Dust In My Coffee

Dust In My Coffee

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Trees, Trees, Those Marvelous Trees

The world celebrates Earth Day on April 22nd with this year's theme "Trees for the Earth".    This annual event dates back to 1970 and originated in the United States.  I believe this year's theme about trees is one that farmers and activists can find common ground on.  After all, who doesn't like trees?  Trees help us with some of our basic needs like food and shelter.  How many of us enjoy a nice home because of trees?  How many fruits and nuts do we enjoy because of trees?  Yes, trees play an important role in our lives.  We could say that trees fill up our senses with their seasonal beauty, swaying branches, sweet flavors, soft breezes and shade for our picnics.  On our farm trees also play a practical role of helping us care for our cattle.

Trees add beauty no matter what season we are in!  The cattle on the south
side of this windbreak are spared the impact from our harsh winter winds.

As a Nebraskan I am proud to say our state takes tree planting very seriously.  In fact, April 22nd used to be the annual Arbor Day celebration until it was moved to the last Friday of April.  The early pioneers that settled in Nebraska missed their trees in our mostly treeless state.  The Nebraska landscape changed when Julius Sterling Morton, a journalist, advocated for setting aside one day a year for planting trees.  In response to J. Sterling Morton's request the State Board of Agriculture declared to have one day set aside to plant trees.  Nebraskans planted over one million trees that first Arbor Day.  

Trees provide shade for numerous parks and playgrounds.  We
had many large trees to provide shade for our own playground.

Steve and I have joined the tree planting tradition put into place by the previous generations of Nebraska farmers.  Nearly every farmstead has trees planted on the north and west side of the house and barns for winter protection.  When Steve and I bought our farm in the early 1980's we had some established trees right around the house and barns.   Many of those trees are still standing.  With dreams of our own to expand the cattle feeding capability on our farm we first chose to plant more trees as windbreaks.  Over the past 35 years Steve and I have planted several thousand trees and shrubs on our farm.  The trees protect cattle from blustery winter winds, they hold snow keeping moisture where it is needed and the trees provide great habitat for wildlife.

This is our farm.  The majority of the trees on our farm have
been planted by Steve and I. A few of the trees in the
middle of the photo were planted by Steve's grandparents.

The first trees we purchased were from our local NRD (Natural Resources District).  The trees were about a foot tall with a little bit of root and resembled a stick with hair.  Steve would drive along with a tractor and post hole digger making holes for the trees.   I would follow with my bundle of trees planting them one at a time.   Every spring we continue to plant more trees.

This nest was in Emily's tree one spring.  Yes, birds love trees, too and
we are blessed to hear numerous species of birds singing on our farm.

We found that the key to growing good trees was to make sure they were watered throughout the summer months.  Since the majority of the trees were too far from the house to use a garden hose we had to make a plan that was easy, efficient and effective.   We put a 400 gallon plastic tank on the back of a pickup and filled it with water from the well.  We had a 2" hose that was 20 feet long with a shut-off valve on the end.   I would drive the pickup and Steve would walk behind watering the trees.

I wasn't alone in our pickup!  Our kids were very little when we started the majority of our trees so they went with us when we needed to water them.  Since it was often very warm and a little boring I created an activity to help pass the time.   I made up math equations using toys the children were most interested in.  For our son, Scott, it was Monster Trucks.  For our daughters, Ginger and Emily, it was Barbie dolls.  I would say something like this "You had five monster trucks and you left two at grandma's, now how many do you have?  Then you had a birthday and received three more, now how many do you have?"  I just had to keep coming up with situations of gaining and losing the toys and before you knew it we were at the end of the row of trees.

Steve and our son, Scott, walking through some Ash and Willow Trees
that we watered along with two rows of Cedar Trees.  Scott is now 30!

Steve and I continue to plant trees every year with nieces and nephews now getting the opportunity to help water them.  We  dig up Cedar trees that grow in nearby road ditches that are about 3-4 years old.  By using those Cedar trees we keep the road ditches maintained and we have trees that are six feet tall in just a few years.  Most of the Cedar trees are used to fill in where other trees have died.

Steve is carrying one more tree to the pickup.

Steve's job it to dig the holes.  My job is to
plant and water them. 

We also plant trees around our home for shade and visual enjoyment.  My in-laws started a neat tradition to help us get more varieties of trees around our home.  Our oldest daughter received the gift of a tree from her paternal grandparents as an eighth grade graduation gift.  That started the tradition for each of our five children when they graduated from eighth grade.

Our youngest daughter, Kim, is planting her tree with Steve.  She chose
an Ornamental Pear for her tree.  I have added two more since we
planted that one and they have gorgeous white flowers in the spring.
Kim with her tree the following spring.

I encourage you to join me in celebrating Earth Day.  Let's plant more trees and enjoy the many benefits they give us.  Join the farming community in recognizing that caring for the earth is a way of life, not just an event once a year.  As we move through spring and into the hot summer months I hope you find plenty of time to sit in the shade under a beautiful, marvelous tree!

My granddaughter loves flowers and thanks to the trees we
have she can pick them in the cool of the shade with my
nieces.  I have these daylilies planted all over our farm!

If you would like to know more about Earth Day you can watch an interview I had with Pure Nebraska here.  I also made a very tasty bacon wrapped meatloaf in another segment of the show that you can watch here.  I have the recipe below if you'd like to try making it!  Remember that one serving of beef is loaded with 10 essential nutrients including 25 grams of protein for only 150 calories!!

