Melons Out of Place

This summer has been dynamite for our melons. Hot and sunny interspersed with cloudy and rainy is perfect for these giants of the garden.

Hanging out

Sometimes they escape, sometimes they find crevices to hide out in.

The official fence sitter

What happens when giants of the garden fall under the baleful gaze of the goat?

The goats win and enjoy the spoils

Because the goat is a browser, not a grazer, they don’t take all the food in one pass. They must return later to finish their task.

Nature cleans her dishes

Dirt Scoop Boogie

Many many shovelfuls of mulch

I have been excited about this. It’s a dirt scoop and it moves on the three point hitch. It scoops and dumps dirt. It’s what the ancients used before front scoops replaced them with vast improvements in utility.

What does it do? It’s a scoop you lower down behind you to scrap up material. Then you go where you want to go and pull the rope and dump out the material. In this case, it is mighty fertile mulch for some bare spots and for the fall garden.

Hens Gone Feral

Feral chicken home vs Chicken RV

The chicken RV concept had a lot going for it. Chickens get grass and bugs, they can roam off for the day and come back at night, they can lay their eggs in the RV for easy human collection. These girls ain’t having it and started roosting in the wood pile. They went feral on us while we had sick days in the house.

The wood pile is nice and safe because when a human goes to snag the hen from one side she just flutters to the other side. Then she clucks at you while you do your best three stooges impersonation through breaking branches. Trust me, that’s how it goes.

Hens farther afield.

Then the roosters and the hens realized they ain’t the same after all and the hens have run away from the roosters. They perch up on them there fences and cluck at the boys prancing about the yard. About sundown they make a run for it across the barnyard to get to the woodpile. The roosters try to nab a girl for the night. Most of them make it, some do not. Barbarians, these fowl.

How the roosters see themselves

Last night I managed to catch all the girls and stick them back in the Chicken RV. The boys just orbit around them now. Which may turn out to be useful, we can haul the hens around in their coop and the boys can free range grasshopper hunt around them without ever fertilizing them. We’ll see if it works.

Time for a Change

Fence is working

A great advantage in running a pasture raised beef operation is keeping close tabs on the quality of the pasture. Every evening we move the cows from one paddock to the next. Each paddock is (roughly) one days worth of forage for the current herd.

This benefits everyone. Farm folk like me don’t have to hump hay and hollow grains to the cows and we get to understand the farmland intimately.

Cattle get fresh grass every day. They also must eat their third and fourth grazing choices. Momma was right, you do need to finish your whole plate, vegetables too.

The pasture benefits because the grazing is tightly focused. This makes evenly and closely cropped grass with fewer footsteps. Then captured fertilizer (manure and urine) has a more equitable distribution, resulting in improved pasture with every pass through the paddock. (No wastewater run off from chemical sprayer solutions)

The Happy Steer

Take a look at that top picture. The tall grass on the left is the new paddock, the clipped grass on the right is the day before. It’s effectively grazed but not overly shorn, it will rebound for another pass in 23 days. The new pasture is a delight for the herd, as shown in this happy steer just above. Tomorrow we repeat.

Please do not take any of this grass management guidance as recommendations for managing a beard or mustache.

Tractor Repair

(1941 Ford 9N tractor needs a name)

I’m not mechanical. I can change my oil and I’ve done alternators and batteries and the like, but parts swapping is not real mechanical problem solving. Part of the allure of the antique tractor is the reputation for being an easy and simple system to keep in good repair.

That is probably true, and I’m learning how to do that. The problems kicked off when I unloaded a rotary shredder after dark and came inside for the night. The next morning the tractor no worky.

Broken coil spring in the black box called the coil…that connects to the distributor cap (background). It sends electricity to the spark plugs.

When I get time to troubleshoot, I find the problem is somewhere in the electrical & ignition sequence. The troubleshooting guides gets me to this black box called a coil. (After replacing the battery and spark plugs first, that is) Take that off, find this spring inside is broken. Maybe I broke it taking it off. Tractor Supply has one on the shelf. Go and pick it up. Get it home. Find it also has a broken spring. This is what we in the country call a wasted trip.

There’s the little broken guy.

After nothing changed, I lean heavily on my ranch hand friend and west Texas mechanical friend while we sipped beverages on independence day. The brain trust concludes the distributor cap has a poorly seated gasket, points in need of trimming and maybe a ground out rotor cap. Next Saturday I attack all of those issues…and the tractor still no worky.

