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State of the Farm, March, 2023


It’s been a mild winter.

(Picture from here.)

The weather has been mild and nearly snowless. The temperature has been either warm or hovering around 29-35F. We had brief spatterings of cold weather—down to -4F or so—but nothing that stuck. The ground isn’t even frozen at this point. I did a little snow-blowing yesterday and when I made the trails the snow-thrower scraped the ground.

So, pretty easy all things considered. I will say 29-35F is my least favorite temperature. It’s what I call Seattle weather: damp, penetrating, usually rainy.

Now, it’s March and we’re gearing up for a new season.

This year we need to make some decisions. Most of these have little to do with the farm and more to do with the homestead.

The first order of business is what to do with the new cars.

(Oh, yeah. We had to replace two cars at the same time. I totaled one and the other was rotting away. So much for every large expenditure planned for 2023.)

My shop is an alcove on the west side of the two car garage. When we decided to upgrade one of the cars to a hauler—the car I totaled—it would not fit in the garage. I was graciously granted permission to expand my shop into the west bay. The old hauler went under an old canopy we had placed next to said garage and the new hauler is going into the same place.

That canopy was our first (of three) attempts to make a greenhouse. It’s a hoop construction with a terrific cover. That cover is now getting long in the tooth—which is terrible since it’s mumbley years old. It needs to be replaced.

It’s a lovely fabric with a woven fiber inside. I want to replace it. The company that made it is no longer. It was subsumed into another and that company doesn’t seem to have the same product. The very idea. After only mumbley years. Decision 1 is to figure out how to replace that cover in such a way it will last another mumbley years. I very much liked the composite material and I’d rather not use a standard tarp. We do that for the structure over the wood pile and we’re lucky to get three years out of it.

Decision 2 is right on decision 1’s heels and relates directly back to the shop expansion.

The garage has done double duty for a while now: storage of things we need and housing of the cars. That has to come to an end. The equipment that has been housed in the garage—tiller, plow, tractor, snow-throwers—aren’t compatible with the shop equipment. For example, the snow-throwers come in wet. Not compatible with a table saw or other things that draw a lot of current. In addition, the east side is supposed to house the other car—which is much bigger than the tiny commuter vehicle it’s replacing. Which means more equipment needs to be out of the garage.

Which means a shed. Now, we have to determine size and needs, how to site it and where it is to be sited. Sheds also increase our tax footprint. Much planning.

Bringing us back to the shop expansion and decision 3: how to organize the new shop space.

I have heat in the original shop—well, to be fair, I have heat there when I’m working. I don’t have any continuous heat. This makes life interesting when I’m finishing something and storing materials that can’t take a freeze. I built a warmed cabinet but it’s not really adequate.

Regardless, I will have no heat in the shop expansion. I’m not planning on putting in walls or ceiling at this point which means that heat would be a useless exercise anyway. I might put in a quartz radiant heater so that I get a little warmth.

The shop expansion is bigger than my old shop but it’s still not very big and it has to contain a table saw, miter saw, sanding station, routing station, and wood storage. I also have a lathe restoration project I’m working on and when I’m finished, that will go in the expansion, too.

I managed this in the old shop by having the equipment on a set of trolleys. Need the band saw, clear the middle of the shop, pull out the band saw/drill press trolley, do the work, clean it up, and put it back.

It works very well but it is cumbersome and takes time. I’d like to organize the new space that I don’t have to do that. In addition, I need to have dust control in the new shop like I do in the old shop. More work.

The rest of the decisions have more to do with the farm.

Last year we finally cut down our venerable old peach. Peaches typically don’t last much beyond fifteen years or so and this peach lasted nearly thirty. It was the first tree we planted. But, over the last few years, one branch after another died back and finally we “put it to sleep.“ I had hopes for enough wood to use but the trunk was rotten.

So, where to put the new peach? Remember the problem we had with black knot? The last tree to get it was an apricot that grew next to the asparagus bed. When that got it, we decided we were done and tore out every tree that had any symptoms. All of the plums, a nectarine, and that apricot.

That was several years ago. I pulled up as much of the stump as I could. So, we’re crossing our fingers and going to put it there.

