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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Catching Up!

6 04 2010

It has been a stressful winter here at the farm. We have suffered loss and tragedy, but we are striving to move forward carrying blessings in our hearts for all the goodness that remains with us.

A rundown of the events from November through December: Our beautiful silver Leicester ram, Raven, died defending his younger counterpart from coyotes early one morning in November. Arlo survived without a scratch and has been busy ever since breeding all our ewes.

In early December fire destroyed our pig barn/office/shop building along with Pinkie and Penny our two oldest (and favorite) sows and their piglets. Our brand-new payloader was also destroyed having been parked next to the barn for the night. All were a total loss, but by far the most horrendous was our sows. Contrary to initial reports (newspaper and rumor mill) the cause of the fire was not the heat lamp that we had over the piglets but was instead a section of un-conduited wire running inside the cavity under the loft on the western end of the barn. It was most likely rodents chewing through the wire that caused it to burn.

It is sometimes hard to explain how much we love, respect and honor our breeding stock. There are a lot of tough choices that go into deciding to keep an animal and pass on their genetics because we raise their offspring for meat. The decision to keep an animal means that they have a combination of traits, one of the most important being gentle and trusting personalities (if they trust you they won’t be stressed and scared and will be better mommas). Because we raise meat animals we aren’t allowed to form attachments until so many tests have been passed that when we finally decide to keep them, we lavish those few with as much love and attention as most folks do their in-home pets. Even with those animals that we are raising for harvest- we treat them with respect, we go to lengths to provide them with the highest quality care- and then, to lose our two oldest, most beloved sows to a fire. It is our job to protect them and we let them down. Raven, Pinkie & Penny all died in fear, desperately hoping we would save them, and we had a hard time reconciling ourselves to that.

But in the face of all of that- nobody else was hurt and that was the only barn we lost, it could have been so much more unimaginably worse.

Tulip, Lily & Jake, along with all the growing hogs were still out on pasture and the two girls needed a place to give birth in just a few short weeks which meant clearing out space in the hay shed and building pens strong enough to hold them. Everyone else needed water and feed during an unusually cold winter. Arlo rose to the challenge of breeding 20 ewes while still only 8 months old. We needed to build strong, heavy and ‘hot’ fence for the sheep to keep the coyotes from deciding they were tasty enough to try eating them again  and get the barn ready for them to be run in every night.

Sheep are in their winter paddock next to Cooper Barn with constant access to the outdoors and we’ve found that even on some of the coldest nights, as long as there is no wind, the girls prefer to be outside and sleeping in the snow. We really need to get some good pictures of them happily munching away on their hay and covered with an inch of snow.

Lambs started arriving on the very last day of March! Our first two were an incredibly small pair of lambs (we keep calling them ‘the kittens’ since they are about the size of 3 month old kittens). They were so small we called our vet, Yoanna Maitre to come out and check the ewe for a possible third lamb, but they were it. They were a little weak at first and so small that it was hard for them to reach their momma’s milk, so we gave them a little assistance for the first couple of days, but now they are thriving and looking forward to when they are big enough to go out on pasture with their younger half siblings (we’re a little concerned that a hawk will come along and take them away).

 

We have hired two apprentices, Susan & Tony Wood, who arrived on April 1st with their three pups. And we’re so excited to have them- we’ve been struggling these last few weeks to keep up and so they came just in the nick of time.

Brochures for the 2010 CSA are available- it has sign-ups for both Veggie and Meat CSA (you don’t have to sign up for both!) and I’ve also managed to put them up on the site. We’re expanding again so tell friends and neighbors who might be interested to check us out.

The ACRES Education Program got some funding to cover additional CSA shares to be distributed to needy families by the West Cummington Church (also devastatingly destroyed by fire this winter!) and through the Hinsdale Food Pantry. Whoo hoo! More food for those in need- we love it! Farm tours for local schools have ramped up this year and we’re really enjoying all the delighted faces of the kids that visit the farm.