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf
   By Joan Ruskamp

Ingredients for Meatloaf:
1 lb ground beef
1 slice bread
1 egg-beaten
¼ cup milk
¼ cup sweet onion finely chopped
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

6 slices uncooked bacon
¼ cup brown sugar

Soak the bread with the milk in the bottom of a mixing bowl.    Add the egg, onion, ketchup, salt and pepper to the mix.  Add the beef and mix well.

Tear a sheet of aluminum foil that is at least a foot long.  Lay six slices of bacon on the foil.   Take the meatloaf mixture and form into a loaf shape and lay it along the bottom of the strips of bacon.   Sprinkle the brown sugar across the top of the meatloaf.  Roll the beef mixture until the bacon completely surrounds the loaf.  Place the meatloaf in the middle of the foil.  Wrap up and seal all the ends.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.   Remove meatloaf and open the top of the foil.  Place back into the oven for another 15 minutes.   Remove from the oven.   Carefully drain the juice by opening one end of the foil.  Slice the meatloaf and serve with sides or on a bun.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mother Goose

Once upon a time a mother goose and her lifelong mate chose to raise their young on a feedlot in Nebraska.  They chose to stay in Nebraska rather than continue the flight north with the rest of their flock.  The built their nest, laid the eggs and raised their fuzzy-haired little goslings on the feedlot holding pond.  The family of six were left pretty much alone as they spent their summer swimming around on the six acre pond.  The geese seemed quite content to have cattle for neighbors and farmers for friends.  

This is our farm.  At the top of the picture you can see our holding pond.  This
pond holds all of the water that runs off of our farm.  The water has nutrients
that we can use to put on our crops when we irrigate during the summer.  At
the bottom of the picture is a fresh water pond that keeps water from entering
the feedlot.  A fishing dock, island with a bridge and grilling area make this a
nice place for family and friends to gather.  The cattle live in between the ponds.

When fall came flocks of Canadian geese made their annual flight south for the winter. The mother goose, her mate and their goslings joined them knowing instinctively that Nebraska would turn cold.  The winter season came, winds blew and snow fell on the farm.  As spring approached the honks from Canadian geese flying north in their V formation were heard once again in the skies over the Nebraska farm.

The amazing V formation.  You can learn more about
research studies on why birds fly that way here.

It was during the migration north that the farmers heard a significant amount of honking on another pond close to their house.  About a dozen geese were honking and splashing in the water on a one acre pond.  They were flying around the farm, looking down on the cattle and then swooping back down on the water.  For about a week the geese played, honked and swam on the pond as the farmers continued their work with the cattle.   The geese didn't seem to mind Farmer Joan sitting on her 4 wheeler watching them.  They didn't seem to mind Farmer Steve stopping with the feedtruck to watch them play.

Some of the geese enjoying a calmer day on the water.

One morning it was very quiet on the pond.  Farmer Joan observed that only one pair of geese were still there.  A few days went by and it was apparent that the rest of the geese had moved on but this pair seemed intent on staying.  Was this the same pair that had raised their family on this farm the year before?  Did they decide to try raising their family on this smaller pond that the farm family also used for fishing, swimming and paddle boating?

The goose and the gander swimming together.

Yes, Farmer Joan and Farmer Steve noticed that mother goose had built a nest on a little man-made island in the pond.  The nest was on the south side underneath a six foot tall Cedar tree.  The mate would spend his day swimming around on the pond while mother goose could be barely seen curled up over the next of eggs.

The area on the island mother goose chose has two Cedar
trees and some daylillies that are just starting to grow.

A couple of weeks went by.  The weather in Nebraska continued to have warm days and then cold days, very windy days and calm nights.  The geese remained with one on the nest and one swimming nearby.  And then something happened.

Farmer Joan was going about her normal morning routine of checking the cattle when she noticed a small white spot on the north side of the little island.  She also noticed the mother goose was not on her nest.  Fear for the unhatched goslings siezed her as she recalled seeing two raccoons in the area the night before.  Did the raccoons scurry across the little bridge and steal the eggs?

As Farmer Joan approached the island she noticed one whole egg sitting by itself.  Her motherly instincts kicked in as she picked it up with her gloves, and then another egg and another as they lay scattered about.  She tenderly put the six eggs back in their nest and covered them up with the grass and feathers the mother had used.  The parents were nowhere to be seen.  Sadness for the unhatched goslings filled her heart.

The six eggs I put back in the nest.

Farmer Steve was perplexed along with Farmer Joan as they tried to figure out what happened.  Were the geese frightened by the raccoons?  Or did the coyotes that run wild in the area find the nest?  Maybe it was the fox they had seen running through a field the week before.  Or did the mother goose abandon the nest for another reason?  The forces of nature had definitely changed the outcome for six goslings.

We do our best to protect our cattle from predators and extreme weather
conditions.I like a quote from Temple Grandin "Nature is cruel but we don't
have to be."  If you'd like to read a few more quotes from Temple click here!

A couple of days went by and Farmer Joan was still feeling sad about not watching the family of geese swimming on the pond all summer.   Farmer Steve said he saw the pair back on the pond and perhaps they would start a new family all over again.  Will they start a family on the same pond?  Or will they go to the other side of the farm and start again where they had better luck the year before?  Stay tuned as we wait, watch and wonder what they do!