Sunday, November 17, 2013

Compost still working!

I love compost. I'll try not to put too much up here about it but ...

This morning it was 11°F (-11°C). Compost is 117°F (45°F). There's still snow on the surface because I layer leaves on top to keep the heat & moisture in. They are also what I will mix the next kitchen scraps with.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Soybeans in Alberta - harvesting

After doing a post at planting I completely forgot to do some updates through the year, other than through Twitter.

We harvested on Tuesday.  The overall average was 37 bu/ac with 900Y61 soybeans from Pioneer at 35 bu/ac and TH32004 from Quarry Seeds (distributed by Fabian Seed Farm) at 40 bu/ac.  They podded very low to the ground (sometimes less than an inch) so I figure about 3-5 bu/ac were lost due to this.  Also, they had been holding up well until some Chinook winds of a few weeks ago and I'd say again 3-5 bu/ac were lost (counting the pod/sq.ft. on the ground).  I need to look into other varieties that pod higher.  I also wonder if the slow start to the year meant that smaller plants when flowering is initiated (by daylength) meant they podded lower.
These varieties don't branch much so missing plants cause yield losses more so than bushier ones.  It wasn't obvious in season but at maturity you could see the open areas more.  We need to do more work with the drill or use a precision planter.  

Overall I think there is potential with these.  We will see how the marketing goes to make the final call.  Working on variety selection and better planting I think 50 bu/ac is reasonable.  They definitely have a fit in a grain rotation to break cereal disease (and insect) cycles.  More importantly for our farm they give a chemical break where we have a year without Group 1 or 2's.  They clean up some hard to control weeds.  They also spread the workload.  They are the last to be planted (mid-late May), last to be sprayed, and the peak irrigation is July/August, which is when cereals are mostly done.  They also spread out the harvesting, as long as you don't mind harvesting in October.

I realized after we were done I only took one picture of the day!  Here it is below.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Leaves for composting

My leaf bin is full for this coming year. I got 12 large garbage bags from the United Church. About 3 years ago I was driving by and they had a bunch of leaves bagged and I asked if I could take them. They were happy someone would take them so they didn't have to haul them to the compost area and I was happy to get a truckload (literally) of leaves! Ever since I've been getting them from them.

I've offered to help but now they just have a lawn company do them with lawnmower and bagging attachment. Its actually much nicer this way as I get them shredded meaning I can stuff more in the bin and they mix better for compost.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Yearly compost turning

On the left is the compost from 2011 that was in the bin to the right. I'm now moving the stuff from 2012 into this one and then the bin from this year will move into that spot. On the far right I'll fill with leaves. I mix these with kitchen scrapes and yard waste through the year in the bin on a weekly basis. As you can see it reduces down a lot over time. This is a slower method but once you have been doing it for a few years you have a constant supply each year. It also only requires turning once per year.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Late Blight on Tomatoes

If you see lesions like these on your tomatoes or potatoes you need to ACT QUICKLY to save them. It is LATE BLIGHT and is the same organism that caused the Irish Potato Famines. If you see it pull the leaves off and put in a plastic bag, seal it, and throw away. Do not put in a composter as it could overwinter there. If you don't do anything it will work its way through the stems, the tomato fruit, and can even go down into potato tubers. Depending on conditions it can take a plant down in a few days to a week or so. My tomatoes were drip irrigated so they only got wet when it rained but due to all the showers (especially at night) recently it has been infected.

I end up harvesting all the fruit and discarding the plants because it was impossible to stop.  There is a series of three images that shows the same leaf with faint lesions, the more distinct only 10 hours later, then filling in more another 15 hours later.  The day I first discovered it there were a dozen or so leaves showing symptoms and 24 hours later they were on nearly every leaf.  The bottom picture shows it getting into the fruit.

Friday, May 24, 2013


When you hear people passionately defending Monsanto or attacking them please consider a few things.

1. They are not the only company in the entire world doing genetic modification or selling pesticides.

2. They are not 100% evil, and neither are they 100% good 

Also, do some research, find out the answers to these questions from many sources.

1. Does pesticide use increase or decrease in RoundUp Ready systems?

2. Is the health of farm works more or less at risk using conventional pesticides or Bt crops?

3. Does it cost more or less to grow a bushel of a crop using pesticides and/or genetic modification?

4. Which type of breeding (genetic vs conventional) has more risk of food allergens?

I think you'll find the answers are not black & white.  I am not defending or attacking them.  They have did some terrible things to small farmers but they also have created crops and chemicals that help many farmers.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Planting Soybeans in Alberta

We planted our soybeans May 16th.  We have a 30' Great Plains 3000 drill on 7.5" spacing.  I've had many different opinions on row spacing but since we are only doing 34 acres I figured it was not worth the hassle to block off every other run.  Also, both varieties we tried are more of the upright kind so I think they should do better in narrow rows.  We have 900Y61 from Pioneer Seeds and TH32004 from Quarry Seeds.  

Our drill does not have any extra boxes so we had the beans inoculated with a liquid treatment just prior to pickup and I added a peat product as we put them in the drill.  As you can see we got the fungicide/insecticide treatment too.  I put on lots of peat.  I wanted some to be in the bottom of the drill so that as the beans fell if they didn't have any they'd get it and some would be trickling into the seed row.  I think it worked fairly well.  We had one run plug early on but otherwise no issues.

