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July 22, 2010
Changes are a comin'
Sweeping changes, lots of changes, yes changes are a comin'.

First off we are still farming but for the next 6 - 10 weeks I will be working full time at the Annapolis Royal Branch library instead of just 7 or so hours a week. This means of course that our lives will be (even) more hectic and that a lot more stuff isn't going to get done. Also I don't know what will happen with the blog since I won't be home to take pictures and won't have my fingers on the pulse of our farm. I will try to keep you updated every Thursday night but time will tell how well that works.

Anyhow this week has been a great week. First off the report you've all been waiting for; my garlic:

Yes there are lots of weeds thanks to all the rain a week or so ago but here it is. The cloves are fully individuated; I checked one last night. I think I'm going to pull it tomorrow night. Nothing like a heap of garlic to make you feel accomplished.

Speaking of the weeds in the garlic that rain caught us by surprise. Up to that moment are late planted garden wasn't doing much on the weed side. And of course we were all too busy with everything after it rained to pay any attention. So here it is now:

Most of the garden is green with lush weeds except for the part my saint of a mother in law weeded for her son; the cawliflower and in another spot some of the tomatoes. Of course this shames me. I should really try harder and do better all the way around. It's lucky for me that Louise helps her sons as much as she does.

Anyhow after we had the talk about how we're going to cope with me working all the time, we looked at the garden, and I looked at my garlic it was getting kind of late. Since I don't know when and how much I'll be able to do in the garden over the next weeks I decided to weed the onions. Eventually i had to stop because it was getting to dark to see:

The camera flash made this picture possible. As you can see I found some of the onions. The pulled weeds can serve as mulch.

The one other thing that seems to be thriving despite the weeds (and there are some mean old jerusalem artichokes hungry for their space) is my echinacea. Anyway I think it's beautiful and that the queen anne's lace adds charm to the setting.

So long for the week. I'm quite curious how this full time work works out. I'm also wondering how I'll make all the jam for Market. We'll see.

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July 15, 2010
Hot Summer Weather
Man it's hot! I can hardly stand it. And to watch Danny and Eben out there making hay, Eben is his hoody no less, my heart goes out to them as I look for a cool place to sit.

One of the things I admire about Danny is his perseverance and how hard he can work to get a job done. I'm the kind of person who needs to talk about doing something, for about 5 years, and then it sometimes happens. So being married to someone who is a man of action always surprises me. Anyhow I'm sure it's this man of action quality of his that gets the hay made, the fences trimmed and the animals fed so you can imagine how pleased I am that this week one of his man of action qualities was 'getting the raspberries picked'.

Because I make jam for market I need a lot of fruit every summer for the different jams I make. Raspberries are a very important part of the repertoire as they work solo or in many blends. My two most popular blends; Best of Summer and Jewel jams both include raspberries. A quick survey through my batches book determined that last year I used 6 flats of raspberries. That means we need to get 72 pints of raspberries into the freezer now! I mentioned this casually to Danny over the weekend. Monday morning he decided to start the day with a visit to the u-pick down the road:

Here he and Hannah are heading off to pick raspberries. They picked a 3 flats; 30 pints for me and 6 for his Mom. I'm started with my raspberry acquisition.

Tuesday was a super busy day for our family what with swimming lessons, 4H preparations and general farming; Danny decides another visit to the u-pick is necessary. This time we all go...

Hannah and Eben are made to get up and ready earlier than usual. They don't complain...too much. It doesn't take long though for everyone's individual picking styles to show as we all pick raspberries. Hannah's is a more hedonistic approach:

"Uhmmmm...the perfect berry" Of course it's not going into the box; she's going to eat it herself. Eben watches on in amazement and some disgust.

I'm there to enjoy the picking, see neighbours and enjoy the sun:

Note the pause as I enjoy the visual contemplation of the vetch in the raspberries as well as the not entirely adequate, but pretty, sun hat.

Danny of course is all work.

He works continuously and mutters how it was better yesterday...where are the berries thicker?.. Eben works beside him; not as fast but anxious to get the job over with which means pick until the parents count them and say you can stop.

He doesn't eat very many but continuously asks the time because he has to be taken to my Mom's to work on getting his calf ready for achievement day next week. At 9:30 we're off and I take him across the river. Then I hurry home to get Hannah because she has swimming lessons at 10:30. Danny has said he'll be home at 10:00. Not so. I call his cell. Hannah answers. "You better come get me because Daddy's talking" SO he works hard but it is good to know that when the job is done he'll spend a few minutes socializing. I get Hannah and take her to swimming. When we finally get back I deal with all the raspberries we, but especially Danny, picked. Guess what; I have 72 pints in the freezer. Danny goes mowing.

