Thursday, March 10, 2011

Score one for lasagna gardening

The clerk at Dillon's grocery store laughed when I bought onion sets, but I planted them today, March 10.  With standing water all around the yard, my raised compost beds were just right for digging.  I'm tempted to put last year's stored, leggy potatoes in tomorrow before I leave for a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  More on that when I get back, if I can fit it to the farm theme...

The state of the pasture

Trudy and the calves
So far I can't tell that the hogs have hurt my pasture at all.  I still have them confined in the quarter-acre corral that was vacated by the cows, and though there is little valuable vegetation there, they don't seem to root.  They have worked and re-worked the loose hay, but left the ground alone.

I let the paddocks close to the house get overgrazed last year while we struggled to fix our perimeter fencing.  To repair some of the damage there and to improve my burned pasture, I've been broadcasting red clover seed onto any bare spots.  The legume will add nitrogen and palatability to the grazing in those pastures, especially for my pigs.  I'm hoping some well-managed rotational grazing will fix the rest.


I usually praise Scott as my farm genius when he's reading over my shoulder, but just so you know, I'm not so far off...  This little beauty, that we've been calling the Grasshopper, is a conglomeration of used parts and junkyard steel reconfigured as the ultimate handy farm machine.  It will lift 28 feet (enough to paint the house), fit any standard skid-steer attachment (bucket, forks, grapple, etc.), and do it all without marring my grass!  With 4 wheel drive, 4 wheel steer, and low ground pressure it can get to the places on our farm that are perennially soggy.  Since it's maiden voyage in the snow a few weeks ago, we've been using it to feed hay with good results.

My favorite day of the year

Scott will tell you that I anticipate the spring burn more than most holidays.  You could say that it's because it starts the growing season at Bluestem Farm, but the real reason is the chance to play with FIRE.

Years ago we would load up the truck with a full 250 gallon water tank as well as various buckets and sprayers.  Later we upgraded to the 10 gallon spray tank with electric pump that could project water further from the truck bed.  Soon after, we ditched the truck all together and carried 3 gallon spray tanks that we could refill from the pond. 

This year with a rare east wind that could only carry the fire back toward bare, tilled fields, I set off with a box of matches, holly, the dog, and not a drop of water.  I later walked the fence with a spray tank to see if any posts were smoldering, but I didn't find any so I just dumped the water out.

Maybe I'm getting cocky, but I think I'm getting better at anticipating what the fire will do.  I picked a day with a steady wind to give the fire direction, and soggy ground to keep the blaze contained within my mowed paths.  Where the flames wanted to creep too far in the wrong direction, I just stamped them out with my wet boots. 

I only burned half of my pasture this time.  I'll probably burn the rest later in the spring.  The goal is to increase plant diversity with the two different burn times, and to have a little less adverse affect on wildlife using the pasture for cover.  The burn is so fast and "cool" that Holly barely waits for the flames to pass before she's out digging for field mice.  The coyotes will show up soon too for the feast.

My neighbor to the south was burning at the same time.  Usually, I burn first and try not to burn through to his pasture, but this time he was just beyond the tree line from the area I planned NOT to burn!  No problem.  What little undergrowth the trees don't shade out, greens up fast in the spring and will rarely carry the burn through.