Preparing for growing season

On January 15, 2013 by Shawn

The funny thing about winter time is the fact that I always make the mistake of thinking it’s when I’ll be able to catch up on farm projects. I say to myself, I say, “Self! With the cooler weather and no plants in the ground to tend, it’ll be easy to get that barn roof repaired or that new chicken tractor built!” Well, my short-term memory deceives me once again because I’m now rediscovering the entirely unique set of challenges that pop up in the “off months.”

One big thing is the rain. Here in northeastern Alabama, we’ll go three or four months without a drop of rain in the summer and two weeks with straight downpours during the winter. It’s a good thing it hardly ever dips below freezing or we’d be living in an igloo.

chickennapigThe rain here has been so treacherous that our animals are having a really hard time. The goats are spending most of their day hiding in the barn (avoiding leaky drips from the unfixed roof), the dogs are drenched and covered in mud because they don’t really get the whole “stay under cover” thing. The chickens don’t seem too affected by it, nor do the donkeys, both of which just stand out in the rain doing their thing. But the hog… oh the hog. This hog has caused so many problems this winter it has really exhausted us. I know, I know, that’s why you slaughter the hog BEFORE the weather gets this bad, but we hit some roadbumps in that department. Not having family or friends here is really a challenge sometimes.

chickenswetSo the pig discovered that she can easily smoosh right under the fences that have kept her in for almost a year because the clay mud is slick and easy to push through. She broke through her main fence to go play with the donkeys. This wasn’t such a big deal, but she has rooted about 2 acres of perfectly good pasture land, and that will take a bit to heal.

Then, last Saturday, the pig decided it has had enough of the donkeys and pushed on through to our backyard. It pushed through two sets of fences to get there, and we didn’t find out until we pulled into the driveway after a feed-store run. Luckily, we had some hog meal in the truck and were able to easily lure the pig back in to her fence. We reinforced the welded wire with some good old fashioned pallets and claimed our victory — a little too soon.

Since then, our 13-month-old Great Pyrenees, Smokey, figured he’d try that neat pig trick and he jumped one fence, wiggled under another, and climbed a farm gate to taste the freedom of our back yard. Of course, little Tundra saw him do this and simply squeezed through a tiny fence hole that she never noticed until that moment.

So now we have a pig and two dogs spending every waking bit of energy trying to escape while I spend every waking moment trying to get them back in. That’s especially fun in 40-degree pouring rain. The pig is scheduled to be slaughtered as soon as the rain finally stops (which looks like it might be Monday). I’ve actually accepted the fact that Smokey will never be contained ever again, but he happily sits in our yard, guarding against the neighbor’s army of dogs that (used to) use our trees and car tires as urinals. I guess that’s one good thing. Tundra, on the other hand, I’m afraid to say is too small to stay in our fenceless yard — mainly because the cars that race down our street have already hit two of our dogs since we moved here last year. Keeping her fenced in is a work in progress, but a priority.

incubatorBut on the happier side of things, we ordered a new incubator and currently have 21 eggs doing their thing inside. I followed the directions to the letter, but I didn’t candle the eggs, so I’m not anticipating a full hatch. We have three roosters for our 35-ish hens, so I imagine there’s a good possibility that most of them are fertilized. Plus, any good chicken farmer knows that roosters don’t really think of much else other than crowing and making sure every hen is… taken care of. So there’s that.

We also made our spring/early summer seed purchase, and I’m really excited to get those in and start them off in our new faux greenhouse. I ordered from Johnny’s Seeds this year because they’re firmly against GMO seeds, and they have a nice array of organic seeds as well. The selection isn’t nearly as large as Gurney’s (whom we used last year), but Gurney’s isn’t GMO-free. I may use High Mowing Seeds or Baker Creek to get the remaining seeds that weren’t found at Johnny’s. I planned the garden out with a fantastic program called Grow Veg. I have looked around at several of these planning programs, including AgSquared and just drawing it out myself on a pad of paper (like I did last year), but Grow Veg is really exactly what I was looking for. It lets you set up your rows exactly how you want by dragging and dropping the layout, and then dragging the crops over those beds. It automatically fills in the dragged area with the exact number of plants needed, based on a database of seed information (like seed spacing and row spacing) taken directly from popular organic seed catalogs. So all I did was select that my seeds were coming from Johnny’s, select the exact type of each seed, then arrange the field layout how I wanted. From there, it calculates how many seeds you’ll need and you can even click right on the vegetable name to be taken to the exact catalog page to order each set of seeds. It also lets you overlap planting for companion planting, which is exactly what I’m doing this year. There really are so many other amazing features, and the best part is that it’s free to try for 30 days and is less than half the annual cost of AgSquared’s service if you decide to go with it.

I also ordered the JP-1 clean seeder, which is a beast of a machine. I invite you to watch some YouTube videos on it if you’re curious about specifics, but it really is a fine piece of Korean engineering. I’ll probably give my impressions in more depth once I start to use it in the field. I know one thing, it just has to be better than the work I put into digging and hand-laying every seed in last year’s garden.

The only thing left to do now (so far!) is to order the irrigation supplies from and I’ll be completely broke! But it’ll be a good feeling to do things on a much more professional scale than last year.


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