Tuesday, May 27, 2014


The bees don't really take much maintenance, but what they do happens twice a year -- spring and fall.  

At this time of year, the bees are reaching their maximum population, so giving them more room in their hive is the basic chore, but I like to have a box or two all ready to go in case of a swarm.  

As I look back at my blog, the time between the last week of april and the first week of june is prime time for bees swarming, and truth be told, that's not a bad thing.  They neatly divide the colony, produce another queen, and if you can capture the swarm, you've now added a new hive to your farm.  

The main bloom around here that produces a lot of honey is the blackberry bloom, and it's coming up pretty soon.  So adding the extra space now allows the bees time to draw the comb and be all set for the nectar flow that is coming.  

 I assembled enough frames and comb to be able to add boxes to every hive I've got active, and I also put together enough frames and a box so that I'm set to capture a swarm if one happens.  One of my hives is doing particularly well, and I think it's going to swarm, even though I'm trying my best to discourage it.

 I use wax with wire embedded in it because it holds up better over years of use.  In this case i'm assembling frames for a "deep" box.  Honey frames are smaller.  I use the smaller frames for honey because a full honey box weighs around 60lbs and is heavy enough.  I'd hate to think what a deep box would weigh.

Honeybees are susceptible to parasites, and there are a lot of ways to control them.  I prefer not to use any chemical or pesticides in my honey production.  So to control varoa mites, I put in a frame of drone comb at this time of year.  The bees will raise drones, male bees, on this frame, and that's where the parasite likes to reproduce.   I'll check this frame, and when it's capped I'll remove it from the hive and look at it.  If it contains mites, I'll put the frame into the freezer and take out the entire generation of mite larvae.  If it's free of mites, I'll put it back into the hive -- any bees that are mite-resistant should be encouraged, and having lots of drones around gives any unmated queen plenty of opportunity to get this genetic line.

Monday, May 26, 2014

This is when it hits the fan.

One of the implements I purchased at the last farm auction was a manure lagoon agitator.  It's basically a big propellor at the end of a 30' shaft, and it's used to create a current and stir up the manure lagoon prior to pumping it out.

Stirring both aerates the manure and makes sure that some of the solids are suspended in the water, allowing them to be pumped out along with the water.  Getting it good and mixed up takes a few hours, so i park the tractor at the edge of the lagoon, set the throttle and check on it every couple of hours.

Once it's good and stirred, I'll use a 4" pump to move the slurry to a hose reel, which has a big sprayer attached to it.  You wind out the sprayer and it gets slowly drawn back to the reel, spraying all the way back.  that allows you to cover 500 or 1000' of ground per deployment of the sprayer, about 200' wide.

I've got roughly 3 million gallons in this lagoon, I'll probably be pumping out of it off and on all summer.  The goal is to have it pretty much dry when september rolls around.  Any solids left I'll scrape out, and then the lagoon is ready for the winter rainy season.

The whole idea behind this is to contain the manure generated on the farm during those times when plants can't take advantage of it.  So during the winter, when things aren't growing, you're storing all of the manure generated on the farm.  In the spring and summer, you disperse that manure onto your fields, where the plants utilize it as fertilizer, and the cycle repeats.

The end result?  there's no discharge of any kind off of the farm at any time during the year.  In the growing season, plants use the manure and water.  In the winter it's contained.

all of the barns, and all of the aprons around the barns, are graded so that water flows from everywhere to a central low spot, where there's a big manure tank.  It's then pumped from there into the manure lagoon.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What the cows are up to right now

 I've moved my herd of cows onto spring/summer pasture.  This particular property is only 7 acres of grass, so it's not worth trying to hay it, but it does make a great seasonal pasture.  Wait until the ground is firm enough, and then drop the cows off to eat the grass.  When it's this tall the cows mostly just bite the top 6" off and leave the stems -- I'll mow it after I'm done grazing to get rid of the stands of straw left over.
 The angus bull is really looking good.  You can't tell very well from this picture, but he's shiny and smooth and really a nice looking bull.
 My little dairy cow isn't so little anymore; she's due in July, so out with the herd now.  When she gets closer I'll pull her back to the main farm to have her calf, along with the herford in the picture below.
 All told, there are 10 dairy heifers that are new this year, 4 dairy cows that I've had for the last few years, and 6 assorted beef cows (bull, couple of cows, couple of heifers), for a total of 20.  This 6 acres will last for a month or 6 weeks, and then I'll move the whole herd to another pasture that's a bit larger for the rest of the year.
Yep, looks good.  The cows love the fresh green grass.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The slow ride