Veggie News: The end of the growing season wrapped up beautifully last November, with raised beds going into the larger greenhouse and being planted with winter greens which we have been harvesting since January. And now we’re back to spring planting- starting transplants again in the greenhouse, getting geared up to spread compost and amendments on all the fields and plant the first of the peas and potatoes. The amazingly warm weather we’ve had in the last few weeks has pushed up the greening and brought a rather quick and decided end to our sugaring season. Another crappy year for maple syrup, so don’t be surprised when prices go through the roof again this year.





Frost on the Pumpkin

1 11 2009

frosty morningIt has gotten cold in the last month. Putting our hands in the water to wash vegetables for the last few weeks of CSA have been quite a challenge, but we bought some neoprene gloves for our apprentices, Jan & Ian, so they will still like us when they leave. Fences are getting built. Barns….well, not so much. There have been a few obstacles in the way of timely barn building so far this year and now we are running out of time. We may still make some progress toward the overall project before the cold, wind and (gasp!) snow hem us in, but it looks like we probably won’t see those timbers going up until spring. The pigs probably won’t notice. They love their snug shelters piled high with straw on the inside, tucked out of the wind in the trees or down in a hollow. They are certainly fat enough after a summer of veggies, earthworms, and free access sweet feed.

DSCF5196We took the CSA an extra week longer this year and are adding a special Thanksgiving distribution of whatever we have leftover. We’re very excited that we’ve been able to work out all the timing to bring this to our shareholders and hope to just keep making it better as time goes on. We’re trying some winter greens in our greenhouse over the winter to see how it all plays out. Yep. We’re going ‘Eliot’ around here. (so called for Eliot Coleman, the guru of winter harvests in the Northeast). If it works, next year we’ll offer some season extension share add-ons to our regular 20 week CSA season.

We are starting our Meat CSA in November for all of you in cyberspace that don’t know about it yet. We are offering 10# increments of Pork or Beef or a Combo for now (we’ll add lamb next fall). Call or email the farm for details. Pick-ups are the first or third Saturday of every month with all our other farm products being available for sale on those days as well (a mini-farm store with eggs, yogurt, breads, maple syrup and jams, etc.).

frothevasunsetAnimal News:

We had our calves born in the last few months since we’ve written. Plus two litters of piglets born on pasture to first time mommas, Tulip and Lily. Tulip produced a litter of seven of the cutest piglets we’ve ever had, including three all black (they look like the infamous Berkshire pigs that are all the fashion in meat these days), three spotted with red guard hairs and one lone all pink. All of Lily’s brood are as pink and spotless as they could come. We still can’t figure out the genetics on these guys. In any case, they are getting bigger now and are running around like mad making trouble hither and yon around the fields. Their fence has never been all that ‘hot’ so they have decided that a little shock is worth it for the adventures that lie beyond. Thank goodness for tolerant and level headed horses. They no longer even acknowledge the little squealing rugrats that are milling about in their pastures even when they are right underneath them. The piglets love horse poo. warm. oh well. The sheep were not quite so thrilled to find them in their paddock as the sheep moved through, but except for a few frayed nerves and one final, ‘i’ve had it, i’m leaving’ from the flock (which took escapeesthem further away and out of the range of piglet mania) everyone was fine. All of our animals are currently either moving through or are on the same large field and it has been really interesting to see the interactions between all the species. What is most fascinating is that the coyotes, who were singing and eating a chicken nightly have largely vanished from this field as soon as the cattle came in. That doesn’t mean that the cattle haven’t been making nuisances of themselves with the chickens- getting into their fence, eating their grain, occaisionally cornering one poor bird and chasing it in a gang from one end of the field to the other. Luckily no one has gotten hurt in any of this mischievousness, only stressed out and harried.

Interspecies grazing is certainly something that we’ve been considering, we were just sort of hoping it would be a little more controlled. C’est la vie.

