Thursday, March 31, 2011

Frisky Ladybugs

October and April are the ladybug months here at our house.  In October, they swarm in unbelievable numbers and try to get in.  One can't open the door without having at least 5 zip in before it is closed again (which makes for some unfortunate accidents and flat ladybugs in the door frame.)  They hide in the corners of the ceilings and in the lamps.  My husband gets so frustrated, he starts to suck them up with the vacuum cleaner.  When we had a light bulb burn out several weeks ago, we discovered that most of the ladybugs never leave after their winter nap......Here are some photos taken in October of our porch when the ladybugs are as thick as Wildebeest on the African Savannah.

The ladybugs wake up as the days get longer and the temperatures a little warmer.  What was a stampede to enter the house in October reverses itself in late March - ladybugs flying about, bumping into windows and falling into our morning cup of coffee.  We get so desperate to let them out, we fling open the doors and windows to help them escape.

Yesterday was an unusually nice day, which means that it only rained for part of the day and we saw temperatures above 55 degrees for the first time since January.......have I mentioned how much I love this Spring which is the 5th wettest on record as well as the coolest ever since they started taking measurements back in 1895!  In any case, the possibility of seeing my shadow drove me outside to bring the sheep back onto the lawn for some grazing (the fields are still too wet.)  And I saw a sight which makes me realize that Spring truly is around the corner, namely ladybugs getting frisky.  After napping all winter, it turns out that these little guys have only one thing on their mind, and it's not eating a juicy aphid - it's creating more little ladybugs.  So here we have the napping ladybugs:

And here we have the ones that have already woken up and are hitting the dating scene with a vengeance:

The sheep are oblivious to the hanky panky - they just want to enjoy the grass:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Probing (the soil)

There isn't really all that much for me to do on the farm at this time of year.  The lambs have been born and are doing well - all 68 of them.  And the sheep are bored in the barn because the pastures are too wet and immature for them to go out into the fields just yet.  In fact, the cool temperatures and high rain fall of the last few months (thank you La Nina) mean that the grasses are growing more slowly than usual.

So when I have nothing to do but dust, vacuum clean and laundry, I find things to keep me busy outside.  Grass growth is an integral part of what we do here at North Valley Farm.  That means keeping the soil healthy and yesterday I picked up a soil probe from the local field man over in Carlton, so I could send in samples to see if we are low on any essential ingredients for optimal grass growth.

 Here is a photo of the tools of the trade - a soil probe and a clean bucket. I walked approximately 30 acres of pasture and took close to 40 samples in the following manner: first one depresses the hollow end of the soil probe like this:

 Then you hop onto the bottom of the probe with both feet like this:


Think pogo stick without the bounce.  This pushes the hollow part of the probe down into the soil and you pull out your sample.  The samples are collected in the bucket, mixed together, and then submitted for testing.  We are going to test for soil pH as well as several essential nutrient and mineral levels.  As you can see there is plenty of grass as well as clover, but it really isn't growing gangbusters yet and won't until we get warmer temperatures.

It is a long walk back from the fields to the house.  But it was good to be outside.  I bet I know what the soil tests will tell me - that I have to spend lots of money!  Pete and I will work on varmint control next.  I've gotten pretty handy with the gopher traps...............

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Dog Pete

Given the horrific earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan yesterday, I want to start this entry by expressing my heartfelt sympathy for all those touched by this disaster.  As a friend of mine wrote me today, it reminds us of how precarious our existence on this small blue and green marble can be.

Speaking of friends, I want to introduce you to my dog, Pete.  As is common in this part of the country, we have many dogs - 5 to be exact.  Some are serious dogs - those are the guard dogs that live with the sheep, and some are not so serious - that would be our Basset Hound with the Napoleon complex. And now we have added Pete.  Pete is a Border Collie and I am starting to think that he is the smartest dog in the world.  I hate to admit this, but Pete was an impulse purchase I found in a bin outside of Wilco right before Christmas.  If I am honest, it was actually our daughter Maya who pestered me into looking into the bin as only a teenaged daughter can do.  So I looked in, and there was Pete.  Actually, there were 5 wriggling Border Collie puppies, but we noticed Pete right away because of his calm manners.  And this means a lot because Border Collies are not known for being calm.  Here is a photo of Pete right after we brought him home.   
He has grown quite a bit and we are enjoying working with him as he is very receptive to learning new commands.  He knows how to sit, how to stay, how to drop a ball and how to hop onto a dining room chair....If given the chance, he loves to run outside and play with the other dogs in the barn.  Now he has stretched out and looks like a gangly teenager.

Late this summer, he will go to Border Collie boot camp and learn how to help me load and unload lambs from the stock trailer. This will hopefully allow me to stop swearing like a sailor when it comes time to bring the lambs to the butcher.  But until then, we are really having a fun time with our dog Pete.  He doesn't realize that he looks quite ridiculous with pink spots over his nostrils, but we won't tell him.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Biting the Proverbial Bullet

Well, I've finally decided to start a blog.  Updating the website with farm news was cumbersome, so this will be my way to communicate the latest developments at North Valley Farm.  We finished lambing three weeks ago and are very pleased with the results.  There were 3 sets of triplets as well as plenty of twins, so the flock number has swelled to way over 130 sheep.  At this time of year, we watch the pastures carefully to see how the grass is growing.  Putting the sheep out too early means that the grass gets damaged and that it never fully recovers its vigor until the following season.  So a little patience in March makes for much better yield as we head into the dry months of July and August.  In the mean time, our red neck lawn mowers have some opportunities to help keep the yard both trimmed and fertilized.
Since I don't have to run out to the barn several times a night to check for new lambs, I managed to carve out some time to finish a project.  Note the use of the word "finish."  As many of you knitters and spinners know, it is one thing to start a project and quite another to complete it.  I have at least 3 projects on the spinning wheel or knitting needles at any given time.  But I am quite proud of these Cookie A socks (Eunice from Sock Innovation) as it is the first time I have created cables with 2 cable needles (I didn't even know it was possible until I picked up the book!)
And yes, my legs are really that pasty white because (1) we haven't seen the sun for any length of time since last September and (2) because legs are not included in a farmer's tan.