Friday, May 27, 2011

Haying Time

I don't know about you, but I remember vividly the first money I ever made. It was a hot, muggy June afternoon and, as often happens in that sort of weather, clouds quickly began to build and darken in the northwest signalling a quick, lake-breeze induced thunderstorm. My grandfather had been baling hay across the field from our house for most of the day and he had a thousand or more square bales laying on the ground that were fixing to get wet. He came to the house to recruit help to stook them and among my uncles and cousins he made a point of asking *me* to go with him. I was playing in the sandpile at the time, and I threw my toys down, dusted myself off and gravely made my way to the truck.

Hand stooking hay is, except for the Amish, pretty much an activity relegated to the past, but in addition to making the hay at least somewhat water resistant, it was really something to see a big field of hay stooked in neat rows of four (or sometimes six) bales leaned together. At any rate, we got the field stooked just as the first drops of rain began to fall, and after he dropped everyone off and they went back to their respective tasks he reached in his wallet, said thanks for the help, and handed me a five dollar bill. I was so thrilled I was mute.....a rare event of itself, at least according to my mother....and I sat there dumbly staring at the money until gramps cleared his throat and said he'd better be getting home to grandma. I remember grinning as I exited the truck, still silent.

Each year after that I became more useful, eventually catching up to and then surpassing my grandad's waning abilities where the hardest work was concerned. When I wasn't busy at home I was free to hire my services to other local farmers and I filled each summer from grade 7 through high school with making hay for us and for others, and when the wheat was done, with straw, too. Somewhere along the way.....I don't remember when except to say it was probably shortly after I went off to college....we stopped stooking hay entirely, and a few years after that we stopped square baling in favour of rounds, which took a whole lot less labour.

Here in TN, with a mix of warm and cool season grasses predominant in most fields, making dry hay happens any time after the middle of May and we've been hard at it the last couple weeks. We don't use many square bales around here...certainly not enough to justify owning a baler/wagons/etc.....but a farm operation of our size has need of SOME small square bales. As such, we try to buy several hundred bales straight out of a freshly baled field somewhere locally, and I get to spend a few days in the same way I spent so many when I was a kid, loading, hauling, elevating and stacking hay in the barn.

While handling the volumes of hay I handled as a teen in this manner would get old very quickly, it's kinda fun for a couple days to relive a part of my youth that hasn't changed one bit in spite of time and geography. It even smells the same as it did back then ! I will say it's hard to believe that at one time I used to be able to work all day long building wagon loads of hay stacked four high completely by myself and I speared, lifted and placed every single bale on each of those wagons with a pitchfork. To see just how hard that might be to accomplish, I'd encourage any of you with access to go try spearing and lifting ONE bale of hay with a pitchfork. Either the bales have gotten heavier or I've got older, fatter and lazier because I assure you I couldn't do what I used to do today. After loading and unloading a trailer load of hay earlier today...even with HELP.... I was more than ready to go to the house even though the memories it conjured were good ones !

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Friendly Thank You !

How long did it take me to tear down my little Kubota and order replacement parts today ?

Not long at all due to my ace in the hole shown below ! Many thanks and much appreciation to my friends Tim and Brita; they have no idea how much money, time and effort the manual they copied and sent down here have saved me !

Monday, May 23, 2011


As I've mentioned before, both Melissa and I suffer at times from our Type A, "Let's Git-r-Done right now by God" task focused personalities, and lately it seems like the days are never long enough to get done what we set out to accomplish that morning no matter how early we start or how late we choose to finish.

My dad was like this his whole life long and I am too.

Experience has taught me that when frustrations with details and timelines start to mount, it's a good idea to ease off for a little while and re-focus on the big picture. This seldom fails to put a smile on my face and when I finally remembered to practice what I preach, today was no exception. I learned this from my grandad.

The difference between my grandfather and my father was that dad would have added fourteen more tasks to the list and then worked from 2 am till midnight 7 days a week in a futile attempt to make a dent in it. Most of the time, gramps would work steadily all day and then shrug his shoulders and head for the house, believing (correctly, I think), that whatever didn't get done today would still be waiting for him tomorrow. He lived till he was 94 and I think there is a lesson in that.

In their way, both dad and grandpa were sucessful men and I've learned a lot about how to live life (and how not to) from both of them. Although by nature I'm more inclined toward being like dad than grandpa, I'm a lot more content with things (and a lot more pleasant to be around) when I make the effort to do as my grandad would've.

