Low Sugar Season & the greening

18 04 2009

sheepatrestwideshotAs you may have heard by now, this season’s maple sugaring was a bit of a bust. Turns out that since we didn’t have a January thaw this year (remember that frigidness?) the maple trees didn’t have their chance to concentrate those sugars in their sap and so when the sap started running in March, the sugar content was lower than usual making for longer boiling times, higher mineral content and hence, darker syrup. Now we don’t mind so much since we like the darker syrups, but there are going to be a lot of disappointed folks out there who like light or medium amber. This wasn’t just in our area, this was everywhere and contrary to popular belief, it had nothing to do with the ice storm, since we didn’t have any major damage to our sugar bush from the storm. So the sap started running and it was measuring at 1.5% sugar instead of 2% and we got dark amber which rapidly turned to B and then to what is called ‘commercial’ grade- syrup so dark and rich when it came out of the evaporator that it looked like motor oil. Of course, we love it since we can’t get enough of that delicious maple flavor, and, it turns out, we have some customers that are delighted that we have it this year (we usually don’t offer it- it goes into 5 gallon jugs and is shipped off to a wholesaler). In any case, we’re going to bottle some into ½ gallon mason jars and quarts, so if you like it dark, come on by. The only really disappointing part of this sugaring season is that we didn’t get as much syrup as we usually do (no one did, so expect prices to soar) and we’ll most certainly run out before the end of the year.

 pippininheaven

Animal news; We’ve got sheep! Yep, Holiday Brook has finally gotten sheep and no one is more excited than Pippin. Turns out she’s a sheep dog after all. She’s o.k. with cattle and hogs, but she’s made her preference really apparent in the last couple of weeks since our ‘starter flock’ of two ewes and four lambs arrived. We think that she could live in the barn as long as she could watch the sheep all day and if she disappears, well, that is usually where she can be found. She and Des are still floundering their way through learning each other’s language, but together they are learning to work as a team and are starting very small so don’t expect to see them at any herding demos in the near future.

Elsie and Bessie are two grade Romneys (meaning mostly Romney with a little bit of other breeds mixed in) and they came from Crabapple Farm in Chesterfield. Elsie is actually Desiree’s original bottle lamb that she bought (along with Elsie’selsie sister Charlotte) from Hampshire College 5 years ago. Now Elsie has come with her 3 year old daughter Bessie and their lambs from this spring. Elsie has two daughters this season, Flower (silver and black) and Sprite (white with red ears and legs) & Bessie has a daughter, Cleo (a deep chocolatey black/silver) and a boy, Leo whom she rejected- which is supposedly something she did last year as well- but that Des and El and Morgan (and sometimes Jesse in a pinch) have been bottle-feeding. Leo has ensconced himself into the hearts of the kids and since we’d like to find a nice ram and some more lovely ewes to start our breeding flock, Leo might just find himself designated as ‘ram’s best buddy’ and prized for his gorgeous coal black fleece.spriteinhaywflower

All the new heifers are named: Sweet as Milk, Cocoa, Sugar, Treacle, Eclipse & Trickle. As I said before, it took until it was actually warm enough in the pasture for us to stand around scritching them and figuring out their identifying markings especially for the two that always seem to be hiding. All the cattle have grown quite a bit over the winter on our delicious second cut silage bales. It has been quite shocking to stand with what used to be little 7 month old calves and are now yearlings and have them be so big. They still look adolescent but are coming along nicely. River, Froth and Brook are definitely pregnant and are looking very round already, but calves aren’t really expected until July at the earliest.

Penny had her second litter and she is proving to be just as great a momma as her mother, Pinky. She only had 11 babes this go round, which is fine by us. She is gentle and nurturing pennypiglets2without being nervous or aggressive so she is definitely going to be a keeper despite the fact that she is not exactly what we were looking for in conformation (being shorter through the body). Still her good mothering, heath and gentleness are higher on our list of breeder priorities since we don’t like angry, aggressive mothers (these are big animals with sharp teeth and they can do serious damage if they don’t like what you are doing).

We had some overcrowding in the barn, except for mommas and babies, but we decided to sell a large number of partly finished hogs to a farmer in VT and so the barn is cleared out. Everyone else, except for Pinky and Penny will be moving out onto pasture in short order now that the new area is cleared, fence is built and their house has unfrozen from the winter pasture.

