Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ecology lessons

The subtitle of this collection might be "something for everyone."

Photos of farm productivity in some detail.

First are the baby chicks, no longer quite so young. They're picking the bugs out of the trailer, bugs that came from a dead elm I cut to slow the spread of Dutch elm disease, and to use for firewood. The bugs are not the actual cause of the tree's death, so it doesn't hurt to cut and move the trees around. It's the fungus that weakens the tree bark and lets the bugs in that is the real cause, and that is spread on the wind. The chicks are welcome to the bugs. Proper "free range" poultry should be ranging around a farmyard, where their job is to clean up slugs and ticks and eat leaves and waste feed and turn it into eggs for us to eat.

Haggis got a bath. This was the day before yesterday, when he was in our good books. He enjoyed the cool water.

Yesterday we were pretty mad at him. He cornered two baby chicks that wandered onto the porch through the open door and worried them badly. In the past he and/or Mary have killed chickens this way, so worrying chicks that wander onto the porch is about the worst thing a Haggis can do. He got yelled at.

We definitely need a more sensible sheepdog that can do a sheepdog's real job, but that particular farm improvement will have to wait until we have a dog death and thus a dog vacancy.

Here's this year's pork and bacon at age about 10 weeks. I moved the piglets from the little pig sty to the big one, which has an open-air run. These girls have never had so much fun before, with real dirt to root in and all kinds of piggy treats thrown over from the garden. The pigs will get all the waste from the garden from here on out, lots and lots of green stuff, weeds and plants that we're done with. It's very thrifty to keep pigs next to a kitchen garden. They will eat all of that waste happily and turn it into meat for us to eat.

They'll also help prepare the compost we need to raise the veggies. Our garden is exceptionally fertile, thanks to these pigs. You can see a lot of old hay in the picture. I cleaned out the old pig sty, which earlier was the lambing pen and full of soiled hay for bedding, and moved all that bedding into the pig's open air run, where with rain and time it will become compost. Not, of course, until after the pigs have given it another going over and mixed in some dung and urine for good measure. Pigs make the best compost out of sheep bedding.

Another part of the farm ecology is sheep eating trees. Most people don't think that sheep will eat trees, but they just need a little help. If you're getting firewood, and leave the branches on the ground temporarily, and can let sheep into the place where you've been cutting, they will thriftily clean up all the leaves. Leaves are very good for sheep feed. The branches are then much easier to handle and can be moved out of the way and piled up tidily. There's a balance to strike with this. You can cut more wood, and eventually you'll get more sheep pasture and open land for farming that way, or you can cut less wood, and keep the land in growing trees for firewood and feed.

Either, way, the sheep get to eat.

We're trying to make a parkland, which is a combination of woodland and grassland. We like the partly open feel of the parkland, and we're trying to conserve the elm trees and some heirloom apples. The elms need distance from each other to reduce the threat of the fungus. The apples need to see daylight to grow fruit, and they also need pruned back into health, and so the competing trees must be cut away. I am also leaving the young conifers, the pines, spruces and tamaracks, to make saw logs in ten or fifteen years. They're between twenty and forty feet tall right now. When they're sixty feet tall and a couple feet around, we'll get a sawyer in with a bandsaw mill, take some of these trees for lumber and use them to make furniture and repair building. We'll make sure to plant other trees in their place, most likely fruit trees.

For years to come, we'll have grass, leaves, firewood, lumber, and fruit from our orchard/elm/conifer parkland. Meat, heat, furniture, buildings and food.

I expect back in the day most European peasants knew all these tricks pretty well and practiced them assiduously. Aimee and I are of course both descended from long lineages of peasantry and were in fact trained pretty well in the modern American and English versions of peasant gardening and food preservation as kids.

But this whole farm approach is more advanced stuff we didn't learn from our parents and grandparents. We're learning as we go. Sometimes we make mistakes. Haggis is one such mistake, I tend to think, the miserable chick-worrying git that he is. But for the most part we seem to be extracting food and energy from our small plot fairly efficiently, and using the activities to move it in the direction of further productivity gains.

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