Monday, June 30, 2008

First thing I've ever shot.

I used to do a good amount of target shooting when I was young. But I never shot at an animal.

My father, who grew up on a farm, tried to get me to go hunt a rat one day that had hitched a ride home from the dump, but the thought of killing a mammal didn't sit well with me.

Sunday morning I decided the rabbits in the garden needed an acute case of lead poisoning. I haven't had the target rifle out in 10 years, took me four tries on two key rings to find the right key for the trigger lock. Aim was dead on, but I forgot how loud the crack was -- even for a .22 long rifle.

Today I picked up some "sub sonic" ammunition -- you still hear the fire cracker like pop of the cartridge, but the bullet doesn't break the sound barrier so you don't get the sharp crack you normally hear with gun fire. Attracts even less attention from the neighbors, and I'm pretty private anyways since you can't see another house from my yard when the leaves are on the trees.

Connecticut regulations, as I understand them, allow you to kill nuisance small animals that are destroying property -- there isn't a difference between a mouse chewing a hole in a box of rice or a rabbit eating lettuce in the garden. You're also allowed to discharge a firearm within 500' of an occupied building provided you are within 500' of a building you own or lease. So legally I believe I'm covered.
One rabbit down. The other two managed to stay out of view until they got into the woodline and disappeared, so we'll have to revisit them. It's interesting to me to observe their behavior and how quickly I'm devising ways to hunt them in order to drive them in a direction I need to get a clean shot.

I killed the rabbit -- no malice, and no joy from the killing, but satisfied I accomplished it. The equation was simple, they are doing too much damage to my garden and the cost of a proper fence in time and material is more then I can spend right now. The ground is extremely stony which makes stretching a fence very difficult since even T-posts can't just be pounded in. In past years hawks or foxes controlled the rabbits, I don't know why this year the rabbits have led such an unmolested life.

I'm also comfortable knowing my gun shot was no more cruel then the death from a hawk or fox, and likely quicker. It certainly was less stressful then what an animal goes through when caught in a Have-a-Heart trap for hours on end until someone checks it. Have-a-Hearts are for one purpose, so you can release non-target animals if necessary; I strongly disagree with the relocation of most animals, particulary common pests like rabbits. You're relocating your problem to someone else, often animals have no den or hiding place they know of so they become easy prey, people often release animals in the wrong locations -- like woodchucks in the woods where they starve if they're so unlucky as not to quickly become coyote chow, many animals are territorial and will fight with their same species in the area they're released, and it's a vector to spread wildlife diseases like rabies faster then would naturally occur. If an animal is a problem, and it's not a rare species, and you can't easily fence it is perfectly ethical to kill it.

My only regret is I don't know how to dress a rabbit, and particulary what to look for in contamination (such as perforating intenstines) that may have occured from the gun shot, so the meat I was not able to use.

Just call me Mr. McGregor.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Staking tomatoes the easy way

Or is stringing tomatoes? A tip from Farmhound on an organic gardening board I'm active on started this.

So far it seems to be working well.

I didn't invest in the box of plastic baling twine, but I will -- a single role of string isn't quite enough. Of course 9,000' or so of baling twine that comes in a box will be a lifetime supply. They come in a box of two rolls, since most balers use two strings. I would use the plastic, the sisal (natural fiber) I believe will stretch too much over the season. It should last several seasons if you pick it up at the end of the season -- might have to tie in a little extra from time to time to make up for what you lose cutting the knots each year. The twine will be about $25-30 depending on the sale prices.

Here's a big view. Lettuce is interplanted in parts of the rows.

Now let's look at a close up of one of the plants. I'm pruning my tomatoes this year -- everything below the level of the first flowers. It's supposed to improve the quality, as well as reduce the risk of diseases being picked up from the soil / humidity near the ground.

The little knots use short pieces of string to tie the lateral strings together. It really strengthens them. I tie them where it's convienent then slide it over to where they support the plant well.

If the my early optimism proves accurate, I'll expand this to do all my tomatoes next year and not use the cages for them.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Threshing Grain

Was talking to my step dad yesterday and he mentioned he remembers, as a little kid, helping out at Pakulis' farm harvesting outs with an old combine that filled bags. Now that's old.

