2009 Year in Review

Many of our customers keep asking how things are going and what it takes to keep things running around here.  For our continued customers, the  following summary  will fill you in on the past year.  For our new customers, it  will,  hopefully, give you a feel for what life is like here on the preservation center.

 

I always say I will work on this each month as the season progresses and each year it boils down to the last night before the catalog goes to the printer. I am, therefore, trying to recall all of the great events of the year to keep our customers informed of the main events here at the preservation center.  I guess I can always use the excuse that I have to wait until the last minute as I never know what amount of space I will have to fill to meet our printer guidelines of 8 page increments.  January brought us the coldest weather of my lifetime and hopefully the coldest I will ever have to endure.  The overall low temperature average for the month actually ended up below zero, which is just plain nasty to deal with.  Miid January was brutal as we again had all time record setting cold.  One morning was -32 deg. F followed by -38 deg. F the next day.  It was a good lesson in how much the human body and the average livestock can endure.  The day before it dropped to -38 deg. F we had a morning low of -32 deg. F and it only got up to a balmy -17 deg. F that afternoon.  At least it was bright and sunny and I spent most of the day (since we had no school) trying to decide which of the many poultry breeds needed the extra help.  I would gather them up and and take them  into one of the 3 small buildings where I could hook up some sort of heat lamps and at least raise the temperature to above 0 deg. F.  It was tough to decide and it was also a good day to take data on hardiness of some breeds.  No one, of course, was comfortable and  it was a tough day that I spent putting down dry bedding and deciding who needed more help and who had to stay where they were.  You see our poultry pens are not insulated so it was rather chilly in them.  At least the shelters break the wind which was so unkind that day.  I also learned what frost bite is. I now know that what I have told my students all these years really is true.  I always tell my students when your hands or feet are really hurting and then the hurting stops (but conditions outside have not changed), you are in trouble because the tissue is freezing.  Guess what?  That really is true!  I felt so pressed to keep going that day that I paid no attention to the hole  in one finger of a glove.  My, that did hurt and then when it quit hurting, I knew I was in trouble. As I  started to thaw it out later, it was obvious some frostbite had occurred. Fortunately only minor damage was done. A few days later the outer layer of skin all peeled off like a banana and the finger tingled and hurt some for a few months.  I can always use that as a good excuse for not getting to answer some e-mails because I really couldn’t type for awhile.  

 

February was a bit better weather wise and things started to look up. It was also a sad time for us as we lost our old dog that had been with Linda and I since shortly after we got married.  Buffy was a dedicated farm worker and insisted right to the end on being with me doing chores, even though she had become deaf and arthritic.  She struggled so during the heavy snow of January, and refused my help of letting her stay in the warm greenhouse, that it was just as easy to let her follow me around the snow drifts. As a pup she could clear them, but near the end I spent more time rescuing her from them when she couldn’t get over the top. She trained her two apprentices well and they try hard to keep the farm rabbit, raccoon and rodent free, but they just don’t quite have the same work ethic she had.

 

March brought some hints of Spring and our first hatches.  We started slowly as the winter was long and hard on the birds. Though we only lost a few ducks and geese to the cold they did not jump to start laying and as the season progressed we realized they never reached their true potential.  Winter was long and hard on them as well as us human folks. 

 

April showed signs of Spring and hatches started to pick up. Turkeys began to lay, then quickly went broody and refused to lay very many more eggs at all.  I was amazed at a few breeds where the hens laid only maybe 6 eggs each, then that was it for the year. They just wanted to set and they refused to break up.  

 

May was cool as Mays have been the past few years. and our sweet potato starting beds struggled to get going in the cold, cloudy days.  

 

June started out cold and stayed below 80 the first 17 days. Then we had our only summer heat for a week after that  and then our cold and miserable summer returned.  I love the hot sunny days of summer and we just didn't have much this year.  Our June was stressful as we had so many  folks wanting to try sweet potatoes and they  will not sprout in the cold and clouds.  We started getting some heat and they went wild, but it was to late for some customers by then.   We struggled to get things planted as we set out all of the tomatoes, peppers, and sweet potatoes on black plastic. We discovered they no longer make the 2 foot wide roll that fits our plastic layer and we thought we could buy four foot wide rolls and cut them in half.  Wrong!  We tried one roll and it was a disaster as the inner core was not strong enough to stay on the plastic layer’s rollers.  It ended up we had to lay all of the plastic by hand (close to 2 miles worth.  My summer youth helpers were in Drivers Ed. so they were not available most days and one was playing baseball so I only saw him on occasional weekends.  Unless you have ever laid 2 miles worth of 4 foot wide plastic by hand, don’t even guess how long it takes and how much fun it is.  You can't imagine what even the slightest breeze will do to that plastic when you are trying to lay it on the ground.  We had so much fun!  We are definitely working on a different alternative for 2010. Our dear friend Bob Boock who is an experienced welder is going to alter our plastic layer to accommodate a different size roll.  Needless to say, trying to lay plastic ate up a lot of time and we got way behind on setting out the tomatoes.   I wasn't worried at first as I know I can set them out as late as mid July and still have a crop.  Well, that works great if you have normal weather (which we never had).  It just kept getting cooler and cooler, so we had acres of green tomatoes at first frost.  It was a great learning experience.   I try to always look at failures as a good chance to take data and learn.   I learned a lot this season.  I kept telling Linda all summer that it was starting to remind me of my three years in the Panhandle of Northern Idaho near Sandpoint.  I kept calling it my Sandpoint Summer.  I will never regret time I spent there as it taught me a  lot, but I never want to live there again.  I learned a lot but have no desire to fight those climate battles again.  

