Friday, May 25, 2012

Deer inside the fence

Shortly after dawn, while chewing on some very spicy horseradish stems and picking nettles for our Spring cooking green mix, I noticed some deer droppings along the hedgerow between the wild elderberries and the rhubarb patch. Since this spot is within our inner fence, I was a little bummed that the deer had pushed their way through the thick brush where I haven't been able to close up the fencing yet. It was on my winter to-do list, but unspooling 50 feet of five-foot-high woven wire by myself just wasn't happening.

Anyway, as I filled the harvest basket, I worked my way to the edge of our dense blackberry thicket. And as I ripped out invasive garlic mustard plants (edible, but even we don't eat them) and gingerly picked the nettles (thick gloves are critical at the harvest stage, until they lose their sting off the stem), I looked down into two VERY big eyes gazing up at me.

Momma deer had found a good spot -- away from the neighborhood dogs and too close to the constant activity on the farm for the coyotes and foxes. I called Sharon over for a viewing, then we went back to picking flowers and greens for the salad mix with smiles on our faces. Hard to be mad at the doe for finding a well protected spot to rest her newborn -- just as long as she doesn't start wandering into the field toward the greens. Guess I'll be finishing up that fencing project after the fawn finds a new bedding spot.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pigs on pasture: TGF 2012 edition

Our eight little pigs headed out of the wooden-fenced area for the first time this afternoon. They've become accustomed to the electric netting fence along the inside of one wall of the wooden fence. So today I put up one of our small net fences outside their pen and let them get out to dig some fresh ground. In the ten days that they've been here their eight little snouts have torn up every last piece of grass or edible root in the top few inches of soil. One particularly ambitious snout had been working on a hole about eighteen inches deep when I came to check on them after lunch.

Here's a few pictures of them discovering tall grass, taller than them in some places, and plowing through a section of an old wood chip pile.

I counted three who tested the new fence with their noses and one who was so engrosssed in going after a particular root that she worked her body around till her rump was pressed against the fence. I tried to warn her, but the next pulse caused a little skriek and she jumped away from the fence. I didn't feel too bad when her snout was immediately back into the ground and she just kept digging -- this time heading well away from the fence.

I worked nearby for hour or so, just to make sure all of them have learned to move away from a shock, and not charge ahead as their natural instinct seems to be... An electric net fence couldn't handle even one of these piglets if it were really inclined to charge. The piglet might get tangled for a bit, but eventually it would pull down the fence. Having them learn to stay away -- and back up when they accidently touch it -- is the only way to keep them moving around on the pasture.

In other news, Sharon got most of the peppers, plus much of the licorice and sage, planted in the greenhouse with help from her dad; meanwhile, her mom helped label the hundreds of eggplant, tomato, pepper, cucumber, flower, and herb transplants we'll have for sale at the Trumansburg Community Yard Sale on May 12 and the plant sale at the Ithaca armory on May 19. Perhaps happiest news of all: more than 600 gallons of water stockpiled for our irrigation needs, the mower is fixed, and the tomatoes have already started blossoming!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Good fences make...

I know. Good neighbors. Blah blah blah.

Good fences make sane farmers.

A few hours after the piglets arrived, they took themselves for a little jaunt around the farm. Someone (with a snout) jiggled the gate just enough to pop out the tiny bolt I had hastily slipped into the two large eyebolts that comprise the latch. As I came around a corner, I got to watch the last two piglets leap, then wriggle through a slightly larger gap between the second and third rails to join their fellow escapees heading for the orchard. After a frantic phone call to Sharon (on the farm, when we get a signal...cell phones are as good as walkie-talkies), we gently guided the herd back around to the shed. Luckily, at this age they are still staying close to each other and with a little coaching they casually strolled back into their pen, en masse. We did some quick reinforcing of their wooden pen and substituted a longer bolt for the gate latch and they seem to be staying put. (Knock on wood!)

When the piglets first arrive on the farm, we spend a little extra time with them every day so they can become familiar with us and get used to our coming and going, heralded with a whistle to reduce the startle factor for creatures even more near-sighted than Sharon. Maybe our friend Chuck can outfit them with glasses? We also supply a little treat now and then, which will make moving them from paddock to paddock much easier.

Since the goal is for our pigs to be pasture and woodland raised, our next step is introducing them to the electric netting fence. When pigs get shocked or stung by a bug, their instinct is to barrel forward. So when we're first training them to the electric wire, we put it inside the perimeter of the wooden pen that (theoretically) they've already learned not to go through. Makes training easier on everyone: Being tangled up in an electric fence while getting intermittent shocks isn't fun. Just ask the farmer who got tangled up one evening when putting the chickens to bed...

Speaking of chickens, a few of them have taken to flying over their electric net fencing. We have a few sections of 42" fencing we bought from a friend enclosing a large area around their portable coop and the shelter that houses their feed tray and provides extra shade. Most days they stay in just fine. But right after we move them to a new spot, a few will try to return to their previous location. And then the chicken herding commences. It wouldn't be so bad, but they seem to really like to scratch and hunt for bugs in the freshly mulched-loose soil around plantings like the garlic and baby fruit trees. Finding young garlic cloves half excavated from their rows makes us less happy with the chickens. We love selling their eggs, appreciate the fertilizer they spread for us, and welcome their aid reducing pest pressure, but we had to break out our old 48" fencing to hold them in a smaller area while we planted potatoes yesterday. They couldn't resist coming over to visit us and look for bugs in the freshly turned soil. Happily, the 48" fencing seems to be working for the time being.

As we expand and reconfigure the main growing enclosure this year, electric fencing won't be the only kind we're moving. We'll also move and extend some of the eight-foot-tall woven wire fencing and twelve-foot black locust posts. We're expanding our fruit and vegetable production and with all the deer we have passing through the field, the only way to protect the crops is with a BIG fence. If anyone wants to come out and help string fencing in June, let us know. We always welcome help on large tasks like that.

An update on the high tunnels: All of the tomato plants are in, as well as the ginger, cilantro, and cucumbers. Peppers, eggplants, etc. are almost big enough to transplant as well. We had to open all the sides yesterday for the first time, as the temps were approaching 100° before noon.