This isn't a combine -- the part the workers are tossing in the bound bundles is a thresher which seperates grain (oats) from the stems (which becomes straw). Before combination harvester threshers, grain would be harvested by a "grain binder" that cut and bound it into bundles then stacked in shocks to protect them from rain in the field until later brought to the thresher.

Straw used to be kept outside in stacks, just like you would have hay stacks. Hay and straw, properly done, is sheds water remarkably well -- think of thatched roofs. The straw chute on the thresher is long and high to facilitate making outdoor stacks.

As we got into the 20th century balloon frame construction allowed larger hay lofts in barns which allowed a lot of loose hay to be stored inside -- where it you had even less loss, and better yet could use gravity to toss it down to the animals instead of hauling it inside.

Another trend was the development of Hay Presses -- early stationary balers. These balers allowed hay and straw to be compressed into easily shipped bales for transport into our horse-powered cities.

With farms increasing in size -- both in acreage as well as the volume of crops grown per acreage with improved research, education, fertilizers, pesticides, and varieties -- farmers would increasingly use baling on their own farms. You could store more crops inside in the compressed form, and it's easier to handle and trade. In the above video, the straw is being fed by a funnel directly into a stationary baler -- today's field balers would come later.

The oat grain is the animal feed -- that's what the two youngsters in the grain wagon are making sure gets distributed well in the wagon. That will be emptied into a mouse-proof grain bin later. Straw is the by-product used as bedding, able to absorb two or three times it's volume in water and urine. This is different from hay which is cut as animal feed and harvested at a stage when nutrition comes from both the developing seeds as well as the leafy stems.

Going from older technology that would be quite familiar to a typical 1930s farmer, let's look at Glenvar Farms in Australia using state of the art combines along with their own system they've developed to bale as they go:

Many years ago a farmer friend of mine gave the sage advice it's not what you gross, it's what you net. The Amish have the labor pool to use the older technology, and I have no doubt net much more per acre by not having large loan payments to make. In many areas though labor -- particulary for seasonal activities like planting and harvesting -- is the scarce resource and requires the use of efficient but expensive machines.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Moments of happiness...

A nice, modest summer thunderstorm is passing through this evening.

One of my Dalmatians, Jake, is scared of the thunder -- his original owners had left him outside with no one looking after him when they went on summer vacation, and the police confiscated him for neglect.

He scratched at the door -- twice. So I opened it, he went out on the deck in front of my house and realized that wasn't the smartest idea. But the two of us ended up standing under the little roof over my front door, just watching the frog strangler of a rain that was falling, with the nice, cool downdrafts of wind and distant flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder. Frogs complete the scene, croaking away in the background -- they like I, it seems, find joy in the refreshment of these storms.

Amish in America

Fascinating blog I stumbled upon last night -- Amish America. By far, this goes into the nuances and differences in Amish culture far better then any book or website I've browsed.

'The relationship between authority and responsibility is learned very early. Although the younger chldren must obey the older ones, the older children may not make arbitrary demands on the younger. The four-year-old is expected to hand over his toy to a younger child if he cries for it, but in the absence of the parents the younger one must obey the older.'

From the book Amish Society by John A. Hostetler quoted here. That system, however, would serve many of us well in many more situations other then just siblings.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Beware of the EPA Light Bulb Police

Brilliant rant by Rep. Poe on the floor of the House:

Maybe I'm tinged from being burnt by being an "early adopter" of the CFLs. What I found was they put off a poor quality of light -- I'd wear stained shirts to the office because the stains weren't apparantent in the light put off by CFLs at home. When I took them out of the house and put them in the garage, they caused interference so I couldn't listen to my favorite NPR station anymore when working in the garage.

One of the worse wastes of money in my life.

If the government does such incredible stupidity as mandating the phase out of incandescent bulbs, I'll be purchasing a life time supply of GE Reveal bulbs in advance. They're terrific!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Garden Update

1.5" of rain overnight!

Definitely no need to irrigate this week (although I should check those raspberry beds. They worry me.)

