Cool picture

In the summer of 2016 we planted a bunch of Mammoth sunflowers from seed.  They are a very cool plant, they are really big!  But one thing I wasn’t expecting was the habitat they provided.  All summer long these plants were a swarming scene of life and death.  They were infested by aphids but remained healthy all summer.  The aphids attracted lady bugs, praying mantis, and wasps.  Here is a pretty cool picture of a typical scene of just one leaf, click on the picture for the full size version:

I’m not sure exactly what is going on here besides a feast.  I think the small white critters are larval praying mantis.  We have a ton of mantis’s on our farm, it looks to me like the ladybug is eating the mantis’s instead of the aphids.

July 2015

Summer! It’s been good so far.

We brought out cattle to the processor on July 1. Finally! These cattle were bottle raised by Emily and I back in the summer of 2013, our first summer on this farm. We bought them from James Ranch near Durango. Are we sad? No. We’re finally getting some significant cash coming in to the farm! Sorry cows, that’s the way the ball game works;)

Chicory in the pasture.

Chicory in the pasture.

The cattle were processed at Homestead Meats in Delta, the only USDA inspected processor in the area. I owe a big thanks to our neighbor Terry for loaning us his trailer and hauling these cattle to Delta. The cattle hung in the cooler for 2 weeks, then were cut according to our instructions. I am a roast fan, not so much for ground beef. So we have a lot of roasts. Hopefully farmers market customers have similar preferences. But it’s not quite roast season yet.

Here is our cattle price list and we still have a nice selection of just about all cuts. I’m hoping to sell out of this beef by Nov 1 or so. The prices are a little high, but please don’t think we’re getting rich off of this. The money goes to buy more cattle and minerals.

Another exciting thing for the month is we have a bull! We were able to lease a bull from a rancher in Fruita. We have 2 cows that need a bull. Finding a bull proved to be a challenge. Most of the cattle around here go to the high country for the summer. Artificial insemination was an option, but not something I wanted to do. Late in the game I found the bull in Fruita. Kind of a haul, but I think it worked out well. He’s a lowline Angus bull. Our cows are Hereford. So we should get black calves with white faces. Our biggest concern is this bull is small. 18 months old, our cows are 26 months old. But lowline cattle are just small. We’re hoping he can ‘reach’ the cows to do his job. We’re hoping for calves in June 2016.

Bull on the left, cow on the right...

Bull on the left, cow on the right…

Chickens have kept us busy all summer. We started chicks in the brooder in April, and finally kicked the last chicks out of the brooder at the end of July. Brooding is a lot of work and the closest things come to traditional confinement houses on our farm. We generally move chicks out on the pasture at 3 weeks old, turkeys at 4 weeks.

The Eggmobile!  Hens are under it finding noontime shade.

The Eggmobile! Hens are under it finding noontime shade.  Lots more eggs coming Oct 1!

Our first batch of meat chickens were butchered in early June, and they were a huge disappointment for us. Our second batch turned out nice and big, but they were about 3 weeks late for butchering, which means 3 more weeks of feeding large hungry birds and 3 more weeks of work. We have 1 more batch of meat chickens out on pasture now, ready for butchering in mid-late August. Thanks for Russell Evans and the students of Transition Lab for helping with chicken processing!

Meat chickens finding afternoon shade.

Meat chickens finding afternoon shade.

We also have some turkeys out there. We started with 15, we’re down to 11 now. 3 died in the brooder when they were little, 1 died in the pasture over a chilly, wet night. We have had rough luck with turkeys here over the years. Turkeys are great, but when they get bigger they are really susceptible to foxes and dogs. Fingers crossed, if these turkeys don’t work out for us we probably won’t do turkeys again.

Turkeys, ready for some grasshoppers.

Turkeys, ready for some grasshoppers.

Our garden is like a jungle! Pigs dig the gardens for us over the winter and till in heaps of organic material as they go.  Compare this picture to last months picture.

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I’m selling at the local Montrose Farmers Market every week, primarily chicken and beef. It’s been a lot of fun, I like meeting people and sharing stories.

Hugelkultur…

Here is a bit about hugelkulture taken from this page on permies.com, please go to that page to see a lot more pictures.  My intent with publishing this is not plagiarism, it’s spreading the word about really cool things that work, don’t cost anything, and make our world a better place.  And of course giving credit to the original author of this page.

hugelkultur: the ultimate raised garden beds

raised garden beds hugelkultur logs and soil after one month
raised garden bed hugelkultur after one month
hugelkultur
raised garden bed hugelkultur after one year
raised garden beds after two years
raised garden bed hugelkultur after two years

raised garden beds hugelkultur after twenty years

raised garden bed hugelkultur after twenty years

hugelkultur raised garden beds in a nutshell:

      • grow a typical garden without irrigation or fertilization
      • has been demonstrated to work in deserts as well as backyards
      • use up rotting wood, twigs, branches and even whole trees that would otherwise go to the dump or be burned
      • it is pretty much nothing more than buried wood
      • can be flush with the ground, although raised garden beds are typically better
      • can start small, and be added to later
      • can always be small – although bigger is better
      • You can save the world from global warming by doing carbon sequestration in your own back yard!
      • perfect for places that have had trees blown over by storms
      • can help end world hunger
      • give a gift to your future self

the verbose details about hugelkultur raised garden beds

It’s a german word and some people can say it all german-ish. I’m an american doofus, so I say “hoogle culture”. I had to spend some time with google to find the right spelling. Hugal, hoogal, huegal, hugel …. And I really like saying it out loud: “hugelkultur, hoogle culture, hoogal kulture ….” – it could be a chant or something.

