Growing season

Mid-July is generally when the weather sticks on the medium-hot setting, we get a few weeks without rain, and plants & animals start to take off. Watering plants and keeping animals supplied with fresh drinking water takes up a lot of our time, no matter how much we try to streamline things.

Hildegard is getting bigger, and learning how to be a good farm dog. She starts puppy class next week, and will be adding some social skills to her repertoire . All the dogs love splashing in their pool with assorted toys. Can’t wait to see how Hilde takes to swimming in the Nooksack, Birch Bay or Lake Padden, our favorite canine watering holes.

Since PNW summers usually involve more rain than sun, we no longer set up to water our potato patch. This year was hot and dry, so the Carola vines are already dying down, with the Desiree and Maris soon to follow. If the blight spares us, we’ll let all the vines die naturally, and the spuds cure underground for a couple of weeks. But if we get a blight-inducing summer rain, we’ll cut & burn the vines, which will stop the spuds from growing larger but allow them to cure without getting infected.

This is our fifth year of growing out our own seed garlic, Chesnok Red and Kettle River. Even though softneck varieties like Kettle River are touted as being better for storage, we’ve found the Chesnok, a hardneck, lasts until the new harvest is in. The Kettle River also seems to have problems coping with too much rain in spring, and we lost a lot to assorted ‘rot’. This fall we’ll plant more Chesnok, and look for a new long-storing hardneck to trial.

Our pantry & freezers are still overflowing with tomatoes and peppers in various preserved forms, so we just planted enough for fresh eating this year. The mini-hoophouses are holding up well (with plastic cover renewed as needed) and provide extra warmth plus protection from rain which can activate blight spores and splash them onto tomato leaves.

The mini-hoops are very susceptible to the strong winds we get during fall/winter/spring though, so we are hoping to get sturdier cold frames built by fall. The greens we want to grow through winter need to be started now through August, and also need to be protected from hungry birds. Too many times we have set a flat of newly-sprouted plants out for some sun and water, only to find them clipped off by our ‘resident’ doves. A scrap of bird netting seems to ward them off.

The sheep are doing well on our existing grass supply. Now that the rains have stopped, the regrowth is slower and not as lush. We hear a bit of complaining (they also yell for their pelleted sheep treats) but haven’t needed to water the pasture yet. The idea is to see how these three do with low input and minimal labor. If we like the results and the grass holds up, we’ll stock more than three next spring.

The last peeps of the year have hatched. We wanted a few more high quality Ameraucanas to replace our previous Am roo, Schwartz, plus some better conformed hens than our current ones. But the perils of shipping eggs via USPS took their toll, and we ended up with two tiny peepers. Hopefully they are both handsome, personable roosters.

After eight years of keeping a paper farm log, we’ve switched to an ipad journal app called Day One. This lets us add pictures, tags and searchable text for each entry, making it easier to add up any particular crop’s harvest totals. Like strawberries. Our unruly 4 x 25ft patch yielded over 100lbs. of wonderful fruit, and we still might get a small late crop from the everbearing varieties.

No rest for the weary, as the saying goes, but well worth it :D

When doves cry

When Prince wrote his chart-topping song, When Doves Cry, he had relationship woes in mind, not agricultural drama. The doves (and pigeons) here at Seven Trees Farm cry incessantly, but it must be out of joy in the bounty they find to pillage. Given the constant “boo-hoo boo-hoo” heard from various vantage points on our place, we assumed our visitors were native mourning doves. After noticing two different types of doves cleaning up spilled sunflower seeds under the wild bird feeder, we did a bit more research. It turns out that we do indeed have a resident mourning dove (we usually just see one), and also a pair of Eurasian collared doves, very recent invaders from South Asia via the Middle East and most recently, the Bahamas.

A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.

A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.

This year we decided to plant sweet corn and green peas, and we’ve had a tough time keeping the flying rats at bay. Not only do they dig out newly planted seeds, they also yank seedling plants out by the roots, necessitating a few rounds of replanting that will lead to scattered harvest times for the crops. We tend to only plant enough seed to grow, assuming each seed performs as expected. Our English ancestors, who lived for centuries along side dove and pigeon pests, played it safe. An old rhyme sums up their seed-sowing tactic: One for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot, one to grow.

Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.

Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.

