State of the Farm

There’s nothing to complain about as we maintain our newest global warming trend of big rains followed by prolonged dryness followed by another just-in-time big rain. Let’s hope that continues to work as it did last year.

Meanwhile, we are seeing the same pattern that we saw during the winter - grasses and clovers are making an accelerated comeback following a harsher than usual series of freezing weather this year. We love Mother Nature’s resilience and compensatory values. The weather may cause her to hunker down for a prolonged period of time, but when she sees daylight, she rebounds quickly and with more bounty than usual. We dance with who brung us! She’s a good partner if we just give her a chance.

Bunny rows: we almost always have “standing hay” as we enter winter’s dormant stage. As we enter spring, we shred the old grass in order to bring more air and sun to the coming grasses and clovers but we always left some standing along the fence lines. This gave our rabbits and their spring bunnies some cover to hide in in their quest to avoid predatory hawks. We see the benefits of this practice with a larger bunny population each spring and summer. So we decided to take it a step further - we left wide swaths of bunny rows throughout the pastures. See the photo?
(Tracie, insert my photo here)

So what else do we expect in benefits besides “housing” for the bunnies? The mowed areas get a full dose of sun and air while the standing hay areas grow more slowly. We expect the cattle and pigs to enjoy the grasses in the mowed areas first. When they move to the bunny rows, they will forage a mixture of fresh grasses and dry hay. Spring grasses are “washy”, meaning that it tends to give more water than grass proteins which can lead to watery manure, very much like loose bowels that we sometimes experience. By getting a good dose of dry forage, digestion will improve and excrement will normalize. That means better health for our creatures.

Wildflowers, especially the blue bonnets: Flowers along the highways and many pastures are, of course, having a good year too. You will enjoy your wildflower tours and photography sessions this spring. But our patch of earth doesn’t yield the same bluebonnets like it has in the distant past.

There’s a good reason for that. Bluebonnets are legumes, so just like beans, peas and clovers, bluebonnets improve soil health by imparting nitrogen and adding humus to the soil. So bluebonnets grow where they are needed and as our soil has improved, we have seen a reduction of the state flower. Interesting, don’t you think? She giveth and She taketh away.

Open Farm is pushed to the Fall. April is always our first choice for Open Farm because of the spring flush, cooler temps and the chance for everyone to tour the farm, enjoy some of our meats and our chance to meet you in person. But it also an always busy month for many reasons and that truth is added to this year with a Brenham festival that we are participating in on the 21st. So, we have decided that we will have to push the farm tour back to the Fall this year.

We do invite you to consider the festival in Brenham where we will be found at the Home Sweet Farm in old town Brenham. You can even enjoy dinner with our pork and the produce from other local farms, starting at 5 pm. Contact brad@homesweetfarm.com for ticketed reservations. Hope to see you there.
 

State of the Farm

Our winter grazing was not as commensurately bountiful as the effort we put into planting it. We had one complete grazing of the oats and rye before the first, early, hard freeze came on us in late November. Very unusual to have it that early and that hard; and even more unusual that it was followed through in December and January by more hard freezes. All of that to say that we had no more grazing opportunities after the first grazing in early November - until February. Our creatures were limited to standing hay - the tall grasses that go dormant in freezing weather — which may maintain them but will not grow them like the winter grasses will.

But here is the rest of the story. February, often our coldest month, turned us from Arctic freezes to balmy weather, sometimes warming into the low 80’s, frequently reaching the low 70’s but always returning to cool nights. Average 24 hour temps were probably calculated into the 60-65 bracket, perfect weather for growing winter pasture, and the grasses responded with a vengeance. Jumping out of the ground, we were quickly overwhelmed with beautiful dark green pastures of oats, rye and clover by late February through March. The calves and pigs went from barely holding on to growing grass-fat! Big smiles all around.

The lesson? Never give up on Mother Nature. She’s a balancer.