No, I didn't get the big Sycamore that fell in a windstorm cut up completely today as I had intended. Thanks to the showers and the wind, I didn't get much spraying done either and believe me when I say it's high on my list of stuff to do. But in the end, so what ? I worked steadily and hard at a variety of tasks from early this morning till supper time, and then I came in the house. The horses are healthy and tended to and the pastures look pretty good in spite of my efforts. And with that, I'm going to bed ! :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Building progress and Farming Impatience

As those of you who follow us on the Paradigm Farms blog already know, as of this morning my hay barn is complete. Since an empty hay barn is a blasphemy to God, me, and all other good farmers, the next goal on my agenda is to fill it up and I'm going to start working at doing that tomorrow morning ! In truth, I STILL don't really have enough room under roof to make much more than a dent in storing a winter's worth of hay but as Melissa reminded me, some hay barn is far better than NO hay barn at all. So if we live through Saturday's pending apocolypse, some day next January when it's 35 degrees and pouring rain with a stiff northwest wind I will be forever grateful that I'm not out in it attempting to manhandle a 50 foot tarp, including associated weights, ropes and tires, in order to get at the hay underneath.

In terms of farm work, frankly I've been swamped this spring. Between all the rain and various necessary building (and repair) projects, I am behind on getting our pastures sprayed and in shape. However, with only 290 acres to go over, the good part is that a few sunny days will put things right pretty quickly. If all goes well this should happen just in time for the first round of pasture clipping to commence at or before the end of the month.

Like Melissa mentioned in her post, our seemingly never ending construction projects add a whole new dimension of busy into our lives and I am SERIOUSLY looking forward to being done constructing for awhile. The good Lord willing and the creek don't rise this ought to happen later in the summer.

Next item on tap....or rather what is standing between me and some sort of a sane schedule right now..... is perimeter fencing the remainder of the farm, followed by interior fencing, run-in sheds, barn, driveway, hydro, water lines, and a whole buncha gravel !

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

E-Readers 'n' Such

It often comes as a surprise to those that don't know me all that well that I am a big reader. Although I have my preferences, I will literally read anything that's available rather than sit staring at the TV. Yesterday was my birthday and as Melissa mentioned in her most recent blog post that my gift...and this is the SECOND time she's given me one.....was a Nook (which is a Barnes and Noble E-reader for all you luddites out there !).

Given my penchant for reading, this'd seem to be a very appropriate gift and there's much I like about the e-book concept. After watching her use her's/mine for the past couple of years I can certainly see the convenience factor; when she's done a book she downloads another one and she can do this no matter what time it is. There is also the matter of cost; after the initial purchase of the Nook, e-books are usually cheaper, often considerably so, than print editions of the same book. I expect using this thing'll save a lot of paper, especially when it comes to buying "throw away" pocketbooks, of which I have a God's plenty stored in boxes all over the place right now ! For those that travel a lot, like I used to do, I'm sure e-books would save pounds of weight and a bunch of space in overnight bags.

But.....and this is a BIG but for me.....there's always been a bit of magic about the whole book buying experience that's completely lacking for me with e-books. I'm not much for most kinds of shopping but I can spend a lot of time (and drop a lot of money) in a good bookstore, especially good regional bookstores of which there is a dearth in this part of the world. There's also something about opening a new book and anticipating the next page that's also lacking for me with e-books. And I flat out can't imagine sharing my favourite books....the one's where the pages are dog eared because I've read them so many times....with anyone on an e-reader.

I am sure I will enjoy my new Nook and in fact I'm looking to break into the box and download something later tonight. I'll try to keep everyone updated on how this Luddite enjoys reading via a 21st century medium !

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Zone Creep

I've been doing a little studying of late and it would seem that the worlds of agriculture and gardening in both Canada and the US share some common ground when it comes to zone/heat unit creep, this in spite of evidence to the contrary, especially in the past several years. I'll step right up and say that as a former Canadian resident I'm plenty enthralled with the idea, but in the case of crops and farming I've yet to figure out what happens when one is proved (disasterously) incorrect ?