The earliest known examples of dove-keeping in England occur in Norman castles of the 12th century. During the medieval period large dovecotes were built on manors, at castles and monasteries. The right to build a dovecote was traditionally reserved to the lord of the manor, and was presumably much resented by tenant farmers as the lord’s doves could eat their weight in corn every day. The law did permit farmers to frighten birds away from the freshly-planted fields, and young children were commonly employed as ‘bird-scarers’.

A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.

A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.

Eventually the laws relaxed and dovecotes became more common. Many inns had a small tower-shaped dovecote in their yards to provide guests with a ready supply of tasty young pigeons known as squab.

Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest's dinner.

Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest’s dinner.

We’ve joked about getting a pellet gun or wrist rocket so we can try squab for ourselves, but haven’t yet. There are plenty of recipes, both historic and modern. Mrs. Beeton, of Victorian-era household management fame, not only shares a variety of cooking methods, but also advice and information about various pigeon & dove breeds and how to raise them. The Squab Producers of California website has a more trendy take on these little birds.

Bird-scaring has also undergone modernization in recent times.

A Suffolk helicopter pilot has come up with a high-tech solution in the battle to protect oil seed rape from birds.

The crop is a favourite with pigeons so Richard Maddever, 27, has being trying out flying a drone to keep the flocks at bay on the family farm near Sudbury. pigeon drone

He says he thinks it is going to catch on.

Picking a puppy

We’ve had Hildegard a little over a week now, and it is exhausting! Sleepy
Integrating her with Stewart and Fergus, teaching her to respect the cats, ignore the chickens, potty outside, sleep in a “crate”, and so on. Maybe someday we’ll be able to sleep through the night, and possibly even sleep in, but for now it’s all about Hilde.

Research and advice about canine development, temperament and training has changed in the past decade or so. No more alpha dog hijinks, more focus on positive reinforcement. Picking a puppy with a personality that will most likely develop to fit into our household style gives us a huge headstart on the whole training thing. And there is an assessment method that really works called the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test.

The gist of the test is this:

1. Social Attraction – degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.
2. Following – willingness to follow a person.
3. Restraint – degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and ease of handling in difficult situations.
4. Social Dominance – degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.
5. Elevation – degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.
6. Retrieving – degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with Social Attraction and Following a key indicator for ease or difficulty in training.
7. Touch Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to touch and a key indicator to the type of training equipment required.
8. Sound Sensitivity – degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms.
9. Sight Sensitivity – degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, children or squirrels.
10. Stability – degree of startle response to a strange object.

Check out their page for more information about the test and some really helpful tips on choosing a puppy. They even have an abbreviated version of the test for adult/shelter/rescue dogs.

Hildegard is a smart little gal, and will need lots of consistency and guidance to grow into her potential. She starts puppy kindergarten soon, and is already getting the hang of meeting new people. It’s a lot of work on the front end, but our reward is a well-adjusted team member, and Hilde’s reward is a full, active, happy life as a good canine citizen. Hildegard

Midsommar kommer – Swedish-style

Busy busy times! Once the weather turns here in the PNW, Seven Trees Farm kicks into high gear – planting, weeding, chicken wrangling, and now we have 8 week old Hildegard keeping us on our toes. We’ll have uber-cute puppy pics and videos to share soon, but in the meantime here’s a timely repeat of Midsommar kommer. The longest day of the year is approaching, and we need every minute of it to keep up…

Midnight sun in Swedish forest

One of the humans of Seven Trees is a quarter Swedish, by way of a grandmother named Hilma Siri Perrson. The other human of Seven Trees has Swedish ancestors a bit further up the family tree. And now that the summer solstice approaches, we’re preparing to celebrate the longest day of the year in grand ancestral fashion.

Many of the northern European agricultural groups don’t have a pause for the mid-point of summer. They tend to acknowledge early spring planting (Beltane) and first fruits of harvest (Lammas), but mid-summer bonfires and celebrations come down to us from a pre-farming way of life, when fertility was more about the rising energy of lengthening days than what seeds were in the ground.

Scandinavian peoples were the last in northern Europe to fall to Christianity, and the midsommar Maypole festival robustly represents the pre-conquest vitality. The Pacific Northwest has similar climate and topography to Scandinavia, and when we are deep in the midst of June Gloom, the similarities are impossible to ignore. This description of mid-summer rings true to any web-footed, moss-backed PNWer -

Summer in Sweden is short. It starts showing its face in May and explodes into life in June. The summer has to hurry to get things done before the nights turn cold in September and everything stops growing. At Midsummer, the Swedish summer is a lush green and bursting with chlorophyll, and the nights are scarcely dark at all. In the north, the sun never sets.

