Soggy, Wet and Cold

If you live in northeast Wisconsin I do not need to tell you that September and October have been exceedingly wet. For those of you who live elsewhere I will hopefully describe what has been going on here. In the 47 days since the 26th of August at the farm we have experienced 22 separate days with measurable rain. In that period we had only one run of 5 days without rain; the next longest “dry” period was 2 days! I do not know what our total precipitation for the year has been at the farm, but I know that Green Bay broke its all time annual precipitation total in mid-September (and that is with nearly three and a half months still to go!) By the way, their previous record year was last year.

All the rain has made grazing a difficult task for the flock. On so many days they stayed in the barn where we fed some of our winter hay. On days when they could get onto pasture, the forage was often wet and the ground soggy. I had to play a delicate game of making sure that the ground was not so wet that it turned into mud with too many hooves grazing on it. Nevertheless we are coping. So rather than continue any further with a narrative of the frustration of wet weather I will try to look at the sunny highlights that popped up occasionally.

Our gardens have for the most part prospered. As I wrote last time, Gretchen’s flower gardens have been especially beautiful. With a few exceptions the vegetable garden has also done well. Our only major disappointment has been that we did not get as nice a crop of artichokes as usual. Our melon crop developed later than normal, but was truly impressive toward the end. In addition to the vegetables in the garden we also grew some of our dye plants around the edges. Cosmos flowers for dyeingOn one of the sunny days this is the cosmos patch after I had harvested the last set of blossoms for the year. The orange cosmos yield a lovely orange dye while the white and purple flowers produce a beautiful soft yellow. One of our freezers is now stuffed with bags of cosmos blossoms, along with an equally large quantity of marigold blossoms. We had hoped to do a lot of dyeing this fall. Unfortunately that will have to wait, not because of the weather, but because our white yarn has yet to return from the mill.

Because of the abundant moisture our pastures have also grown more vigorously than usual. As a result we had to bypass some of the pastures in order to assure that the others got properly grazed. The sheep are creatures of habit and seem to know the normal pasture rotation. So when we bypass one of the pastures confusion can occur. We were able to mow and bale hay from pasture number #3. As a result, the first time the flock set foot on that pasture was September 17th. Pasture #3 is in the extreme southeast corner of the farm. It is a good quarter of a mile hike to reach it. For the first few days the flock just assumed they should make the “normal” right turn off of the first pasture and head up the hill into the “orchard” pasture. Instead of following behind them I found that I had to walk around the entire flock and lead them past that turn off and another into #2. Eventually we got things straightened out, but there were some memory relapses, even on the last day going out to #3. This is the flock heading out at sunrise on October 10th. The flock heading out to pastureThey did just fine on this first leg until they got to this point (which happens to be where the path branches of to the “orchard”). They waited until I worked my way to the front. Then we were ready to go again. This is Vespera following me and leading the rest. The front of the flock heading out to pastureI was still in the lead all the way around the edge of #2 until we finally made it through the gate into #3. At last the goal was in sight and I had to step aside in order to not get run over. Since this was the last day on this pasture the flock needed to go to the very western end. They made that sprint in close to record time! The flock on the last leg of their journey out to pastureWe did all make it to the end of the trail with each of us in relatively good shape. It was nice to see everyone busy with grazing almost as soon as they arrived. (By the way this was the last day of the one and only 5 day period without rain.)  Grazing the last of pasture #3One of the atypical conditions caused by our weather is that the fall colors are quite mixed up. Some of our trees are still quite green, some have turned yellow (as they are at the end of this pasture). And some of the trees have already dropped all their leaves. On our farm we are seeing virtually no red fall colors this year. There also seems to be no rhyme or reason for the different conditions, i.e none of the species of trees are behaving uniformly.

The season is wrapping up very rapidly. The B&B will close for the year after next weekend. The same is true of the gallery, but we will continue to offer yarn for sale this winter from the house. The sheep will have a few more days on pasture. They will be out grazing when and if is not pouring rain and until the truly cold weather sets in and the waterlines to the pastures freeze up. I do not even wish to predict when that will occur. Until then all of us, sheep and humans, will be happy for any good grazing days!

Gardens in Bloom

We experienced a warm and wet July at the farm. August looked to be more of the same. But after the first week, the temperature and humidity went up and the rainfall stopped. We truly began to feel that we were experiencing a serious change in the weather which we were accustomed to expect for mid summer. Eventually we began needing to irrigate my vegetable garden and Gretchen’s flower gardens. All of the gardens responded favorably.