I’ve run through all the troubleshooting guides I’m familiar with and found no solution. So I get to searching for part numbers in the ignition sequence I haven’t tested, get to Amazon review with a great description of why you would need to replace this part called the resistor.

Resistor is useful

Order that part in, put it on…boom. Tractor kicks over and back in business. Shred several acres of weeds and get it back in the barn.

Next day…won’t start again. Good thing I ordered a spare resistor, I guess. Now I need to figure out what’s causing that to burn out before I put the new one in.

Chickens on Patrol

“Cluck Cluck”

I decided the chickens were big enough to range freely in the pasture. Not knowing much about chickens, I waited for the cats to stop prowling around them for a few days. If the cats are scared off, they’re probably good to go.

The cattle are unsure, the goats don’t care, and the shepherd dogs have fortunately stopped chasing them around.

EDIT: that didn’t go as planned. They returned to the front yard to roost instead of the chicken RV. Re-boot is underway.

Healthy Ecosystems have Predators

Healthy ecosystems have predators. Predators force balance into a system and help drive stronger, more resilient prey genes. They also help with pest control.

Out here, there are Wolf spiders all over the place. They are the apex arachnid, the persistent ground pounders crushing grasshopper and tick and chigger uprisings and every year.

Like their spiritual cousins the coyote, these scrappy wolf spiders cover nearly the entire north American continent. Take a walk in the woods or a pasture at night and shine a flashlight around you. Hundreds of beady little eyes will reflect back at you, crouched down between some furry legs and fangs. They’re everywhere.

Last year we introduced some barn cats into the workshop. We unbalanced the ecosystem. Turns out they had fleas and these fleas had no predators. We’re talking rabid angry hopping mad vampire fleas that come after the humans with vim and vigor. It was horrible. We banned the kids from walking near the shop because of the aggressive fleas.

Within two weeks the problem disappeared. No more fleas…but some amazingly large and quick wolf spiders. The predators came in and brought balance back to the system. The fleas haven’t been a problem since. Wolf spiders are ground predators, not web spinners, so our interests in the shop space are neatly symbiotic. Now they can occasionally be seen in the shop, but no more fleas and no other insect problems.

If we had come in blasting pesticides, it would have solved the flea problem for sure. Until their eggs hatched and the cycle starts again or the cats brought another batch of fleas in. Leaving the predators to handle the situation was a sustainable and low maintenance problem solve.

Next time, I’ll have a video of wasps and spiders fighting for domain of the shop.

Deer Corn Interlopers

There is a little piggie on our farm called banana peel. He’s lightly colored yellow and black and has a preference for banana peels over other table scraps.

Mr. Banana Peel found his way into the deer corn portion of the homestead. He chomped and gobbled and horked and grunted his way to a full tummy of deer corn. The next two days, I changed his name to Capt. Constipation, because…well it fit.

I took a walk to the deer feeder to repair or adjust the fencing to keep the captain out of the buffet. I was startled first by a bunny and second by this family in the hollow tree:

Deer feeder, Interlopers

There was a clan on enterprising racoons chomping and feasting on the deer corn.

Lum and Abner

I sat and listened for a while. I learned they get used to humans very quickly. I learned they talk to each other constantly. I also learned they don’t go for the center of the corn like a whitetail or a pig, they graze the periphery whole chattering.

Leaving the Edges, and Frogs

In the bible there’s a principle shown in God’s law. Don’t over harvest your fields. When you harvest the field just make one pass over it. Leave what’s left on the ground for others to come and glean from. Leave something on the edges that can help others, and the whole community can prosper. A short and beautiful story that centers around this concept is the book of Ruth.

Leaving margin for others to flourish pays off. I don’t often see it this clearly though.

June showers bring…

This hose repair has been so bad that my co-farmer-lady removed it from the yard and stuck it out in the pasture. But it really was useful! The frogs certainly enjoy the showers.

THE vacation destination for tree frogs

Even when the water is off they can be found nestled in the brick crevices. They’re multiplying and moving into the garden, devouring some of our pests. We’ve even discovered that a pile of grass clippings in the garden becomes a home for these cold blooded allies. It’s moist and cool and a perfect lair to lurk upon Larry the Lima bean muncher insects.

Turns out, leaving something on the edges of the field can help the fields bring in a greater harvest for the whole community.