Thursday, September 27, 2007

rain numbers

This month's rainfall, out here on our farm, has been .82 of an inch. The average for this much of September is 3.34 inches.

In August 1.87 inches of rain fell on our farm. The average August rainfall is 2.74.

So far this year on our farm 16.42 inches has fallen. That is more than 15 inches less than the 31.57 average inches of rain that usually falls by now.

This week's wild animal catalogue

Why not a catalogue of the wild animals I’ve encountered this week.

Of course there were the skunks. Two of them. In the middle of the night.

I was out at 3 AM a couple nights ago, moving sprinklers, and there they were, digging in the field we’d just plowed. Looking for, no doubt, onions.

I had been doing the same thing the day before, gleaning onions. That field is where we planted those 12,000 onion seedlings way back in the spring. And while this year’s onion crop was pretty much a flop, suffering from the one/two punch of no rain and constant deer attacks, you did get those small onions back around week eight or nine and when we plowed there were still a number of small onions out there hiding, overlooked in the weeds.

The ones I’d gleaned had gone into this morning’s omelet. Tasty! And I guess the skunks must have had the same idea (seeing as how skunks also have a taste for eggs).

Which makes me wonder. How many people out there have ever run into a skunk and maybe got themselves sprayed?

Have you?.

I remember a wedding we attended many years ago out in San Diego where the building housing the reception was pretty much surrounded by skunks. You had to dodge stepping on the cute little black and yellow furry things to get in. Which was bad enough. But getting out, for some people, after all the drinking I recall they did. That was interesting.

We left early but I think several guests, after drinking a tad more than they should have, wobbled out and into the path of one of the California versions of the ones I’d seen out digging for onions the other night .

Wenonah tells a story of when she first moved to the farm, back when she was a little girl. We won’t go into the details on how she got sprayed (was it really up there in the quarry where she and her girlfriends had their secret ‘Nancy Drew’ clubhouse/hideout?).

Anyway, her mother ended up giving her a bath in tomato juice, an old time remedy that I hear is no longer considered an effective smell remover.

And since I think I have in the past used the story of her suffering near mortal embarrassment as she went to school smelling of skunk the next day I won’t retell her story again.

And then over the weekend I saw the solution to the burb’s squirrel overpopulation problem.

I’m not sure exactly what kind of hawk it was, I was paying more attention to the carcass hanging from its talons as it lifted off down by the creek and flew over the pond and disappeared into the forest.

The squirrel was obviously dead with its entails hanging out. I did notice the hawks large black and white tail just before it disappeared.

What type of hawk living around here has a black and white tail?

And then there was the deer that had got inside the anti-deer fence last week. I didn’t actually see the deer at first but I was pretty sure one was inside because Thursday night it had left hoof prints in the radishes and had eaten the better part of four squash.

Friday afternoon, we spent 2 hours walking and searching the area inside the anti-deer fence. Going through all the brush and looking behind every tree without any luck.

However, that night, Wenonah and I were going for an evening walk when we saw three sets of eyes off in the forest (but still inside the anti-deer fence).

The eyes were low to the ground, much lower than what you's think a standing deer's eyes to be, and in the faint light of our small hand held flashlight we could make out long pointy ears.

Where they fox or maybe coyotes?

Here's a question. What if they were foxes or coyotes? They were only a hundred or so yards away from our chicken tractor. Should I leave them alone and let them attack our chickens?

Just the week before we'd bought 150 day old chicks so we'd haved egg laying pullets for next season. Should I let the predators attack and eat our chickens?

Or should I attack the predator?

What is the solution?

And then, what if they weren't predators at all? What if they were deer? Maybe laying down in the leaves, resting. Waiting for us to go back to the house before they meandered out in the field to eat our vegetables.

So far this year, I figure, we have lost somewhere around $15-$20,000 worth of vegetable due to Bambi and her relatives. Your average deer, remember, eats something like 14 pounds of green matter each and every night.

What should I do?

I left Wenonah there keeping the flashlight shining off into the woods while I ran back to the house.

And when I returned with the rifle I raised it and looking through the scope and saw...