Gretchen’s flowers seem to have reached their summer peak in terms of beauty. The flowers in front of the Gallery and our back door are annuals. Some of the varieties have passed their peak performance and have been supplanted by other slower developers. Here is a view of the Gallery garden. Annual flower garden in front of the GalleryThe garden in front of our back door tries hard not to be out done and it seems to succeed. Backdoor gardenThe flowers next to the Bed & Breakfast entrance are also underneath the B&B kitchen window. They are all perennial flowers and only reach their flowering peak in mid-summer. It is a mix of Black-eyed Susan, Conef lowers and Phlox. Kitchen Flowers The Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susan are favorite flowers of a host of our local varieties of butterflies. We are having an especially good year for monarch butterflies. One can almost always count on seeing a number of them on the flowers under the kitchen window. They are not alone however. This Painted Lady was very happy with the selection of blossoms. Painted Lady Butterfly on Black-eyed SusanBut it could not seem to choose a favorite flower (I think the Coneflower won!). Painted Lady Butterfly on a Cone FlowerIt is wonderful to have the butterflies as pollinators for our gardens, but we truly miss the once staggering number and varieties of bees. Aside from a few Bumble Bees, we are seeing virtually no bees in our gardens this summer. I am sure that their low numbers has resulted in some very poor pollination of some of our vegetables.

Over the last week the temperatures have moderated here. It has made the task of moving pasture fence early in the morning much more enjoyable. The sheep have responded with more speed and enthusiasm heading out each day. Yesterday we received a staggering 3″ of rain throughout the day and into the night. The rain was not accompanied by damaging winds. As a result everything seems to have responded very positively today and hopefully conditions will remain so for a while.

Making Hay – Again

A month ago I wrote that we were experiencing a super abundance of rain. At that time it was impossible to even consider cutting and baling hay, despite the fact that the hay was ready. The ground was too wet to be rolling heavy machinery across it. The frequency of the rainfalls was such that it would have been very difficult to cut and dry the hay sufficiently to get it properly baled. By the first of July the hay was becoming over-mature. It was also very deep. This view, on July 4th, is from the northeast corner of our large hay field, looking south along side the pasture we know as the “Orchard”. Mature hay ready to be harvestedOne would hardly know that the sheep had recently grazed the pasture to the left of the electric fence. The hay along the footpath straight ahead was from 3 to 4 feet deep. The next picture was taken at the opposite end of this path looking back toward the house and barns. Hay ready for harvest, with the barns in the distanceThis is an especially nice part of the field, with a nice mix of red and white clovers, plus lots of trefoil mixed in with numerous types of grasses. These views are all rather hazy, due to smoke which was drifting south from forest fires north in Canada. The images are significant in that we decided on that day, the 4th of July, to cut all of our standing hay. The weather forecast finally seemed to indicate a dry spell which would last long enough for us to cut, dry, rake and bale our hay. By the end of the day all 35 acres were cut. Needless to say, we were now committed!

Unfortunately the smoky haze did not permit as much sun in to rapidly dry the cut hay. In addition to which we also received an un-forecasted light rain on the 6th, which further slowed the curing process. By the 9th the hay was still struggling to dry and rain was forecast for the night of the 10th. We decided that we had to gamble and therefore we raked the hay on the 9th in hopes that it would be ready to bale the next day.

(I should point out that this is the third consecutive year that we opted to bale all the hay into large round bales, as compared to the small square bales that I had made for at least the previous 26 years. The changing weather of the last three years has made it next to impossible for me to cut and small bale the entire field. There is just not enough dry time any longer. The beauty of large bales is that the larger equipment used also permits faster cutting, raking and baling speeds. Hence, the entire 35 acres can be cut in less than a day, raked in even less time and baled in less than a day.)