What we have learned: Horses do not mind piglets or chickens and vice versa. Cattle and sheep ignore each other. Horses mostly ignore sheep. Sheep hate pigs. Pigs think sheep are funny.  Cattle ignore piglets but think chickens are fun toys. Chickens do not like this. The dog finds it all very fascinating.

We are borrowing a beautiful bull from Wheel-view Farm. A Murray Gray x Belted Galloway cross named Cook that is from the Goddard’s in Conway. When our hauler, Roberta, called to ask me about him and if he would be nice when we picked him up, my reply was that I didn’t really know, but that I figured if the Wheeler’s were buying him, he was probably almost as tame as a kitten. While I still wouldn’t turn my back when he’s out there with his ladies (cause that’s just irresponsible), the first minute I met him, he pretty much put his head in my armpit and begged for scritches. So. As far as bulls go, he’s a sweetie. He had a little bit of rough go at first with some of our randier steers (the smaller ones, of course). We kept a close eye, he kept his ground and seems to have established himself as top dog. He certainly bred Luna that first day, so we’ll be watching for a calf from her right off the bat next August.

DSCF5141We’re getting ready to put ram Raven in with the ewes in the next few weeks. I have no desire to even see a lamb before the middle of April, so we are waiting until the middle of November to mingle. But we finished the new sheep fold in Cooper Barn (or rather, Jan and Ian, our fabulous apprentices made the sheep fold renovation happen while Desiree & kids were sick in bed with the h1n1 flu virus). It looks great and ready for bedding and sorting of sheep for breeding. We just need to build a winter paddock for them and it will be complete.

We are running out of grass in some areas, but we still think we’ll get another month on pasture for everyone before we have to start feeding out hay. We even cut another field of haylage here at the end of October. It probably won’t be the best haylage we’ve made this summer, but it is still some and it is better than dry first cut for the pregnant cattle.

We say good-bye this month to our wonderful apprentices, Jan & Ian. They were true shining stars and this season would have been very hard without them. They’ve made our third season on the farm a true joy and we hope that they had fun, learned a lot and go forth to their future knowing that we cherished their enthusiasm, warmth & kindness (not to mention their fabulous work ethic!). They go on from here to manage the Daloz CSA in Hancock, New Hampshire and we wish them happiness in that endeavor and all other future ones as well.  We have no doubt that they will be successful and as loved by their new shareholders as all those they are leaving behind.

janianroadshot





Make hay while the sun is shining?

20 07 2009

deanlotnightshades

So, last year, June was the coldest, wettest June on record and there were news reports talking about how the weather was really affecting farmers and their crops. Well. This year, it is again, the coldest, wettest June and most of July on record. wow. We’re pretty done with all the rain. The weeds were taking over, the hay was uncut and falling flat (called lodging) in the fields and in fact, even the poor sheep were getting stuck on their backs from all their very wet, unshorn fleece. So we’re done, thank you very much, with the constant state of wet. We were ready for a little heat, a little sunshine, some time in shorts and t-shirts, instead of foul weather gear, and we finally got it last week. We had five straight days of gorgeous sun, a little heat even and poof, we caught up with the weeds, made hay and actually got to hang our raingear up in the house long enough for it to DRY out! So far, it seems like we get rain here and there, but nothing like the days and days of it we had before. Hopefully the current weather pattern will continue and we can continue to stay ahead on top of everything that needs to get done and maybe even catch up.elblanchingcauli

Farm news: Well, we haven’t had any babies born in the last month or so. Surprise, surprise- that has become quite a rarity around here. In fact, the earliest any babies are due for anyone aren’t until August (unless one of our steers was part bull).  But the four ladies that are due are starting to look as wide as a house out there, so they can’t be that far off.

