Friday, August 31, 2012

Pigs and chickens and veggies, oh my.

It's been a hectic August. Equipment issues have had us scrambling once again to make do with the few pieces that are working at any given time. Among the more frustrating has been the Kolpin system, the combination of gadgets that turn my 1995 Jeep into a tractor. On its second day back in the field after a long delay waiting for a new part, it broke again. That meant we lost the use of one of our most important field tools, critical for preparing the beds for winter planting. We're again waiting for a replacement part; in the meantime, out came the walk-behind rototiller and a hoe.

Happily, two significant rain storms fell here in recent weeks, making August the first month with normal precipitation levels in 2012. The USDA still considers our situation a "moderate drought," but we're irrigating as many of the crops as possible using a combination of captured rainwater and what we pump from the well. Crazy what a difference water makes!

The pigs are busy tearing up a section of the old farm driveway and weedy undergrowth beneath the trees to the west of the field. With the recent rains, the top few inches of ground are damp enough that they can dig a little easier. European Corn Borers (ECB) have begun invading the last of the sweet corn and those ears too cosmetically challenged for sale get turned into farmer food. We steam the ears whole, slice off the kernels for the freezer, and give the cobs to the pigs. Everyone wins.

Getting a good picture of the herd can be difficult, as curious little snouts can't resist inspecting the camera (and camera woman), despite all of the corn provided for distraction during the photo shoot.

With minimal voltage in the lower wires of the electric poultry fence -- due to wet grass and other factors -- the overly-free range chickens (ORCs) have helped themselves to bugs under mulched beds all over the farm. For some reason, repeatedly putting the mulch back around the plants brings to mind chicken soup. And stew, and dumplings, and . . . A day of aggressive mowing and clipping in the orchard, where the birds are currently pastured, seems to have improved the fence's function and increased their access to bugs closer to their coop. We're thinking of the effort as a stitch in time -- and with the light fading and days getting shorter, efficiency is an ever higher priority.

The irrigated beds are producing plenty of veggies these days and even the cut flowers have bounced back. We're awash in kale, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, onions, and leeks. Since we have so many veggies, we're trying a wide range of dishes using as many ingredients stacked on the counter as we can. Last night's stuffed zucchini was particularly tasty.

Sharon made a few jars of dill pickles earlier in the day, which helped make more space in the house cooler (our stand-in for a refrigerator). Now that we're able to irrigate the high tunnel where the cucumbers, ginger, sage, licorice, and lemongrass are planted, we're seeing loads of lush new growth. Lots of blossoms on the vines -- now taller than I can reach -- give us hope for a few more weeks harvesting the cucumbers.

Time to get back out there and see if I can't get some of the equipment working. It's turning out to be quite a year for learning about engine repair. All of this quiet time in the tractor shed has been a great opportunity to contemplate our plans for 2013 -- what we'll repeat, what we'll do differently, and how to further our resilience.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Some happy harvest news

One of the brightest spots among this year's efforts is the condition of the interplanted rows of corn, beans, and squash (aka Three Sisters). We only know of the Kerr Center as others who are experimenting with the three sisters plantings in rows. This will be our third season with 500 row-feet or more. Here's how it looks so far:

At this scale, we were able to lay drip irrigation along the center of each row; the plants are also heavily mulched with hay cut in 2010. We water when we can and most everything seems to be ripening well. We should start harvesting sweet corn for market this week. We picked one ear for a corn-tortilla soup last night. The ear was a little unusual, but tasty all the same.

Since the squash seedlings are transplanted after the corn and beans (both direct sown), they get a little later start than if we were planting them on their own. Even so, we had the first zucchini for lunch and expect to pick plenty more in coming weeks.

Elsewhere on the farm, it's dry, dry, dry. Despite some heavy rains in the area this past weekend, we received just .11 inches. Happily, we've successfully installed an old jet pump in a well that the previous owners dug and now have the capacity to pump a few hundred gallons daily. It's enough to keep things going in the high tunnels, maintain some of the field crops, and make sure the pigs have plenty of drinking and wallow water. Since we don't know a lot about its recharge rate, we're taking things slow and steady, cautious of depleting this season's third irrigation system before the autumn rains.

There have been a good number of tomatoes and cucumbers coming out of the high tunnels and we harvested a decent sweet onion crop. Cabbages and leeks are holding on. The storage onions are sadly stunted and the potatoes, grown without irrigation, have almost completely died back. The yields on these plants is a fraction of our spring projections. We hilled more heavily the two rows of spuds we planted late, and they seem to be holding up. So maybe we'll have some storage potatoes for sale this winter after all.

Here's a picture of the sunflower, dahlia, and calla lily beds that didn't get irrigated -- we've always privileged food over flowers, whether it's watering or weeding.

All of these should be in full bloom this time of year. A heavy mulch, about a half inch of rain over the last two weeks, and one or two days of irrigating have jump-started them from not-dead to something more promising, but actually harvesting blooms for market won't happen any time soon.

Guess we'll just have to drown our sorrows in a big, fat Striped German tomato or two (the one below was 1.5 pounds!).

When we look at pictures of the baked corn fields out west, we feel quite lucky that while our fields are dry, the produce that has survived looks pretty terrific!