Monday, May 11, 2015

Asparagus failure

One of three asparagus plants that survived winter.
I think it's important to write about both successes and failures. Well, what are failures if they're not learning experiences? So we'll call it a set back :-)

Last summer Jay and I were very busy in our backyard, and built some raised beds well after the chicken coop was complete, sometime in July.  While I had purchased 20 crowns of asparagus early in the spring, I didn't get around to putting them in the ground until mid-summer. All but a few came up and I diligently packed dirt around the new shoots as they grew out of the soil. I covered the whole thing with hay mulch in autumn and this spring, I waited eagerly for the asparagus to return.

Unfortunately, only three plants returned. I suspect it's because I planted them so darn late in the season, they didn't have enough time to build roots to survive the winter. As I was digging news holes for this year's plants, I uncovered one of the old crowns. Most of it was dead, but you can see below three white roots that seemed to be alive. I wonder had I not dug it up if this would have survived. I found a few other crows too, but they were entirely wilted and starting to rot.
One of last years crowns showing a little bit of life.

Newly dug trench for this year's crowns.

So this year I dug the trenches a little deeper, put a little more compost in the holes, and planted them in May. I'm looking forward to a vibrant asparagus crop for years to come.

A happy new crown, planted deeply, and at the right time of the year!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hoeing, by John Updike

by John Updike, from Telephone Poles and Other Poems (Alfred A. Knopf).

I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
   of the pleasures of hoeing;
   there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
   moist-dark loam—
   the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
   The blade chops the earth new.
   Ignorant the wise boy who
has never rendered thus the world fecunder.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Please share with poultry owners

Avian Influenza has been found on poultry farms in four counties around Wisconsin; the closest being Jefferson County, where two farms have tested positive for the disease. Since this is a highly contagious disease and because of its proximity to Dane County, poultry producers and small flock owners should be concerned and take steps to protect their birds.

Avian Influenza or H5N2 or “bird flu” is a highly pathogenic virus that infects domestic poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks and geese. It also affects wild birds, in particular waterfowl. The virus spreads through direct contact with infected birds, contaminated objects/equipment, and aerosol (only over short distances). The virus is found in feces, saliva, and respiratory secretions of infected birds. It spreads rapidly and has a high death rate.

It is important to regularly check your birds for signs of illness and disease. Some symptoms of avian influenza include one or more of the following:
                    Decreased food consumption, excessive thirst
                    Respiratory signs, such as coughing and sneezing
                    Swollen wattles and combs
                    Watery greenish diarrhea, closed eyes, depression
                    Decreased egg production

Biosecurity is vital during an outbreak and even before an outbreak occurs. Biosecurity is the implementation of best practices to prevent the spread of diseases. It is important for all poultry producers, no matter the size of their operation. The following are some steps you can take to protect your flock from Avian Influenza. These are taken from the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP) press release and are good information for anyone with poultry.
                    Keep your distance—Restrict access to your property and keep your birds away from other birds; try to reduce contact with wild birds.
                    Keep it clean—Wash your hands thoroughly before and after working with your birds. Clean and disinfect equipment.
                    Don’t haul disease home—Buy birds from reputable sources and keep new birds separated for at least 30 days; quarantine returning birds from the rest of your flock after visiting a poultry swap, exhibition or other event.
                    Don’t borrow disease—Do not share equipment or supplies with neighbors or other bird owners. If you must borrow, disinfect it first.
                    Know the warning signs—Early detection can help prevent the spread of the disease. Check your birds frequently. If you find a sick or dead bird, don’t touch it.
                    Report sick birds—Don’t wait. If your birds are sick or dying, call DATCP at 1‐800‐572‐8981.

For more information about avian influenza, please visit the following website:  

Currently there are no human health concerns for this strain of avian influenza. It is safe to eat properly prepared poultry products, including meat and eggs.

Compiled by:
Jennifer Blazek
Dane County UW-Extension Dairy & Livestock Educator

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Farmer of the day

I just got an email that I'm Urban's "Farmer of the day!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How to build community: plant flowers

Going through the list of items from the "How to build community poster," I knew there would be a couple of easy ones. Today I'll pick "Plant flowers."
When we installed the orchard I knew the trees and shrubs would eventually flower in spring, bear fruit in fall and add winter interest under the snow. As with most new construction, the orchard started out drab and sparse. When I sowed the groundcover clover seeds, I mixed in a variety of marigold and zinnia seeds, wishing them well as they fluttered to the ground, and hoping at least some would germinate on their own.
The terrace, as we call the strip between the sidewalk and the street here in Madison, was also a barren canvas on which to plant some flowers, and I threw down several packets of perennial seed mixes with the hope that a few would germinate and show some summertime color. 
And then there are the alyssum plants that my neighbor added to our front yard orchard. I planted them at the bottom of the driveway and they grew into wonderful pillows of white and purple flowers.

That summer, many marigold and zinnia seeds germinated and flowered, and the orchard was a riot of color for several months. The terrace seeds also germinated and are now a perennial source of beauty and pollen where in the past there was nothing but grass.

So how does planting flowers build community? I think there's a number of ways flowers add to a neighborhood. The first is it slows people down. I think that flowers can soften the hardest of hearts and slow down the fastest drivers, even if for a brief glance upon their soft and delicate aspect.

I think planting flowers shows passersby that this is a place where the owner respects not only the soil but the neighborhood, the bees and all other things that benefit from beauty. Is it possible that it's more difficult to throw trash among flowers than upon bare soil or a gravel lot?

Flowers, or anything beautiful for that matter, offer something to talk about. "What is that flower?," or "Have you smelled of this one?" I think children are innately curious about the beauty of flowers and we can all (re)learn to stop and smell them once in a while.

Flowers also add diversity to the landscape, in my case, breaking up patch after patch of mown grass, adding some height, some color, some scent, home to  insects and refuge for birds.

But most of all, I think flowers offers refuge for the human mind to land on and pause and wonder, for just a moment, at the beauty of a plant that comes from a seed to become a flower for all to enjoy, even if just for that moment it's looked at.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring flowers in the orchard

This will be the third summer but only the second spring for our front-yard orchard. Since it was built in late April, none of the springtime ephemeral flowers had been planted yet.

We have three varieties of daffodil, known to me as early, mid and late season.

The contorted flowering quince has thus far only contorted, but it looks like this year it's going to flower too!

Go on, bend down and smell the flowers!

I don't recall what this dainty flower with ferny leaves is called.
There are also buds on the trees and the rhubarb is coming up.

House to wrent on Madison's Eastside

NEW CONSTRUCTION - be the first to live in this cozy one-bedroom house located in the middle of a private orchard. Looking to rent to a bachelor wren seeking a safe place for this spring's prospective family.

House is sunny, dry, and made of western cedar (no moths eating your sweaters!) The fortified entry ensures no other birds get in; you can safely raise a family in this secure house.

The entry is oriented to protect you and your family from western wind and rain, and has a bird's eye view of the cherry tree.

Included are all-you-can-eat insect buffet, annual cleaning service, WiFi, water, sewer and protection from cats and other predators. If you really like the Nature Channel, we can add cable on request, but you'll have to pay for the hookup.

No smoking or fruit-eating.

Rent is a barter; free housing in exchange for protecting neighboring fruit trees from other birds.