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 for ticketed reservations. Hope to see you there.

Speaking of Clover

Those of you who have been with us for more than a few years will remember efforts to restore clovers in our earlier years. Clover is a soil balancer and enhancer. Makes a real difference in grass production and while it is reciprocally expensive, it makes up for it in nearly perpetual life.

So it is with great appreciation as we work around the farm to see it replete with clover of several varieties. We know it is working 24/7 to make us better.

In the pastures

What we miss in peaches we gain in happy animals. An extra 6 weeks of mild weather grazing is a tonic for the cattle and pigs. More grasses as the winter pastures are sporting the early warm weather grasses and a wide variety of clovers as well. Clovers we have not seen before this year include yellow bud clover and purple vetch, adding to our existing crimson, white, ball and medic clovers. So what do the yellow buds and vetch tell is about nature? She is NOT fragile like some would call her, she is resilient! We have seen this evidence too many times in our nearly 28 years of stewards at JVF. She’s strong! Yes, she will go into hiding when we abuse her resources. But cut out the “fragile” talk. It’s an insult to her.

Clovers are not only great forage for the creatures but life-giving to the soil and its subterranean inhabitants. So there is palpable excitement as we move our creatures from one fresh pasture to another. The creatures know there are good things happening above and below the ground.

The long spring is good for another reason — we have plenty of green stuff to turn under as our winter graaes start to change. We do that by attaching our disks and setting the blades so that thereis just a shallow turn of the soil. We attach the drag behind the disks to accomplish 2 things: the drag breaks up any clots and helps press the grasses into good contact with the turned dirt. Why do this? Because it prevents the surface from getting crusted – a crusted surface sheds water rather than allowing it to be absorbed. Secondly, both the disk and the drag assure that the grass is laid down into the newly turned soil, improving the process of adding to the organic matter in the soil. Good soil is all about organic content and keeping artificials out. We’re making food for the big soil guys – the worms and the beetles – and for the little guys – the ones you can only see with a microscope. That together is what a living soil is all about.

What’s the result? High value food from happy creatures in a holistically sustainable environment. And that’s also what it’s all about!

Grass Follows Clover

Last month we reveled in the glory of the clover bloom. Results, long awaited. A long term  investment in the health of Jolie Vue beginning to pay dividends. So satisfying. Food for the soil, creature and soul.

Long before the clover surprise, we were planning to make an adjustment  in the ratio of our 15 varieties of grass. We had observed that one of our grasses, Johnson, seemed to thrive in drought just as it did in wet weather. That’s a big deal as we encounter more frequent droughty weather. Even more impressive was the cow’s vote — when she entered a new pasture holding good grasses, she went straight to the Johnson before considering other good choices. It had become the girls’ “ice cream grass”.

That was enough for us — if it grew in hot, dry conditions and the girls voted it number 1 for taste, we needed to increase its presence. But we could not find any seed, and trying to gather enough from our existing crop would not provide enough seed to make an immediate impact. So we turned to The Wise Man, Clay’s father, Jim Theeck, a/k/a, “Coach”.

Coach understood our problem — Johnson grass was not being harvested by any seed farmers, having been left behind by more modern, hybridized grasses when the push came to fatten cattle more rapidly on pasture before the haul to the feedlot. But, Coach said, there is a hybrid seed available that was made from Johnson and which reverts to Johnson grass in 2 to 3 years, known as Sorgum Alum. That was our best shot for adding more Johnson to the mix. Sure enough, the seed gatherers had it. Order placed.

Grass and clover planting is a time-consuming project. If we were going to take it on back to back, we wanted to maximize our time and money. So we gave thought to other varieties as well because you can just as easily add others to the seed hopper as one. We decided to add crab grass, chicory and alfalfa to the mix. Crab and chicory are known for their richness. Alfalfa, while not native, is unusually beneficial because it is a warm season legume, so it enriches the soil during the summer after the other clovers have faded. Seemed like a good combination, though you never know if soil compatibility is going to take.  Worth a try. Do it and hope for symbiosis. Once again, farmers are risk takers. No place for the timid.

Early results indicate that we scored again. Looks like the girls led us in the right direction — “give us more of that Johnson grass”. The cows lead, we follow. Wise Man tells us how to get there. Looks like 2 hits back to back. First the spring clovers, now the warm season grasses. We’re on a roll.

Clover Report

Clover is a soil builder, often referred to by the vegetable farmers as “green manure”. It imparts nitrogen into the soil and when the bloom is finished, it not only produces more seed for next year but feeds micro-organisms in the earth. Farmers must be soil builders first and foremost. That’s why we spend precious time and money trying to encourage clover’s growth. But it also enriches our cattle - they thrive on the sweet spring clovers.

The first question, once it has been decided that a clover program is a good thing, is finding the right variety of clover. We ignored the obvious for several years by ignoring what had already succeeded naturally in our existing pastures — Medic clover, commonly called burr clover. It is our native clover.

How did we miss such an obvious choice? Because we wanted a better grazing clover. Medic hugs the ground and is often not reached by the cow’s mouth. So we tried several dual-purpose clovers. Crimson, Dutch, White and finally, Ball before we added Medic to our planting routine. Ball and Medic have become our winners.

Clover seed is temperamental. You put it down this year and may not see results until years later, so you don’t know if it is the right choice or not. The Ball clover we see this year was first planted 3 years ago. Medic was planted last year and we saw immediate results this spring. We  have hit the home run with Ball and Medic, though Medic is clearly more adapted than Ball. Ball is a fine grazing clover and both varieties are soil builders. We will plant Medic and Ball in a 2 to 1 ration in future years.