Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bare root trees

I've spent the last few hours going through the local agricultural extensions studies of fruit trees, looking at varieties that grow well and produce a good amount of fruit.  If you're interested in fruit trees for western washington (or anywhere that has similar weather) you'll find a list of reports sorted by tree type and year here.   

What I like about this is that the researchers are objective about what they're reporting, and since the studies span years or decades, you can get a really good idea of what did well and what didn't over time.

So I've chosen a variety of trees which I'll use to both replace existing trees that aren't doing well and to increase the size of the orchard.  Depending on how they do I can market them pretty easily here - think self-service farmstand on the highway - or drive them down the road to the local produce stand.  There's a ready market for good fruit in the city as well.

Note:  I have no connection with raintree nursery other than as a customer.  I include the link so that you can see prices and descriptions, but I'm sure you can find these cultivars at other locations

Most of these trees are either dwarf, or semi-dwarf, or grafted onto dwarfing rootstock; a few of my choices are not; they'll be managed and pruned for production.

I'm adding the following trees

Shiro plum

pic post: Sleeping pigs

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tree moving day

If someone were to ask me what the very first thing that they should do when they buy a farm is, I'd say something that would probably surprise you:   Plant trees

Trees, particularly fruit trees, are something that requires years to grow and get some value from, and you might as well get that clock started ticking as soon as you close on your new property.  

In my case the farm had a variety of trees, but there's a problem:  

County road on west side of property
 The fruit trees that were planted here were actually planted basically on the property line; which meant that the county would end up "pruning" these trees with their road equipment several times a year.  That means that they'd use their brushcutting gear and basically saw off half of the fruit trees randomly.

That's not great for fruit production, or tree health... so what to do?  Well, this is the time of the year that fruit trees are dormant, and I do have a small excavator...  so dig up the root balls of the trees and move them back 20' from the road and fence.   I was as careful as I could be to retain roots and structure, but I did prune the trees back a bit to balance the loss of roots in the move, and I'm hoping that they survive.  They are mostly italian plum trees and produced a pretty good crop last year.  We'll see if they survive.  If not, I'll replace with new trees, consistent with my advice to plant trees as soon as you can.
Trees moved back 20' from fence.
 The second problem I've got is something I have no experience in.  The plum tree in the picture below has some sort of problem that appears to basically have covered the tree and is distressing it.  On the other trees I pruned off all of the growths, but this tree has a massive infestation.  I'm going to see if I can find someone locally to give me an opinion on what it is, but if I can't figure it out I'll probably just cull this tree and try again.
black growths appear unhealthy

closeup of black growths
The growths appear to be in the bark, and cause the bark to ulcer.  With this tree there isn't a branch that doesn't have some of this stuff on it.  On the other trees I'd see one or two growths on the entire tree.  Just to be safe I pruned off any affected branch, but I'd basically have to prune off this entire tree.   If it can be saved I'd like to, but sometimes just removing and restarting is the best option.

UPDATE:  Black knot it is.  I'll cull this tree and watch the others carefully.  You guys are on it!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Growing MJ too popular in Washington state

So far over 1100 licenses have been applied for to grow marijuana in washington state.  The license applications each specify the size of the grow area that they seek, "canopy", and the total amount of grow area has been capped at 2,000,000 (two million) square feet.  

The Washington State liquor control board has stated that in the event that they get applications that exceed the total grow area allocated, that they would reduce each applicants grow size proportionally; so if they get applications that total 4 million square feet, presumably everyone would get half of what they asked for.  

As of December 16th, the latest information available, the state has received:  

283 licenses for tier 1 producers (2000 sq feet or less)
436 licenses for tier 2 producers (2001-10000 square feet)
397 licenses for tier 3 producers (10000-30000) square feet.  

If each of these licenses is for the maximum allowed space, the total right now stands at 16.8 million square feet, a little over 8 times the total area that the WSLCB has allocated.   

Not all applications will be for maximum size; not all applications will be approved, and not all approved applications will actually succeed, but it looks like we're going to be oversubscribed by a factor of 8 or 9.  

So if you applied for a 2000 square foot grow, you'll get 1/8th of that, or 250 square feet; about the size of a large bedroom.  

Just dividing 2 million by 1100 gives you an average grow size of 3,000 square feet.   I think that they didn't realize quite how popular this would be, and it's going to be interesting to see how they deal with this huge oversubscription for production.  