Also near & dear to the people of Seven Trees are locavore-friendly traditions of eating the year’s first potatoes, pickled herring, chives, sour cream, beer, snaps (homemade vodka) and the first strawberries of the season (we’ve had 2 so far!). Drinking songs are also important at this feast, and many drink heavily. IKEA Germany made a 3 minute commercial celebrating (mocking) the full-on celebration, complete with the traditional dance/song, Sma Grodorna.

The great and powerful Wiki says further:

Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Traditionally, young people pick bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future spouse. In the past it was believed that herbs picked at Midsummer were highly potent, and water from springs could bring good health. Greenery placed over houses and barns were supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, even though most don’t take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may) and may be the origin of the word majstång, maja coming originally from the month May. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole. Today, however, it is most commonly called a “midsommarstång” (literally midsummer’s pole).

In earlier times, small spires wrapped in greens were erected; this probably predates the maypole tradition, which is believed by many to have come from the continent in the Middle Ages. Others argue that some form of Midsummer pole occurred in Sweden during the pre-Christian times, and was a phallic fertility symbol, meant to impregnate the earth, but as there were no records from those times it cannot be proven, and this idea might just be a modern interpretation of the pole’s form. The earliest historical mention of the maypole in Sweden is from the Middle Ages. Midsummer was, however, linked to an ancient fertility festival which was adapted into St. John’s Day by the church, even though it retained many pagan traditions, as the Swedes were slow to give up the old heathen customs. The connection to fertility is naturally linked to the time of year. Many young people became passionate at Midsummer, and this was accepted, probably because it resulted in more childbirths in March which was a good time for children to be born.

Whichever way your ancestors celebrated this turning point of the year, it’s a good time to stop and mark the longest day, shortest night, and hopefully most fruitful kick-off to summer fertility.

You are what you eat – Eggs

cagefree The eggs these hens produce are legally labeled ‘cage free’. Is this the image that pops into your head when you look at egg cartons in the store?

freerange Or is something like this what you think you’re paying premium prices for? Happy chickens scratching around a run or barnyard with room to engage in natural chicken activities….

In 2011, United Egg Producers forged an unlikely partnership with The Humane Society of the United States in an effort to push a uniform, national cage production standard for the U.S. egg industry. In return, HSUS agreed to drop state-level poultry welfare efforts. Even though the proposed changes were to be phased in slowly (18 years to change the cage-free space from 67 square inches to 124 per hen), agri-giants of all livestock industries had a major freak-out. The fear was that this approach would open up the door for animal welfare guidelines be imposed at the national level for other species. So the “Egg Bill” was dropped, and “Even though the federal bill is all but dead, HSUS will not be reviving any of its anti-cage ballot measures as they previously claimed.  Nor will HSUS seek to have enforced any ‘cage-free’ measure already passed,” said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association (HFA).

Industry lobbying group, Protect the Harvest, frames this as a victory, blocking the Humane Society’s “efforts to increase egg production costs, which would have forced farmers out of business, and left American families with what would have amounted to a hidden food tax.” I guess they missed that whole animal welfare part of the proposed standards. They are now working to prevent the state of California from enacting Proposition 2, which would prohibit “the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs”. These standards would also apply to any eggs sold in California, no matter where they were laid. The law is set to go into full effect on January 1, 2015. batterycage

So many choices to make about what we eat, and how the animals we use for food are treated…. Education is a good place to start, especially when money is tight and the grocery bill takes bigger bites out of the paycheck with every shopping trip.

Animal welfare claims on egg cartons are currently unregulated in the United States, enabling producers to use phrases such as “animal-friendly” or “naturally-raised” even if those eggs come from birds confined inside tiny wire cages. You might be paying top dollar for eggs that don’t deliver on the happy chicken egg carton imagery. Here are some brief definitions from The Humane Society* to clear things up a bit:

Certified Organic

The birds are uncaged inside barns, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access is undefined. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. De-beaking and forced molting through starvation are permitted. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing.

Free-Range

While the USDA has defined the meaning of “free-range” for some poultry products, there are no standards in “free-range” egg production. Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. Since they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Certified Humane

The birds are uncaged inside barns but may be kept indoors at all times. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Certified Humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care.

Animal Welfare Approved

The highest animal welfare standards of any third-party auditing program. The birds are cage-free and continuous outdoor perching access is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Birds must be allowed to molt naturally. Beak cutting is prohibited. Animal Welfare Approved is a program of the Animal Welfare Institute.

