Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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The escape artist

Coadee is thirteen months old.  She is still nipping at people’s hands and legs.  Se we keep her in an outside pen so that she is secure when not supervised.  At least we tried to keep her in the pen.  I was so proud of myself when I was able to put the dog pen together straight out of the box.  I first started assembling the pen in the garage.  As I went from one-step, to the next, I had a nagging feeling.  As the bottom square started to take shape, I realized, if I had finished the pen, it would not fit through garage door.

As much as I hate making a mistake, I relish the times when I catch myself.  I took everything outside and restarted the assembly.  True to the direction’s (yes I did read them) it was easy to assemble.  The bottom of the fence itself is held in place by metal ties spaced every two feet to the cross bar.  I put the whole cage on a pair of skids so I could drag it from place to place as the chickens moved.  Along with the pen, we added an igloo doghouse so Coadee can get out of the elements, keep her food dry and get warm on very cold days.  

We purchased the pen because we needed a bigger area for the dog to roam but remain close to the chickens and the house.  When we first put her in the new encampment, we left the farm to go to the store, total time away two hours.  Coming up the driveway, we see Coadee bounding down the hill towards us, tail up and waging, tongue lolling on the right side of her mouth, this little twinkle in her eye, as if to say, “FREEDOM ain’t it grand”.  Okay, I may be anthropomorphizing a little.

I looked at my wife and our minds came to the same conclusion.  Coadee had jumped on top of the doghouse and jumped out.  Then we started looking, the house was right in the middle of the pen, our first instinct was proving to be wrong.  I thought okay, I would place her in the pen, go back to the house and watch what she does.  Problem was, by the time I got to the house, she was already out and standing by the door, tail waging, mouth agape, and those big brown eyes looking through the windowpane.

I took her back to the pen put her in and turned to walk away.  I might have gotten five paces when I hear the fence rattle, I turned around to look at her and there she is going underneath the fence.  Ahhh ha, let the games begin I said to myself.  This would be a piece of cake, I knew her future attempts to escape would prove futile.

I went to the barn got more metal ties and tied down the side where she was getting out.  “Beat that”, I had taken the ends of the metal strands and twisted it around the pole and the fence.  “Finnie,” I declared when entering the house.  Later, she was still in the pen and I was victorious.  We could see she was inspecting and pushing where she had gotten out prior but it was not budging.

Satisfied with my fix we went about the day doing chores and other work.  Time passed; I was behind the barn when I heard the distinctive jingle of Coadee's collar.  I turned and there she is coming at me tail high waging, with what could pass for a  smile on her face and proud as she could be.  Upon inspection, she had pushed the fence and the metal ties out and off the frame.  Not to be outsmarted by a dog, zip-ties were next.  Long story short, the zip-ties failed so I tripled up on them.  Yes, she broke the zip-ties by pushing the fence out.  However, since I tripled up on the ties it worked out pretty well, but there were three other sides of the pen left.  I placed double zip-ties around the rest.

I think it was a couple of days before she broke out again, this time it was the east facing fence not the north side she started with.  We had bailing twine from our straw bales; I use it to tie most things down and it lasts pretty long out doors.  I took some strands and started to mend the fence where Coadee had escaped. 

She beat that perimeter defense by chewing on the available twine until it snapped and then simply pushed her way under the fence.  Once again, we are driving up to the house and here comes this dog running towards us, tail up and wagging, mouth open, eyes sparkling ready to greet the people that give her food.  This is really starting to get old and I am starting to wonder if I should just turn the keys over to the dog.  I still have an ace in the whole I think to myself; we have metal cable and fasteners that I can use.  “I am breaking out the big guns now,” I explained to my wife.  She did look skeptical but I brushed it off.  “This is the last time we will visit this,” I went on to say. 

Time lines are starting to blur in my mind but this whole saga began in late November 2011.  I got the one side triple zip tide; the other side is wrapped with ¼-inch metal twisted cable.  I thought for sure I had Coadee on two of the four sides.  She got out on the CABLED side of the pen.  In the fence each strand of wire is woven with the next wire to make a diamond pattern, at the bottom of the fence one strand of wire is hooked to the other strand.  Both strands are tied together at the bottom forming a closed diamond shape or an open half diamond shape.  Coadee pushed the fence out, such that those links, at the bottom of the fence, bent straight and she was able to push them through the cable that was holding them down. 