I've always been a fan of palm trees and I live in envy of those a couple hundred miles south of us who can easily grow several types as ornamentals. Lately I've noticed more and more ornamental palm plantings in southern Middle TN and North Alabama including several at area hotels and restaurants including a poor, bedraggled looking specimen at the Sonic in Fayetteville, TN. There's even a palm tree nursery just south of Huntsville; I stop in every time I go by but I have yet to lay down the money and get a specimen for the yard because I don't think our climate has changed enough to risk a few hundred dollars against a series of cold winter nights. Depending on the map one studies, we're either in Zone 7A or 7B and that isn't consistently warm enough for palm trees. However we ARE consistently warm enough to grow large, awesome crape myrtles, bamboo, winter azaleas and camellias, some types of evergreen oak and huge old southern magnolias.

Really, I think it's all about knowing your land and your microclimate and what it will allow. Here in TN our Lynnville farm is slightly warmer year round AND slightly more frost prone (because it sits in a valley) than our College Grove farm which is counter-intuitive but true. In Ontario my early land was among the earliest and warmest in the area and despite government publications suggesting that we should select varietals requiring 2700 CHU or less to mature, it was easy and relatively safe to push this another 100-150 heat units on that particular farm.

Like most things in Ontario, warmth is relative and often fleeting, especially in the spring. After several years of watching me plant corn and beans in April and listening to gardening shows that proclaimed our part of central Ontario as the new zone six, my mother succumbed to the mood of the moment and brought home a japanese maple. She planted it in a sheltered spot on the southeast side of her house and it did quite nicely for a few years until one year the climate remembered we were in zone four rather than six and her japanese maple froze to the ground. The poor thing was nothing if not diligent though because when I cut it off the following spring it sent out new shoots and began to regrow. Fifteen years later it's been frozen to the ground and reborn at least three more times that I know of and it was still tenaciously hanging on, head high and ready to be frozen again, on my visit last week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What I did on my Spring Vacation

I'm sure you remember the essays we all wrote in grade school entitled, " What I did on my summer vacation". Well, this blog is going to be a pictorial essay of what I did during my spring trip to Ontario !

I couldn't believe how wet the land was. I've seen it this cold before, several times actually, but I don't ever remember no wheels turning and no field work done anywhere I drove on the cusp of April and May. I used to work all the land you see below in the photo; it is tile drained Dundonald Sand Loam....high and sloping toward the south so it doesn't catch the frost late. It's one of the first soil series to get ready to work in the spring. I've planted this farm in corn and/or beans and been done many times before the end of April and I've sowed oats and barley as early as late March when the weather permitted. As you can see, absolutely nothing has been done to any of it.

A severe wind storm on Thursday toppled several large trees in mom's front yard and cut our hydro from 9 am Thursday through noon on Friday. Some parts of Ontario are still without power at this writing. Given that the temperature was right around 5C/40F throughout that time frame combined with a stiff east wind and a rain/snow mix, we didn't suffer too much comfort in the old house on Thursday night. We were *very* glad to get the power back on Friday ! Saturday dawned clear and warm and I spent most of the day clearing and cutting up storm damaged trees. Conveniently, one large limb fell right at the end of mom's laneway so I cut and piled the wood right at the road. I told mom to stand there with the sign until somebody came along and picked up either her or the wood ! :)

The daffodils were just beginning to bloom and these ones growing at the road side by the front gate at my uncle's farm were the farthest along of any I saw.

The lilacs were just thinking about breaking bud. Lilacs LOVE deep, rich soil that has a neutral to slightly alkaline pH and they grow profusely along the road sides throughout that part of the world.

One of my aunts loves to garden and no matter the season it's always a delight to walk around admiring her gardens. Her forsythia was just beginning to bloom on April 30 which puts it about a week behind normal and on the late side of average. Since I have been keeping records, May 10 is the latest I've ever seen forsythia begin to bloom.

To reward me for all my hard work on Saturday (and to show me that she DOES read my blog), mom made a roast beef dinner with 12 Yorkshire Puddings (and between us we ate them ALL). As you can see, I've got one mushed down and I've added lots of salt, pepper and gravy which is how God intends Yorkshire Pudding to be eaten ! Mmmm !

And of course the three amigos had to ride again, if only briefly. Our meeting place this time was Dave's dairy farm. Thanks to Dave's wife Lisa for the maple oatmeal pie and the whiskey (and for putting up with us before, during and after the whiskey was consumed).