Late Summer on the Farm

Life seems so much easier now that the pond is running and the koi are out of the garage. We still have a gazillion tasks like finishing off the last wall of the equipment house, pergola, wood cladding around the pond, landscaping – basically years of work ahead and nothing is ever totally finished. However, the koi are now in a good environment for growth and maintenance.

We hosted the Charlotte Koi Club for their August meeting. It’s a really nice group of people and I believe just about everyone maintains a koi pond. A few members show koi but the bulk of members just like having pretty fish swimming around some very attractive water gardens. We generally meet once a month somewhere, have some food to share, usually have a presentation related to something about ponds and/or koi, and just hang out. The group members support each other with advice on koi health and sharing information – like where to buy the nicest japanese maples or have you tried <insert restaurant name> in Charlotte.

One of the members that attended our meeting returned a week later to pick some koi that I wanted to rehome. Some koi keepers, not all, get annoyed when their koi are just not panning out developmentally the way we would like (or hope). Given that buying young koi is always a gamble and most koi seem to have the tendency to disappoint – most koi keepers are very tolerant and keep them in their pond. I’m not too tolerant, or patient, and I don’t find disappointing koi lovable. They are eating food that costs around $10.00/pound and taking up space for the next promising koi I want to buy. So my asagi with the orange head, a pretty male kohaku, and a goshiki with breakthrough sumi (black) on its beni (red) found someone who was willing to love them and keep them in their pond. I think they actually went to a very nice looking pond. There are a few other koi that will be on my chopping block for rehoming next year. The only way to “be sure” you have that gorgeous koi is to buy the larger, more finished koi. The flip side is that it takes all the fun out of choosing and raising a koi. Chasing a dream is more interesting.

Sometimes you don’t rehome a koi, you turn it into long term fertilizer. Our oldest koi was a shiro utsuri named Natsumi. She was ten years old and the last few years she has had a round of problems that look like aeromonas or pseudomonas each year. On Wednesday I noticed a few spots on her back and thought, “I’ll take care of it over the weekend.” Well Saturday rolls around and the spots have multiplied, she looks like she has chicken pox. We decided to treat her with a potassium permanganate dip and possible antibiotic injection. In the past I have just given her an injection and she has recovered. During the dip I noticed that she actually had a lot more problem spots that were not evident because they were just starting or on the sumi (black) scales areas. The potassium permanganate is an oxidizer and you can see it working on the skin. Many koi keepers would probably set up a quarantine tank and nurse the koi back to health. Well my impatience won over compassion and a beautiful dwarf japanese maple graces her final resting place in our garden.

Just to ensure that our new pond wasn’t teeming with the heebie jeebies, we did a potassium permanganate treatment of the entire pond. The goal would be to knock out a fair amount of pathogens that will make koi sick. The koi aren’t super fans of the process and you need to watch carefully for any koi that might be getting overstressed. The water stayed purple for a very long time which is a good sign. If you have “dirty” water, the pond will be turning brown quickly. After a few hours we neutralized with hydrogen peroxide and enjoyed some fresh looking koi.

The twenty koi left in the pond looked pretty lovely.

Natsumi rests under a beautiful japanese maple Shaina given to us by some koi friends.

Getting things to grow on the farm is still not something I’m very good at. I’m learning about when to spray, what pests to look for when, how to stop the pests, how to control some of the effects of the blazing Carolina sun, et al. I have a lot of ideas to try out and one was adding some raised beds on the south side for plants that don’t need deep soil. I’m waiting for some hoops so that these beds will not be dug up by the free ranging chickens. They have been playing in the tomato bed behind the garage and I have found a multitude of our favorite momotaro tomatoes with chunks pecked out. We are also moving the tea plants to the south side of the house. I’m hoping that the third time we plant them will be the right spot. Successive plantings is yielding some good results, like cantare bush beans. Squash and zucchini are definitely difficult for me because the squash bug and squash vine borer have been playing tag team all summer. I planted a lot of companion marigolds and feel they were marginally helpful. There’s always another year to do better. I’m devoting some time this weekend to placing bricks on the floor of my greenhouse and painting them black. Winter greenhouse has been two fails so far.

The new pullets are growing rapidly and getting close to mingling with the older flock. Unfortunately the few times I have mixed an adult or two with the pullets, the pullets get bullied. So I’m doing a system of afternoon playdates for one to two hours where the pullets get to hang with different adult hens. After playdate time, they return back to their blue house. The older hens have their new hen house on the opposite side of the run. We’re probably a month away before I feel comfortable letting the pullets free range with the older flock. Egg production fluctuates a great deal. One day we have eight eggs, then next day only four.

A new side project is some steps up to the pond area. Pond builder is making them out of black walnut which is very hard and decomposes very slowly. We’re modeling them after some round log steps we saw in Japan. We have been trying to get rid of black walnut stumps by setting them on fire – not a wildly successful strategy.

Something new that we would like to avoid. Copperheads are born at the end of August and the pond builder found a young one curled under the pallet holding dirt for my new raised garden beds. Never one to take a knife to a gunfight, pond builder chose the 12 gauge shotgun to dispatch it. This is the first copperhead we have seen on the farm which is kind of surprising. I wouldn’t mind going another three years before seeing the next copperhead.

Every day on the farm brings assorted turkeys, rabbits, raccoons, possums, skunks, feral cats, coyote and deer. Always an adventure.