Posts Tagged ‘blueberry’

Farm hour: Purple Martins are nature’s bug zappers

February 3rd, 2013 1 comment

purple martin housePart of our organic farm’s integrated pest management plan calls for the use of hosted beneficial birds as natural predators. Earlier this week I asked a couple of friends and folks at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for some advice and was reminded about the amazing Purple Martin.

Growing up in the South, I remember Purple Martin houses on several farms. I never really thought there was a functional reason for hosting them, and later was convinced all they ate were mosquitoes.

I was wrong. State Zoologist David Withers sent me this great one pager from the Purple Martin Conservation Association that basically tells me the Purple Martin is one of nature’s best bug zappers. Check out TWRA’s wonderful online resource on common birds and how to host them.

Even if you are not an organic farmer, hosting Purple Martins can dramatically help reduce any flying insect pest on your property while reducing the use of chemical sprays and inviting a little of nature’s perfect aesthetic back to your home life.

We got two 16 family houses, both made in America, at our local Tractor Supply Company (photo: Vince snaps a Purple Martin house together). We’re using cut cedar posts from the property and will open the houses March 31 or as close to the time we begin seeing younger Purple Martins.

Here are a few points we’ve learned through some voracious reading over the past couple of snow days:

  • Purple Martins overwinter in Brazil and return year after year to the same nesting location.
  • They live exclusively in human made housing (East of the Rocky Mountains)
  • Houses must be over 10 feet off the ground, a minimum of 30 feet from a human dwelling (120 feet maximum), about 45 feet from any tree or bush and have nothing touching the pole, including support wires. Nothing around the housing can be taller.
  • Entry holes must be a specific dimension or competing birds become a problem (3 inches wide and 1 3/16 tall).
  • Purple Martins prefer white colored housing.
  • To attract a colony you must open the house when last year’s young return – 3 weeks after the first adults arrive. In Tennessee, adults arrive March 1-15. Adults will also colonize, but you must be persistent to scare off competing birds.
  • Purple Martins diet includes “dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, June bugs, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, bees, wasps, flying ants, and ballooning spiders.”
  • Once hatched, Purple martins develop in about 30 days.
  • You can handle the chicks to manage the nests – parents do not mind human handling or scent.

Farm hour: becoming a USDA Certified Organic farm

January 9th, 2013 No comments

soil tests
soil samples from four sections of the farm

It’s Winter. There isn’t enough light in the day when we get home from work to do much on the farm, so we’re taking a 15 hour online course from the Rodale Institute to apply to become a USDA Certified Organic Farm. Every night’s a school night until the days get longer.

We’re learning a lot. Even if you don’t plan to become certified the program is a wealth of information to suppliment and reinforce your interest in sustainable farm practices. One of the most important things I’m learning about is building soil fertility and conservation. It’s also required by the federal government for certified producers to have plans in place to achieve that, such as amending the soil with composts and both animal and green manures as well as using cover and rotational crops.

Hour by hour – we’re hoping to have a decent Organic System Plan hammered out this month for our farm’s application. One of the first steps was to get a baseline measurement of our soil, so I took samples from four sections of field (each section with a few sample points) and sent it off for testing through the local Farmer’s CO-OP. I can’t say for sure, but the soil looks amazing. We’ll see what the test says.

Farm hour: making dirt

November 29th, 2012 No comments

orchard compost pile

It’s 152 degrees in the new orchard compost pile. This is the pile with pine needles and oak leaves added for more acidity. It’s layered with wood chips, horse manure and several gallons of rain water lightly sprinkled on each layer. This pile will become mulch for the blueberries in the Spring.

Farm hour: climbing the hill

November 21st, 2012 1 comment

4 wheeler
Grandpa’s old 4 wheeler

Farming is hard work, and it’s harder to imagine doing it without help. Hours make days like help makes it done, and it took a lot of both to plant the orchard last week.

I squeezed a month of farm hours into a week with some vacation time and figured out how farmers can go through so many chicken eggs every day. You get real hungry! After shoveling 3-4 tons of material (wood chip mulch, manure and dirt), tilling, moving rocks, water and planting 25 trees and bushes, breakfast looks good any time of the day.

4 wheelerNoah let me borrow his truck. We may have enough mulch to last 2 years now! Tim gave us the pine needles we needed to keep the blueberries happy. Len let me hop the fence for the cow manure our compost piles needed to come to life. Benny did the same, letting me drive all over his farm shoveling up horse manure. It all adds up to tons of help, literally.

But the one thing that came just in time to really bring the help together was a gift from my step dad: Grandpa’s old 4 wheeler. It’s got its problems, but it was the week’s work horse hauling everything up and down the hill: water, trees, machines.

New things can make you feel good, but old things can really make you feel loved. Grandpa used that 4 wheeler for about 10 years all over our farm in Smith County. They were his legs for a soul no where near done climbing that hill. Every time I open the barn and see it there I feel a little bit of him, and that has its own way of making every farm hour that much more special.

Farm hour: quantifying what’s possible

October 30th, 2012 No comments

leaf harvest
One of three tarp loads of oak, maple, hickory and walnut leaves we gathered up for the orchard compost.

composting leavesThe orchard “mulchery” is set up. It’s 20 feet long, five feet wide and about 4 feet tall. If half the space is used, that should be 200 cubic feet of mulch. We added about 80 cubic feet of compacted, harvested leaves to use throughout the winter and started a pile with some of them today in the middle bin.

To start, I used a lot of the leaves, 15 gallons of cow manure from the neighbor’s field, grass clippings from today’s upper field mowing and about 8 gallons of water.

Water is going to be an issue until I can figure out an easier way to get it to the orchard. By the time my two five gallon buckets got there, I had lost about 4 gallons to sloshing.

upper fieldWhat’s Possible? I measured the space and determined if we use the entire space for blueberry bushes and apple trees, we’re looking at around 175 blueberry bushes and 32 apple trees. Using non-organic yields, the potential looks like this:

  • Apple:10-20 bushels per tree is 320-640 bushels of apples, 960-3200 gallons of cider or 13,440-26,880 lbs. of apples
  • Blueberries: 15 lbs. per bush is 2,625 lbs. of berries
  • Market: at current market value: $26,000 – $47,000

What’s Practical? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. We have about an hour of daylight each night and two weekend days of winter farm hours. We can’t eat all that, and we probably can’t process all that for others. Can we do this?

We’re thinking of starting with 8 apple trees and 10 blueberry bushes, but I’m mulching as though we’re doing it all.