The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

We Are Grass

June 6th, 2017 by Ed Bruske

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It’s another dreary day–cool and rainy. The last few weeks seemed more like March. Still, I’ve managed finally to get ahead of the grass that would consume us this time of year if extraordinary measures were not taken.

We have a multi-wire, electric perimeter fence nearly a mile long surrounding the farm and foliage has to be kept off it or it loses power. Walking the outside of the perimeter with a line trimmer (aka weed whacker)  is one of my most onerous chores. Yet it must be done not once or twice but usually three times each season. Fortunately,  I’m equipped with one of my favorite tools: a four-stroke Honda trimmer. I use an extra-thick line, and if I attack before  weeds get too tall, I can clear a wide swath as well as under the bottom wire. It takes about eight hours to make the whole distance. Watch your posture and your back won’t hurt too badly.

Our semi-permanent electric fencing that separates our various pastures–the low-voltage netting that keeps the sheep and goats and cows where they belong–requires a somewhat different treatment. These fences also loose power as grass encroaches. I have to pull up the fencing (we have probably 400 yards of it) and cut a path with the mower. For that I use our 28-horsepower, four-wheel-drive diesel tractor with a five-foot mower deck set low. Even with the mechanical assist, maintaining the fences is a lot of work and it never ends so long as the grass keeps growing.

Finally, I mow the pastures, about 12 acres plus the orchard. We simply don’t have enough animals to eat all that grass in the spring. Then in the heat of summer, when the grass goes dormant, we pray there’s enough for the livestock to feed on. It’s a vicious cycle.

I find that mowing improves the pastures. The grass grows more lush, the most noxious weeds–milkweed and goldenrod–disappear. It’s a sight to behold after a spring rain, brilliant green spreading from fence line to fence line, ruminants grazing contentedly.

I’m just so glad when that work is done.

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93 Fruit Trees

May 22nd, 2017 by Ed Bruske

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Our farm came with an orchard of  young fruit trees–apples, mostly, with some peaches and pears–but we were never sure how many. This year after pruning I  decided to put an end to all the speculation and count. The answer: 93.

Turns out 93 trees is a lot for one man to prune. No wonder I always feel a bit spent. But finally I have some decent tools–like these pole loppers in the photo–that make the job so much easier.  I’ve decided I don’t want our trees to grow much more than seven or eight feet tall. I’d rather not be dragging a ladder around the orchard. Pruning with both feet on the ground suits me fine.

I did not come to this with any experience beyond pruning roses and tomato plants. What I do know has come from books and watching videos on YouTube. Don’t laugh. You can learn a lot about farming on the internet.

By any measure, I’m still an amateur. I know to cut “water sprouts”–the new branches that grow straight up–as well as growth in the middle of the tree and branches that cross one another and branches that are creating shade in the wrong places. Once you get the hang of that, you can focus on training your young fruit tree to grow in the correct shape: baskets and vases are preferred, umbrellas are discouraged.

There’s an old saying that you know you’ve done a good job pruning when you can throw the family cow through the tree. It seems the more experience I get, the more I cut. After pruning 93 trees, I usually have a first-rate pile of branches I hope eventually to turn into chips to spread around the trees. This year I’m in the dog house because my wife thinks I cut the peach trees too much.

The first year we were here, there were so many peaches we lost some big branches off the trees just from the weight of them. (We didn’t get the memo to thin the fruit to prevent that from happening.) After record cold the next two winters we didn’t see any peaches at all. Last winter wasn’t so bad, but then the temperatures dropped to -20 in April and wiped out all the fruit. This year, conditions have been just about perfect and my wife was looking forward to a peach bonanza. Until she saw how much I’d pruned, that is.

“We might get a pies worth,” she says through clenched teeth.

I’m hoping she’s wrong. I’m hoping those peach trees have some fruit buds in reserve. On the bright side, the trees are looking just marvelous.

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