I learned this high-falootin word at my permaculture training. I also saw it demonstrated on the Sepp Holzer terraces and raised beds video – he didn’t call it hugelkultur, but he was doing it.

Hugelkultur is nothing more than making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood. This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organicmaterial, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets – so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm your soil giving you a slightly longer growing season. The woody matter helps to keep nutrient excess from passing into the ground water – and then refeeding that to your garden plants later. Plus, by holding SO much water, hugelkultur could be part of a system for growing garden crops in the desert with no irrigation.

I do think there are some considerations to keep in mind. For example, I don’t think I would use cedar. Cedar lasts so long because it is loaded with natural pesticides/herbicides/anti-fungal/anti-microbial (remember, good soil has lots of fungal and microbial stuff). Not a good mix fortomatoes or melons, eh? Black locust, black cherry, black walnut? These woods have issues. Black locust won’t rot – I think because it is so dense. Black walnut is very toxic to most plants, and cherry is toxic to animals, but it might be okay when it rots – but I wouldn’t use it until I had done the research. Known excellent woods are: aldersapplecottonwoodpoplar, willow (dry) and birch. I suspect maples would be really good too, but am not certain. Super rotten wood is better than slightly aged wood. The best woods are even better when they have been cut the same day (this allows you to “seed” the wood with your choice of fungus – shitake mushrooms perhaps?).

Another thing to keep in mind is that wood is high in carbon and will consume nitrogen to do the compost thing. This could lock up the nitrogen and take it away from your growies. But well rotted wood doesn’t do this so much. If the wood is far enough along, it may have already taken in sooooo much nitrogen, that it is now putting it out!

Pine and fir will have some levels of tanins in them, but I’m guessing that most of that will be gone when the wood has been dead for a few years.

In the drawings at right, the artist is trying to show that while the wood decomposes and shrinks, the leaves, duff and accumulating organic matter from above will take it’s place. The artist is showing the new organic matter as a dark green.

raised garden beds on top of sod
raised garden beds on top of sod – the soil comes from somewhere else
raised garden beds dug in a bit
raised garden beds dug in a bit – note the sod is put upside down on the wood
and the topsoil is on top of that
raised garden beds plus deep paths
raised garden beds dug in a bit – plus paths are dug on the sides and
that sod/soil goes on top too

I find I most often build hugelkultur in places where the soil is shallow. So I end up finding excess soil from somewhere else on the property and piling it on some logs. Presto! Instant raised garden beds! This is usually the easiest/fastest way too. Especially if you have earth moving equipment.

For those times that the soil is deep and you are moving the soil by hand, I like to dig up the sod and dig down a foot or two. Then pile in the wood. Then put the sod on top of the wood, upside-down. Then pile the topsoil on top of that. Even better is to figure out where the paths will be, and dig down there too. Add two layers of sod onto the logs and then the double topsoil.

I have discovered that a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of raised bed gardens. They have seen the large flat gardens for years and are sure this is the way to do it. Some people are okay with raised beds that are three to six inches tall – they consider anything taller than that unsightly.

So this is gonna sound crazy, but I hope to convince you that the crazy-sounding stuff is worth it.

If you build your hugelkultur raised garden beds tall enough, you won’t have to irrigate. At all (after the second year). No hoses. No drip system. Anything shorter won’t require as much irrigation – so there is still some benefit. Imagine going on vacation in the summer without having to hire somebody to kill water your garden! As a further bonus, the flavor of everything you grow will be far better!

To go all summer long without a drop of rain, you need to build your hugelkultur raised bed gardens …. six feet tall. But they’ll shrink! Mostly in the first month. Which is why I suggest you actually build them seven feet tall.

Hugelkultur raised garden beds can be built just two feet tall and will hold moisture for about three weeks. Not quite as good, but more within the comfort zone of many people – including urban neighbors.

Some people will start out with hugelkultur raised garden beds that are two and a half feet tall and plant only annuals. And each year they will build the size of the bed a foot. So that after a few years, they will have the bigger beds and the neighbors never really noticed. And if they’ve tasted what comes from it – they might be all for it without caring about the big mounds.

Besides, isn’t this much better use of the wood than hauling it to the dump, or chipping it, or putting it in those big city bins for yard waste?

raised garden bedsstandard hugelkultur raised garden beds raised garden bedsnarrower hugelkultur raised garden beds raised garden bedspeaked hugelkultur raised garden beds raised garden bedshugelkultur raised garden beds with a stone border raised garden bedshugelkultur raised garden beds with a log border

I usually build hugelkulture raised garden beds about five feet wide. This makes for some mighty steep beds. Just pack that soil on tight and plant it with a mix of heavy rooted plants to hold it all together. Quick! Before it rains! If you are going to build beds shorter than three feet tall, I suggest that you make the beds no wider than four feet wide. Unless you are doing keyhole style raised garden beds, in which case you should be able to get away with something wider.

Organic lawn care

Well this isn’t directly related to our farm, but just about all of us Americans have a bit of lawn to tend.  Interested in doing the same thing but differently?  Check out this page.

This site is affiliated with permies.com, a permaculture website.  What’s permaculture?  Good question, it’s kind of hard to define- like sustainability.  Think of it as companion planting, letting animals do work for you, and designing your yard/farm/village the way nature would want you to- all rolled in to one.  Interested?  Maybe the best way to describe it is hugelculture.  I first read about this in early spring 2013.  Immediately I thought “Duh, of course!”.  So I built one.

Here is the page where I first learned of hugelculture.  I also have a post on this website about hugelculture, but it’s mostly copied and pasted from that page.