One day there was freezing rain; we thought okay, she would stay in her doghouse out of the weather.  However, when we returned, we found her inside the heated hen house.  The chickens were a little ruffled at her taking up residence but they were with her in the house too.  Coadee was dry and warm; tail waging, mouth open, ears up checking out the car coming by her.  She has this smug look on her face like; she is already plotting her next escape. 

The main reason for the pen now is to keep her near and allow whoever is leaving the farm, to leave without the dog-giving chase.  I had to compromise; I figured that if I tied a bow to keep the door closed, she could tug on the line to untie the bow.  The door would open and she could go free.  By that time, the car was gone.  Besides, we got her because we lost chickens during the day.  We need her out to protect and heard them back to the pen.  Given all her past escapes, Coadee had proven that she stays on the farm.  After some discussion, I went about setting up the tie.

It did not take long before she learned how to untie the bow and let herself out.  I took a short video of her doing that.  Besides, I do not think my poor ego could have taken another escape anyway.

Buy Local:  It is a way to future proof your food supply.

 

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Education

I gave a presentation to the Organic BMSB workgroup on how our growing year faired and what we did to rectify last year’s infestation.  We improved marginally, however I look at improvement as a great step, no matter the measurement.  Improvement equates to moving forward in our fight to grow fruits and vegetables organically against a devastating adversary.

I was finally able to put faces to the voices I have heard on all the conference calls.  As usual, I learned more from everyone else then I was able to impart but that is why I wanted to be in the group to begin with.  I could not stand by having suffered the losses from 2010 without trying to do something, education, as with most things, is the first step.  At least this year I had much less anxiety presenting to such a distinguished group.  I am still in awe of the work they do and the dedication they show.  I am a babe in the woods filled with entomology experts, seasoned practitioners and other heavy hitters in the organic growing community.  I met Jeff Moyer from the Rodale Institute and Dr. Russ Mizell from Florida State University.  We followed Dr. Mizell's 2008 native stinkbug study to establish a trap crop solution for this year.  During the two-day event, I found I was still writing jargon down, for later research, but the longer I listened the more things started to fall into place. 

Entomologist from around the country showed up to participate.  It was truly fascinating to sit and listen to the work that they have been doing this past year and years past.  They have been studying this bug for sometime.  It was not until the last few years that BMSB started to show their true capacity for fruit and vegetable damage.  If left unchecked many small organic farms will suffer and more than likely go out of business.  The Washington Post recently had an article about a peach grower, in the area, that decided to stop instead of continuing to suffer monetary loses due to the bug.   

Orchards around Maryland and Pennsylvania are suffering great losses.  The bug continues to hitchhike across the United States with no indication of abatement.  Once in a place they multiply consuming the most desirable and costly flora.  They are not only destructive they are dumb.  They fly but they do not know how to land.  They land by hitting something first.  Then they either grasp on to the surface in order to stay put or bounce off to fall to the ground.  Most times, they bounce off.  If it is a hard surface, you hear them hit the surface and another thump when they hit hard ground.

Besides trap cropping we will try native parasitoids this year.  Parasitoids lay eggs on their host and the larvae feed off the host in order to mature.  As the larvae grow, the host dies.  Like the Trichogramma wasp laying eggs on the green tomato hornworm.  We will try different species and wasps that are predacious.

We are fortunate that we can participate in the group and learn as we go.  I do feel better about growing but we are not out of trouble.  This season’s grow area has hedgerows and tree lines surrounding the land.  Both places are over-winter habitation areas for the BMSB.  We will also plant near the barn, another highly concentrated area for over-wintering bugs.  We have our planning cut out for us, we will need to come up with a perimeter defense that takes into account both ground and air assault.  Adult BMSB are high in the trees and glide down to earth.  Planting a trap crop too close to the trees will not stop them from making it into the cash crop area. 

We will put up trap crops, physical barriers and try repellant plants on the interior.  The idea of the repellant plant is if the bug gets through the trap crop the next thing they get to is an undesirable plant, which may turn them back around to the trap crop for food.  We will have to see; what I do know is the more we learn the better able to educate others.  If we are able to further that cause then it fits within our own mission.  Without education, we are all lost. 

Buy Local: Go out and meet your local farmer, they are waiting for you

 

 
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