4.26.2012 Some Assembly/Disassembly Required

Yesterday was another one of what I call ADD days. Lots of little things. After servicing the laying flock and moving the fence for the breeding trio of Sussex, I exercised Ophelia. Three days after the Sunday storm, there still wasn’t any good footing anywhere on the farm for a decent workout. So I made her trot circles on the hill behind the hay barn. Opie doesn’t really appreciate hill work.

After that, I was finally done with animals for a while and decided I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I had to do something about the garden. So far I have only two of ten rows planted, but that’s actually been a good thing. There was a lot of frost last week and again this week. Even so, the grass is making a rapid comeback. It had gotten to the point where I could hardly open the gate.

The broccoli is happy. The cauliflower has stopped fainting every time the sun comes out and the banana in the foreground sady got a little nipped by an unexpected frost. Still alive but no longer looking as good.

Time for some serious weed whacking. Our face protection hat had broken during the last use and Michael had bought a replacement, but it was still in the box and not assembled. I opted to try weed whacking without one. That didn’t last long. Back to the barn to do that “assembly.” A word here about Husqvarna. They make products for lumberjacks all over the world, none of whom apparently speak English. Assembly instructions were badly drawn pictures with no explanation of what you were trying to accomplish with each step. The rest of instruction book was printed upside down and backward with English being on the very last page, and none of it dealt with assembly.

Still, it’s just a plastic helmet with ear muffs and a face shield. How hard can that be? Well, I suppose if you are a manly lumberjack, it’s not hard at all. In the end, I had to have Michael manhandle those ear muffs into their sockets. I wasn’t manly enough to make it happen.

Once assembled, it’s a decent piece of equipment. The face shield needs to be a bit longer and I would prefer a solid face shield rather than the metal mesh, but, for the most part it does do the job. With it and the weed whacker, I put a respectable edge on my garden.

Then I cleaned up (for the third time) the only bed in the garden that I intend to regularly weed this year. Everything that has to be direct seeded is going in that bed. All the other beds are going under the mulch and will host everything that I can start in soil blocks. Once clear of the wee bit of Bermuda grass that had crept in during the last two weeks and the volunteer sunflowers, I sprinkled on some lime/boron/magnesium/kelp mix and then went to get the seeds – peas and carrots.

Yeah, I know, peas should have been in the ground two months ago. But it didn’t get done and besides my weather weenie is telling me we are in for a long cool and wet spell. Maybe the peas will make it, maybe they won’t. I really like peas so . . . but planting peas and carrots is a tedious, tedious thing. 3” apart in rows 3” apart. 45′ row. That’s a lot of seeds. Luckily, I have a handy, dandy Earthway seeder that I purchased last fall and never took out of the box.

Handy, dandy Earthway Seeder. The hopper needs a cover though. Pea seeds were popping out of the top like popcorn, but they were also dropping in the furrow as well.

I finally did so today. Like the face protector it required “some assembly.” The instructions were a bit better on the seeder, mostly because I didn’t have to translate from Swedish, Urdu or Klingon. And once I found the right socket wrench it went together very quickly. I put in the pea plate and ran it down the row with a hopper full of Progress 9 English peas from Italy. The hopper was still mostly full when I reach the end of the row, so I emptied it out, I came back the other way with a row of Sugar Daddy Snap peas. Again, I emptied the hopper and changed the plate and proceeded to put in 4 rows of carrots. Most of them are short, fat carrots, simply because I don’t believe that bed is deep enough and free enough from rocks to grow decent carrots longer than 4 or 5 inches. If any of the seeds sprout I will be amazed. It was my first time using the seeder and I am pretty sure I planted the peas too shallow and the carrots too deep.

Today it is raining, a nice easy rain that is good for encouraging seeds to

It used to be a perfect little tree. Now this Montmorency Cherry (a tart pie variety) is rapidly dying.

sprout. Already one of the peonies is poking its head up. Can the begonias be far behind? We are definitely at that time of year where everything wants to grow likely crazy. Except for the Montmorency Cherry. It’s dying. I am not sure what caused the early death. It was a beautiful little tree last year and grew quite a bit. Now however, the branches are gray and brittle. It bloomed this year, but never really leafed out.

Then there are the peaches, most of which are covered in peach leaf curl fungus. Advice on how to deal with that varies, but it looks like I will be picking all these creepy looking leaves off the trees to reduce the fungal load for next year. I guess you would call that disassembly. And in the fall, I am advised to spray the trees with Bordeaux mix, three times.

Peach leaf curl forms is a fungus that disfigures the leaves with these bright red blisters.