Wednesday it pours rain. I gloat over the fact that I have all the berries I need for jam. But now we need berries for us too. Fortunately we have a small patch by the house. I should be able to get them myself there.

Raspberries are so beautiful and so tasty. They certainly are a patch in my heaven.

See you next week.

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July 8, 2010
Still haying
It's been a hot week and despite the initial bits of rain we have been hard at it. Actually Danny and Eben have been hard at it making hay and silage.

Silage is made when the rain is going to fall before you can get the hay dry enough to  bail but you want to maintain the protein and nutrition that are available in it. Basically silage is hay made into the grass equivalent of sauerkraut.  To make silage you bale and wrap the hay before it's dry. You wrap the hay in plastic so it's airtight.  This is done so lactic fermentation, which can only happen in an anaerobic or oxygen free environment exists, can take place. Woe betide any holes or punctures that occur along the way!
Sorry I wasn't fast enough to photograph the guys wrapping hay. I think Hannah and I were busy checking out the red currants (finally got those picked) and my garlic. Before you ask let me share it with you:

As you can see the leaves are starting to die back. This means it's almost ready. I couldn't wait another second and pulled one:

There it is. Unfortunately when I cut it up for our supper meal I learned it still needs a few more weeks; although the cloves are easy to see they have not yet fully individuated. I'll keep you posted.

This morning Danny decided that rather than wait until the grass dried off enough to get to work he would start right away by picking a few pints, 6, of raspberries at the local u-pick for my jamming. This in turn inspired me to check out our small patch of raspberries beside the house. I found one:

Soon there will be some ready and while I'm at it I better pick some raspberry leaves for tea and for the animal herbal medicine chest. Raspberries contain small amounts of pitocin. Anyone who has ever "failed to dilate" while giving birth might have been given a pitocin drip before the cesarion option was considered. It starts the smooth, involuntary, muscle to contracting which is what the uterus muscles are made from. We use it on the odd occasion when an sheep or cow retains her placenta for too long. I like to mix it with black strap molasses to add nutrition and make it taste good. So far it has never been refused nor does it appear to ever have failed to work.

Unfortunately while I was checking out my raspberries I also looked at my Damson plum tree

There are several black lumpy spots present. This is known as black knot and will eventually kill the tree. I will remove it carefully, trying not to touch other parts of the tree as I cut it out. I will not burn the offending pieces but put them in a plastic bag and throw it away with the garbage. It's very contagious. Unfortunately it's difficult to control because the wild plum in the woods and along the road is also susceptible to it.

Today was another hot one. Danny was excited enough (how does he manage that when it's too hot to consider breathing at times?) to make square bales for the sheep barn.

Eben is on the wagon with the ball hat and with a friend he also plays soccer with. Anyhow the load was built and taken to the sheepbarn and unloaded. I think the part that really has Danny excited is that he's started a field of second cut! This was the field we made into hay in May, that took 5 days to cure.

Enjoy your week, may it not be as full of jam making as mine has been.

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July 5, 2010
Making Hay
My it's been a hot weekend! But one thing farmers know is that if you want to make hay you need hot weather with a drying breeze. This week we have been making lots of hay and I have managed to get a few pictures. When Danny and I first got married one of the things he told me was that he liked to enter his hay in the local county exhibition and he liked to compare his hay to everyone else's hay. As he should. Good hay is important if you want your animals to thrive and do well.

First of all most farmers will have a variety of fields to hay; early ones, late ones as well as fields with clover, alfalfa and timothy as well as fields with native grasses. Generally speaking native grasses do not do as well as fields you have sewn down with clover or timothy and alfalfa, however you need the variety for a well balanced diet for your animals. Clover and alfalfa also act as nitrogen fixers in your fields improving it's fertility. Vetch, a native wild flower is a legume that also fixes nitrogen.

Because it usually takes us 2 days to make the hay in any field we want our fields to be ready in a staggered fashion. Ideally, for maximum protein, you want to mow when your grass is in its milk stage; that is the grass has just started flowering. If you mow too soon or too late the hay will not be as nutritious and the animal will have to eat more hay to get the nutrition it needs.

First we mow.