We picked up seeds for the garden today. We now have four Birdie boxes ready for spring. Unfortunately, we had a rodent problem in the fall. The two new Birdies have a layer of solid gravel that we’re hoping will keep them out. We’ve been pouring wood ash around the Birdies that don’t have the gravel and hope that discourages the rodents. We won’t know until spring.

With any luck, we’ll finally get asparagus out of the beds this year. That’s always a mixed blessing. I love asparagus but not a great fan of what the kidneys to it. We have an asparagus feast on Monday and don’t want to remain in the bathroom any longer than necessary on Tuesday and Wednesday.

If you’re interested in the chemistry—and it is quite interesting—read here. Not everybody smells. Not everybody can smell the smell.

Over the winter, we tried to grow some watermelon in the greenhouse. No luck. It turns out that while the temperature was adequate—we had a number of solar days this year and the greenhouse was warm—the amount of light was not. The melons did not do well.

So, we’re going to start the melons in the greenhouse at the end of the month in peat pots and transplant them in early June. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get real melons by the end of the season. (Why not grow them in the greenhouse in the summer you ask? Because summer greenhouse heat can exceed 150F and therefore we have shadecloth over it. Which brings the light problem back.)

Last year, we did adequately for potatoes but for the space we used, we didn’t get enough of a yield. The rodents beat us to it. We’re investigating growing potatoes in containers. This has a couple of advantages. For one, the mice can’t burrow up from below in a plastic container—they can climb up a container on the ground which has its own problems. For another, the containers can serve as storage. We don’t have to decant the potatoes until we need them. Of course, that also means we won’t know the yield until we decant them.

Rodents were our main problem last year. We have a few advantages going into the season this year. For one, it’s not expected to be a five hundred year drought. What rodents remain should have water—and therefore seeds and other foodstuffs—beyond our garden. Further, the drought had a big impact on the rodent population. That means fewer rodents going into the spring.

This may not be as good an advantage as it could be since rodents are famously adept and filling up any population gaps.

We had problems with voles and squirrels. We’re still investigating vole control techniques. Without a cat, the best luck we’ve had is with traditional spring-hammer traps. We’ve tried other traps like drop into buckets, the “squirrelinator,” and others, without much success. A cat would be promising but we don’t currently have an outdoor cat.

We’re getting a knock-on effect from losing the hickory last year. The main food source for the squirrels were our oak and our hickory and, just from observation, it looks like the hickory outperformed the oak.

But now there is no hickory. As soon as it dropped we saw first a rapid increase in squirrel attacks on our crop and then, later in the summer, just as sudden a drop. My hypothesis is that with the drought, the squirrels were already desperate and eating immature nuts. When the hickory dropped—eliminating that source—they were desperately searching for a substitute. When that failed, they either left or died. (I won’t tell you my preference lest you think ill of me.) That means fewer squirrels this spring. Squirrels are prolific breeders but not vole-level prolific. It gives me hope.

Regardless, we still have no good defense against the voles. Rebuilding the fence removed the rabbit problem but was no impediment to the voles. I don’t like to use poison. I’m not squeamish about the voles but the resulting carrion is eaten by scavengers. I have nothing against skunks or possums or even someone else’s outdoor cat and would prefer they not get sick because of me.

For my own part, I’d like to get an outdoor cat. We have an indoor cat. I think that precludes an indoor-outdoor cat. Which means a barn cat of some sort. That takes planning and forethought—more decisions for 2023.



1 thought on “State of the Farm, March, 2023”

  1. Here on Mt. Hood in Oregon we had a 3 year period when raccoons and feral cats reached infestation levels. Every night there would be a noisy fight about access to the nests in the 50 foot culvert. The ‘coons took down every bird feeder in the neighborhood. The cats used any garden space with bark dust as a litter box. I won’t mention how the squirrels thrived in the mild winters.

    And then a mama mountain lion moved in with two kits. No more pest infestation. Even the coyotes moved out. Nature works a wonderful balancing act.

    Unfortunately that same mountain lion killed a human on a very remote hiking trail. Forest rangers had to kill her. Not one of the rangers will admit to being the one who took her down and there were some pretty long faces drowning in local craft beer at the bar that weekend.

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