American Humane Certified

This label allows both cage confinement and cage-free systems. Each animal who is confined in these so-called “furnished cages” has about the space of a legal-sized sheet of paper. An abundance of scientific evidence demonstrates that these cages are detrimental to animal welfare, and they are opposed by nearly every major US and EU animal welfare group. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. American Humane Certified is a program of American Humane Association.

Cage-Free

As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Free-Roaming

Also known as “free-range,” the USDA has defined this claim for some poultry products, but there are no standards in “free-roaming” egg production. This essentially means the hens are cage-free. There is no third-party auditing.

Food Alliance Certified

The birds are cage-free and access to outdoors or natural daylight is required. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. There are specific requirements for stocking density, perching, space and nesting boxes. Starvation-based molting is prohibited. Beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Food Alliance Certified is a program of the Food Alliance.

United Egg Producers Certified

The overwhelming majority of the U.S. egg industry complies with this voluntary program, which permits routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices. Hens laying these eggs have 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less area than a sheet of paper. The hens are confined in restrictive, barren battery cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited (rations and lighting are altered to induce weight loss and reproductive tract regression), but beak cutting is allowed. This is a program of the United Egg Producers.

Vegetarian-Fed

These birds’ feed does not contain animal byproducts, but this label does not have significant relevance to the animals’ living conditions.

Natural

This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.

Fertile

These eggs were laid by hens who lived with roosters, meaning they most likely were not caged.

Omega-3 Enriched

This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.

*Virtually all hens in commercial egg operations—whether cage or cage-free—come from hatcheries that kill all male chicks shortly after hatching. The males are of no use to the egg industry because they don’t lay eggs and aren’t bred to grow as large or as rapidly as chickens used in the meat industry. Common methods of killing male chicks include suffocation, gassing and grinding. Hundreds of millions of male chicks are killed at hatcheries each year in the United States.

……………………………..

The next time you head to the grocery store for a dozen eggs, why not reconsider buying into a system that charges you extra for a ‘happy’ label while continuing to mistreat animals? Take some time to look for local egg producers and tour their farms. Our county puts out an annual Farm Map which lists farms selling eggs directly to the public. Maybe your county has something similar. Or try asking around at your local Farmer’s Market for egg producers. Many backyard/urban flocksters sell eggs via Craigslist. Not only are the hens kept in better conditions, but we’re helping keep food production local and in the hands of real farmers instead of agribusiness. Not to mention eggs from barnyard hens taste so much better than any you can buy from the store!

Want more info? Check out Egg Industry for an in-depth look at egg production and this editorial about one man’s search for humanely-produced eggs.

 

Coming soon – Hildegard!

After much discussion and searching, we finally found Stewart’s understudy as guard dog of Seven Trees Farm – a chubby little female Rottweiler that we named Hildegard. The name come from the Old High German words hild (=war or battle) and gard (=protection) and means “protecting battle-maid”. With lots of socialization, training and advice from Stewart and Fergus, she will hopefully grow up to be an integral member of the home team.

She was born April 18th, and we plan to bring her home in June. Until then, we have some pictures of her mom, Thora, and tiny-puppy Hilde to share.

We also have a ton of new chickies. With three roosters and some really nice hens, we are able to try a lot of cross-breeding with the goal of keeping back the best of each batch to be the foundation of our Oliver flock. We will also be selling olive-eggers this summer.

Food production is also underway. Spring weather, as usual, is unpredictable. We’ve had days of torrential downpours followed by days of temperatures in the 80′s. It’s hard to decide what to plant and when with so many variables, but potatoes, onions, peas, greens and carrots are all doing well, plus a few tomatoes & peppers in our mini-hoophouse. So far it looks like our fruit crops are going to be abundant. Apples, pears, currants, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are blossoming and setting fruit like crazy.

Going a-Maying

May 1st marks one of the most important times of the Celtic year, Beltane. In our early ancestors’ days, this was the time to move cattle from winter holding grounds up to summer pastures in the hills. As noted in the fascinating site, Legendary Dartmoor:

The Celts knew that seasonal transitions were times of heightened supernatural strength, even danger. Beltane and Samhain were the year’s two great fire festivals — they divided the year in half and marked the time when the portals between the spiritual and human worlds were at their most vulnerable. In respecting such powers, the celebrations called for holy fires, kindled from the trees most revered by the Celts – among these were rowan, birch, apple, oak, hawthorn, holly, and alder. Such magical woods were believed to be “specialists” in protecting and purifying people and animals from disease and
infertility. Beltane’s fires welcomed the sun’s return and therefore had specially focused powers of renewal. That is why the Celts at Beltane drove their treasured herds and flocks along a narrow pathway between two banks of burning wood piles, through the holy, incense-like smoke, asking for mighty blessings upon the animals and themselves.

