Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Picked one helluva year to be a chicken herder.

I just wanted to make a few comments about how the price of corn stinks. I mean really stinks. Can I cuss some more than just in the title?  OK, last year I was paying round about $5 for a 50 lb bag of whole corn for the chickens. This year, it is over $10 for the same bag.  What just happened?  Is it all being foolishly turned into ethanol?  Or, have the Chinese fallen in love with the corn dog?  Right now I have three patches of corn growing. One at the city house, one at the farm and one is at William's house. With my commitment to the USDA to raise and sell chicken products, it is a tall order to turn a profit in such turbulent times. If my corn does come in, it will be weeks before it is ready to pick.  All of it is heirloom variety dent corn, multicolored in fact, red, green and blue. Couldn't just settle for plain old yeller.

The solution in my mind is to get rid of off-farm feed inputs. I hope to just raise as many animals as the land can support, and they can keep their high-dollar corn. That'll show em.

A mast year.

Hi Folks, it has been a long spell since my last writing. I hope to do better at this public journal thing when I am finally settled on the farm.

A remarkable thing is happening this year. It is an "on" year for wild blackberries.  The farm was blooming with blackberry canes during April and May, and now a breathtaking crop of blackberries is the result.  The photo is a small version of what nature and my addition of honeybees can do.  Lore has it that next year will be a pitiful crop.

The birds are full, and ripe blackberries turn into raisins on the cane, going uneaten.  On the hillside of the adjoining property, there is an untapped bounty of perhaps thousands of pounds of berries. I watched in amazement this spring as the slope bloomed all silver-tipped in the distance.  I have not hiked up there, but it is likely an impenetrable thicket of luscious ripe berries.  It is what becomes of a hayfield that is left untended, it becomes a paradise for rabbits, and torture for the beagles that try to chase them.  The old-timers call this kind of thicket a "hell" though the term is most often reserved for Mountain Laurel.  I can envision being trapped without hope on such a hillside.  I could hear the neighbors beagles baying and harassing in the near distance, and occasionally yelping in pain.

I spent about an hour yesterday on my day off waiting for the State Apiary Inspector to reach the farm. I picked a gallon and a half in short order.  I stomped my way up into the thickets and pressed the hay and weed growth down with my boots (passing flashes of fear entering my mind regarding snakes unseen). It is noticeable that the first wave of ripening produces berries as large as the tip of my thumb, the later flushes have smaller less rewarding fruit.  I noticed the agonizing randomness of the ripe fruit, no order to my mind. A berry to the left, and more to the right, close to the edge, higher up, lower down, four together, one by itself. I had to really focus to pick an area clean. It feels like a deliberate effort on the part of the plant to prevent me from cleaning it off. I wonder why?  Clearly though, this is a plant that intends for birds to eat it's fruit.  No mammal would be happy about pushing through those thorns.  Birds however, easily navigate the canes, without so much as a note of worry about thorns, singing as they pick the berries,shielded in prickles.  What a perfect strategy for spreading seed. Seed bombs on the wing as the birds fly off.

I used a gallon plastic milk jug cut out, leaving the handle intact to make a picking bucket. I filled it twice, I didn't even make an impact on the available crop within reach.  Boy, I feel pretty darn lucky.  It is great to be able to forage for food. I can't wait to turn these darlings into jelly. Sorry folks, not a big fan of blackberry jam. It is like eating sweet gravel to me. Let's ditch the seeds, shall we?