We sold many baby piglets this spring so we don’t have quite the overload we’ve had in the past at this time in the season. All the pigs are out of the barn and busy rooting up the rose bushes in the old Christmas tree planting. Jake, our boar, is off visiting another group of ladies at Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst and will be gone for another few weeks or so.  Lily is due sometime soon and will have her litter out in the pasture under the trees, followed soon after by her sister Tulip.

sheepweeding2The sheep are on pasture and fence clearing duties for a while. We are trying to reclaim a couple of areas of the farm that would make nice pasture for them and the cattle, but have been wild and overgrown for years. The sheep are doing their best, but we need more to be really effective. Still they are making a good inroad for now. They got their desperately needed haircuts at the end of June by Kevin Ford, the guru of hand shearing. It is always such a joy to watch someone who is so amazingly good at their job.  The girls were very very happy to be rid of all that fleece, and now we just have to do something with all that wool (or I do, at any rate).

The new barn is under way, looking like a giant puzzle along the edge of the field. We still haven’t started the grading (a massive project!) yet, but are looking and relooking at the site to make sure all is as we want it. Until the excavators, haulers and bulldozers arrive, we are busy moving the shop, the old office and any last remaining bits and pieces out of the old barn. And, of course, working on making all the puzzle pieces that are the timberframe of the new barn. Dave Bowman is on site every Thursday to help assist in transforming big timbers into rafters, beams, and supports.

onionsneedweedingThe CSA is going really well despite the damp and cold weather. The plants were getting pretty stressed out there for a while and the soil lost a lot of its nutrients to leaching, but they are starting to perk up again. We’ve added some composted chicken manures, our own black gold compost and fish fertilizers to some of those plants that were looking the hardest hit (the peppers and eggplant were pretty sad out there for a while).  Jan and Ian came up with an experiment to test out the results of various organic fertilizers in the sweet corn. They divided up the sweet corn into twelve sections and are in the process of determining the results of fish fertilizer as foliar feed or drench, compared to side-dressing with Cockadoodle Doo Composted Chicken manure, Black Gold Holiday Brook Compost, or a combination of CPS 7-2-4 & McGeary’s 5-3-4 plus a control which was left alone. All were spread with Holiday Brook Farm compost at the beginning of the season prior to seeding and there are five varieties of sweet corn and two varieties of popcorn in the mix. We’ll keep you posted on how the experiment is turning out (maybe we’ll even try for yields, at the moment we are just trying to get the corn to grow and lose their purpling).

earlyjulyharvest2So we are moving out of the ‘green only’ crops of June and are slowly starting in on the summer vegetables with broccoli coming in beautiful (the only benefit of the cool and wet weather), early carrots and beets of all gorgeous color and we had our first summer squash out there on Saturday. Cherry tomatoes are teasing us with a few here and there, but there will soon be many more. Garlic harvest is on the horizon in the next two weeks and it is a big one this year with hopefully a harvest tripling what we did last year, if not more. We’ll be needing more hands than usual for it, but hopefully we’ll have some volunteers show up to help dig, bunch and pile in the barn for curing.

Sorry it took longer than usual to get out the newsletter- all that rain, you would think that I would have plenty of time to be inside and get it done. Alas, we have many a rainy day project lined up for this season and since it also rained mostly on harvest days for CSA, well, I was out in it. Cheers and look for a new Bull in August!

stormoverpond





Sheeps & late spring mayhem….

27 05 2009

newclunsThe days grow longer here at the farm and we have trouble coming in from the fields when the weather is warm. The spring ephemerals are blooming in plethora and we have carpets of trillium, trout lilies and ramps growing out in the woods. We’ve been eating lots of ramps- Jesse made a pesto from them that we were still tasting a full day later. Mostly we eat them gently sautéed with a drizzle of balsamic and maple syrup or mixed into our morning eggs. They don’t last long, so they are a real treat in the spring. We haven’t yet found any beds of lady slipper, jack in the pulpit or (alas) morels. But we carefully tend around our few bloodroot that have found their way into flower beds behind the house. After a winter of muted color, those first bright rays of spring are a true delight that are eagerly awaited.

