Bartel's Christmas Trees & Treasures-Steve, Judy & Brian Bartels

Diary of Steve Bartels -Bartels Christmas Trees & Treasures

Monday April 4   

What a day, it rained almost the entire day. We don’ t have our rain gauge out, but if we didn’t get at least an inch, I would be very surprised. The first thing we did was to get the pictures and the information from last week into Cathy at Farm Bureau. It was a great day to catch up on farm expense and income accounts. We have not used Quicken or any other electronic accounting package; we will need to do that when the business gets bigger. Now we just enter into OSU’s Ohio Farm Account Book and save the receipts for Connie Schenck, our Accountant. I did start an Excel spreadsheet to summarize the information in the book. We separate the information into trees, rental and general farm. We are required to keep the tree information separate from the rest of the farm because we can’t take off those expenses until we have income from the trees; it’s called capitalization. The spreadsheet should make it easier for Connie next January. 

Tuesday April 5    

Today we decided to sell the first of the corn we will plant in late April or early May. We sold a contract to Brubaker Grain in Collinsville for about 10 percent of our expected production.  We are to deliver the grain in October or November. It is a little scary selling grain you haven’t even planted yet. If you don’t produce what you have sold, you have to go out and buy corn to deliver to the grain merchant. Grain prices are usually at the low of the year in the month that you harvest them. For wheat that is July, and for corn and soybeans that is September and October. That makes sense, the price is determined by supply and demand and you get most supply and the least demand at harvest time in most years. But think what would happen if rain kept you from planting the crop! We also prepaid, purchased the nitrogen we will use on our corn in June. We did this because we don’t think the price is going down now that planting is upon us. If the soils are dry, farmers will start to plant corn next week and soybeans the third week in April. Nitrogen is the most plentiful gas in our atmosphere. Corn and wheat can not get the nitrogen out of the air the way soybeans can. We must purchase and apply it to the soil because Nitrogen is one of the major nutrients plants need.

Wednesday April 6   

The farm accounts and the new spreadsheets are now up to date. It takes me a long time to do what I want on the computer. That’s a combination of my age and the age of the computer, I imagine. I would have never thought that I would say the computer is one of the pieces of “equipment” I use as much as any other. Twenty-five years ago we had only one computer for everyone at OSU Extension, Butler County. I had no idea how to even turn it on. One person did all the computer work, even downloading and printing everyone’s e-mails.    When you are growing a business, you need help from your friends. In our case it is using some equipment we don’t own. We borrow a sprayer three times a year from Adam Smith, who goes to our church. He has a spray tank mounted on his Four Wheeler, equipped with a spray wand. The wand is a small tube with a nozzle in the end. The tube is attached to a handle and a 15-foot long sprayer hose. It works great for spraying our tree rows and fencerows. Since we use the equipment only about 10 days out of the year, it’s hard to justify the expense of ownership. We don’t rent it from him because he would need to declare that to the IRS. He lets us use it free and we make a contribution to his three daughters’ college fund.    We had hoped to spray today, so I picked up the sprayer and made sure it was ready to use this season. Adam had it in great condition, just a little air in the tires and water in the tank and we were ready. The only trouble was Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. The wind was blowing from 15 mph to gust in excess of 30 mph, so we needed to change our plans. The chemical would have blown everywhere but where it would have done the job.    We put mulch around the base of the shade trees that Brian planted around the farmhouse, four years ago. We put Aquashade, a food coloring-like dye, into the pond to help protect it from weeds and algae. We will need at least one more treatment with the dye this summer. New rain dilutes the color and allows sunlight to reach the bottom, stimulating plant growth. We also have plant-eating fish in the pond. We don’t use herbicides in the water.

Thursday April 7   

Today the big activity was getting samples of soil from each of our cropland fields. We need to know that we are not taking more nutrients out of the soil than we are adding. If the major soil nutrients: phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium are not replaced, the fields would eventually need to be abandoned. On the other hand, if the crops are not using the entire nutrient we applied because of drought or other reason, nutrients could wash into steams and lakes as soils erodes, and pollute the environment. If nutrient levels are adequate, no fertilizer needs to be applied. The samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis. We take samples every three years. It is nice to know how much nutrient is available to your plants in any given year; but it is a necessity to know, over time, if the trend in available nutrients is going up, down or at about the same level. We study at least nine years of soils test data when deciding how much fertilizer to apply.    Many farmers today hire companies to use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to take samples of fields on 2.5 acres grids. The information is fed into computers and the fertilizer is applied, more or less, to each grid area based on that area’s soil analysis. Some farmers sample by soil type within a field. Soils in Butler County have been mapped and published by the Natural Resource Conservation Service since 1978. A soil type is defined by texture, structure, moisture permeability, slope, and several other factors. There can easily be six or eight soil types in a field. Other farmers only send one sample in for analysis for each field as long as there are less than 25 acres in a field. One sample is made up of about 25 cores pulled from different locations. The cores are pulled using a stainless steel probe, which is pushed into the soil eight inches deep. The soil is then placed in a plastic bucket, so that, a metal bucket won’t possibly contaminate it. This way, you have a sample that represents the soil profile to a depth of eight inches, that is not contaminated by rust or other material. Tomorrow I plan to sample the soils in our hay field and two pastures.    

Friday April 8     

Judy’s students are almost done working with their preceptors. After three week I think everyone is ready to get back to the normal routine. I usually drive her on the night shift, because I worry about her, especially about deer running into her. You might think that is strange, but particularly in the Oxford area, there is a large population. One night we saw ten deer in our headlights, another night eight. Deer damage many crops for area farmers. They are extremely damaging to Christmas trees. They not only nip out the growing new buds in the spring, but the bucks also rub their antlers on the tree trunk. They can shred a tree you have grown for years, making it worthless for sale. We have been fortunate so far in our planting, with no damage. I hope that Mike and Bert’s dogs, or what ever has kept them away, continues to work.   

Saturday April 9     

It rained 1.4 inches today. Yes I finally put out my gauge! That means, with no additional rain, we will not be able to plant the trees for several days, maybe a week. It is critical to get them planted as soon as possible. The new small roots, that provide the tree with moisture in late June through the early September, grow best in the spring when it is cool and when there is plenty of moisture. If they are just sitting in holding beds, they lose the opportunity to grow as many new hair roots as possible. There is nothing we can do about it but…! We watered our new seedling trees last year, using drip tape. The tape has small a hole in it about every twelve inches. The tape is designed on the same principle as a soaker hose, but is less expensive. We ran hose about 400 feet to the tape. A timer turns the water on for 12 hours, and then off for 12 hours. In about 72 hours you have applied the equivalent of an inch of rain. We only water trees we planted in the spring. Established trees are less susceptible to drought damage because roots go father into the soil.

We lost about 20 of our 1000 new trees last summer and another five or six over the winter. We pulled them out along with another eight from the 3000 established trees.We now have 10 soil samples in the garage after we pulled three more from the hay and pasture fields yesterday. We will let them air dry over the weekend and mail them to the lab.

Tomorrow is Sunday. We plan to go to church and go to Eaton to visit Mom. We are also going with a friend to Richmond, Ind. to see a musical. Sounds like fun. Talk to you next week.     





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