Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Switchgrass as Mulch - CRAFT Field Day

I attended a CRAFT field day yesterday comparing mulches. Scotch Hill Farm in Brodhead, WI received a SARE Grant to study three different types of mulch: oat straw, wheat straw and switchgrass.

The farmers have planted a 4.5 acre field in switchgrass, with the seed being the correct genetically native species for that county/area (donated by Applied Ecological). During the first year, the farmers should mow 2 to 3 times and then burn in the fall or spring. The Scotch Hill farmers have only mowed once, but when we visited their switchgrass field - all was not lost, there was quite a bit of switchgrass.

One of the many benefits of using switchgrass is that it doesn't require yearly planting. Once you get a switchgrass field established; it can last more than 10 years, supplying you with switchgrass straw for mulching and livestock bedding. Once establisheed, it forms a native planting root mat which keeps other plantings (i.e. invasives) from growing. Also, you can cut/bale it in November instead of July or August when oat and/or wheat need to be cut and baled. This is a huge advantage for market growers who obviously are pretty busy during July and August.

Their switchgrass field had been in corn. It was chopped as low as possible and disc'd. Immediately before planting it was disc'd again and then the switchgrass was planted with a seed-drill. These farmers worked closely with the DNR and in fact, were able to borrow the DNR's seed-drill. Frost seeding also works well for switchgrass.

The field day participants also viewed some of the planting fields that were mulched with the 3 different types. They had a crop failure of their heirloom brussels sprouts. The ones with wheat and oat straw were quite stricken - those with switchgrass mulch were not as bad. The switchgrass mulch was still readily apparent and the weed barrier was much better than the oat or straw. Switchgrass breaks down slower allowing for better weed suppression. Oat and straw and also harbor mold and rust which when used as mulch can transfer the infection to the crop. (Barb, you were right!)

Scotch Hill Farm strives to grow all of their inputs needed for their livestock. They have 10 acres in hay and 5 in switchgrass. They raise 10 ewes for meat and wool and 12 goats for goat's milk; along with 75-100 chickens.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flood in late July

We took a long weekend in late July and were in Wisconsin during 4 days of lots of rain.

Water in the seasonal creek - we were so happy to have our new culvert!

We had spent two days (Thurs and Fri) cleaning out the root cellar of the old farmhouse. On Saturday, Bill was planning on installing a sump-pump and a dehumidifier. Mother Nature had a different plan. It rained about 5" on Friday night - after two days of multiple inches) and the watershed off of the back bluff/hillside behind the farmhouse shed water straight off the hill and right into the root cellar. We think the water was up 5' and flowing out the root cellar window.

Bill surveying the amount of water and how to engineer our way out of this one...

Ick. This is the root cellar. You can see the window in the back that water flowed out. An old water heater (round object in the foreground), a non-working furnace on the right back, and our brand new pressure tank (blue floating object). This is about 18" of water.

During this trip, I also started on the kitchen demolition. This photo shows the kitchen in the old farmhouse before it met me.

After me. I pulled out all of the cabinets, the sink and the paneling and fake walls.

And look at this. Terribly ugly paneling. I pulled it off and ....

Oh my - there is a door! This is the original front door of the farmhouse. We are going to salvage it and use it as an interior door in the new house.

This next photo is for my sister-in-law S.M., the cat lady.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Farming in 1871

Farming is healthy and moral and respectable and in the long run may become profitable.
- Chase County (Kansas) Leader, March 6, 1871

I am reading a great book: Harvest: an anthology of farm writing edited by Wheeler McMillen

Published in 1964, this is an anthology of writing that concern farming in America. It contains excerpts of writings of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Captain John Smith, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others. It is quite a fascinating read! George Washington writes about his sheep and cover crops!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wisc Harvest - and Pickles comes home today!

We were in Wisc from Wed afternoon through Sunday. It was hot, hot, hot.

We worked with our farm mentors on Thursday for a harvest day experience. (Did I mention it was hot?!?!) We harvested lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes (Sun-Gold, yellow-minis, slicers, heirlooms). It was good for us to see the assembly line way that these farmers manage their harvest. The packing crates, the wash station, the immediate cool down to remove the heat from the field. All stuff I've read about but great to see in action. We continue to be impressed by the organization, attention to detail, and high standards of our farm mentors. We learned a lot.

We spent Fri and Sat working at our farm. I will post more about that later.

Pickles is on the mend and comes home today. She bounced back well and I think, as Jena suspected, that she had a vaccine reaction instead of true distemper. Our problem now is introducing her to the two at home as we are leaving again on Wednesday for a long weekend of relaxation in northern Wisc. (No work! yea!) This leaves us very little time to get all 3 accustomed to one another before we leave. Depending on how it goes, we may need to board Pickles again.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV) aka Feline Distemper

Initially our veterinarian thought Pickles was suffering from a mild case of dehydration. Upon further symptoms and tests, she has been diagnosed with feline distemper and given a rate of survival of 40%. Today and tomorrow are the critical days and we will be able to tell if she is responding to treatment or not.

FPV is in the same viral family as canine parvo. It is highly contagious and a very stable virus in the environment. I have read that it can last for years at room temperature and is highly resistant to most cleaners except bleach. Most all cats have been exposed to feline distemper in their lives due to the resistance of the virus - fortunately, the killed FPV vaccination is remarkably effective at protecting against the disease. (Side note: How did I do research before the internet?!?) Pickles had her first vaccination on Friday. I did ask if perhaps we could be seeing a reaction similar to the disease from the vaccination (similar to when humans get a flu vaccine and have mild flu symptoms); he didn't think so.

Pickles had been living in our bathroom so I have bleached that room. Thankfully we hadn't introduced her to Gracie and Georgie yet, however, the transmission of this virus can occur on hands, shoes, etc.

I guess this is part of the deal when you pick up strays. I certainly wasn't expecting this (I'm sure no one ever is!).

Monday, August 9, 2010

New addition

I found a kitten on Thursday. We have decided to keep her. We weren't really in the market for a new cat (we have two); we were considering a dog. On Thursday I was told that the dog that we were interested in wasn't a good fit for us (she needed hip surgery and our lifestyle and 2nd floor Chicago apartment was too much activity). That very same day I found this little one crying outside.

Meet Pickles. She is approximately 8 weeks old.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Review

Excerpt from: The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt

This is a community steeped in agrarian values and skills, and it plies those values and skills on an endowment of fertile soil.


To engage in a local food system is to assume a level of responsibility for the very thing that keeps you alive. If you're a producer, you assume that responsibility for yourself and your customers. If you're a merchant, you assume the responsibility of connecting farmer and consumer and of ensuring that each walks away from the transaction the better for it. If you're a consumer, your primary responsibility isn't to yourself, but to the people who keep your sustenance trickling down its truncated supply chain. Which, conveniently enough, only ensures your continued survival.

Ben writes is a very no-nonsense style about the blue-collar town of Hardwick, VT and the influx of young agrepreneurs and the change to the community - both good and bad. I plan to attend a book discussion at Driftless Market next week on the book, local food and the current and potential impact on Platteville and the surrounding area.