Nothing like a slow ride on a friday before a holiday
 I spent most of the last week ferrying farm equipment from the auction yard to my farm.   Most of what I'm buying is old, reliable equipment that's had a good life somewhere, and might need some work.  The high-dump wagon that I've got hooked to my pickup is an example of that.  It's designed to catch the output from a forage chopper and then dump it into the bed of a full-sized dump truck -- the tractor chops for a while, transfers the load to the truck, and keeps chopping.  This particular wagon is used to collect chopped grass and corn silage.  I'll talk about it more later, but for now, the task is to get it from the auction yard 70 miles south to the farm.
the parts shop
 The auction yard specializes in old farm equipment, and has one of those parts stores that has a pretty vast inventory of old stuff.  Piles and mounds and shelves and barrels and crates of stuff.  If you need a part for an old tractor, they've probably got it.  They spend a lot of time rehabbing old tractors.  It was interesting to go in and see what I could find.  I was buying pretty mundane stuff; a new PTO shaft, a couple of slow-vehicle warning placards, and a tow pin today.
Narrow road, not many places to pull off
 This wagon would start wobbling back and forth at any speed above 22mph, and that ruled out the freeway.  I couldn't put it on top of a trailer without going over the height limits, and I didn't want to have to take it apart for transport.  So a slow ride it is.  Highway 9 runs parallel to I5, and is a rural highway -- and that's where I went.  
 So it took me the better part of 5 hours of very slow moving to get the wagon back to the farm.  Along the way I was seriously hated by most of the traffic that was trying to get somewhere on this holiday weekend.  A lot of people waved, and some people even used all five fingers!
The view to the rear
I'd pull over whenever the line of cars that I could see got over 5, but there were times when I had 50 vehicles in a mini-traffic jam behind me.  Every now and then I'd see another farmer on a tractor or towing something blocking traffic the other way -- we'd smile and wave at each other, and then our two lines of cars would stare at each other and hate life...

But if you're in a rural area, this is part of the scenery.   If you're going this slow you sure do have lots of time to watch the countryside go by.  Lovely country between arlington and bellingham along highway 9 if you'd like to take a trip.

But you may have a slow ride!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

2014 crop plan

Got my planting done last week, in a 2 day rainless period.  The amount of rain I've been getting this year is pretty amazing.  Rain gauge says we've gotten 47.3" of rain since January 1st, with 4 inches of that in the last 7 days.
click for a larger version

I have to admit that it is pretty satisfying to watch it rain AFTER you get your seeding done.  I just checked on the fields and they're sprouting well, so I should see green in a week or so.

Working on the fence on my seasonal pastures; I have two 12 acre pastures that I use for summer graze, and the cows will go out on the first one on tuesday.  I'll watch the grass there, and when they've grazed it down to about 10", I'll move them to the second, larger pasture.  They'll be on that pasture for most of the summer, and will come back to the farm in august or september.

While they're gone, the forage that I've planted will have sprouted and grown, and I'm hoping I can get a cutting of both grass and alfalfa this year.  So here's the plot map


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pig shortage in Western WA

I've sold 200 or so piglets in the last month, and I wish that I had another 500 to sell.  There's a pretty big piglet shortage around here.  There are several things going into this; first, it's the high season for pig sales; this is the time of year that people most want to buy pigs.  Second, WSU closed their swine center, and the pigs that they used to produce were taken off the market as well.   

And there's a virus that's killing pigs all over the place, which means that there we're short between 4 and 5 million pigs nationwide.  

Plus high feed prices and relatively low profit margins, and even some small pig producers left the market locally.  

So the result of all of that is that we sold the first 200 pigs in in about 6 hours.   We've got another batch of 100 pigs that we're selling now; raised the price a bit, to $125 each to see if it would slow down the sales, but most buyers aren't even blinking.  They're feeling like they either get a pig or not this year, and most would rather have them.  

My piglet production this year is up; we're getting larger litters, and weaning more; most of that is due to better facilities at the new farm -- we can keep the pigs warmer and dryer and cleaner during the hard winter months, and I've also reserved 10 gilts out of the 300 pigs so far this year to increase our production a little bit more.  

Pig sales are a little bit of feast or famine.  I'll have 100 pigs born in a day, and look at them and think that I'm drowning in pigs.  And then 8 weeks later, when I see all of them go in a couple of hours, I wish I had 500 more to sell.  

Short term this is good for the bottom line.  Long term, if it's too much trouble to get pigs, people will just not raise them.  

I have 26 pigs that will be ready in 3 weeks, and 15 more ready in 5 weeks; I'm taking deposits on them, and we'll hold them for 2 weeks after their pickup date with a deposit in hand.  Otherwise it's first-come, first served.