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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.

Resident Evil vs Visiting evilThe 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.

 

Resident Evil vs Visiting evil
Eva on the prowl

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...

 

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:

Bug Jugs, Homemade Herbicide, Garden DustBug 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.

 

Bug Jugs, Homemade Herbicide, Garden DustHomemade 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.

Bug Jugs, Homemade Herbicide, Garden DustGarden 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.

DSCN2926

Tapping walnut trees!

Tapping Walnut Trees
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, so we're tapping walnut trees.

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. Tapping walnut trees is just like tapping maple trees, walnut trees leaf out later than maples so the season might extend longer. 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.

tapping walnut trees
Collecting Walnut Sap

IMG_20140904_143708987Every now and again I have a bad day on the road. A couple of months ago my beautiful drive in the country turned ugly. I had three flat tires; one blow out, one flat, and a nail sticking out of the sidewall of the third tire. With the tires fixed I was back on the road. A few miles later the alternator failed. It wasn't a great day.

Last Saturday we hit a deer. Not a great day, either.

 

IMG_20141215_103711159 3Yesterday it was foggy with rain falling steadily. As I drove down the highway I saw a sign that read, “Next 2 miles...possible cattle on road”

My heart went out to the farmer. His cattle got out, It was very foggy and there's heavy traffic along this stretch of highway.

The next time I feel sorry for myself because I have a flat tire or a breakdown I'll remember that I've never had a day this bad. Even my worst day is better than a herd of cattle who've gone missing in the fog and worrying about the safety of both drivers and livestock on the road.

IMG_20141215_103724259

DSCN2746One of the highlights of Thanksgiving is the newspaper's publishing children's turkey recipe's and their drawings of Thanksgiving scenes. They're colorful, creative and so much fun to read.

 "Research shows that 90 percent of five-year olds are creative, but only 2 percent of adults are."  -Lee Lilber

One year our friend's son, (I'll call him Chip, even though it's not his real name) entered his school's turkey decorating contest. He came home excited to share the rules with his parents and tell them about the turkey he'd designed. After a trip to the craft store he assembled his turkey. It was terrific, it looked exactly as he planned. When our friends tucked their son into bed that night he told them how much he wanted to win the contest.

While the boy slept his parents looked at his turkey. It looked like a second grader had made it, which is exactly how it should have looked given the boy's age. They couldn't see it for what it was. They decided to improve it. Changing the design, they added more feathers, re-glued the eyes, and fixed the sagging head. Adding a guitar and sideburns it became a rock star turkey. They went to bed assuring themselves that their turkey was going to win, but it wasn't their turkey. It wasn't their contest to win.

In the morning when Chip saw the re-designed bird he burst out, "That's not my turkey!" His parents assured him that this turkey was the winner. He headed to school with the turkey stuffed in his bag.

After school he ran through the door grinning, "The teacher loved my turkey!" His mom congratulated him and called his dad. Chip, overhearing her on the phone, interrupted her, "Mom, your turkey didn't win. I showed the teacher your turkey and told her that I wasn't entering it in the contest. She gave me time to remake my turkey from the picture I'd drawn. Here, she wrote you a note." He handed his mom an envelope.

The teacher's note read:

 Dear Mr. and Mrs. _________,

I am proud of your son's effort and outstanding attitude on the turkey decorating contest. He followed the instructions and created a wonderful turkey.

I appreciate your enthusiasm however, your entry was ineligible.

You have both completed the second grade and are not currently enrolled at this school. In addition, you sent a demoralizing message to your son that somehow his creativity and artistic abilities are inferior to yours.

Sincerely,

Chip's teacher

As an eighteen year old our neighbor, Don built his own barn. He sent away for a set of plans, cut the trees, made them into board lumber, and constructed the barn. Seventy years later it's still in great shape.  Can you imagine kids doing their own work? They'd either celebrate their accomplishments or learn the consequences. And here's an even bigger stretch ...What if dad's allowed their sons in Cub Scout's to build their own Pinewood Derby cars?