Well, it's better then killing kittens

Bundling...the old New England custom of pre-marital non-sex. Well, almost non-sex since she did occassionally become pregnant.

"In 1776, a clergyman from one of the polite towns, went into the country, and reached against the unchristian custom of young men and maidens lying together on a bed. He was no sooner out of the church, than attacked by a shoal of good old women, with, 'Sir, do you think we and our daughters are naughty, because we allow of bundling?' 'You lead yourselves into temptation by it.' They all replied at once, 'Sir, have you been told thus, or has experience taught it you?' The Levite began to lift up his eyes, and to consider of his situation, and bowing, said, 'I have been told so.' The ladies, una voce, bawled out, 'Your informants, sir, we conclude, are those city ladies who prefer a sofa to a bed; we advise you to alter your sermon, by substituting the word sofa for bundling, and on your return home preach it to them, for experience has told us that city folks send more children into the country without fathers or mothers to own them, than are born among us; therefore, you see, a sofa is more dangerous than a bed.' The poor priest, seemingly convinced of his blunder, exclaimed, 'Nec vitia nostra, nee remedia pati possumus,' hoping thereby to get rid of his guests; but an old matron pulled off her spectacles, and, looking the priest in the face like a Roman heroine, said, 'Noli putare me haec auribus tuis dare! Others cried out to the priest to explain his Latin. 'The English,' said he, 'is this: Who is me that I sojourn in Meseck, and dwell in the tents of Kedar!' One pertly retorted, 'Gladii decussati sunt gemina presbyteri clavis.' The priest confessed his error, begged pardon, and promised never more to preach against bundling, or to think amiss of the custom; the ladies generously forgave him, and went away.

More about the Art of Bundling.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

1" of rain overnight.

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th plantings of corn. 2&4 is Silver Queen, I believe 3 is Peaches & Cream (I have what's planted where written down in a log in my truck). Also, to the left you can see some more straw potatoes coming up. I would like to find some more mulch for them, but I'm not spending money on any!
Under the fabric the summer squash is doing well.
The tomatoes in rows. Added another string this week, and tied that in places to help support the plants better. There's some lettuce I planted in between them that I need to thin. We'll see how that does...One of the cage tomatoes. These I've pruned. Trying to prune some of these this year to see how they do.
Next year I really, really need to use a board when planting to make sure I get consistent seed depth. There are three bean plants in this picture -- the two at the left, plus one just sprouting on the right. That's from a difference in depth of planting.
This shows the inconsistent age down the row. And a volunteer cucumber in the lower left corner.
Probably can't see them well on the blog-sized picture, but my onions are foreground with taters in the back. I've never grown onions before, but the few that lived seem to be doing OK.
Did battle with potato beetles some more...a bunch got finger squished.
1st planting of corn -- "Early Glow." Towards the rear is the ones I tried starting in peat pots. What I direct seeded later is doing much better. I plant corn very thickly compared to normal recommendations. I just find it does better IMHO -- they seem to thrive off competeting with each other. Just need to have plenty of nutrients available.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


General observations...

-- I've learned the remay cloth comes in different weights, and what I used may be meant more for frost protection. The summer squash (mostly) are doing OK under it; one hill showed some stress, but the pumpkins seemed to have died. Remember we also had brutal early season heat pushing 100º beginning of this week. Maybe too dry to sustain the heat under the cloth plus lack of moisture? Soaker hoses are running for the whole garden, as next rain may be on Saturday; if not then middle of next week.
-- Tomatoes, and most other things, are shooting up like weeds. Seemed to time the 1.5" of rain last week well with the 100º heat and transplanting on them.
-- I'm disappointed with the germination rates of a lot of things -- corn, cukes, bush beans all seem low on germination to me. What did germinate is growing well.
-- The potatoes were under assault from a number of insects, and showing stress on some plants. I did hit them with Rotenone. I looked at the local stores for bacillus thurengis -- v. san diego which is effective on potato beetles but couldn't find it, will need to mail order. Judgement call...but I didn't want to see stressed plants hit by a beetle infestation.
-- I'm worried my sunflowers aren't keeping up with the pole beans, and the front patch hardly any sunflowers have come up above the surface yet. Not good for the plan for the beans to grow up them unless the sunflowers really lay on a growth spurt.
-- Peas were a dud. Dud dud. Got them planted a little late; I've harvested peas late June before, but I think the warmer, drier then usual weather along with late planting just didn't give them a chance. Now the blasted rabbits seem to be eating them, too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Red Lilly Beetles

Actually, I think I've had them for a few years but never at a level to raise concern.