Jan making blocksOur farm apprentices, Jan & Ian have both arrived and are settling in and we are very glad to have them. It makes everything so much easier just to know that there are extra sets of hands, ready and waiting, to help with even the simplest of tasks and even more so when the cattle get out and are feeling feisty enough to traverse the length of the farm despite the lush pasture they have right in front of them.

 Trays and trays of seedling veggies are filling and overflowing the two greenhouses. The first round of starts is almost complete and we are transplanting them out into the fields. Onions went out the first weekend, along with seven new beds of strawberries, potatoes were planted and we plan on putting in the first seeding of lettuce on Monday. The fields will rapidly fill up in the coming weeks until they too are bursting with delicious vegetables for the CSA and farmstand.elingh2

 This year we have started a lot more seedlings in order to meet many requests for transplants from our friends and neighbors who have gardens of their own at home. Our plant sale was a great success and we will definitely do it again next year, though we will plan for way more flowers and tomatoes (and hope that the mice don’t find the peppers and eggplant the way that they did this season, sorry folks) We still have some transplants left that we will happily part with such as broccoli, basil and other herbs, lettuce, strawberries, squashes and pumpkins and brussel sprouts to fill out your garden with delicious food and beautiful color.

We got really excited about Eliot Coleman’s idea for quick hoops made out of electrical conduit and we applied the idea to make a shade tent for hardening off our transplants (the idea of lugging all those flats in and out of the greenhouse was exhausting). The conduit was leftover from the new wiring of the big greenhouse, all we needed was some short pieces of rebar and a piece of shade cloth conveniently borrowed from our friend Dave Burdick. It worked fabulously! No more lugging flats in and out to harden off, whoo hoo! Thank you Eliot! 

quickhoopshadetentThe CSA starts up on the second week of June. We still have a few shares left so tell your friends and neighbors about our wonderful farm share. The peas are up and growing and it won’t be long until their succulent little pods are ready for eating. 

 Animal News: Lily, Tulip, Penny and Lucy are out on pasture, little ones will follow as soon as those who reserved piglets arrive to take them home with them. Pinky has had eleven healthy piglets and is happily ensconced in the barn for another three weeks or so. Then she too is off to the Christmas tree pasture with everyone else for the summer. Jake is soon off to visit Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst to service a few ladies for them. He’ll be back in a couple of months.

 We have a brand new addition to the horse paddocks. Long-legged Skye was born on April 23rd right here at the farm at 8:05am on a gorgeous morning. She has a lovely creamy brown coat, dark legs, tail and mane with a perfect dark dorsal stripe down her back. Take care around her momma, Cookie, though since she is very protective and has a tendency to bite or kick at anyone who gets too close to her little one. Viewing is fine as long as you stand back from the fences and keep your fingers out of the grating of her stall. Denise and everyone in the stable are working hard to get her to relax and not feel so threatened, but she’s still a little high strung.

 sheepongreenMore Sheeps- Clun Forest beauties from Mary Gloster at Rocky top Farm in Groton, NY. We went to fetch them at the end of April and they are making their way around the farm. They have done a great job at mowing some of our field edges and around the pond (fertilizing the whole time and making for lush green whereever they have been). Our new girls are still a bit flighty and not used to the whole program, but Elsie and Bessie are showing them the ropes. Thank goodness for a solid older ewe who trusts humans. We are still looking for a nice ram lamb for the fall breeding, preferably a Border Leicester or Romney to add a little color and legginess to the Clun blood.

 The cattle began their tour of the farm in the Mitchell field next to the compost site but have finished it in record time and are ready to move all the way back across the farm so that we can get them marching along in front of the sheep. The sheep have not been as happy munching on the grass in the last two weeks since it is all tall and stemmy, but the cattle prefer it that way and are happy to munch it down to the 6 inch level and leave the rest for the sheep. Once the fields have been mown of the first cut, then the sheep will be happier to eat softer, leafier second growth. So running them with the cattle would be the best bet.

plantinglettuce5Education Program has a new name and has hosted two great tours/schools in the past month. We had a lot of fun with the kids, planting lettuce, starting seeds for a new school garden and showing off all our gorgeous animals. We’re looking forward to more tours in the next month, a sheep shearing demo and the planning of some practical rural skills workshops for the summer and fall.