Here's the quote:  
"The LCB may reduce a licensee’s or applicants’ square footage designated to plant canopy for the 
following reasons: 
 If the total amount of square feet for production of all licensees exceeds the two million square 
feet maximum, the LCB will reduce the allowed square footage by the same percentage. 
 If 50 percent production space used for plant canopy in the licensee’s operating plan is not met 
in the first year of operation, the board may reduce the tier of licensure. 
 If the total amount of square feet of marijuana production exceeds two million square feet, the 
LCB may reduce all licensees’ production by the same percentage or reduce licensee 
production by one or more tiers by the same percentage. "

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Question from Email: Marketing pigs

Hi Bruce,

My name is Scott [lastname] and I live in [town], FL.  I recently bought 10 small 

pigs and have weaned them.  
There are really no places around here to buy pigs and the market 
may be slim for them once they get 
grown?  Im sticking my toe in the water to see what happens. 
I grew up in the cattle business and have weaned and sold
 thousands of calves, but never a pig!

Im wondering if you could give me tips on marketing the little suckers?

Any advice would be great!



Hi Scott!

Marketing the hogs is the hardest part, and it's best to have them
sold before you buy them, but that can be difficult.  One of the
 best resources that I know of for small pig farmers is craigslist.  

Here's the link to the craigslist that covers the area you're in,
and I've taken the liberty to
make that link a search
for "pigs" in the farm and garden section.  

If I had no market base, and didn't want to spend much time
selling them, an ad on
craigslist is a pretty safe bet.
 it's free,  you can run it as long as you want, and you can get
an idea of what the local market for
pigs are by looking at what is being offered, and at what price.  

The issue with craigslist is that  you will not get the best price;
 there's always someone
 on craigslist selling
animals for the lowest possible price, but where you can set
 yourself apart from the
others is by talking about
your husbandry and standards, and about your particular pig

For a little better view on what the higher-end prices are, search
a site like eatwild.com
and see what the producers
there are asking for their pigs, or at your local farmers market.
My guess is that you'll
 find some pigs selling for $2/lb,
 and some selling for $14/lb.  Never, ever compete on price.
Compete on quality.  

I have found a ready market for pigs from cubans in my area
 who want to BBQ whole
pigs for family gatherings.
Eastern Europeans also are big markets for whole pigs.  See
 if there's a russian
orthodox church in your area
as a start.  often donating a pig for a church bbq or some other
 charity fundraiser is
 a way to get your name out
 there, too, and it builds goodwill.  

Pacific islanders are GREAT pig customers.  Tongans and
Samoans being two
groups that have purchased
lots of pigs from me.

With a total production of 10 pigs I think you should be able to
sell all of them handily.  

Some specific suggestions:  

Sell to family and friends.  A half a pig is small enough to fit in an
 average upper
freezer of a refrigerator, and everyone
 enjoys pork.  Your price should pay for all of your feed costs plus
something for
labor and equipment; what that is
 depends on you.   It takes about 800lbs of feed to bring a pig
 to market weight; around here that feed is
about $0.27/lb, which gives me a feed cost of $216.  figure
$100 for labor and
equipment per pig, and I'm at
$316, which works out to a cost basis for the pig of $1.58/lb.
 I sell my own pigs
 at $2.25/lb, which gives me a
net profit of about $134 per pig, but since I could hve sold
 that weaner pig for
$100, my actual net is $34/pig
with much less risk.  hmmm.. might have to raise my prices.  

Over at thoughtfulfoodfarm.com, he started at a price of $3.50/lb for his pork,
and here's a blog entry about his
experience selling his production.  

The reason that I can continue at $34 profit per animal is that I
 sell thousands
 of pigs, mostly as weaners, mostly
during the spring and summer.  I finish pigs mostly because
 the prices for
weaners in the winter
sucks, and I can make more money by doing so.  if I were
able to, I would be
 strictly a farrowing operation
and selling everything at weaning.  Much simpler business,
margins are
good, risk is smaller.  

Question from Email: Eating boars

Question from a reader about eating boars:

your boar story caught my attention.. i was curious how old that boar was.. 700 pounds 
I'd guess he was over 18 months.. My dad is in [town removed, but about 20 miles from
 me] and buys those boars and cuts them then feeds them for a few months then 
butchers them and still turns it into sausage.. i am in maryland now and farms 
out here are nonexistent and i have access to a 400 pound hampshire for like 30
 cents a pound and the boar is 9 months old and am trying to decide if i just 
want to butcher him straight away or try to castrate him and then feed him 
out for another couple months.. i've killed wild hogs (all sows) because of
 the smell issue and i have noticed that even wild sows meat smell bad 
but just like all other wild game i just discard all the fat.. unfortunately
 i love pork chop fat but if it has to go it has to go.. another issue is
 the anectdotal toughness which could be more related to age than
 sex.. at any rate, i was trying to find otu what your results of the
 smoked hams and stuff were and how old that boar was you 
described to help me kind of make up my mind.. considering hogs 
are still selling at a buck a pound live weight here im thinking this 
boar turned into sausage is still a lot cheaper than taking more days
 off from work to go deer hunting :) if you could let me know some of
 that info i would really appreciate it.

thanks in advance..

