Hey — Hay!

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Ever thought about what you can do with old moldy hay smelling of cat urine and and laced with raccoon poop,  apart from condemming it to a compost pile or bonfire, that is?  If so, then read on.  If not, read on anyway.  The information may come in handy some time in the future!  The story unfolds oddly and interestingly, as stories from real life often do, which is why fake stories from Hollywood or books have to revert to shallow and fetid tales of imorality to hold viewers attention.

Our cousins from New Jersey recently bought the abandoned farm across the road.  On the property is a large barn built in the mid 1800s.  Part of the detritus of 150 years of living scattered throughout the structure includes a few hundred bales of very old hay–at least 8 years old, as that is the last anyone lived there.  But it is likely that it is much older than that, although it must have been collected since automated, machine baling started using sissal twine to hold the bales together.

We were pondering the very significant effort needed to control weed growth at the same time as we were lamenting the clay content of the soil here and how hard the soil compacts when it is walked on.  Somehow weeds can grow in this soil, but weeding implements have a really hard time penetrating the baked pottery passing for soil in much of the garden.  We had additionally decided that we needed to significantly increase the organic matter in the soil.  Previously, we had used the composted manure and hay from our winter sheep feeding, as well as broiler chicken offal and anything else that acumulates on a farm.  But since we are just beginning here, we don’t have anything accumulated for such a purpose.

We had used some of this hay to cover the grass seed we spread after the earth moving had denuded a large area around the new barn.  Robin made the creative leap to using this hay to mulch the garden, and at the same time helping to clear out the old barn for our cousins.  So we piled up 10 bales in the back of the UTV and trucked it across the road to our farm.  Now to properly mulch, you have to use a very thick layer of hay, and we had no idea how much we would need until we started.  Some 40 bales later we were done — exhausted, but done.  Now, in addition to helping with weed control, a thick cover of organic material will importantly promote retention of moisture, while slowly composting into the soil.  We are using water accumulated from our roof in a large plastic cistern (see previous blog entry) for the garden and it is both time intensive and physically demanding to apply it to the large garden, so reducing the amount of time and effort spent watering is another great advantage of mulching.

Below you can see the piles around the blueberry plants.

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Below is the view of about half the garden giving an impression of the thick coating of old hay with the plants peeping up from their cozy beds.  The strawberry plants are in the foreground.

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This is the view facing the other direction from the center.  In the foreground you can see the buternut squash, then cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes (adjacent to the cattle panels), and potatoes with white flowers on top in the background, maybe 75 feet back.

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A close up of the butternut squash ensconced snugly in about 3-4 inches of compacted hay (we layed down the hay in  flakes from each bale that you can almost visualize in this photo.)  Any weeds poking up from this probably deserve to live!

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So with all this old and apparently worthless hay, we have:  increased our organic matter in the garden, as this composting hay will be tilled in next year; conserved moisture and thereby our precious water resource, as well as our backs; and finally, hopefully reduced our weeding to almost zero (of course that’s not saying a hay seed or two might resurrect after all these years and sprout, but then we’ll just cover it with more hay!)  Isn’t nature (by which I mean God!) wonderful when you decide to work with it rather than try to beat it!

Celebrating Earth Day!

Our EarthMinded™ package, ordered appropriately on Earth Day, arrived today!  We will be harvesting rain from the roof of the house and collecting it into a cistern to use to water our new garden (more about that garden and the fencing project to follow!), thereby conserving precious ground/well water for our home use.

IMG_7449 If all goes well with this project, we will be doing the same down at the barn for water useage there!

As for the garden, this morning I went outside to find 3 guilty looking deer just over the hill from said garden.  Glancing over at the garden, I had my suspicion as to what had taken place early this morning.  One of the posts was bent, and much of the netting had been pulled down. There wasn’t a single hoofprint in the garden, so we are thinking the deer tested the fence, making a mess of it, but didn’t make it into the  garden, thankfully!  Roy has mended the fence, and hopefully the deer have learned their lesson, but I won’t be holding my breath!

 

Deer-proof Fence for the Garden

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Now that this garden is getting going it’s time to protect its precious contents!

We are putting up the same sort of fencing we had at our previous farm, hopefully with some improvements to make it more durable.

We first purchased 10 ft sections of 3/4 inch and 1 inch electrical metal tubing.  The 1 inch conduit is cut into 2 ft lengths with an angle grinder with a thin cutting wheel.  The wood shown above will be used for construction of the gate.

Below you can see a useful tool we purchased for installation of some of the posts for our sheep fencing.  It has helped make this garden fence project much easier compared to our last attempt in CT!  It works like a T post driver, but instead creates a hole.  Beside it is the 1 inch diameter piece that will serve as a sleeve to accept and hold the 10 ft 3/4 inch post.

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Here We have the posts and sleeves in their approximate position along the back of the garden, waiting to be installed.  The large post in the grass will be part of the sheep fencing – no space wasted!  High tensile wire will be brought to that post from the system in the background at the far end of the garden where you can see the gate.  We need the deer fencing to supplement this electric fence, as the deer would still be able to jump over the electric fencing from the sheep side.

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Here Roy is ready to start digging the hole to accept the 1 inch diameter sleeve.

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The sleeve will accumulate a core of dirt inside.  Use a piece of wood so that your hammer doesn’t damage the top of the sleeve when you pound.  You will then have to pull the sleeve back out and remove the dirt core.  This may need to be done a couple of times before you can finally position the sleeve.

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Below shows the dirt core that must be removed to create the hole.

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The sleeve is pounded down into place, and the 10 ft post is easily slid into the sleeve.

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An improvement this time around is that corners will have 2 adjacent posts for added strength when the fence is connected to the posts.

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Here it is!  One side is complete!  A gate will be installed close to the center of this side.  We will also have a place where we can easily open up the fence large enough for the tractor to get back in for rototilling next year.

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Lastly will come the actual deer netting.  We will install 7 ft deer netting with cable ties on these posts.  Just a note – there are different qualities of this netting.  Buy the cheap stuff, and you’ll be replacing it more frequently.  We have found that bunnies still find their way through the deer netting, so we will probably put chicken wire on the outside of that at the base for added protection.  The blueberries will be within this fencing, but I somehow think it will NOT be enough protection should the local bears discover them some day!  But that will be another story!