HAPPY NEW YEAR. The last week of 2016 was pleasant enough for this time of year. It certainly could have been a lot worse than it was. We don’t do nearly as much work over the holidays though we did get a lot of wood into the fire wood shed over the past week. There has not been too much else happening, except that we did get another load of hay delivered and when we get just one more, that should be enough hay to see us through until everyone goes out on fresh pasture in the spring, probably early to mid May. We observe grass growth to determine when the sheep cows and horses can start going through their pasture rotations. But May is a long time off, four whole months, about 120 days, quite a bit of hay.
We did find time this week for some spring planning. We need to figure out what seeds and plants we need to buy and of course the quantities. Mostly for the seeds the question is; which of the many different varieties should we choose? We do save a good bit of seed but we are always trying a new variety of something that promises to be better in some way; perhaps better resistance to disease, better yield, better under certain growing conditions. But sometimes when we grow that better promise, it just does not perform as expected since our methods and growing conditions are different. So for that reason we may grow several better promises to see which one might be best for us.
It has become more and more apparent that the rate of species and habitat loss has been accelerating. It has been for some time but the rate at which this is happening is greater and more apparent. Some species have done very well. Canada Geese, Raccoons, Grey Squirrels, Coyotes and Turkeys are good examples of species that have thrived over the past several decades. There are many others too but at the same time other species have declined or even disappeared locally. The Grey Partridge (a European native to be sure) and Grouse, are no longer seen. Monarch butterflies were very rare this past season and it is possible that we will not see them come back. There are many fewer insects of all sorts. This is all directly attributable to habitat loss and to pesticide use. The worst aspect is the great loss in grassland and woodland. The grassland is plowed under for corn in the main with large amounts in soybeans and more in cereals seemingly mostly rye and wheat. Fewer beef and sheep farms on pasture and almost no conventional dairy farm puts the cows on pasture any more. Pastureland, the grasslands are no longer as permanent, and the acreage has shrunken dramatically. This is all the needed habitat for many insects and birds as well as mice, voles and rabbits for predators such as hawks and coyotes. Then there are too many homes going into woodlots.
We are considering a move to agroforestry, an old method of agriculture experiencing a bit of a revival. Agroforestry means many more species of trees, much smaller fields bordered by trees in wide hedgerows. Many but not all of the tree species have uses for humans such as for fruit, nuts, firewood, and lumber. The trees and everything else growing in the area around them can be used for pasture for cows, horses, sheep and goats which when used correctly are of benefit to the plants as well as all the fauna living there from tiniest of organisms, fungi and bacteria up through insects and small mammals and various birds. An ecosystem quickly evolves. These wide hedge rows would be great areas to run chicken flocks too.
We need to move towards that model and we will make an attempt. We will be budgeting to plant more fruit and nut trees and fruiting shrubs. It will take a lot of work to get it all established and growing well. But we are pretty small. Perhaps we could become an example of how things could work.