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…

In the orchard

Recall that we had only one freeze this winter, albeit a harsh one. 17 degrees at JVF though slightly higher in Houston. The rest of this winter was mild, spring-like and wonderful for the human inhabitants. But not enough chill hours to get the chill the peaches need to produce their wonderful fruit. My rough estimate is that we will get about 15% of our normal harvest. The pigs, our primary consumers, will be disappointed for sure, not to mention friends and neighbors.

That’s farming.

The good, the sad and the bug-ly.

We saw life start and we saw it end, as we always do on the farm. Farming always reminds me of the movie Lonesome Dove when the character played by Robert Duvall gives the short eulogy for the boy killed by water moccasins in the Nueces River, “Life is short, shorter for some than others...”  Life was shorter for many of our young fig trees as one freeze after another hit them this winter. Of those that did survive, we shall see - they may be too damaged to be productive adults. “Fig Lane” will be slower to come along than we had hoped. Ditto our orange and lemon trees - completely wiped out. That’s life, shorter for some than others.

There is offsetting good news. Peach and apple trees like the cold and it shows. There were so many peaches set that we pruned 2 of every 3 from the trees. We saw more flowers on the apple trees than we have ever seen, but we don’t know how many apples will result yet. Apples are slower than peaches. And our one giant Celeste fig tree has set figs earlier than ever witnessed. For all of the above, refer back to “Mother Nature’s vengeance” in the opening paragraph. She giveth more than she taketh away.

The last bit of death we witnessed was to our prized hens. There is really nothing that completes a farm yard like hens. So active, enthusiastic and entertaining - and then you get eggs! We thought we had enough predator deterrents that we had finally out-smarted them. But it only takes time before they figure around the best-laid plans...they hit us and in 3 days wiped out our small flock. No more eggs for a while.

The last bit of news on the bug-ly side of things is the coming of the lady bug in very noticeable numbers. As we pruned limbs and buds from the peach orchard, we saw them in numbers we have not seen before. Keep in mind that the farm did not have a single lady bug inhabitant 20 years ago when we started this rehab project. How does that happen? Where do they come from? Nature is a daily miracle waiting to happen. It is humbling and only encourages us to be good stewards of this gift.