Bordeaux mix is copper and slaked lime. It has been widely used for more than 100 years as an organic fungicide but recently concerns have been raised about it creating copper toxicity in the soil.  Maybe the earthworms in France have turned green and formed a union.

We are generally bombarded with the fact that our soils are depleted of most minerals. Two weeks ago, my vet told me animal feed on the east coast comes loaded with selenium because we don’t have it in our soil. (Out west, where they have abundant selenium in the soil, eastern feed would kill a horse.) I also recently read a book on horse management which stated parasites simply wouldn’t stay in a horse that had sufficient copper in its system. My soil tests said I had “sufficient” copper levels yet my horses still have worms. Words like “sufficient” mean different things to different people.  We speak the same language and yet we don’t.  Definitions are molded by those printing the dictionary, not by majority consensus.

You begin to see why I am so deeply suspicions of those who wear white lab coats, vets, doctors, etc, and why I go back and reread the literature written a hundred years ago or more.  I am inclined to go with the old ways as those recommendations tend to come from years of actual field trials done by people who lived outside in close contact with their soil and their animals. I am too much of a cynic to put my faith in a research system that is staffed by climate controlled academics funded by big ag/big brother whose efforts have culminated in shackling farmers to patented seed and monocultures in our fields and livestock.  Yes, we lost a lot of crops and animals to pests and disease and hundred years ago, before better living through chemistry became our mantra. Back then we had to rely on diversity, keen observation and good breeding to see us through the bad years.

But getting back to those mineral deficiencies. Whatever was grown here and sold off the farm, be it animal or vegetable, in the last 400 years took its minerals with it. I don’t know the history of my farm in enough detail to know how extensive that loss might be. So I am operating on the premise that I may be lacking some things and I am judiciously spreading the kelp around. (Kelp has got all the minerals we are supposed to need and has them in the proper proportions, or so say those who sell kelp.) I am also using fish and seaweed extracts as my primary fertilizers on the farm. But I use them all sparingly, mostly because I don’t like the smell but also because the oceans have been the world’s sewers since time began. Whatever nasties have ever been dumped on the ground or in the water anywhere at any time during the man’s time on earth has washed into the sea and has been taken up by the kelp and the fish that I am now using to fertilize my farm. But honestly, I can’t imagine God designed a system that would require frequent inundation with sea plants and animal remains to maintain fertility.  Green manures and animal manures are, in the long, term a better plan, providing they come from my farm where I know what went into them. I suspect all the minerals I really need are still in the soil, it’s just a matter of growing things with deep enough roots to bring them up and getting the pH right. After all, if the soils really are depleted, how do Virginia trees get to be 50 to 80 feet tall or more?

Enough ranting.  Well sort of.

Now we come to hatch number 4. It has not gone well. The chicks began pipping a day late. One made it out quickly. The second got stuck in its shell. I pulled it free only to find it had its head on sideways. I don’t expect him to live out the week; he won’t be able to eat. Then two more pipped in the night and got out on their own. A fifth pipped this morning, and spent the next several hours going nowhere. I pulled him from his shell too.  It took a long time to figure out which way was up.  A sixth pipped a couple of hours ago and died.  Only 5 live births out of 40, and one of those (not the one with his head on wrong) has already died.  So is it an incubator issue or a breeding issue? You tell me.

Also today I noticed one of my Sussex hens helping herself to another hen’s feathers.  All this time, I thought it was lice and mites.  The lice are gone and I’ve done my level best to deal with the mites. But maybe the feather loss issue isn’t mites at all.  I’ve got at least one picker/cannibal out there.  But I couldn’t tell you which Sussex hen is the pervert.  She isn’t wearing her tag anymore.

I have already done most of the things I am supposed to do for feather picking.  They have plenty of room and plenty of things to keep them occupied.  I give them extra protein and they also get more protein from the bugs they are getting now.  So it’s not cramped quarters, boredom or diet.  As one person described it, once picking behavior gets started it’s like a brain malfunction, an addict needing his fix.

My options: I can smear all the victims with Bluekote or pine tar and hope the bitter taste dissuades the picker.  I can put “Peepers” (basically blinders) on suspected pickers or I can segregate the victimized from the non-victimized and by process of elimination over the course of many weeks find the culprit(s).  Or I can make sure everyone has a name tag of some sort and then spend a lot of time out in the field with the flock until the criminal reveals herself.  Once she does I shall have to disassemble her.  Farming, I am finding, is all about assembling the right pieces in the right places at the right time while the picture on the front of the puzzle box is constantly changing.

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