Growth and Renewal!

20 09 2010

Well, it has already been a long season, but it isn’t over yet! We are growing a lot here on the farm.  Herds and flocks have increased with the birth of new piglets, lambs & calves and now our farmyard is growing too. The fire set us back last December, but we’ve taken a leap forward and are rebuilding and making it all bigger and better. All summer long the farmyard has undergone a vigorous transformation as we called in excavators to level, dig, fill-in and move vast quantities of soil, rocks and other forms of earth. But the whole yard will be a better place as a result. As of this point, the new barn foundation is almost, but not quite finished. It is the farmstand that is really a marvel- the huge hole that no one managed to fall in that appeared one afternoon in front of the sugarhouse, has become, first a concrete lined foundation that looked surprisingly like a swimming pool and then had a deck built across it (perfect for kids on bikes and easier access to the front door) and now, in one incredibley hot, long, sweaty and amazing day, our timberframe sugarhouse. There is still a lot to be done, but the putting up of the frame feels like a huge accomplishment after a summer of anticipation, sleepless nights, and agonizing detail work (and we weren’t even cutting the frame or doing the architectural plans). And yet, we laid our hands on giant beams, seven different native species, every tree cut from right here on the farm (and some the most beautiful even rejected by the log buyers and destined for firewood!) and we lifted, strained, stretched and pulled them into their specific places. Like a perfectly formed puzzle, they went together with efficiency and beauty. We had one joint to chisel and saw and one slightly loose brace- to me, those are just the small flaws in the Persian carpet so that we appease the jealous gods.

 Now that it is fall again and the leaves are starting to turn- we are once again putting the fields to bed, planting cover crops, planning winter animal housing and putting in additional seeds to keep growing veg throughout the cold months. We are going to use a combination of quick hoops (thank you Eliot Coleman) and a new hoophouse that we are getting a grant to help purchase from NRCS. We’ll continue to use the raised beds in our transplant production house- keeping it as a ‘coolhouse’ for the more tender winter vegetables (not tomatoes folks, but the veg that are fine at 30 degrees, but not any colder). We’re trying to come up with a plan to keep supplying some of our members with fresh organic veggies throughout the year, but we are starting small. Last season, somehow and even starting really late, we had delicious salad in January- but we had a few failures too. The greenhouse was set too warm at first and we wasted a lot of propane; the arugula variety we planted was terrible- flavor was awful and it didn’t grow well; bull’s blood beets had HORRIBLE germination (it said this on the packet, but even planted at 3x the normal density, it barely did anything) what did grow was incredible but not until March. Unusual successes balanced our first attempt- the most amazing turnip greens anyone has ever tasted and claytonia rocks! So we are experimenting and learning and expanding and giving season extension another go.

The drought here in the Northeast has been challenging. We did buy the irrigation equipment we needed, but never installed it. Surprisingly the tiny amounts of rain we’ve gotten here and there and good root growth established by the long season plants in the spring somehow got us through. Walking through three inches of dust in some of the fields was a little daunting, but when you are doing that and harvesting the most beautiful, delicious tomatoes & peppers you’ve ever grown- what can you say? The fall brassicas will certainly suffer some size to the lack of rain however, but the pac chois, chinese cabbage and turnips seem to be coming in just fine. We tried to time our direct seeded crops with high chances of sprinkles- it worked for the most part and we’ll have salad, mustards and mesclun through the fall.

Animal news: After spending the summer away from the farm- in fields down the street owned by the Musante family- the cows are finally home again. It is amazing to see them out there on the green hills again. They birthed all their calves while they were away. Going to check on the cows was a little like opening presents throughout July & August as one calf after another was born. Who would notice one of the girls was thinner? Who would get the first view of the new calf? Heifer or bull calf? What interesting color pattern would it have? Because our girls are Belted-Galloway/Highland crosses or Heirford/Angus crosses and they were bred to a white faced, grey with white belt  Beltie/Murray Grey- all the calves are different and in surprising combinations. Our most wide belted cow had a all black calf, our Black baldie had a solid dun calf.  It has been great fun and also makes us realize just how complicated genetics really are.

The pig herd is slowly growing: they have spent all summer grazing on a specially planted forage mix  of oats, turnips, rape and sorghum sudan grass that we sowed for them in Holiday field. It was all organic seed and we put them on organic feed that we bought in from two different sources. Unfortunately, the pigs HATED the feed,one type was a ground mash and they just spread it around the other was a pellet which they ate, but it was clear that they weren’t happy about it (and we are talking about piglets here- not the sows- they had never had anything to compare it to). They are enjoying the forage we planted, but they don’t root up the turnips the way we thought they would. Other problems with the forage mix is that neither the oats nor the sorghum germinated well. The oats were planted all over the farm- we had great hopes for the fifteen acres we planted in one field for straw…..alas, it was obviously bad seed. Kind of a bummer, but I guess that is the nature of this business- you win some and some you don’t. We ended up going back to the non-organic ( but not medicated) feed that our local feed company puts together.  I wish we could find an organic feed that looked this good- whole or cracked grains mixed with rich molasses….it looks and smells like good granola and the pigs love it.

After a successful and fairly uneventful lambing (our girls all gave birth either in the morning, in the field during the day or right before bed- very convenient for the farmers) where we only had to assist one ewe with her lambs,  the sheep flock has been a challenge this season. Somehow drought on our farm equalled fly strike for them. Fly strike is also just a nice way of saying MAGGOTS. We’ve been battling foot rot & scald and maggots all summer. We’ve trimmed and treated their feet numerous times, but it is clear that we need to do some heavy culling to get rid of carrier ewes. There isn’t a whole lot we can do about the maggots except keep killing them, but we had them hitting ewes and lambs that didn’t have anything wrong with their feet. It has not been fun, and even though our lambs are big and beautiful and we are very proud of them- we won’t be making any sort of profit on them this season.

Our amazing apprentices, Susan & Tony are planning on staying on with us this winter to help with the interior construction of the store & barn and for sugaring. We’ve added Seth Tebo to our team this year- he’s the guy who’s always fixing something and covered in grease. Lily Crane and Zach Sears both worked on the crew for the summer season and though both are back at school, Zach is continuing to help out afterschool. Jonathon Sawtelle, who has worked year-round for the farm for the last four seasons, is off to college at Paul Smith’s in the Adirondacks (though he keeps showing up for a day of work here and there since apparently they won’t let him drive a tractor up there in the North Country- fools they be).  It has been a great summer and we’ve never laughed so much- thank you to all the crew for making it easier by just showing up and being there. Thank you for the extra pair of hands despite the heat, the cold, the blight, the maggots, the wet, the drought, ‘the cows are out’, ‘the sheep are out’, ‘the pigs are out’ and especially for the wicked early mornings and long days and so very much more. We can’t do this without a good team….. cheers.

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