We’re having another cool sunny week here at The Farm School, great for growing grass in the pastures and delicate vegetable starts in the veggie beds. We’ve had just barely enough rain to keep things moving along, although not quite as quickly as we would all like, and I’ve been checking the ten-day forecast more than I’d like.
Rainfall, its frequency, amount, duration and rate all become the most significant issue that I, and I bet most farmers, think about during the growing season. Rain makes the grass and veggies grow, and the positive impact that the rain has on plant growth increases as the amount of rain increases. Rainfall is the single most important factor in pasture and plant growth, and it dictates, more than anything else, the amount of pasture forage available to our grazers, and the production of vegetables. While pastures can accommodate quite a high volume of rain, up to standing water, annual vegetables are easily overwhelmed with too much rain. Their vulnerability to various mold and fungus diseases makes constant wetness a real danger. So while I am hoping for lots and lots of rain, all the time, Alex, our head-grower, is hoping for just the right amount of rain, at the right time and rate.
Our chicks have been let out into the little yard connected to the brooder, and they are out there all the time, scratching and pecking their way through the old leaves and dirt in search of tasty treats. It’s great to see those girls outside and doing the things that make chickens chickens, even at such a young age. They had spent their whole lives inside on wood-shavings bedding, but as soon as they get out on the actual ground, they go right to work. These little girls are going to be our next laying flock, and they will start laying eggs some time around six months old. They will lay consistently perfect eggs for about a year once they’ve started, and then, at about eighteen months old they’ll start to slow down laying, molt their feathers, and stop laying eggs for a time. After the molt, hens will start laying eggs again, but never achieve the consistency of the daily perfect egg that they had in their first year of production. The timing for all of these benchmarks in the layer’s life vary depending on the bird, the breed, management conditions, and many other factors.
We’ve gotten the sheep out on pasture a bit this week, despite sheep yard getting all mixed up as we work to build a new sheep shade structure. We’ve been re-imagining the fencing systems down there for the sheep, but for the time being, we’ve just been sneaking them out when and where we can. They were super excited to finally get out on the fresh green pasture, and just about every lamb was left behind in the night-yard as they mothers dashed out onto pasture to graze. The lambs, having never been out on grass, didn’t know what the excitement was all about, but they’ve caught on by now, and they’re out there nibbling grass alongside their mothers.
Smooth Bed-straw (Galium mollugo L.) is a weed that has really developed into a challenge here in The Farm School’s pastures and hay fields. Bed-straw has appeared in more fields, and has spread significantly in the fields that it is already in. While most of our livestock will eat bed-straw if they have to, it has very little nutritional value and can be a bit toxic at high enough quantities. Bed-straw, like most weeds we don’t want in the pasture, takes advantage of soil conditions that are less than ideal. The mix of grasses and legumes that we strive for thrives in well-balanced soil, and most weeds are ready to pounce when those conditions become imbalanced. Although I strongly believe in maximizing diversity in our pastures as a way to ensure that we are resilient in all weather and seasons, and to help our grazing animals access the widest variety of forage possible, we really need to avoid having any single pasture plant species crowd out everything else. Bed-straw makes a lot of seed, and those seeds remain viable to for up to a year. Once bed-straw is established in a field, it also spreads through underground stems (rhizomes). We have a hay field that has been just about totally over-run with bed-straw, and we had to brush-hog that field this week to cut the bed-straw before it went to seed. We are now exploring strategies for controlling the existing bed-straw in the field. I will report back further as this project unfolds.