Fall Sheep Sorting

In the sheep business it’s not spring that turns a man’s (ram’s)  thought to love – it’s fall. Recent cool nights have increased the “practicing” being done by the ram lambs and feistiness of the adult rams.  Having a pure bred Finnsheep ewe and a couple of Finn x Dolls (crossbred Finnsheep x Babydoll Southdowns) that may cycle (a.k.a. come into heat) during a greater portion of the year, has led me to do my gender sorting earlier this year. I’ve also been swapping out coats for larger ones and observing fleece differences.  Here are a few photos of the flock taken during from my time with them.

Babydoll sheep mowing the apples – their primary job that they do so well in addition to producing wool and the cutest of lambs.

Moonshadow browsing the young apples – behavior that jeopardizes his spot in the flock.

Copper, my purebred Finnsheep ewe. Beautiful lady with lovely brown fleece.

Trio of fleece colors here on the boys. From left to right: Bucko, with the buffulo fitting, Tioga, my brown purebred Finnsheep ram, and Bro, my Finn x Doll wether. Bro was very vocal in his displeasure about being penned with these two so was reunited with his sisters in the Finn ewe pen.

Bro’s fleece is GORGEOUS and already over 2″ long with 7 months to go until shearing. He’s already in my largest sized coat, so a new purchase of coats is in order.

The little boys now with the adult rams. Carlos, the coated one on the left, is my Finn x Doll wether. Oddly he didn’t face fear and ostracizing from his peers like my little ewe lambs did when I first coated them 4 years ago.

Moonshadow, my Shetland wether, sporting his lovely silver fleece that has, so far, enabled him to keep his spot in the flock.





End-of-Season Hazel Count

This last week I made a final hazel inventory with the help of my boarder, Mark Hamann. We found 121 first year hazels still alive representing an 82% stocking level and 63% survival. You can see I did lots of replanting even during this first year to replace losses from wandering calves and weak plants. I accepted some weak plants at discount because I wanted specific genetics – so expected some losses.

In general the plants, all from Badgersett, performed well. One high light was the final row, planted on the 16th of August, which has 100% survival to date.  These plants had been upcanned to Anderson bands (AB39, 3″ x 3″ x 9″ or AB410, 4″ x 4 x 10″) and were actively growing when planted and had been growing outside for a number of weeks.  As Philip says, maintaining the momentum is important.

There has been much burrowing by rodents under the landscape fabric I used to keep weed competition down. The diameter of the tunnels is about 1.0 to 1.5″ so could be 13-lined ground squirrels or mice. There are mole tunnels as well in the planting area

Mark with ground cloth removed from row B.

Mark with ground cloth removed from row B.

P15-2267 mowing of big weeds

Snowless winter allowed us to mow tall weeds that had provided summer protection from desication.

, but between the rows, not under the fabric. They tend to be quite a bit larger in diameter. The nicely loosened soil there is much more to their liking than that compacted by the calves on the other side of the fence.

In our year-end clean up, we removed the fabric from one of the 4 rows and mowed the weeds down that had provided protection from drying wind. At this point I figure the risk of providing habitat for rabbits and rodents was greater than the plants getting desicated by wind. I’m hoping they will soon be covered in snow.

Organic Matter and Plant Nutrients

This year I am applying a serious amount of organic matter to the vegetable garden and a new hazelnut growing field. My source is a dairyfarm over in Wisconsin that markets their composted dairy manure as Cowsmos. I have two 1500-pound totes of straight dairy manure compost and two totes of this mixed with biochar – a more persistant form of organic matter used as a soil ammendment.  I had help from a dear friend this week to get the material applied for use in vegetable production for my produce CSA and also to benefit the hazelnut planting going in next month.  The latter was carefully set up to help determine the relative benefit of biochar vs. simple compost. This will be a long term evaluation.

Making use of used feed bags to make paths among beds to be topped with composts.

Making use of used feed bags to make paths among beds to be topped with composts.

Transferring the moist compost to the front loader for transport to the garden.

Transferring the moist compost to the front loader for transport to the garden.

Five-gallon buckets full of biochar/manure mix (darker - to left) and simple manure compost (lighter brown  - to right) in area worked up for hazel planting.

Five-gallon buckets full of biochar/manure mix (darker – to left) and simple manure compost (lighter brown – to right) in area worked up for hazel planting.

Garden Planning

P15-0248e resourcesThe planning for this summer’s plantings is well under way. Orders for plants and seeds have been sent. New for this season will be a planting of 180 hybrid hazels and a collection of small fruits: currants, gooseberries, and bush cherries. The hazel planting will include an trial of the effects of biochar as a soil ammendment in the establishment of perennial crops. I’m also working at devising ways to safely enable sheep grazing among the hazels. Due to the large number of plants involved, the per unit cost needs to be kept low.  Continuing education is… continuing.  I’ll be attending full day class at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference this Thursday on value-added options for fruit growers.  I may add vinegars to my offerings of preserves this year. 

