The 2015 growing season, having officially capped itself this past week with some five degree temperatures, is in the books. Far from an ordinary year, having swung between moisture extremes from month to month, it’s a relief to have it behind us here on the farm. Having proved itself to be the most challenging year of cropping of my farming career yet (I had heard there would be such years), it is excellent motivation for coming seasons and safety net investments such as expanded irrigation capacity and increased fertility production. The latter of these has been occupying the majority of my winter workload.
In early December, we broke ground on what will become the winter home of the Angus cattle herd. The barn dance barn, aka the lower barn, is being outfitted for feeding the cattle during the winter months. Originally built as a cattle barn in the forties, it was designed to feed loose hay from the upper level and silage (fermented feedstuffs) from the silo to cattle housed on the ground level of the barn. Within a week, cattle will once again utilize this space to stay out of the weather and mud. Nearly ninety yards of cement were poured in mid-December during a rather opportune window of warm weather for an outdoor loafing area that will give the herd access outside without the mud as well as providing more area per animal. Rather than silage or loose hay, the old feed bunk has been retrofitted to handle large round hay bales. I care deeply about the well-being and comfort of my animals but that is not the sole reason for this build out. The primary purpose of this arrangement is so all of the manure can be collected and composted to be used on the vegetable fields for the coming season. Along with all of this cow manure, the chicken and turkey litter from the farm is added to the pile as well as over forty truckloads of leaves from the city of Elkins. This is the first year of this arrangement and I look forward to keeping it up in the future as it brings a tremendous amount of fertility onto the farm, but leaf litter alone will not decompose well as it does not make good food for the microorganisms that do the composting. Higher nitrogen materials such as manure or food waste do this best and must be blended with the leaves for them to fully break down. This addition to the farm will make fertility management much more effective in utilizing this on-farm resource as a means to improve the soil of the crop fields as well as giving the pasture land a welcome rest when it is most vulnerable to damage from the cattle that lead to the loss of topsoil and desirable plant species. Furthermore, the amount of tractor work to feed during the winter will be greatly reduced although the overall hours of tractor work will remain roughly the same as the barn and loafing pad will need to be cleaned every two weeks. Large scale on-farm compost production has been a goal since I began farming and it feels great to be making progress on this. Stay tuned for pictures of warm cows when the cold weather eventually arrives and more updates on the barns.
As I adjust to writing 2016 on checks and such, the coming growing season is coming into focus. The seed orders are prepped and three acres are plowed and bedded for the earliest crops. The first taps of the season were put into maple trees this week up at Dry Fork Maple Works and Emma and I look forward to the many more days it will take to finish that job. I’m not one for resolutions, but Emma insists I write these posts more often. So to close, I’ll finally apologize for my prolonged silence on here and you can bet you’ll be hearing more from me soon.