This morning, I found them marching through my lillies like Sherman through Georgia. I look at these lillies everyday -- there right by the deck railing I lean on when the dogs are out romping in the yard. This damage came on dramatically fast.

The larvae carry their own excrement on their backs, which makes them look like bird turds. It's an invasive species, with no natural parasites in North America -- although URI has been releasing a parasitic wasp from Europe in hopes of establishing a native population of parasites to keep these beetles under natural control.

Here's one with the excrement pushed back a bit -- you can see more feeding in the background undisturbed:
I didn't have time today to hand-pick them, and due to the extreme damage being done and the rapidness I resorted to spraying with Sevin. This proved extremely effective. Still looks like I lost at least 6 young lillies that were completely defoliated, and perhaps 40% of the more mature lillies sustained significant foilage loss exceeding 50%.

There are less severe ways to control them such as Neem -- see this link: . Looks like Neem will be on my shopping list for next year, along with searching for egg masses.

I estimate 1/3rd of the damage seen here occured between 8am and 2pm today:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Garden Update

It's hot as Hades out there, so not much working outdoors this weekend (did collect some duckweed kayaking on the pond though....that'll go down to the garden). Has been mid-90s through the weekend, 99º today, 100º predicted for tomorrow.

After getting a report out to a customer this morning, I took a half hour to finish up what I started Sunday -- get the Remay floating row cover on the summer squash. Actually Agro-Fabric was the brand name I used. About $35 including shipping for 5' x 100', needed about 50'. Should last several seasons, so that's about a six year supply.

If all goes to plan, that should let the plants get established before Squash Bugs can get to them, and time to use the trap crops to reduce the population of adult Squash Bugs. Hopefully I can concentrate them on the trap crops and destroy most of the adults and egg masses / nymphs before uncovering the summer squash.

I'm a bit concerned I have it spread out too much. I may need to move the sides in a bit to give more slack for the vertically growing plants, we'll see.

Strawberries I put in last week have sprung to life:

Bush Beans are up. I seem to have had a lot of bean seeds fail to germinate, however.

The tomatoes, and peppers and eggplants, in the rows are doing OK. Should be ready to add another string by next week.

Pole Beans & Sunflowers. Need to thin out the sunflowers soon.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

How much do I spend on this garden?

Someone on the tractor board ( asked if anyone tracked the cost of inputs to their garden. Which inspired me to pull together my empty seed packs, receipts, and memory.

This is just a cash basis accounting. Some of the expenses could justifiably be capitalized over several years -- especially the big ones. The manure keeps on giving, since I use it to build up my poor soil. The strawberries are perennials, and the remay cloth will last several seasons. Some of the seeds -- like the sunflowers bought as bird seed for $1/lb will last several years.

The flowers count as vegetable garden expenses as I use them to encourage bees and other pollinators.

There are some expenses difficult to figure, such as gas for going to the co-op and Agway; or the electricity running the well pump when irrigating.