Orcharding Challenges

The fruit and nut orchards have been struggling this year. Since it’s still within the establishment period for some – that is understandable and even expected. The mature fruit, planted by the previous owners, also hit some rocky spots, however.

P14-12-19e peach resprout and dead in bgPeaches: Yes, I know Minnesota is not peach territory, but they produced so beautifully and bountifully last season that I thought perhaps global warming would be my friend and salvation where this crop is concerned. Not to be. The temperature dipped to at least -34F here with devastating results. Four of the 6 trees were killed (though they made feable attempts to leaf out). The last two were killed to the ground and sent up shoots. One of these was so weak that it toppled and died, too. The final one is being fortified from sheep browsing and my nephew and I planted a ‘Reliance’ peach near it that was actually bred/selected to handle -40F.



P14-12-21c pear psyllaPears: For the most part the pears are doing great.  They have a heavy crop on and, oddly, seem to be ahead of last year in maturation. They have, however, been attacked by some psylla insects that have skeletonized many of the leaves severely.  I hope the crop matures well and the trees have adequate winter reserves considering the lost leaf/photosynthetic surface. The psylla looks like a terrestrial leech with a wider head than body. Note the elongate black blob in the photo.


Apples: Moonshadow, the gray shetland wether, is a browser, a fact that I didn’t appreciate fast enough to prevent some damage to my young apples. What was at stake? In May I had planted 8 dwarf apples (4 ‘Liberty’ and 4 ‘Sweet 16’) to extend my harvest season and also provide earlier harvest relative to larger trees.  They are on Bud 9 rootstocks and are reputed to grow to 25 to 30% of seedling tree height – I’m figuring 8 to 10 foot. The first time he and the other sheep were pastured among them, Moonshadow got on his hind legs and, with his forelegs on the cages, ate the tips out of 4 of these and 5 of the 11 small grafts planted in 2012.  The trees are releafing, but it will take some time to retrain a leader in each.  The 4 ‘Cortlands’ and 2 ‘Golden Delicious’ are bearing heavily, but the ‘Connell Red’ are in an off year.  The question remains… did Moonshadow teach this behavior to the young and impressionable Babydoll lambs?

P14-12-31c hickory with raod dustHickory-Pecans: I did no replacement planting this season and the hickory-pecan census is down to 28 – 4 died over winter and another 2 gave up the ghost this summer.  I’m concerned that part of their struggle is due to the lime-laden dust from the gravel road less than 100 feet to the south of the planting.  You can see the dust deposits in the accompanying image. They are likely to handle high soil pH better than the chestnuts (who are luckily, another 40 feet from the road).  I paid for one dust-control application that was effective in August and also gave them a 1/2 cup dose of 20-20-20 fertilizer to try to improve their condition. The fertilizer was delivered in a hole made with a bulb planter about 3 inches deep and 1 foot to their downhill side and the plug was replaced on top of the fertilizer.  To quote a horticulture educator at the Morton Arboretum speaking about transplanting woody plants: ” The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.”  I’m looking forward to lots of leaping next year. 

Chestnuts: This is the “creeping” year for the chestnuts, but they are looking tough.  All of them died back to near the snow line this last winter and some are looking very blonde from the continuous lime-dusting. Of the 13 present at the end of last season, 3 didn’t survive the winter and another 2 died this summer.  When they stabilize a bit, I plan to transplant them to a more fertile, moister, and more acidic location among some white pines. 

Wild (Prairie) Plums: The plums ripened at a particularly inopportune time so I only harvested about 4 gallons worth.  This was enough for 2 quarts of plum liqueur (not yet strained), 1/2 gallon wine, and 8 1/2 pints of jelly.  I purchased a new canning aid, a steam juicer, that did a beautiful job on the juice for the jelly.

Additional Stone Fruits: I added two plums, ‘Superior’ and ‘Toka’, and two sour cherries, ‘Montmorency’ and ‘Northstar’, to the orchard this summer.  Due to the time spent on our book for work, “Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts”, they were not planted as promptly as they should have been.  They also suffered from the Moonshadow effect.  The ‘Montmorency’ cherry didn’t make it, but the others are doing reasonably well.  We are experiencing a huge grasshopper population this season, which doesn’t help matters.

Elderberries: My cultivated bushes are still juvenile so my harvest is from the clumps growing behind my property in the drainage swale.  Flowering was glorious this year but pollination was a bit sparse. I collected enough to test out the steam juicer and netted 4 quarts of juice.  Two of these got highjacked for wine.  The wine making is something I have not done before, but I figured it is yet another way to preserve the harvest.  If grape juice and wine are healthful then the juice and wine from elderberries should be even more so.  I’m not quite sure when to start sampling the wine, but I will let you know how that goes… even if it gets poured down the drain.

In spite of the work they require, the taste of their fresh ripe fruits is enough to convince me to plant even more… preferrably with off-set maturation dates so they can get the attention due them at harvest as well.