Beltane, or May Day, was also a celebration of human renewal after a long dark winter. While celebrating the start of summer around the fires, couples would slip out into the newly-plowed fields for their own private celebrations. Modern pagans often conduct handfasting ceremonies on this day, engaging in “trial marriages” lasting a year and a day. But our ancestors weren’t so formal. Beltane babies were considered lucky additions to a community, and no questions were asked as to parentage. Another tradition on the eve of May Day is “going a-Maying”. Sometime before dawn, people headed into the woods and hedgerows to gather greenery and flowers for decorating houses and the village maypole. This was yet another opportunity to enjoy the relaxation of “rules” which our Puritan ancestors abhorred. In 1583 Phillip Stubbes wrote the ‘Anatomie of Abuses’ and in it he gives his opinion of the May Day ceremonies:

…all the yung men and maides, old men and wives, run gadding
over night to the woods, groves, hils, and mountains, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes; and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withall… But the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their May-pole, which they bring home with great veneration. They have twentie or fortie yoke of oxen, every yoke having a sweet nose-gay of flowers placed on the tip of his horns and these oxen drawe home this May-pole (this stinking Idol, rather) which is covered all over with floures and hearbs, bound round with strings from the top to the bottom, and sometime painted with variable colours, with two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion… and then fall they to daunce about it, like as the heathen people did at the dedication of idols… I have heard it credibly reported by men of great gravitie and reputation that, over fortie, three-score, or a hundred maides going to the wood over night, there
have scarcely the third part of them returned againe undefiled.

A rather rude saying, as found on Wilson’s Almanac page for May Day (and in times past, slut meant sloppy housekeeper, not what it means today):

Nut for the slut; plum for the glum
Bramble if she ramble; gorse for the whores.
Traditional English saying; one should preferably leave
hawthorn at a friend’s door for their luck, but other plants are an insult. I suggest you leave the gorse at home.

The rowan, or hawthorne, tree figures large in many Beltane customs. For a detailed article on the varied historical uses of rowan wood in protective amulets and charms, check out “A Loop of Rowan Tree: amulets against witchcraft” from the English artefacts section of the Pitt Rivers Museum. The entire site is an engrossing collection of ethnographic oddities, charms, amulets donated and studied over the years. Well worth rambling through!

May Day celebrations were transplanted with our ancestors as they crossed from britain to America, with equal disapproval from religious leaders. But not all newcomers to this country shared that narrow-minded vision. Another ancestor, Thomas Morton, removed his group of colonists from the Puritan settlement at Plymouth to form his own, with relatively easy-going and humanitarian ways. In his account of that settlement, New English Canaan, he wrote:

The inhabitants of Merrymount … did devise amongst themselves to have … Revels, and merriment after the old English custom … & therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beer, & provided a case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers of that day. And upon Mayday they brought the Maypole to the place appointed, with drums, guns, pistols, and other fitting instruments, for that purpose; and there erected it with the help of Savages, that came thither of purpose to see the manner of our Revels. A goodly pine tree of 80 foot long, was reared up, with a pair of buckshorns nailed on, somewhat near unto the top of it; where it stood as a fair sea mark for directions, how to find out the way to mine Host of Ma-re Mount.

Needless to say, his successful effort was not appreciated by the uptight Puritans ‘next door’, as Gov. William Bradford wrote:

They … set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians.

Miles Standish and his troops invaded Merrymount, seized Morton without a shot
fired in defense — to avoid bloodshed, according to Morton; because the
inhabitants were too drunk to lift their weapons, according to Bradford — and
hauled him in chains before the governor to be tried for his supposed
crimes.

Bradford didn’t dare execute Morton, who was well-connected in London, so he
marooned him on a desert isle till an English ship could carry him back to
England. John Endicott chopped down the proud Maypole, scattered Merrymount’s inhabitants and destroyed its houses.

The rest of this well-written account of Thomas Morton and his colony Merrymount can be found here – The Pagan Pilgrim.