I think that he's referring to this blog entry in this message, where i talk about
eating a 700lb boar that we culled.  I was curious to see what the meat was
like, as I'd read about other folks eating boars, and frankly, the market price
 on big boars is Terrible, truly horrible.  

And that's what he's talking about there.  400lb boar at $0.30/lb is $120.00
 for the animal, which for meat is very, very cheap.  That's part of the
 reason that I never sell boars at auction, and I don't sell many to customers.
  I usually will cull and process them here on the farm.  

My experience with that particular boar was that the meat was fine,
 particularly in sausage form.   I really couldn't tell the difference between
 old boar sausage and sausage made from a younger pig.  I'm going to
 talk about why that is now.  

The issue with boars, and this is reflected in the market price, is that
 there is a risk that the boar will have an unpleasant taste present in
 its fat.  It's commonly referred to as "boar taint", and concern
about the potential for boar taint is the primary reason that male
 pigs are castrated routinely in the US market.  Without testicles
 the animal will not have boar taint.  

Boar taint is only detectable to a small percentage of the population;
I've found about 1 person in 20, or 5%, can detect it.  For someone
 who can smell boar taint, the smell of cooking boar has an
amonia/wet dog odor that is pretty strong.  The meat is edible, its
just the smell that puts folks off.    In my immediate family my brother
 Bryan cannot smell it, nor can my brother Ken, but I can.  

I processed another boar that did have boar taint, and couldn't stand
 the smell of the cooked meat.  I gave the bacon to my brothers, and
 they both said that it was great.  No complaints.  So I ended up giving
 the whole animal to them, and they, and their families ate it. 

With older animals the meat is tougher, and is better suited to slower
 cooking methods.  I wouldn't grill an older animals pork chops,
 but I sure would stew them.  Sausage is the easiest thing to do, as
 the grinding of the meat removes any toughness issues.  But the
boar taint issue remains.    The hams were tough and chewy.
Tasty, but probably better as sausage.  

This may sound gross so far, but realize that a lot of the sausage you
see in the store is culled sows from hog units.  The meat is fine, and
sausage spicing is such that it really is the dominate flavor.  Even if
 there were boar taint you wouldn't detect it in sausage.  

Yes, you can buy boars at a relatively low cost, but there's a small
 chance that you can't eat them.  The only way that I've been able to
 reliably tell is to cook a bit of the fat with a propane torch at time of
 slaughter.  Since I can smell it if has boar taint then I will usually
 either turn the animal into spiced sausage -- pepperoni, andui,
chorizo -- or I'll grind the animal and use it to feed my airedales.  
 Good quality dog food is north of $1/lb, and so I'm basically getting
 at least that when I use it to feed my pack.  

I do not reccomend castrating a big boar; the testicles are huge,
 have a big blood supply, and unless you have a way to stop the
 bleeding can cause the death of the animal.  Plus it is a 700lb
 animal, and major surgery on that size pig is a big undertaking.
  A big boar is a very, very powerful animal, and if he gets wind of
what you're thinking...  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Chicken math

Chickens can do math. 

I know, it's hard to believe, but stick with me.  When I'm collecting eggs I always leave an egg or two in the nest to remind the chickens to lay their eggs there again, because chickens, while they can't count, do know the different between zero eggs and some eggs. 

But there's a second number that a chicken cares about -- it's between 10 and a dozen.  If I don't collect the eggs, the chickens will look at them, and when they get a bunch of eggs, about a dozen, they'll start to sit on them to try to hatch them. 

It's been pretty consistent with the heritage breeds, like the barred rock, a little less so with the white leghorns (the chicken in the picture at the start of this post) and I just realized this today. 

Chickens can count.   Here's chicken math:     0, (some eggs) 12

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

seasonal pigs

 The market for weaner pigs (pigs that are mature and eating solid food, but just off the sow) is seasonal.  I get the best prices for pigs in the spring and early summer, and the price gradually declines until december, and then starts going up again.

That's the market price, that is.  When the price drops below my cost of production I just keep the pigs born, and raise them out.  So these pictures are of my winter pig crop.  Some of them I'll choose as replacement gilts, one I'll choose as a replacement boar, the other hundred or so will become the finished hogs i'll sell in the spring and early summer.