The new chicks are getting bigger and there have been no weird illnesses this year like lastcownose1 season’s fiasco. They will be moving out of their brooder shortly and into the main area of the stall that they are currently in (thank goodness they aren’t in my basement again this year). We will be building some roosts and hoping that that will solve the ‘roosting on the ground’ problem that we’ve had several years running. We have always assumed that the inclination to roost as high as possible was biological, but we haven’t experienced that. The last few years we’ve found that they ignore the roosts and prefer to roost on the ground underneath the mobile units instead of inside no matter the weather, the predators, et al. We’re hoping that by building roosts into this transitory space before they move into the mobile pasture unit will result in birds more likely to want to be inside at night and hence, safer. I got rather tired of going outside every night for the first month and beyond to drag birds out from under the house and tossing them inside onto roosts.

Farm news: The fields are greening up out there. A few more days of warm weather and we’ll be scrambling to get all the animals moved out of winter pastures and onto fresh grass. The smell of rich soil turned over to make vegetable beds will soon permeate throughout the farm, we could have started last week in some fields, but they aren’t designated for peas or spinach, so we’ll just have to wait.

A weasel has made himself at home, probably in the pig barn where he consumes small furry rodents. We think he is also responsible for killing chickens here and there (and maybe even for the mass slaughter of 16 birds last autumn, but we’re not sure about that one). We are weighting the balance of whether or not to let him remain here- he has gotten pretty comfortable around humans, which is not such a great thing, but he also takes out more rodents than the cats do. Our big worry is that if he leaves, another weasel may decide to move into the territory and decide that they like chicken a whole lot more than rat. So far, we’re accepting the gamble.

 movingflatsout

Veggie news: The small greenhouse recently got a new layer of earth-mat. We had mistakenly thought that is would be a grand idea to put five gallon containers of used fryer oil in the greenhouse for the winter so that they would have a chance of melting during sunny days and then we could filter it and have it all ready for the late spring/summer months when we use it in our tractors. However, I guess we just didn’t get to it enough and the rodents were very grateful for the high calorie nutrient source. They chewed little holes in the jugs and voila, used grease all over the floor of the greenhouse. YUCK. Cleaning it would have been a chore in itself and wouldn’t have dealt with the awful smell or the fact that the oil had soaked into the soil underneath. So we moved out the benches, ripped up the old floor, re-graded and even put in a little better drainage, and put down new mat. It looks great, was a fun team effort (that unfortunately had to span two weekends since I screwed up the earth-mat order) and the placingsupportsdavegreenhouse got a good overall in the process.  In between weekends we got all the alliums started and they are up and growing well. We are even trialing our own potting mix (made with our black gold compost) and it seems, so far, that those alliums are doing as well as the ones in the standard potting mix that we usually buy in. we’re using a standard Eliot Coleman recipe which is good for making soil blocks, only we add a little more compost than peat moss since we have lots of it.

The new Modine heater is going into the big green-house and some repairs are getting made to endwalls (we’re replacing the plastic which was only supposed to be temporary, with wood). The big house will be up and running in the next week which is just about the time when we run out of space entirely in the small house as Dave Burdick moves ‘Florida’ in (his shipment of bromeliads, specialty tropical ferns and other lovelies arrives making it look like a tropical paradise in the house).deswaitingbench1

 The CSA is filling up fast, there are only about 25 shares left, so if you have been thinking about it, get your sign-ups in quickly.

 We are planning a large Plant sale for the week-ends of May 16th & 23rd. Come by the farm to pick-up all your garden transplants. We’ll have a host of heirloom tomatoes, herbs, flowers and others.

placing-bench2

Compost is being screened and is ready to go! Our beautiful black gold (or brownie mix, whichever seems more wonderful to you) is ready to make your gardens and lawns gorgeous. We deliver in bulk or you can pick up bags here at the farm. Give us a call.

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2 responses

19 04 2009
Bob Bunt Burke

We are delighted to read the Barnyard Bull today.
What a wonderful job you have done to Holiday Brook Farm.
Margaret and I miss being part of the life on the farm. Margaret is happy to see you have the famous “Barn Cats”. Grey Jimmy was a great cat who liked to teach our dog,”Becky” to hunt rodents. I have a small painting of them. It shows them in a shed staring at a hole while over head on a shelf a mouse looks down and laughs or whatever mice do when they are happy.
Do to our age and health I assume we shall never be able to get up to the hills of home again. We shall always have our wonderful memories.
Please give our best regards to Dicken, Stephanie and his family, and to Timmy and Patty Crane.

4 05 2009
Beatrice Goodman

I am anxiously awaiting the time when the farm will be open again. Last year was our first year and unfortunately I got very sick at the beginning of the season… a feat I will not repeat this year..( I hope). All things medical have been addressed and I hope to see you-all in June to start getting not only the terrific vegis and ” thick as motor oil” maple syrup but the great people that make the farm work as well as it does…..Bea and Carl Goodman

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