Three young deer.

The oldest, the one that must have been a mother, couldn’t have been much more than waist high. She was a baby herself. Not much more than what we would think of as a teenager.

I moved the light over to the next set of eyes and it was even younger. An infant. A real baby. It couldn’t have been more than a week old. Same with the third one. Three deer. Two that were new born fawns and the mother a child herself.

Children having children. Aren’t we teaching our teenage deer abstinence?

I stared at them for a moment through the scope on the rifle. My finger on the trigger. Baby one in the cross hairs. It was so cute.

"I don't like this," Wenonah say saying, “Isn't there another way of getting them out of the garden?”

I put down the rifle. "Sure. If you could talk to them. Tell them that its best for all concerned if they got up and pranced down the driveway and out the gate. If you could convince them to leave by the gate I might even be persuaded to put out a sack of feed for them to eat rather than eating our vegetables.

"Only, you would need to learn to speak deer to do that. Otherwise they aren't going to understand you."

I raised the rifle again. Looked through the sight and, my finger on the trigger, made sure the smallest deer was dead center in the cross hairs and

and put the rifle down again.

"How much lettuce can a deer that small eat anyway." I said. I took the rifle back to the farm house, without firing it at the vegetable eating deer.

We are opening early sign up. If you are interested in reserving a 2008 share now send me an e-mail telling me what you want to sign up for and then mail me half payment by the end of October. If you sign up now you get the share at the 2007 price.

OR You can also wait for the 2008 subscription drive which starts in late February but if you do you pay the 2008 rate which I haven’t determined yet.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

geese out of water

The poor geese.

I was just up at the greenhouse, and there they were. All lined up in one long row.

Standing at the edge of the electric fence.


Looking through the wire.

Carefully observing one lone sprinkler, putting out really just a trickle of water, go around and around and around.

It’s really sort of sad.

What’s going on is this:

The geese are in the asparagus field.

In fact its because of the asparagus we even have the geese at all.

The story goes this way: Once upon a time I was reading a magazine, no doubt an organic farming magazine, that reported that geese make excellent weeders.

(a weeder is a bird that eats weeds leaving the vegetables behind).

In other words, the article claimed, geese will eat weeds but they won’t eat asparagus. (Don’t even think of putting a gaggle of geese in with tomatoes. They will be worst than squirrels. Soon, not even a single tomato will be left on its vine).

Great idea (in theory).

So, immediately after reading the article (this was several years ago) I ordered a dozen day old goose chicks from a mid-west hatchery and raised these alleged 'weeders' from babies to full grown birds.

And once they were full grown, I took them out of my bird nursery and moved them out to the asparagus patch.

Only to realize that you can’t put geese in with asparagus just any old time of the year.

To really understand this story you have to understand something about asparagus (besides what they taste like).

Asparagus is a perennial, a plant that sprouts from the ground year after year after year.

Every fall the asparagus plant dies off.

And every spring it pops out of the ground again.

New. Fresh, tasty.

Around here that’s late April. That little shoot we let grow half a foot high and then cut it off at the ground and there is your asparagus.

And for the next month or two we cut the shoots off as they come up and that’s what you see in the store.

Asparagus spears.

Unfortunately, if during this phase of the asparagus life cycle you put a herd of big footed geese in with the asparagus what you get isn’t something you want to eat but instead a bunch of flattened asparagus spears marinated with goose guano.

The geese as they go along quaking, stomping and how do I say it, fertilizing the field, also flatten anything and everything under foot as they go.

Meaning - no asparagus.

What you have to do is wait until the tender phase of the asparagus life cycle is over. After the first month you now need to let the asparagus grown. Let the spears grow up into real asparagus plants. Those tall, maybe six feet high, fern like plants.

You need to do this so the asparagus can put build up energy. You know, that photosenthese that’s going on all around us.

It’s then that its OK to put the geese in. The plants are now taller than the goose and hard for them to stomp down with their webbed feet.

Besides that, geese don’t much care for the taste of asparagus, so they are selective. They eat the weeds and leave the asparagus.