I ordered lots of seed so that I could try a few populations.  The most commonly recommended was 190000/ac so that was the target.  I was planning some higher and some lower.  Our first pass was way off (I must have been reading the settings for a different drive setup) so we ended up at 350000.  The next few passes were at 160000.  The second variety as a much smaller seed (2900 seeds/lb vs 2500 seeds/lb).  We left the drill at the same setting so this was around 180000.  For the last few passes we had lots of seed left so we opened it up to be around 250000.

The field is one of few remaining wheel moves on the farm.  Its a half mile long by only 600' wide.  The soil was fairly dry but we (thought) we were racing to beat the rain so we didn't irrigate.  The low parts of the field that had a little moisture have germinated and have a 3/4" root but the rest of the field is just sitting there.  The rain is just starting now so hopefully we'll get enough to get the crop going.  Unless we get more than a few inches I think we'll be irrigating next week to start filling the soil profile.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Microsoft Surface Pro (Windows 8)

In my last post called The beauty of cloud computing I was talking about how my laptop died and I needed to come up with a solution.  The laptop would have taken about $300 to fix and the machine itself was $500.  I had got it originally wanting a tablet but knowing that since a tablet cannot run older Windows programs it wouldn't be a one device solution.

Now I've had my eye on the convertible laptops for a while so I was looking at those.  I knew of the Windows Surface RT but its limitation was not being able to run older desktop programs.  However - only a few months ago Windows came out with the Surface Pro that does all the tablet stuff and also runs these programs.  There are other manufacturers that beat Microsoft to the market but as I learned more about them it seemed they were good but not great (and came with a lot of bloatware).  The amazing thing was that as I read comments on Best Buy & Future Shop nearly all were positive and a lot gave glowing reviews.  Since most people only put comments on when they don't like a product this meant a lot.

I did not get the $120 add-on cover/keyboard.  To me that just makes it a laptop pretending to be a tablet.  Instead, I got a wireless keyboard.  This way I can hang the tablet on my truck steering wheel, put the keyboard on my lap and do all the work I need in the field.  The tablet is at a perfect level for touch & stylus use (and at eye level).  Then when I'm done I put everything to the side and drive to my next area.  I had to modify a case as there still are not many options out there.  The other advantage to this setup is I can still hook it up to my external monitor for when you need to do a lot of stuff on a larger scale.  It took me a few trips to Future Shop and Best Buy to find the right cable (no one at either place knew the correct one).  So far its worked well to have the tablet flat on the desk and the keyboard  below and just use the tablet as a large touchpad.  It'll take a bit to figure out the new way of making things work.

So far its been working very well.  All my old programs work very well and putting Microsoft Office 365 on tied to Skydrive has worked fairly well at keeping everything backed up.  There aren't many apps yet and most have a lot to be desired but I'm sure that will change over time.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The beauty of cloud computing

Today my laptop refused to start up.  I've tried everything (safe mode, repair windows, rescue media, re-install Windows) but nothing works.  I've taken it to a person to have it checked out but its not looking promising.

So am I inconvenienced? Yes - I don't have my usual hardware to do my daily tasks.  However, most everything  I need to do for communication (email, Twitter, Feedly) I can do on my phone so I just switch devices.

Did I lose data? No - I have everything based in the cloud.  I use Evernote for storing everything I want to read or be able to find later.  I use Skydrive to hold all of my documents.  My photos automatically upload to Dropbox.

I still will need to get a new computer (if it can't be fixed).  That will take time to setup again (downloading files, putting on programs) but not nearly as much lost time as if I had lost data.  Besides, I can still keep doing things as long as I can find another computer with internet (which I'm doing right now).

I think I will still need a Windows based computer.  I have programs that only fully function on Windows.  Do I need one that is touch screen?  Do I need one that can switch between tablet & laptop?  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New life coming to the fields

I've been itching to get out of the office and look at some fields.  It's been a long winter.  I was happy to see a plant growing in one of my winter wheat fields.  This was on a high area that has thawed and is drier than most of the field.  The frost is still pretty solid in most of the field but I'd expect to see the field really green up next weekend.  Some of the low areas that have a sheet of ice over them may not fair so well but the only thing to do is wait and see.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

To Make a Farm (film)

Watch "To Make a Farm" online

I recently came across a film called To Make a Farm.  Its very hard to get into farming but all of the people profiled in the film are starting out at it and are intentionally making it small and local.  One of the highlights for me was of the farmers observation that he is not trying to start a movement and really wouldn't want to call it that.  This is his way of doing things and for the most part the farmers profiled are just doing what they are doing without any grand plan.

There are references to "industrial agriculture" and what it has brought over the past 100 years.  As in a film like this you'd expect it to be portrayed in a negative light and for the most part it was.  However, they did refer to the poverty of most farmers in the early 1900's and how farmers really had to need for something better.

I see agriculture differently than in the film.  Its not a distinct line between small, local, organic and big industrialized farms.  It is a continuum.  There is a reason people shifted to new technology - it worked.  If you could buy a tractor that saved hard labour, why wouldn't you?  If you could spray a chemical and kill lots of weeds, why wouldn't you?  You have to remember that at the time when all this technology came out people did not know about the environment and did not know about the effect of burning fuel.  They did know hard labour and they did know going hungry.

Attitudes are changing in agriculture and new generation is coming up.  On April 22nd there will be a group of young, Alberta farmers that are looking to agriculture as a bright future.  Look for the hashtag #farmvoices showing up that day and go their website to see what they are about.