Thursday, May 26, 2016

Living Lawn Mowers... Part III

Earlier this week my wife stopped by our favorite local grass farmer for some bones (bone broth) and liver (for baby food) and called to tell me that he got more sheep and we could come over to buy a couple.  He had previously told me he'd let me know when he got them, but perhaps he forgot?  Anyway, he got them for $150 and is selling them to me for $175... okay, I guess he's a full time farmer that needs to make a living too... I haven't seen a better price around anyway.  Hopefully the genetics aren't trash!

This is what Katahdin's look like...

So I called him up and he asked when I'm coming to pick them up.  That's a great question to ask... as soon as I have fencing up!  So that day I jumped on Premeir1's website and ordered some equipment.  Here's what I got:

.357 Magnum with a 20in octagon barrel!

Oh wait, that's what I could have gotten instead!  Hopefully raising sheep will provide more benefit than scratching up a nice rifle going hunting...  Okay, this is a little better... here's what I got:

Looks good... but no, I didn't get horses!
I got two 164' section of the netting along with the above fence charger and it should come in the mail today!  Combine that with a small stock tank from the local feed store and by Saturday night I should have 3 ewe (female) lambs mowing my lawn!  (Hopefully the yotes don't feel like jumping over a 42in tall electrified fence between the world and my lawn mowers... that wouldn't end well.)

On another note, this is week four of raising 100 red rangers from Meyer Hatchery.  They sent us 104 birds and in the first week we lost 9, so we are now down to 95 birds.  We only got a refund on one, as I didn't discover the rest of them until days later when I was kicking around the wood chips and founds some mummified chicks... <sigh> oh well! 

I picked up 2100 lbs of non-gmo and soy free feed the weekend before they got here, based on the 2014 results with those birds, and sure hope it's enough!  I put them out on "pasture" on Sunday and so far it's been pretty dry... that's great for the birds, but hopefully it's not too dry this year, as I'll need to buy hay for the lawn mowers is it gets too dry! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Review #4: Hands On Agronomy

My Book Review Disclaimer:  I am not going to waste my time or your time by writing a review about a book that stinks.  Likewise, I am only going to bother reading it if it's not a waste of time and I am learning from it.  If it's good and I think it's a worthwhile read, I'll put it up on here and tell you why.
If you see this at a garage sale, get it!

Well I have to be honest and tell you that I am not going to do this book justice.  While this book was a great resource and taught me a lot, I don't remember as much as I wish!  So that said, let me throw some things out that I do happen to remember.

Get a soil analysis done on your property!

Any questions?  Well there should be... you also need to consider what lab you have do the test.  For me, I paid $16 to have the local agricultural extension office do my analysis... which was a mistake!  How could that be a mistake?  Well the basic test was only $12, but I wanted more details, so I paid a few dollars extra.  What did I get out of it?  Well I got my basic soil analysis with a few extra details that probably won't help me.  The problem is that I was hoping to figure out what the boron levels were in my garden, and the extra special test that I pad extra for didn't include it!  Sorry for the rabbit trail, but make sure you are going to get out of the soil analysis what you think you are going to get!  For general garden testing, maybe it was good enough... but next time I'm getting my soil analyzed by Logan Labs.  Oh, once you start using these things, try to stick with the same lab... there are different methods that give different results... don't chase different results just because it's a different lab!

Okay, back to the book...

Let's start off talking about the author.  Neal Kinsey went to school in Missouri and you can find his company here and he has a great Q & A page here.  While in school he was quite fortunate to study under a guy name Albrecht (Wikipedia has an article on him), who was something of a pioneer of logic and (un)common sense and had a profound impact on who Neal became.  

William Albrecht, one smart cookie!
Albrecht was outspoken on matters of declining soil fertility, having identified that it was due to a lack of organic material, major elements, and trace minerals, and was thus responsible for poor crops and in turn for pathological conditions in animals fed deficient foods from such soils.[14]
He laid the blame as:
"NPK formulas, (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) as legislated and enforced by State Departments of Agriculture, mean malnutrition, attack by insects, bacteria and fungi, weed takeover, crop loss in dry weather, and general loss of mental acuity in the population, leading to degenerative metabolic disease and early death.[14]

Hopefully Wikipedia doesn't mind that quote, but I think it summarizes this book fairly well.  

The book... remember the book?

From this book I took away a better understanding of how the elements in the soil effect how things grow.  Similar to Soil, Grass & Cancer (see my post on it here - it talked mostly about livestock and humans), this goes into detail about how the crop yields are impacted by the soil elements.  The big take away for me was that the calcium levels in the soil need to be 60-70% saturation and the magnesium needs to be 10-20% saturation.  Saturation?  

Cation Exchange Capacity

 Okay, another thing I learned about is called CEC, or cation exchange capacity.  This measures the soils ability to hold onto the different elements.  Think a garage for a moment.  The more bays a garage has, the more cars it can hold.  If you fill up your garage with Chevy's, there won't be any room for Ford's.  That's fine if all you want is Chevy's, but that's not how the soil works.  So the CEC is like how many bays your garage has, the more the better!  If you only have one bay and you put a Ferrari in it, your Ferrari saturation is at 100%.  If you have two bays and one Ferrari, your Ferrari base saturation is at 50%, and so forth.  So when you measure the CEC for your soil, you naturally want larger numbers.  The bigger the number, the more elements and nutrients the soil can hold onto without it leaching away with the rain and snow!

