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When Voles Attack

11 Aug

Summer harvest is just about done this year on the farm. And while the stress of that time of the year is winding up, the beginning of the next crop year is starting all over again.

When we sat down last fall to make decisions surrounding our acres, we had no idea how much dirt we were going to have to work this year. But we have come up against a pest that is forcing our hand and is changing our plans. Many of our tall fescue fields are slated to stay in the ground 7-10 years. This year however we are taking out a lot of acres before that end date due to one small, tiny, seemingly innocent little pest; the vole.

Auggie was out “mice stomping” while we were cutting the grass. I was all for it, that is until he asked how we could preserve one so he could keep it. (Puke)

We have voles every year. More often they are referred to as field mice. They are a nuisance, something that we try every year to control with bait. But this year, two to three weeks before harvest, their population exploded in our fields, and they began to quickly eat our crop.

You can see holes like this all over our fields.

We estimate that our worst hit fields lost about 30% in yield. Other farmers said they figured around 50-60% of their seed crop was destroyed by mouse damage. I’ve even heard that some fields weren’t even worth the diesel in the harvester to harvest the field. Which is heartbreaking.

So we have made the decision to take out some of our worst hit fields and use our last resort for control; habitat destruction. In other words we will be working up these fields, destroying the colonies where the mice live, and setting back their population. Also hoping that the population peaked and will go down to normal levels, saving the fields that we left in for harvest 2021.

As a farmers we often face new challenges from year to year. A few years ago we had army worms marching across our fields eating aces and acres of grass in a matter of days. Other years we have seen slugs decimate fields during a wet fall. All these challenges come unpredictably, so they can be difficult to prepare for. Mix that along with weather patterns that can make control options limited, it can be a challenge to protect your crops.

I haven’t heard of any earth shattering ways to kill vole populations that live and thrive underground. Beyond hiring a clowder (yeah I googled it….that’s a group of cats) of cats or a kettle (also googled) of hawks we don’t have a lot of options. We have the bait that we have always used and will be using that as much as we can on fields left in for next year’s harvest. But many times our hands are tied because our tools aren’t effective enough or work quickly enough when pressure is that high. Another good reason why farmers need “tools in their toolbox” when it comes to pest management.

I’m sure next year we will find ourselves with yet another challenge. Maybe it will be something like grass seed eating zombies. You know, something that has more proven science about how to kill them. Unless zombies eat voles….hmmmmm.

The Start to Harvest & Dinner in the Field

9 Jul

Harvest like most of 2020 hasn’t proven to be “the best” quite yet. The weather has been questionable for the start to summer; which has made it a slow start for harvesting our seed crops.

I looked up at my dinner menu today and had to laugh. It looks like this….

And to be seeing that just a few days into harvest makes me want to scream and (mostly) laugh all at once. It will all get done, I know that. But the stress level of farming can drastically change from day to day and even hour to hour this time of year. Which means I am either cooking for 10 to go or cooking for 5 for at home. Which as I’m writing this doesn’t seem like a lot, but the beer you have to pack for “to go”…it’s a lot (haha!).

So for now I will just keep waiting for that sun to shine, just like pretty much every farmer here in the Willamette Valley and if you’re hungry, and can follow that menu, send me your orders 😉

Looking for Weeds in an 8ft Tall Crop

25 Jun

One of the crops on our farm is Swiss chard for seed.  This year we are growing a green variety, and it has decided to grow well over 8 feet tall!!  We are also growing a field of radish seed right next door, which in most cases wouldn’t really be a problem.  However, this year we noticed that there were a few stray radish plants in our Swiss chard field.

This becomes an issue of variety purity.  Radish is pollinated by bees, so we have to get the wild (or off type) radish plants out of the Swiss chard before the bees went and hung out on those flowers and then possibly went to our production radish field and pollinated with the wrong variety of pollen.  It’s one of those fun “we love being seed farmers” type of things!

So how does one go and find radish in a field that is…well…quite a few feet taller than I am?!  Farmers are problem solvers, and Matt had an idea that maybe if we got high enough we could have a better vantage point to see down into the stalks of Swiss chard.  This field was planted with alleyways to help us better manage the crop as it grows to full height, so we decided to drive each of those two times to get a good view of the whole field.  So we hooked up the man basket to the loader tractor and headed out to the field.  Once there Matt climbed up into the man basket, I took the wheel of the John Deere, hoisted him up, and we were off.

And it basically went like this… I would drive each alleyway once per side, always too slow or too fast.  While shifting I would (maybe) make Matt’s heart beat a little faster as he “hung on for dear life” (his words not mine).  Then every once and awhile he would holler and point to some area in the field.  I would jump off the tractor into the jungle, instantly engulfed in stalks of chard, while he “navigated” me through the crop to the off type radish so I could pull it out.

Navigating Skills were as follows (at full volume to be heard over the tractor engine mind you):
“LEFT, NO YOUR OTHER LEFT.”
“MAYBE WE SHOULD USE NORTH AND SOUTH AS DIRECTIONS?”
“BRENDA…NORTH IS THE OTHER WAY!” 
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING??” 
“YOU PASSED IT….”
“TURN AROUND.  OK. TURN AROUND AGAIN.”

“DO YOU EVEN SEE IT?” 
“IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!”
“HOW DO YOU NOT SEE IT?”

I won’t tell you what my equally witty responses were, if you know me, I’m sure you can make your own assumptions (haha!)

We didn’t find too many, but it was important that we found the few and and got rid of them to keep the purity of the radish variety.  Growing crops for seed can be tricky sometimes, there is a lot of high risk and high reward moments; and also moments that make you stop and think, “So how the heck are we going to do that??”  Like when you’re staring at an 8 foot tall jungle of Swiss chard, knowing that you need to get in there and look for tiny white flowers.

This crop will be ready to harvest later this summer.  The seed is used to grow Swiss chard for mixed green salad mixes.

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