I'm still able to sell everything I produce, so I don't have to worry too  much about having spare hogs that I can't sell; pigs are a popular table fare, and one of these days I might produce enough extra to make it to a farmers market, but not so far.
I keep the pigs in a smaller area for the winter; I want to save the grass and sod for next year; so the ground where they're kept is pretty bare, but we give them a good ration of fruits and veges as part of their normal diet; they're pretty happy to eat their fill and then go burrow into the sawdust to dream of their next meal.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Keeping the pigs warm

 The weather has been clear and cold for the last few days; the daytime high has been around freezing 32f (0c) and evening is about 10 degrees cooler (-7c), and you'd think that it would be hard to keep the pigs warm, but it's not nearly as hard as it is when it's 40f and raining. 

The pigs fight to be in the path of the chips.  They come out of the truck slowly; no danger to the critters
The key to keeping everyone comfortable is to make sure that the bedding that they have is dry.  I've tried grass hay and straw and finally settled on sawdust; our local sawmills produce vast quantities of the stuff; it's pretty cheap - smells good - and it doesn't turn into stucco when its got manure in it.  It shovels out or scrapes out easily, and it composts pretty quickly. 

It's the same sort of materials that people buy in pet stores in 3 to 9 cubic foot bales, I just get it in bulk.  This sawdust won't ever leave the farm; it'll serve as bedding, and then it'll serve as feedstock for the compost pile, providing a good ration of carbon, which is the key to having compost that doesn't smell.

65 cubic yards at a time, delivered right to the barn
The pigs love it when the sawdust gets delivered.  They jockey to be as close to the back of the truck as they can to get showered in chips.  the chips come out of the truck pretty slowly, and they don't weigh much, so there's no danger to the animals, and it's pretty fun to watch the piglets run back and forth across the shower of chips and squeal.

In bedding areas I put down 12 to 24"; start with 12, and watch the bedding.  In places where its getting wet, I'll put more.  Every month or so I'll herd the pigs to one side of the barn and turn over the bedding; bring fresh to the surface, bury the manure.  As I do this it'll start to compost, and that composting action below the surface will heat the top dry layer. 
So when its cold, like it is now, I'll come into the barn and see just the snouts of the pigs sticking out.   Everyone warm in their blanket. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A change of seasons...

In north america, we're in the middle of winter.  My high temperature today was 32 degrees F (0 C) and my low is looking like 20f (-7c).  It's on cold days like this I start looking at my seed catalogs and plotting what I'm going to plant.

But on the other side of the earth they're just finishing spring and going into summer.  So if you'd like to read about spring vegetables and see pictures of what you might have in march and april and may...  take a look here for a discussion of spring vegetables that she liked.  

Or here for some talk from another author about succession planting

Or here for a discussion of the dastardly crocus that are just up too soon!

Yum.  Fresh spring vegetables.

Marijuana grow application locations

Grow applications in Washington State
Map updated 12-16-2013, retailers and grow sites both listed now.  1117 grow applications, 513 retail applications

You'll find an interactive map at this link that will show you all of the grow applications that have been made to the liquor control board as of the first two weeks of the license period.  Zoom around and see where they are in your neighborhood; each grow operation has a little clickable area, so you can see the type of grow and the name of the entity and the street address.  A couple of the addresses (17 out of approximately 630)
didn't work, so this isn't a complete map, but it's a good start.

The state has allocated 2,000,000 square feet of "canopy" space; that is, the area that is actually used by plant leaves; each application has a "tier" associated with it.  Tier 1 to tier 3, with 3 being maximum sized grows, 10,000 to 30,000 square feet.

Just taking the canopy space and dividing it by the maximum size grow gives you 67 operations for the entire state.  Clearly with over 10 times that number applying, we are going to run out of canopy long before applicants.  So the state has said that they will reduce the canopy requested proportional to the amount of over subscription.

So if they get applications for 4 million square feet, they will give everyone 50% of what they have asked for.  The producer canopy space is being handled differently than the retail licenses -- there, if they get more retail license applications than there are licenses available they'll hold a lottery.

I'm actually a little surprised that the applications haven't broken 5,000 yet.

A quick perusal of this list shows that some of them have obvious location problems; I fully expect some of the applications to be rejected because of background or finances or whatever, but it's clear that at the start of this process there will be more than 1,000 people who are licenses to produce marijuana in Washington state.

Should be an interesting competitive environment.

One thing that should be noted:  None of these producers have any idea who they're going to be selling to.  They're only allowed to sell to retail stores, and those licences won't be handed out for months.  Unlike other farming where you can sell your crop before you plant it, these producers will be forced to plant and grow without having customers yet.