So we have the 60-70% calcium target (aim for 70% for clay soils) and 10-20% magnesium target (aim for 10% with clay soils - sand is the opposite) and the remaining 10% is made up of your fertilizer nutrients like Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus, or NPK.  BUT WAIT!!!!  This is where things get interesting... if the N-P-K values are not in the right ratio's, you are going to have some issues still.  If you put down too much phosphorus (think manure), weeds like bindweed will take over and thrive!  (I think it's phosphorus...)

The Premise

If you get your soil balanced, you can grow the healthiest of whatever it is that you want to grow on your soil!  If it is balanced, the PH will be near 7.0 and acid loving plants wont care... they'll still grow healthier on this balanced soil than anywhere else.

My take away, get my soil balanced.  If I can find the time to throw up my soil analysis, I'll try to talk through it and explain it better... but at the end of the day, I need about 4ton of calcium per acre... which is a lot!  My calcium saturation is at 35% when the target is 70%... hopefully I'll be able to grow healthy tomatoes, squash and pumpkins if I get that fixed... because it hasn't worked yet!

Okay, my lunch break is over... back to it!  (I really need to buy this book and read it again...)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A quote for you

I'll hopefully post a review on it soon, but I'm currently still reading a book called Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature.  In this book I came across a quote that I wanted to share with you.  I have not looked up the person quoted, so I can't provide any background information, but hopefully you can still benefit from it.

"When you go to studying nature, you find that there is a master design.  It is beautiful.  It is perfect.  In my insect program, I show that every insect on earth is designed to do something for nature.  Every living this on earth is programmed to do what it does and be what it is, except human beings.  Human beings have a free will.  We can be inert, we can be stupid, we can kill each other, we can live in harmony.  Every creature was designed for a purpose, to show us something, to give us something, tell us something.  Study, and all of a sudden nature opens her books to you."

I don't know about you, but I find that amazing.  Why?  Well perhaps it is my world view.  I am one of those people who believe there is an all knowing God that created all things by His design and made mankind in His image.  I believe that we as humans are special, for that reason, and this quote seems to back that up.  If you replace the word nature in the above quote with God (and "His"), it fits my view of the world quite amazingly!

Now for those of you who have not done so, this is probably a good time to point you towards a video I had the privilege to watch the other night with my wife... actually, it was spread out over a whole week, as we had to break it up into segments to fit into our "free time", which is the time between after the kids go to bed and after we finish cleaning up the kitchen and before we go to bed... it's called Back to Eden and can be found at  I highly recommend you watch it!  It had the effect of making my wife excited about gardening, so you are now warned about what the consequences may be!  (We moved over 8 yards of wood chips last weekend... I sure hope it works for us like it did for him!)

Okay, here's the teaser we watched first, in case you don't have 2hrs to devote to watching the full length version... (you have to watch it at youtube apparently)

Book Review #3: All flesh is grass, The pleasures and romises of pasture farming.

My Book Review Disclaimer:  I am not going to waste my time or your time by writing a review about a book that stinks.  Likewise, I am only going to bother reading it if it's not a waste of time and I am learning from it.  If it's good and I think it's a worthwhile read, I'll put it up on here and tell you why.

So I hit a craze of books from the library on grass fed and rotational grazing... in light of my future plans to turn my 3 acres of grass, which currently requires 3+ gallons of petroleum and 3+ hours of my life to keep it looking nice, into food for my family via livestock... and this book was one of the results.  So without any more chit-chat, let me tell you more about it.

Gene Logston - this guy has an opinion and isn't afraid to tell you what it is.  If you disagree with him, I get the impression he wouldn't mind telling you that you are wrong!  But I also think if you want to learn, he might be pretty happy to teach you whatever he can... this could be a blessing, as I hear he lives not too (relative term) far from where I am!

What Gene has to say in this book is primarily focused on the Ohio/Kentucky region of America and cites numerous examples from around these two states, including one you may have heard of before... Bob Evans?  Yea, he was a real guy who apparently got famous selling sausage, but his heart was in grass and grazing animals.  

What can you learn?  Well one thing that Gene and Mr Evans both seem to agree on is that if we would stop doing so much useless work, we might be a little more efficient!  Stop tilling, stop planting, stop harvesting!  With the exception of frost-seeding, all those efforts are a lot of work that isn't needed!  Take growing cor for example... farmers spend a lot of time preparing the land, planting, spraying, cultivating, fertilizing, harvesting, drying, transporting and grinding the corn.  What if they just planted it and let the livestock do the weeding and the harvesting?  He makes some convincing arguments, I'd love to hear what the naysayers think.

Another topic covered is grass types.  You can probably get a doctorate degree on this topic, but I think Gene did a good job laying out the pros and cons to different types of grass without one.  One thing that struck me especially about this topic was his admiration for bluegrass (maybe he likes the musical style as well, I don't know) as well as "weeds" like lambs quarters, dandelions and wild amaranth.  Most graziers wouldn't care to see that in their pastures, but perhaps they should, as they are very nutritious!  (Don't believe me, ask the hippies!)

At the end of the day, this was a fun read.  Gene's writing style is fun and thought provoking.  It covers a wide swath of information, but doesn't get bogged down.  I hope to meet him some day and, shake his hand and maybe even pick his brain!  I highly recommend checking this one out!