As you can see the grass is going down in rows. There is space between the cut grass. We have a mower conditioner which also helps speed the making of hay by mowing the grass and then squeezing or crimping the grass. This squeezing of the grass breaks the cells in the plants, making the juices flow more easily and hence dry faster. Like I said we use a mower conditioner. My father, who also makes hay, chooses not to use a conditioner and feels his hay makes just as fast as everyone elses does.

A light rain at this point, while it slows down the making of the hay, does not hurt the overall quality too much.

Next we ted. Tedding is a fluffing process which spreads the grass out to cover the entire bed of hay helping it to dry faster.

The spoked wheels on the tedder whirl around and fluff the hay up so the air can circulate through it more freely, allowing the hair to dry more quickly. Most people ted twice. We ted in the afternoon after we mow the hay and then again the next day when the dew has dried off it. A rain now can be disastrous. As the grass is only partially dry it will rewet and have to dry out again. Mold and dust are common qualities of this lower quality hay. Horse people cannot use this hay at all for their animals. Ruminants (cows, goats and sheep) can eat it but they don't like to and you can't blame them. If you have to ted the hay too many times because it gets rained on or doesn't dry well you get a stalky hay that doesn't have much by way of leaves or seed heads. The animals will not want to eat it.

Once the grass is dried or the hay is made you have to rake the hay:

Here Eben is showing off for the camera but you get a good view how the rake gives the hay a final fluff and the rake puts the hay in nice lines or furrows. This makes it easier for the baler to go over the grass and bunch it up.

Ideally if you have 2 tractors one person will start raking and almost immediately the other person will start baling. We use both a round baler and a square baler depending on what we want the hay for.

Here Danny is using his round baler. There is a computer in the cab to help him know how the bale is making up. You want it to go in evenly but of course there will be thinner and thicker piles in your furrows. Also since you can't see the bale as it's making the computer will tell you when it's ready and you can dump the bale as Danny has just done here.

Round bales are easier because they require less manpower to make. You can leave them on the field for several days if you want to before you bring them home. You don't want to leave them there for too long though because they will kill the grass for your second cut of hay (if you're lucky). If you leave them in until next year they will have settled and been exposed to so much inclement weather they will be very difficult to remove from the field.

Square bales need to be removed from the field the day they are made. Because a higher surface area proportionally is exposed to the weather they need to be stored right away. You need a crew to do this. Someone drives the tractor (often the least capable person does this but you're glad they are there because then you have an extra person to get bales), ideally you have 2 other people to grab the bales and throw them on the wagon and someone else to stack or build the load. The person who builds the load is often the most experienced person on your crew. It's a job that requires good spatial abilities and fairly precise placement. Just because they're square bales does not mean they are all the same. Often some are lighter or tighter than the other bales and you have to stack them in a well balanced fashion if you don't want to risk losing the load in as you go over bumpy roads or make sharp turns onto driveways. We are very lucky that our 14 year old son has been able to build a load of hay since he was 10. He had been watching his Dad do this since he was 3 but usually your load builder is the physically strongest person whom you wish was getting the bales off the field and throwing them to the person stacking the load. Once the load is made you drive the tractor and wagon to your barn and start loading them into the hot, dusty hay mow. This is perhaps one of the hardest parts of the job just because of the temperature. You need to make sure your crew knows there will be kool-aid and popsicles at the end of each load. Organic farm or not your crew needs to be happy or they will quit on you. Icecream sandwitches can go a long way to making you feel respected.

Here you can see the hay elevator which is a great toy for getting the bales up to the loft. The person who gets to stay outside on the wagon, often a coveted position, works hard! Usually it's just 1 person which means they will handle each and every bale. If they put the hay on to fast they get in trouble. If they put the hay on to slow they get in trouble. It has to be someone who's physically capable of handling 225 bales by themselves and who can keep up with the crew in the mow.

First cut hay is bulkier than second cut. Second cut hay is finer and often higher in protein. When your animals are in their final month of pregnancy or are lactating it's nice to give them good quality second cut which gives them more nutrition for less work on their part.

It's a lot of work; most of the summer is spent making hay, to get you to the salad bar in late Fall, Winter and at least half of Spring. Good hay is necessary for a successful livestock operation and any farmer worth his salt will have strong ideas on how to make it and how to make it well. Some years are harder for making hay than others; you don't want too much rain or too much humidity. Listen to the AVR radio station sometime and you will hear them announcing the drying conditions for the day. Every farmer knows the weatherline number off by heart; a reliable weather forecast is a requirement when planning your hay making progress.

This is a long blog and probably a little tedious but it's one of the most important things we do as farmers.

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