Bachelor Button, seed pack, $1.49
Beans, Gold Crop Wax Bush, seed pack, $1.29
Beans, Kentucky Wonder Green Pole, seed pack, $1.29
Beans, Kentucky Wonder Yellow Pole, seed pack, $1.49
Beans, Tendergreen Bush, seed pack, $1.29
Brocolli, 1 -- 6 pack, $2.00
Cauliflower, 1 -- 6 pack, $2.00
Cherry Peppers, 1 -- 6 pack, $2.00
Corn, Early Sunglow, seed pack, $1.89
Corn, Peaches & Cream, seed pack, $1.49
Corn, Silver Queen, 1/4 Pound, $3.50
Cucumber, Pioneer, seed pack, $1.69
Cucumber, Straight 8, seed pack, $1.49
Eggplant, 1 -- 6 pack, $2.00
Larkspur, seed pack, $1.49
Lettuce, 2 -- 6 packs, $4.00
Lettuce, Black Seeded Simpson, 2 seed packs, $1.59
Lettuce, Four Seasons, seed pack, $1.00
Marigolds, 3 seed packs, $3.00
Potatoes, Mixed Seed, 5lbs, $2.50
Pumpkin, CT Field, seed pack, $1.49
Squash, Blue Hubbard, seed pack, $1.69
Squash, Dark Green Zucchini, seed pack, $1.59
Squash, Goldbar, seed pack, $2.69
Strawberries, Everbearers, 50, $26.23
Strawberries, Junebearers, 2 -- 6 packs, $4.00
Sunflower, Black Oil Seed, 1 pound, $1.00
Sunflower, Grey Stripe, 1 pound, $1.00
Sunflower, Teddy Bear, seed pack, $1.49
Tomatoe, mixed six packs, 4 -- 6 packs, $8.00
Tomatoe, Longkeeper Seeds, 1 pack, $3.50
100' x 5' Remay Cloth, 25' Trellis, $61.46,
Manure, Load, $60.00

Total cash expense to date: $212.63

Friday, June 6, 2008

It rained?

Wasn't raining at 1am when I went to bed. Weather radio said 50% chance of showers overnight.

Wasn't raining when I woke up at 7am.

When I went by the garden, there was 3/4" of rain in the rain guage I emptied yesterday! The puddles in the ruts of the driveway confirmed I wasn't imagining I had emptied it yesterday.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Time to straw the potatoes

Trying "straw potatoes" again this year. Had good luck one year, another year the slugs hit me hard before I figured out what was happening.

Out of fear of the slugs, I did throw down some iron phosphate molluscide today. Iron phosphate is about as safe as you can find -- it doesn't bother many other critters other then the mollusks who apparantly really like to eat it and die. It is approved for organic farming, although to be orthodox it should only be applied when there is a problem and simpler controls are ineffective.

There are a bunch of different ways to do straw potatoes. Two general rules of thumb is add straw when you have 6" of plant growth poking up, until it's about knee high. Keep well watered.

Took three wheel barrows of straw. I obtain the straw from a secure, undisclosed location where it's dumped as used animal bedding. This straw had mulched some of my raised beds over winter, which makes it really nice for the potatoes as it's starting to break down.


Harvesting on a big scale...

30,000 acre farm in Australia harvesting wheat, and making straw bales simultaneously:

Using equipment like that to harvest food isn't necessarily incompatible with either "organic" or "sustainable" farming. There are other parts of the system typically associated with large capital investments like this that may be -- but not the equipment itself.

The reason is the same as why one school bus is better then ten Volkswagen Beetles to bring 40 kids to school -- the bus uses the fuel more efficiently to achieve the same goal.

We already have sophisticated GPS systems that monitor yields, and will use that information to continously adjust fertilizing and seeding rates the following year on the field. "Steering Assist" helps relieve operator fatique -- the driver increasingly is more a monitor to make sure the computers are making good decisions.

Even the tow-behind baler has a purpose -- along with the straw, it catches the weed seeds. By removing the weeds from the field, the need for herbicides is reduced.

Now expand that a bit -- is it any real stretch to see a day we can have autonmous robots cultivating fields instead of using pesticides? That would go a long way to making organic agriculture economical without giving up the yield gains per person of the Green Revolution.

They need not even be machines this big -- a small tractor for 10 or 15 acre vegetable farms, powered by plug-in electrical batteries would do wonders.

Imagine the impact on a small organic farmer of having a robot that would silently go out to the field with an arm equipped with a camera that can detect "bad bugs" that are difficult to control like Squash Bugs and Colorado Potato Beetles, and when it sees one, uses a vacuum cleaner to suck it up.

Technology is not incompatible with long term, large scale good management of the earth for mankind's benefit and continued prosperity.

