Waiting on sweet corn and melons

6 08 2008

July was hot and wet-we’ve had some incredible storms here in the Northeast. We remain lucky in that while we have gotten an amazing amount of rain, we have avoided anything more intense. One major power outage, lasting almost 20 hours, had us scrambling for a generator to keep the freezers cold and bringing up water for the animals from the river because when we lose power we also lose water. The farm hasn’t really had to worry about extended power outages for a long time, but this one really brought home the realization that while we can go without power for some time without too much personal inconvenience-we have a lot of animals that desperately need to be kept well watered, especially the nursing cows and sows. The cows can get their own water from the streams, but the hogs and chickens desperately depend on water being brought to them for drinking. The hogs also depend on water for ‘mudding’ to keep them cool and protected from the sun since they can’t sweat and their skin burns just like ours does.

No water also meant that we couldn’t wash vegetables for our Saturday CSA vegetable distribution- which our members gracefully understood, but it was one more stone on the wall of ideas that we have had for some of the various alternative energy resources we could get going on the farm. Hancock Shaker Village, before it became a museum, relied on water power to run many of its industries on the farm, from the dairy to the woodshop. They built a reservoir one mile away and up from the farm in order to have gravity-fed water power, now….we have a reservoir on the farm- about a mile away and up the mountain from the farm and we are presently researching small-scale hydro-turbines. We also have a constant breeze blowing through the farm like it was a giant wind tunnel, perfect for a windmill, which wouldn’t generate enough power for the whole farm’s needs, but would go a long way towards alleviating some of our huge energy costs. I mean, why not. If we could provide our own clean power on the farm or at least generate part of it-it would help the farm and the world. Anybody know anything about any of these subjects? Any advice would be welcome.

CSA & Vegetable news: I love seeing so many folks out in the Pick-Your-Own garden right now, even though the peas and strawberries are gone, the green beans were ready right on time to replace them and there were always lots of flowers and basil and other herbs and it just made me smile to see so many people enjoying themselves. Even some of the cattle escaped to come up and see what all the ruckus was about (though they found the newly growing buckwheat cover crop to be far more exciting that the flowers).

The members seem really happy with their weekly produce-at least, we haven’t heard many complaints. August is when the season really gears up and moves from mostly greens to lots of fruits (though we still have greens) such as summer squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes and sweet corn. Desirée is gearing up her ‘Ze-a-lator’ with Bt and veggie oil to keep the baby corn worm-free and hopes to have corn in the next couple of weeks.

Fall crops are still getting transplanted and started outside the greenhouse. The first of the fall cabbages, broccoli, purple pac choi & kohlrabi went in last week along with some trial runs of green and red-veined sorrels. We also started some fennel, but that proved to be too irresistable to either birds or rats and they totally destroyed it. We’ve broken out the covered benches that Jesse cleverly designed to keep out the critters and we haven’t had any repeat destruction. Fall transplants are tricky to get going as the sun is very hot this time of year and seeds don’t like to germinate, but we’ve found that it works well to start them outside in soil blocks in solid bottomed flats (which hold moisture longer than the more open lattice bottomed flats) and then keep them covered by the lattice bottomed flat until the seeds pop makes for healthy germination and less likelihood of ‘stretching’ in the seedlings. We also always cover the seeds with at least a light coating either vermiculite or potting mix. We have to be careful to keep an eye on them so that they get uncovered as soon as we see the seedlings popping out of the soil and don’t get too dry. We’ve had our seedlings go through some pretty heavy thunderstorms where we were sure they were washed out or lost to drowning only to be pleasantly surprised to find them happily germinating in their appropriate blocks.

Animal news: Our first calf was born on July 24th to Cascade. He’s a ¾ Galloway to ¼ Highland cross, and to prove it he has a ¾ belt around his middle like a big ‘C’. We totally missed his birth which happened when we weren’t looking (in fact, it happened somewhere in a less than hour and a half period between checks, it was as if Cascade was just waiting for us to disappear and leave her alone long enough to have her baby, get him up and nursing just so that she could give us the look that says ‘harumph, I definitely didn’t need your help.’) Cascade is proving to be a great mother- she’s hiding her calf in the tall grass like a pro-she is doing it so well that we’ve had a couple of scares until we realize that he’s less than 10 feet from her, though you practically have to be right on top of him to know. He’s a total ham- he scampers and capers around doing little dances- as long as he doesn’t know that you are watching, if he sees you he hightails it back to his momma like a shy little puppy.

 We moved Pinky and her dozen piglets out onto pasture for the first time this month and they have all integrated well with the others. That makes a total of twenty piglets out on pasture, total number of pigs in the field is 27. We’re getting quite a sizable crowd out there. Pinky is particularly happy to be out of the barn. This is the first time for her in her life. She always had a large outdoor run, but this is the first time she’s ever had access to lots of sod, grass and earthworms that just keeps repeating itself everytime they get moved to a new spot.

The young pullets (born on March 3rd) have just started giving us a few tiny eggs, but that is a great sign. It means that we will soon have good-sized eggs available for sale and will no longer have to keep turning our friends and neighbors away when they come looking for our ‘tasty’ eggs. It also means that Desiree won’t have to continue to stress out that she won’t have enough to give to our CSA shareholders who bought eggs in advance. It has been quite an experiment, but we’ve learned a lot and the main thing is that we can’t really have too many hens. So we will increase the numbers again next year. We went looking for more hens and realized that they are few and far between, but we lucked into some lovely 10 week old pullets- Aurancana and some (what we can puzzle) are Silver Leghorns. They won’t give us any eggs for another 3 months or so, but it will be a good thing when they do. That brings the current flock size up to about 145 birds or so, but we will have to say good-bye to some of our older ladies in the later part of the fall. We will probably offer them to folks who would like some home layers who don’t lay every day, but still give 4-5 per week.

 What’s available at the Farmstand?

The farmstand is open four days a week (barring the occasional labor shortage)- M, W & F from 3-6p and Sat from 10:30a-3p and we have a nice array of veggies, dressings, jams, maple syrup and blueberries. Vegetables include: fresh lettuces, summer squashes and patty pans, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, new potatoes, cucumbers & swiss chard. We will soon have organically managed sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. We will be working on getting the electric installed at the stand so that we can carry our pastured pork cuts, bacon & ham along with some other locally produced cheeses and yogurts. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to procur a good source for local breads, but plan to keep looking.

Other Farm News: We’re making lots of hay this year, despite the frequency of the rain. We got a new round baler and it is making all the difference. Lots of cattle and hopefully, sheep, means that we could really utilize a lot more of our own hay right here on the farm instead of trying to sell all of it. So we are also borrowing a friend’s round bale wrapper to make our own silage bales. You’ve probably seen them at some point in your travels, they look like bright white marshmallows piled and lined up along the edges of fields or barns, particularly dairy barns. Well, these are round bales of hay that have been baled slightly wetter than would ordinarily be recommended (since wet hay usually equals rapid decomposition- so rapid that they can catch on fire), but because these bales are then sealed in plastic the anaerobic environment makes it perfect to grow the right lactobacillus bacterias to literally pickle the grass inside. Wrapping some of our bales has really been a Grace this summer- with all the wet days we haven’t had as much drying time as we’ve needed to make as much good first and second cut hay as usual- but they’ve worked well to make these silage bales.




One response

13 08 2008
Bob Bunt Burke

The round bales are instant “Farm Art”.
Mery marshmellows of Holiday farm, a sweet rolling place in the Berkshire sun.
Bob Bunt Burke,Artist

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