ButtersSpringIt’s funny. No matter where you live, spring can not come fast enough. In southwest Colorado, the daffodils bloomed around April 15th, and our final frost of the year often came near Father’s Day in June. Here in southeast Washington, the daffodils will likely unfurl their petals near March 15th, and every day, I go out and check on them, dancing like a two-year old who needs a trip to the bathroom, and chanting “hurry up”.


The chicken wire keeps the hens from "scratching" out the bulbs.

And then finally, last Sunday, we had a stunningly beautiful sunny day and temperatures in the high 50’s, and I found my first crocus bloom. I then walked under one of the huge silver maples out near the barn and was stopped in my tracks by the sound. The tiny pollen spewing blooms had burst forth, and the bees had found this critical source of early spring food. The tree was so full of bees that you could hear the buzz, just standing underneath it.

MapleBloomI’ve found someone to disk or plow under the pasture in the garden spot, as well as turn over the perennial bed that will hold the berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries), as well as asparagus, some perennial herbs, and perhaps a few grape vines. This is a one time thing, as after the sod is broken up, I should be able to work the soil with a walk behind tractor-tiller. Today, I’m starting some onion seeds in flats indoors (late, I might add. This warm climate is going to take some getting used to).

I’ve found a source of compost made from the waste of confinement dairies. The company office is right here in Walla Walla. OK, so this is not the ideal, in terms of supporting an industry – confinement dairy farming – that has some serious issues. That said, this is a great product that fully embraces turning what is often a toxic waste stream into a value added product, ala ZERI (Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives). The manure is composed on site at the dairies, cutting way down on the transportation carbon footprint. And they test for residual herbicide contaminates. It will be a great fertilizer/soil amendment until I can get my own compost going in volume. I’ve also found a women on Craig’s List who has rabbit poo and red wiggler worms – music to this gardener’s ears.


Lilac in waiting.

I’ve been searching for/researching non genetically modified organism (GMO) and/or organic poultry feed. According to the USDA, in 2011, 94% of soy and 65-73% of corn grown in the US contains GMO’s. Both are common ingredients in poultry feed. There are a lot of issues with GMO’s that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that I would prefer to avoid them.

Scratch and Peck feeds, out of Bellingham WA on the west slope, is making a no soy-no GMO feed that runs $25 for a 40 lb bag. It is not organic. It is not available locally. It is clearly aimed at folks who have a few pet chickens in their back yard. And I’m not that concerned about avoiding soy in my feed (somewhere around 1% of the population has a diagnosed soy allergy, but some believe that there are other issues with this prevalent ingredient). That said, this area grows a lot of field peas as a rotation crop to wheat, and if I could use peas instead of soy beans in a feed, it would make the feed more local.

Northwest Organic Food LLC, a grain mill out of Endicott WA, about 100 miles north of here, has organic poultry feed, and can ship it to Walla Walla by freight for around $22 for a 50 lb bag. (I’m currently paying about $14 for a 50 lb bag of conventional feed). It’s something to consider. I’m going to try to put together a group of buyers for this area, once the farmer’s markets get going. The “Nutrena” brand I get from my local feed store potentially contains grains from other countries, as well as GMO soy and corn. Not exactly what I am looking for, though the price is right. Even with this “not quite right” feed, my eggs are still so much better than store-bought that it is a pleasure just to see them in a pan. I currently sell them for $3.50 a dozen and would like to keep the cost low so that those on a budget can still afford them.

For an interesting report on organic eggs you can buy at the store, and how the companies that produce them stack up, can be found here.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re miles away from understanding how grain mills work, but are certainly willing to ask questions.