And finally, all of those weeds are converted in to really high octane plant food.


Only right now there are the geese. Standing in a row. Looking through the fence, and instead of eating the weeds they are day dreaming.

Day dreaming about eating the tomatoes in the field next to them (turn off the electric fence for even a moment and the geese are through the fence plucking tomatoes off the vine).

And more importantly, they are day dreaming about standing under the sprinkler.

They want water to play in.

Usually, I give them a sprinkler. I have at least one sprinkler running on the asparagus, and I have a hose running into a little swimming pool.

But right now we are in drought conditions.

While we did get just over an inch of rain that was well over a week ago.

I was up last night at 2 am moving sprinklers around

And more telling than that, something that hasn’t happened in the 50 years since our family has been living on this land, the main spring is slowing down.

Instead of the 20-25 gallons a minute we usually get we are now down to 10-15 gallons.

And the upper spring, the one that does slow down in dry weather is down from turning 4 sprinklers to not fully feeding one.

Even the creek that flows along the bottom of the valley has stopped flowing. Right now in many places it can’t really be considered a stream at all, really right now its mostly just a series of slightly connected ponds and puddles.

We no longer have enough water to go around, to irrigate all of our fields, so I’ve had to made the decision to cut back on what fields get watered and which ones don’t.

I’ve given up on watering the cemetery field. That’s where the watermelons and winter squash are.

I am watering the two fields in front of the farmhouse. Squash, cucumbers, bells, eggplants, basil, radishes and the fall greens.

No more water to the two fields below the house. The tomatoes down there are mostly gone anyway. I’ve pretty much given up on hot peppers for the year. Unfortunately that’s where the Thai basil is. Maybe it can hold out until there’s another rain.

And we’re watering the field around the greenhouse. Tomatoes and fall greens.

(because of the way we have things planted. Some here, some there, it would take several pages to tell which crops are getting water and which aren’t. What I’m doing is giving the water where it will do the most good and letting the fields suffer that mostly need more water than we have anyway).

How bad is the drought? Here’s my rainfall records for the year:

In the ten years I’ve been keeping records this is the lowest rainfall 15.6 inches so far this year compared to the previous low (last year) of about 24 inches over the same period.

4 of the 8 months had record (for the last decade) lows.

Farm news:

1. This is week 14 of deliveries. After this week is over we have 6 more weeks. Our last week of vegetables is the one that begins October 15th.

2. Change of seasons. The vegetable seasons are changing again. As you can see the summer vegetables are ending. The number of vegetables in the share has dropped down again but it should soon pick up. The tomatoes, squash and cucumbers are coming to an end. We might have a few more tomatoes and squash but they are mostly over. I’ve always felt that tomatoes don’t really ripen right after September 1. They don’t really taste as good as summer vegetables. Bells and eggplant, however, will go until the end of the season.

3. Soon the fall vegetables will be coming on. This will be all of the greens we had back in the beginning of the season. Right now we have several types of lettuce and other salad greens getting ready for harvest. Hopefully we will harvest some next week. Coming along will be radishes, mustards and hopefully pac-choi and kohlrabi (the seedlings are growing in the greenhouse. We’ll plant them in the field in the next week and they should be ripe in October.

4. Farm etiquette quiz. What do you do when you come up on a closed farm gate but want to go on through?

5. Here’s a comment on the last newsletter. The part about squeezing the tomatoes.
I had to write that, having lived in Europe, I too learned that lesson. Usually at the markets you talk to the vendor and he or she picks out your fruit and veggies and puts them in your sack. The vendor knows his/her produce and picks the best for you (as long as they like you :-)) Once in Venice, before I knew better, an old lady shouted at me for picking up a peach. I SWEAR I didn't squeeze it! I was just intending to buy it but didn't know that SHE had to pick it up for me.
Americans just don't know the rules!

6. Cheese. The cheese has been more popular than I thought. While I only received requests to order 70 pounds of cheese I have now sold almost 400 pounds of the cheddar on a first come first serve basis. I’m going to order another 100 pounds this week and hopefully that will fulfill everyone’s cheese habit.