Saturday, August 27, 2011

Other updates

Other than the excellent news that the pigs went quietly, lots more has happened, good and bad, around the farm.

Under "good", our lamb and sheep management has paid off in spades for pasture quality for the first time ever.

In the past, we've always found ourselves with too much head of stock by the time the grass starts to slow down in the fall, and as a result we get overgrazing, and need to supplement grass with hay and grain earlier than is cost-effective.

You have to give a little grain. This time of year the less hardy breeds of sheep need a little supplemental grain if you're to get good lamb numbers.

Hardy types, Herdwicks and Swaledales and Welsh Mountains can pretty much fend for themselves year-round if there's winter grass, and indeed that's the proper management for those breeds in Britain.

Here in Maine, we'd ordinarily give the hardy breeds a winter shelter and just hay.

But slightly less hardy types like our Corriedales need a little grain before breeding, if you want to have high lamb productivity, lots of twin lambs. This is called "flushing." I began graining our ewes and lambs lightly a few weeks ago, for flushing, and to keep the shearlings and yearlings in good condition for sale.

The sale animals went for a decent price, which, with the weaner lambs sales in spring and the one fat lamb sale, also a few weeks ago, and last but not least my project of culling the large number of superannuated ewes we used to keep; all this reduced the flock count to ten, down from sixteen.

The pastures were looking tired so the remaining sheep went into the North Paddock and onto hay for a short while to give them a rest. A bit of rain and some sunshine later and we have grass in abundance, and fewer sheep to eat it. Our ewe-lambs are fat and fluffy and happy as a result. In a few weeks time we'll catch them for dagging and hoof-trimming, and check their eyelids, and I don't expect to see any anemia, except perhaps for Nellie who seems unable to fatten this year for some reason. I've already drenched her once, and am not sure what else to do except perhaps to give her a rest year. Her twin lambs are still nursing, the greedy buggers, and once they stop, or she gets wise and makes them stop, she may have a little more to spare for herself.

In other "good" news, Aimee had a birthday, although I'm not sure how good she feels about getting older. She liked her presents for once, especially that cute little lime-green li-on screwgun I bought her.

Aimee loves her tools. Must have gotten that from her dad.

In bad news, with that recent rain that helped the pastures, the late blight has struck again and we'll lose ninety percent of our tomato crop. I walk around the tomato patch looking for odd berries that have escaped the fungus, and it's just a miserable feeling. I love my tomatoes so much. I get that from my Dad, I know, and my grandfather, both of whom raised tomatoes every year.

The potatoes, otherwise susceptible (Phythoptera infestans is the "potato" blight after all), will be fine as long as I leave the harvest until after the first killing frost. The fungal spores don't penetrate the ground unless you disturb it, or unless the blight hits while the tubers are first forming.

And the potato productivity is well up. One plant alone that I pulled for eating now produced a five-gallon bucket full. We also have plenty of other vegetables.

And we have lots of apples, mostly because of a piece of bad news. A storm Monday took out our best eating apple tree, a big, tippy, split-trunk disaster of a tree that just happens to produce nice big Golden Delicious-type apples. This tree, overgrown like all the many apples we have, was on my list to be deadheaded -- pruned back to a pollard. They all are eventually. This was just higher on the list. But I postponed the job until I could see what the results of this very harsh treatment would be on the Granny Smith-type in the front yard. I cut that tree back to a near-pollard several years ago, and thus far there had been no apples to speak of. A few appeared this year. Until I know how long it takes to get a tree back into production, I can't put them on a rotation for deadheading.

The problem is, we really don't know, and probably can't ever know, what varieties we have here, or whether or not they were grafted, and so it's very hard to know if or how to prune them.

When I say they produce "Granny-Smith" style apples, that just means the apples look and taste like modern Granny Smiths. In reality, the tree is probably some much older, forgotten variety.

The orchard plantings probably took place between 1806, when the farm was begun, and 1880, when the original Great Farm mansion burned. What we have are likely the daughters and grand-daughters of the original and later plantings. Some of the trees we have would have been deliberately cultivated, others would be volunteers. At least a couple are obvious grafts, such as the two-trunker in the Back Forty, where one trunk produces some kind of Russet, while the other has pale yellow, sweet eating apples of some other kind, possibly the same kind as the tree that just fell. We can guess that any grafted tree was deliberately planted, and so dates back the last time this place had a serious and knowledgeable farmer or farm manager. The Granny Smith, fifteen inches or more at the base is also probably 150 or 200 years old. Others are likely fresh "sprouts" of 50 or 75 years only.

Anyway, long story short, my favorite apple tree came down in a storm, weighed down by lots of fruit. Neighbor Hamilton was the one to find out when his morning run was blocked by the tree fallen across the fence, and the sheep were out as a result.

He was good enough to clear the tree for me and even managed to round up most of the sheep. I came home to find him trying to get the rest put away. I relieved him of that duty, and then we finished clearing his driveway together. After that I stripped all the good apples off the down branches and pruned what was left of the tree back to a kind of triangular pollard, where the main trunk leaves the ground at 45 degrees, and the one remaining branch turns back at a steep angle to balance the trunk. The sheep were then set to clean up the hundreds of smaller wormy apples, which job they have not been able to complete.

Other bad news, I think I have a CV joint going out on the Ford Escort wagon, and so am considering doing that job and some other body and brake work to get the car in good nick for the winter. I went through our superannuated Nissan farm truck pretty thoroughly this summer, so that vehicle is now my daily driver while I decide what to do with the Ford.

And last but not least, we will get a hurricane or a tropical storm sometime Sunday or Monday. Monday is also the first day of class, so we may finish up with a search and rescue call-out on the first day of class.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
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