 

We purchased a great amount of 4 by 8 foot panels of concrete reinforcing wire this summer for pole bean fence.  It works great.  We are benefiting from the mass destruction of fences here in Iowa as folks are more than willing to get rid of the old metal fence posts so  we have a good supply of posts to place the panels on.  The panels make pole beans a cinch and though it takes some time to set up and then tear down at seasons end the results are worth it.  You will notice we have a lot of old fashioned beans for you this year in the catalog.  

 

Late July brought the loss of another long time farm fixture for us. Our old retired milk cow, Blossom, passed away.  We had obtained her (when she was already old in 1997) as a reject from a Jersey dairy when she was giving 6 gallons a day  but was not good enough for their standards.  She had become my sheep protector and group leader, foster mother to a calf every other year and my main fence checker and reminder of time to rotate pasture coordinator.  She had retired from milking 3 years ago but had become a farm fixture . She loved her apples and watched from her pasture for me to pick the first ones after which she would then bolt to the fence and expect her treat.  She watched all season the watermelon patch that bordered one of her pastures as I planted and tended the watermelons.  Perhaps no creature on earth other than myself loved watermelons more.  As I would go through my watermelon sampling days she would wait by the fence as I ate the seedless core and gave her the  rest.    She had her favorites too.  Watermelon season just won’t be the same for the next few years without my backup taste tester. 

 

I kept thinking August would bring Summer and as the days ticked by it never arrived.  Our youngest son Cory got married on August 16 and that seemed to trigger the monsoon season.  Over the next 10 days we got 11 inches of rain.  Many of my hand pollinated squash and melons rotted as the ground never got even close to dry (even on our sand).  It was cloudy and wet most days.  Again, it was a great time to take data. The rain finally quit and then total dryness for the next three weeks. It helped, though, while not hot it was at least decent and the crops grew.  As the days ticked by it became evident our late plantings of corn would be in trouble.  You see we plant our corn in late June to make sure it is not contaminated by the GMO material in nearby fields.  The field corn here is typically all in the ground by May 5 so I usually start June 15 when the field corn is around knee high.  This year that did not work for many.  Sorry, again a great data gathering experience.  We also had deer problems in our isolation plots as they developed a taste for cucumbers and melons and literally ate the plants to the ground.  

 

Our snake population continues to grow and the ecological balance seems to be working.  I saw a rare box turtle again this year.  I had seen evidence in the melon patch for a few days and finally found one. Our back hayfield had become overrun with pocket gophers and a blessing occurred when a badger moved in and worked from one end of the field to the other making some large holes.  But it ate its way from one end to the other doing a better and safer job on the gophers than any poison ever would do.    It continues to amaze me how the ecological balance has improved conditions here so much the past 20 years.  My first crops in 1989, planted in basically sterile soil that had been chemically abused through no till heavy spray agriculture, is now producing much healthier crops, with little or no insect pressure and a soil that is getting easier to deal with and is so much more alive.  

 

The beans and peppers were the best growers in 2009. They loved September and the beans became more and more loaded with pods.  Well, I should clarify that as the bush beans were a near total loss of pods from all of the late August rain.  Many bloomed again and tried and some were successful.  I feared our first frost date of October 2 would be upon us and we would be in trouble.  October was cold and wet and each afternoon after work I was not able to do much garden work.  Finally I could see from the weather forecasts it was coming and I knew it would be a doozie and it was.  Our first frost was October 10 and it dropped to 23 deg. F, staying below freezing from about 10:00 PM October 9 until 1:00 PM on October 10.  Add icing to the cake as we got snow most of the morning of October 10. It didn’t stick, but it was like rubbing salt in a gaping wound.  My aunt and uncle from Sandpoint, ID stopped on October 9  on  their way home from a  cross country trip. I figured how appropriate after my “Sandpoint Summer” to have them arrive.  They, along with our helpers Natalie and Teri as well as Linda and Cory (who came home for the day), harvested as many beans as we could to dry inside before they froze.  Anything we didn’t get, of course, froze solid as did most of our corn crop. By Sunday morning the  corn kernels were froze to the cob and the crop was lost. A light frost, or even normal frost, would have been fine. This finished everything but the root crops off.  In fact, by Sunday morning any of the sweet potatoes that (even under the black plastic)  were sticking up at ground level froze the tops and they rotted before they cured.  

 

November was as mild as the rest of the year was cold.  It gave us a chance to get more of the garden and seed areas cleared off than ever before.  

 

December  has already started the Winter season as we just had a blizzard on the ninth and were left without power for sometime.    It has inspired us to get a backup non electric dependent heat source for the area where the sweet potatoes are stored.  

 

We are grateful for all of our workers here and all of the time they put in to make things run smoothly.  We also appreciate hearing from many of you, our customers.  I only regret we never have the time to write back as quickly as we would like. 

 

Wishing each and everyone a fruitful and productive 2010.

 

Glenn and Linda Drowns

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Sand Hill Preservation Center

Heirloom Seeds & Poultry

1878 230th Street

Calamus, IA 52729

563-246-2299

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