State of the Farm

We sure are making up for last year's "non-winter" in a hurry. In fact, it is 32 degrees this morning as we approach Valentine's Day. Valentines marks the last average freeze day in Washington County but I suspect we will see more freezing weather before this winter is over.
Hard freezes came early and often this year and the result has been a dampening of our winter pastures' recovery. After grazing our oat and rye pastures just once, we have not returned as the winter grasses were stunted by the cold waves which have included snow and sleet. We hope that will change as the weather warms so that we see a final burst before the spring grasses show up but that is hope only - not expectation. In years like this one, all bets are off. We shall see…
 

Peachy

You may remember that last year our peach orchard grew no peaches at all, a first in 15 years of ample peach production. The previous winter was so warm that the orchard blossomed early but our one hard freeze came after that and snuffed out the flowers — so, no peaches for our porkers. I'm not worried that we will have an early bloom, but I am anxious that we may have a late freeze after normal warming occurs. If so, we could see our second year without peaches. I can hear the pigs grumbling already. They like their peaches.

Brenham Festivities

Old Town Brenham will celebrate 5 years of its renewal plan with an April 21st festival of music, local spirits and local foods. JVF will be there with a pig roast offering. This festival will also mark the last good weekend of the wildflower tour so its a can’t-miss opportunity to see the county seat in its renewed form while celebrating spring ’18!

All proceeds go to local non-profit organizations that promote Texas farms and ranches.

State of the Farm

This is the time of year when we look around us and ask, “how can we get better?” That’s also why the CSA fee is charged in January - your financial assistance is a big part of our ability to grow our farm systems and make your food and your environment better at a time of year when we would otherwise be cash-starved.

Our “get better” project this year will be increasing our pastures while making each one smaller. How’s that?

The most important tools for a healthy pasture are 1) limiting the cow to her first bite so that there are plenty of remaining grass “solar panels” to absorb the suns rays and thereby facilitate regrowth, 2) long term rest before re-grazing, and 3) a pasture small enough that the cows’ natural fertilizer is concentrated rather than spaced here and there over a large area. With those principles in mind, we have two pastures that are much too large to allow proper implementation of these principles. We will start with our far east side pasture which is 20 acres large. Our intent is to break it into 4 pastures of about 5 acres each. 5 acres suits our purpose.

How does this work in your favor? The better the grasses consumed by the cattle, the better the nutrition in your food and the better the environment you live in - grass is one of the great carbon traps known to humankind.
 

State of the Farm

This is the time of year when we know whether everything got into sync with Mother Nature. Are the winter pastures up and growing, providing a salad bar of oats, rye, clover and standing hay for our grateful and very much appreciated momma cows and their offspring, piggies, chickens at Jolly Farms and egg hens at Coyote Creek? If so — and it is so this year — then we ease into Christmas with family and friends, nearly overwhelmed by a grateful heart. This will be a splendid Christmas, so good that it is almost eery. Dancing with Mother Nature can be grand when fickleness abates and her stars align over our little patch of Earth.

Best wishes for a grateful Christmas in your home too, but let us remember those for whom life after Harvey, a lost job, or the loss of a loved one finds them less than grateful. Reach out wherever you find them. ‘tis the season of giving back as well.
 

The Lamb Project

Our effort to introduce seasonal lamb to our members is off to a wonderful start. Lamb packages sold out between 9:45 pm and 7:06 a.m. the following morning. Twenty-four of our households will be receiving lamb as the major portion of their coolers this month. However, we badly underestimated the demand with nearly as many not making the cut as did. We covered 24 but were unable to supply 21. Sorry about that but we had no idea based upon our test surveys that so many would be interested. We are working with our lamb farmer to see if he can supply more lamb for the coming Easter season and, if so, we and he will do our combined best to double the lamb we have for Easter. No promises yet, but we are working on it.

Along the same line, we are in discussions with quail and rabbit farmers to see if it makes sense to offer these meats as occasional extras in your coolers. Variety is the spice of life, yes?