Hay Loader

Another pic from the tractor show at the Woodstock Fairgrounds this past Sunday:

That's a hay loader. Interestingly, they followed the wagon they were filling -- I can't think of anything else that normally does that. Usually the thing doing the filling is in front of or to the side of what is being filled. Driven by the wheels and a chain, hay would be picked up from windrow and then moved up the loader by the wooden bars with steel fingers.

The rest of these photos were taken in Ohio during 1938 by Ben Shahn for the Farm Security Administration.

Hayloader in action -- it was quite a work out for the pitchfork men on top of the load during the hot, sunny days best for making hay.

If you drive around you'll see barns built as late as the 1950s still setup for loose hay work -- the dead giveaway is an extension of the roof over a beam from which a pulley used to (or still does) hang.

This is an outside haystack being made. Properly made a haystack resists rain quite well -- same principle as using straw to thatch roofs.

Inside a barn you would see a similiar operation, though. A device would grab hay, be hoisted up the pulley either by a team of draft animals or a motor vehicle, and then slide down a track in the barn to where the farmer wanted to dump it. Since the track was in the center, the hay would still need to be pitched to the sides.

Today dry hay is normally baled. Even in Amish country, where horses will draw forecarts with a motor on them to drive the balers. It's less labor intensive for man and beast, and the hay is packed denser so more will fit under the barn roof.

Most large farm operations make large bales -- typically around 1200 to 1800# depending on size and how densely packed the hay is. These are much more efficient to handle with machines, and labor to handle small square bales is scarce. Small squares remain popular for small farmers without much equipment -- they're typically around 45# when being sold to "horsey" people, or 75# when baled for "cowey" people. Remember to ask how much a bale weighs when pricing them!

In my area many dairy farms do not make hay -- they "greenchop," cutting the grass into fine pieces that are ensiled. When packed tight and air limited, usually by covering with plastic held down by old tires, the grass pickles itself. This silage is retains a lot of nutrition and is very palatable to the cows -- and it uses relatively little manpower.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How dry I am...

3/4" of rain, nice slow and steady shower for much of the day.

Gotta watch the garden more closely. The raspberry and rhubarb aren't showing signs of stress...but while pulling up tall grass in the raspberry bushes I was pulling up bone dry soil. Yikes!

I was hoping to not buy more soaker hose this year...but if we stay this dry, I'll have too I think.

If the sun comes out tomorrow I have quiet a few photo ops planned.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Buzz Saw and Hit or Miss Engine

Before there were chainsaws.
Before you had general purpose tractors with belt PTOs (power take-offs).
This is a buzz saw, usually used for cutting logs into firewood length pieces. For safety sake the blade which normally would be on the left side of the rig is not installed.
Going back to the Connecticut before the 1930s, our woodlands were much younger on average then they are now, and burned frequently (a story for another post). A typical cycle would see a pasture used for 20 years or so, with brush and trees slowly taking over until the farmer let it rest for another couple decades as a woodlot. It would either then be managed as a perpetual woodlot, or after 20 years or so be clearcut back to pasture.
In winter time the logs could be easily skidded out to a landing, and if necessary sawn by hand to shorter logs manageable by men. They would then load the log onto the buzz saw and cut it to firewood length (18" -- 24"). Buzz saws powered by tractors are still a great way to quickly cut up smaller logs, even with today's chainsaws. As you look at this old saw rig, think back to the hurricane of 1938 -- that was before modern lightweight chainsaws and woodchippers, when everything had to cut by hand and hauled away in large pieces!

Here's a side view of the engine.
This is a "hit or miss" engine, meaning it has a governoring system that didn't fire the spark plug until the RPMs dropped below a certain point. They have a distinctive sound when running, particularly when not under a load.
According the plate on it, it is a 6 horse power engine -- back when horse power was horse power, not the marketing nonsense the companies engage in now!

Both pictures taken at the Brunn Barn, Woodstock Fairgrounds during the Old Iron Tractor Show on June 1, 2008. The exhibits in the barn are on permenant display, so you can browse them while at the fair.

Does this thing work?

Well, does it?