Despite some initial mechanical problems, all of the hay was successfully baled before chore time on July 10th. And yes, we did receive a light rain that night. At least it was not significant enough to harm the baled hay. The flock heading out tp pastureThis is the view that greeted the flock as they headed out to graze in the “Orchard Pasture” the next day. It was interesting that the flock was not particularly bothered by a large tractor repeatedly rolling past them on each of the three days that cutting, raking and baling occurred. It was almost as though it was a bit of entertainment for them. I am also sure that they appreciated the fact that any breezes from the west or south were no longer slowed down by the tall grass next to their grazing area. Round balesHere is the view that the sheep now had to the west: large, beautiful round bales scattered off into the distance. Or, if you prefer the eagle eye view, here is part of, but not all of, our new collection of round bales for this year. There are probably equally as many bales out of view farther to the right and in a smaller field to the left. To the left are the strips that the sheep just finished grazing in the “Orchard” over the previous 6 or so days.Some of the round bales at Whitefish Bay FarmSince the baling was completed, I have been slowly and hopefully steadily collecting the bales and transporting, them 6 at a time, down close to the barn, where I am getting them covered with tarps in order to protect them from the weather until such time as we begin feeding them to the flock, probably sometime in October. As I write I am about 60% finished. I got nothing moved yesterday. The weather caught up with us. Mother Nature dumped over 4″ of rain upon us yesterday morning in less than 3 hours! So now I wait for the uncovered bales to dry. Luckily they shed most of the rain. All I ask for now is just a couple more days without rain!





Lots of Water

Like much of the Midwest we are experiencing large amounts of rain this spring. Coupled with the earlier heavy snow melt, our streams have been running high much longer than normal and much of our ground is saturated. In Door County we are at least lucky enough to not experience the tremendous amounts of flooding which have been occurring along the Mississippi and Missouri River drainage area. On the other hand, Lake Michigan is about to reach its all-time high level. At Whitefish Bay Farm we have not been able to yet get all of our vegetables planted for the year. Grazing for the sheep has been limited either by steady rains or saturated pastures.

The heavy snows and ice that we experienced last winter caused a lot of damage to the gutters on the barn, especially on the east side. We were not getting water to properly drain away from the barn foundation, which has resulted in excessive amounts of water seeping into the barn. We managed to schedule our gutter contractor to replace both gutters this month. The crew managed to get here in a momentary dry spell last week. In the space of one day the old gutters came down and new gutters were created and installed. The gutters on the west side of the barn were the first to go up. Installing new barn guttersAs can be seen in this first image, our flowering crab-apple trees were in full bloom. As with just about every other plant, the trees bloomed at least two weeks late this year. By noon the first gutter was just about installed. Installing new barn guttersInstalling the gutter on the east side of the barn is a much more daunting task. Since the barn is built into the hillside. the elevation to the roof drip line on this side is more than double that found on the west side. This is a job for folks who are not bothered by heights and climbing long ladders. Installing new guuters on the east side of the barnThe job was done before chore time and the sheep were able to return home from pasture that evening without experiencing any disruption. That night and the next day it rained again (.65 inches). After months of aggravation it was a joy to see the water flowing to where we wanted. Yesterday we received another .65 inches. Everything is working well on the gutter front!

The week prior to the gutter installation the two of us took time off on Tuesday. The gallery is closed that day and we had no B&B guests. We spent a leisurely day driving around parts of the county that we rarely get to see during our busy season, often on quiet back roads. East of Sister Bay we got quite close to this immature hawk. Immature Coopers Hawk As best that I can tell it is an immature Cooper’s Hawk, but it may be a Sharp-shinned Hawk. It was quite cooperative, quietly posing for us in an Ash tree that was just leafing out. Immature Cooper's HwakWhat does not appear in either images is an irate Blue Jay, hoping around in the tree branches above it, making enough racket that any other bird in the neighborhood would know something was up.

Closer to home we stopped along side one of our favorite open wetlands. Normally this area only has standing water for the few weeks immediately during and following the snow melt. This year there is still a lot of standing water here, it is merely concealed by the growth of grasses and reeds! We were treated to views of a family of Canada Geese with young goslings all in tow. More spectacular was a single Snowy Egret and a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the middle of the marsh. Snowy Egret and Sandhill CranesThe cranes had made the “mistake” of wading too near a Red-wing Blackbird’s nest. The male Red-wing was not happy and repeatedly tried to drive the two cranes away. Eventually the two cranes ambled off to the ultimate satisfaction of the Red-wing. Snowy Egret and Sandhill CranesAll in all it was a nice day away from home!

Upcoming Events

* Sheep shearing, early March

* Online Fleece Sale, mid-April. Contact us to be on the mailing list for immediate updates

* The Bed & Breakfast is permanently closed

* Whitefish Bay Farm Gallery is permanently closed;

*Our fiber products are now offered on our Mercantile Page