Dust

It's that time of year again - time to protect your fruit trees, kill weeds, and dust the garden for pests while saving the bees!

Here are three recipes:

DSCN1322Bug Jugs

Put all the ingredients into a gallon water jug and hang in fruit trees to catch pests. One jug per inch of tree diameter.

 

DSCN1256Homemade Herbicide:

Mix well, apply with a sprayer or dish sponge  soap dispenser  Use caution; wear gloves and eye protection. 20% vinegar can cause burns on contact. Apply in dry, warm weather. A second application, within a few days of the first, may be needed for some weeds. Poison Ivy, brush, and vines will require more than one application. Be careful - this mixture will kill both the plants you want and don't want - don't get it on any that you don't want to die.

hot peppersGarden Dust

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 TBS Cayenne pepper

Mix together and dust plants while there's dew on them. Works especially well to get rid of cabbage worms.

 

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Esme' riding in the tractor
Esme' riding in the tractor

Goodbye, Esmé. You were the goodwill ambassador of the farm. I found Esmé at the Dubuque Animal Shelter and named her after a character in a short story by J.D. Salinger. Esmé was a clown, always having fun, and exceedingly happy. She loved swimming, digging, chasing, and biking.

She welcomed every new arrival. It didn’t matter if it had two legs or four Esmé welcomed everyone.

I heard the dogs bark and knew someone was coming up the lane. Cookie ran into the house and yelled, “call the vet, Esme’s laying in the driveway bleeding!”

As soon as I saw her I knew she was gone, she was so still. So small. So lifeless. Scooping her up I held her close and whispered goodbye. I kissed her head as tears trickled onto her fur. Looking up I saw the face of our friendly delivery driver, her tears fell, too.

I assured her it wasn’t her fault. Esmé must have gotten caught by the tire as she turned into the drive.

When our boys lost their first dog, Squeaky my sister gave us a book, Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. The inscription reads, “Given in memory of Squeaky. January 1999.” We’ve added the names of other beloved pets. With deepest regrets I’ve added Esmé to that list.

 

Beekeepers are wonderful, but they lie

I've met a few beekeepers over the past few years, wonderful folks, but they're liars. The beekeeping class instructor said that eventually you won't notice getting stung. He said it's not a big deal. Every beekeeper I've met since has said the same thing, "I don't even notice when I get stung."

To this I say, "Liar!"

One of the first questions people ask is, "How often do you get stung?" Followed by the second question, "Does it hurt?"

Here's the truth; you won't get stung often but when you do it hurts. I know the procedure; when you get stung use the hive tool to scrape the stinger away, otherwise the sack keeps pumping venom. The same goes with trying to squeeze out the stinger. It won't work, you have to scrape it away.

It will continue to hurt for a couple of days, your joints around the area will ache. As the swelling goes down your skin will start to itch. As for me, patience isn't a virtue. I've been stung plenty of times and the only home remedy that's worked is time.

I love bees enough to endure the occasional sting. The reward is greater than the pain.

Bee in apple blossom
Bee in apple blossom

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On an old oak stump in our front yard grew a Hen of the Woods mushroom. Keith would watch it grow and mature until it was the ready to pick. It was just about perfect.

We were sitting on the front porch when a car pulled up. The dogs were sleeping in the autumn sun, they didn't notice. The driver ran from the car, cut the mushroom, and drove off.

Apparently someone else was watching the mushroom, too. Keith walked around the stump in disbelief, “Who steals a mushroom?”

“Probably the same type of person who tries stuffing a goat into the hatchback of their car.” A few weeks earlier a nicely dressed couple tried driving off with our goat, Midnight and a few of the laying hens.

Poor Keith, I empathized with him. He'd been waiting to enjoying this mushroom for a long time.

Our neighbor, Mike watched the same car pull up to his ditch and cut weed stalks early each summer. One year he flagged them down to ask what they were cutting. What they thought were wild rhubarb stalks in reality was Burdock. Mike just smiled, shook his head and waved them on. He loved re-telling that story.

Here in Iowa folks park along the roadside searching for wild asparagus or morels. The asparagus seekers carry sharp knives and plastic bags. They walk along the ditches and fence rows searching the grass around utility poles.

For some reason the commercial morel hunters irritate me, they don't ask for permission, they're dropped off in an area to begin scavenging the timber and underbrush for saleable product. They wear camouflage and carry handheld GPS devices. Morel's bring a hefty price.

Growing mushrooms is one of our latest projects. We're growing Oyster mushrooms for fun.  Keith loves mushrooms. One year I bought him a shiitake growing kit which was fine, but about the difference between owning a plastic model of a Corvette or the real thing.

It was time for an up-grade, so this year we're growing two varieties of organic Oyster mushrooms; Grey Dove and PoHu.

Keith cut logs from dormant Aspen trees. Each log is about 3 feet long, 6 – 8 inches in diameter. There are about one hundred logs for this year's mushroom project. He used a special bit to drill the holes. Cookie inoculated the logs with sawdust spawn and then capped each with wax. The logs are stacked in the timber, when it's dry this summer we'll use a water tank to soak the logs. The first mushrooms should start growing within a few months. This first year's yield will be sparse, but should increase each season for many years.

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Tap Into Something Good: Walnut Water!

Collecting Walnut sap
Collecting Walnut sap

The local NPR station had a program about tapping trees. Michael Farrell, author of The Sugarmaker's Companion talked about collecting sap from different types of trees. Keith liked the idea of tapping walnut trees and birch trees to make syrup. The Black Walnut trees are abundant in our timber. After reading the book we became interested in the benefits of sap water as a healthful drink.

Keith and our local forester, Jeff  marked trees for tapping. Not wanting to ruin marketable timber, or veneer, the two of them selected twenty-six crooked or damaged trees for this first season's experiment.

The trees cover a larger area so tubing wasn't an option. Instead, collection bags hang from the taps. Walnut's have about the same brix (sap sugar content) as maple trees. The volumes of sap is less, though. Walnut sap is nutrient rich, slightly sweet, with a nutty flavor. It's power packed.

In other cultures tree sap is a valued health drink. Fresh sap is good for five days, after that it needs pasteurization and filtering. It will last indefinitely when it's frozen. To get the benefits throughout the year I'm freezing it in ice-cube trays and glass jars for later use.

Depending on how much sap we collect there might be enough to make walnut syrup, but with a sap to syrup ratio of 40:1, we'll see.

The sap runs for only about five-weeks each spring. When the walnut sap finishes flowing the birch trees are ready to tap. Birch flow starts later in the spring and runs until the trees leaf out.

Sugaring is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and spend time together.

Collecting Walnut Sap
Collecting Walnut Sap