That heifer we thought didn’t settle last fall, because she was riding everything in the pasture this spring, dropped a little bull calf last Sunday; we’ve seen it happen before, but we are still surprised when an animal which shows unmistakable signs of going into heat turns out to be bred. Since Daisy, the fat Jersey/Ayreshire cross, calved on Friday, we now have two new heifers in the milking line-up. Happily, they are both mannerly in the stanchion, and keep their feet where they belong. The pintos we planted for a cover crop on two tenths of an acre that had been in potatoes, are up now despite the heat and lack of rain — pintos germinate very reliably.
We dug about a thousand pounds of potatoes, about right to feed us for a year, but a poor harvest for the space. We try to grow corn on newly-turned sod, but it just turned out this year that the new beds needed to be potatoes, so we planted a lot, knowing they wouldn’t make very well. We’ve added some rotted horse manure to one of the beds and sown it to pintos, at about four times the conventional planting rate, for green manure. With such close spacing the beans may just be spindly, but pintos germinate so darned well in the high heat of summer (when other things, like the winter spinach plantings, refuse to budge) that I wanted to see what would happen. The beans we put in after the oats and peas were cut came up thick and fast . .
Building fertility into an acre of clay soil is uphill work. We put one bed in three in green manure, and harvest animal manures when we can, but more needs to be done. We’ll be planting buckwheat in the spring . .
September is Mother Earth News Fair Seven Springs, something we look forward to every year. So many people thinking about food and soil! We’ll present twice, once on micro-multi-species grazing, once on non-electric captured water systems. Hope to see some people there!
Five beds cleared of their early crops — spinach, carrots and peas, mostly — are seeded for winter greens, beets, and more carrots; but because of the heat we have to water daily, drawing on the creek hose for the lower beds, and taking the water for the upper beds, which are too high for the creek to serve, from the barn cisterns. Eight-tenths of an inch of rain on Monday went a good way to recharge the cisterns, with maybe ten days’ water if we are conservative with it, and may God send another rain before the cisterns run dry. Without watering, those summer-planted cool-season crops are going to germinate badly, if at all.
With all the rain this summer, the potato vines are still mostly green, but we have to get them out of the garden to make way for the green manure crops that will follow, pinto beans where the weeds are under control, oats and field peas where we need to smother crab grass and gallinsoga. So the last two mornings, to take advantage of the rain on Monday, we have been digging potatoes. We put in about one hundred fifty pounds of seed potatoes, which translates to some two thousand row feet or so, all in poor soil or sod, so it should come as no surprise that our harvest is modest — maybe fifteen hundred pounds, tops. Still, you have to bust sod with something, and we needed to put the corn elsewhere. We are satisfied; our annual potato consumption is about one hundred fifty pounds per person, so our crop will cover it.
Still romancing the cows as they come open; Honey cycled back, so we had another go, while Poppy is playing her cards close to her chest, and since she is lead cow now that Baby is with the dry cows, we may have a hard time telling when she goes into heat. We find we really like the broad spread of calving dates, since it means that cows freshen over a long period.
Turning the lactating cows into a pasture of about three acres on the west side of the monastery, which is in the process of being reclaimed from eight-foot pokeweed and briars (a pasture informally known as the ‘Calf pasture’, meaning it’s where we feed hay to the young stock when winter weather is really severe), we notice the wide variety of plants — grass, forbs and “weeds” — that make up the knee-high forage which has replaced the poke and canes. Many, even most, would not be considered forage species, but the lactating cows, moving onto it after two weeks in the timothy and clover predominant in the Spring pasture, are voracious, wading through the tanglefoot tearing out great mouthfuls of bitter milkweed, young asters and goldenrod, seedling black locust tops, and bindweed. And it occurs to us, cooling off for a moment in the shade beside the spring tank, that the cows are balancing their minerals like a chemist, and with greater accuracy and precision than the most practiced pharmacist or naturopath. And for us, dining on their milk and meat, the benefits must be similar.
Harvested seventy pounds or so of garlic, beautiful white heads with enough skin so we can brush them off and make pretty braids, with the small ones and broken ones going to the pigs and chickens as natural wormer.
We artificially inseminate our cows as a general thing. This lets us have Jersey fathers without keeping a Jersey bull, a good decision for the family health and well-being, and a must when you farm on monastery land, but it means keeping a nitrogen tank for the semen straws, or rather, in our case, borrowing space in your neighbor’s nitrogen tank and then watching assiduously for signs of a desire for romance on the part of your heifers and cows. The Powley family have shared their tank with us for a couple of years; it is people like these, helpful and encouraging, that go a long way toward making people like us — inexperienced, tentative — feel like we dare keep trying to teach ourselves to farm. Tonight, however, we were hitching up the stock trailer to take two young females — a heifer and a four-year-old which has calved one time — over to bunk for a time with the Powleys’ registered Hereford bull, Timex; we want to see what those genetics will make together.