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.

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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.

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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.





Winter Farming

9 03 2009

El & Chops

 

 

So many people ask us what we farmers do in the wintertime and assume how we must really enjoy our ‘break’. We beg to differ. While it is true that we try to not spend every waking moment of daylight outside during the dead of winter, we are still very busy and often feel pressed for time and behind schedule. The animals still need feeding everyday and this is much harder in the winter. Logging can really only be done well in the winter when the ground is frozen hard. And we still need to be planning for the coming season in addition to catching up on all the paperwork, invoicing and book-keeping (among other things) that we’ve put off during the warm season. Winter is when we hire apprentices, remake brochures, plan field rotations for animals and vegetables, order seeds and so much more. Of course, I can also make bread while doing these things, but I can’t necessarily find time to clean my house. Ah well, we must all have priorities. Still I should have had more than enough time to get to writing up a new Bull, but it really isn’t all that exciting to talk about all the taxes and paperwork that we’re getting done so I figured I’d wait until things started to gear up again for more charismatic work.

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Maple sugaring: So we got all tapped in during February break thanks to Jonathan Sawtelle’s hard work in the sugar bush. Jesse was able to get out there for two days, but then just turned Jon loose and he got it done. We’ve also got our friend Masato out installing a whole new branch line with 200 more taps. The ice storm in January knocked out our uppermost branch line, so we’re replacing it with this new line which is further down the mountain and so a little less steep and prone to squirrel and ice damage. We’re all set to sugar- we even got 500 gallons of sap in a short first run that is sitting in the storage tank frozen solid. This winter just seems to be dragging on but hopefully will soon let up on us enough to let the sap run and we’ll have something for all those school groups to see when they visit.

 Hoping the eggs aren't frozen

Animal news: The critters have all weathered this cold and snowy winter very well. The cattle actually enjoy this bug-free time and have been loving the silage that we made during the summer and which has been happily pickling ever since. The pigs (yes, even the ones out in the field) sailed through the winter and got very fat in the process. We had a lot of folks asking about how they were fairing even in the sub-zero temp days and truth be told, unless you are a chicken, you were just fine. Penny got the tiniest bit of frostbite on one ear on a particularly cold night because she forgot to tuck herself all the way in to her bedding. Only the chickens suffered any loss at all and that was to some of the roosters very large combs (I will state that I specifically order small comb chickens for this very reason, but I always end up with some ‘substitutes’ in my order) who lost some of their combs to frostbite.

Sweet as Milk

Since the last edition of the Bull, we’ve also added 6 new lovely heifers to our herd. They are from Wheel-view Farm just like our four other foundation Galloway/Highland crosses and they are just as beautiful. Born in April of last year, they are just under a year old. Most distinguishable of the six are a white Galloway that Morgan named ‘Sweet as Milk’ and ‘Chocolate’, a deep brown girl with a wide white belt. The other four girls are all blacks with varying white belts. Three remain un-named which we will fix once it is not so cold to stand out with a camera. The other is Eclipse, for her white belt with a large black spot inside it.

Lucy had her second litter in the barn- nine healthy babies, all strong and vigorous. One of Lucy’s daughters, Tulip, from her first litter is staying with us and one of Pinky’s girls, Lily, from her third litter. So we have two new big girls in the barn on which to lavish a lot of attention. The pig barn is looking a little crowded right now with thirty large weanlings growing in it which is one of the reasons for building the new barn this spring. These guys will go out as soon as we can get the fence up around the area where they will be spending the spring. They will be renovating the old Christmas tree paddocks this season.

 

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We are finally getting some sheep! We’ve been bottle feeding a couple of lambs for a neighbor while he was away and the kids just got so into it that when Crabapple Farm over in Chesterfield called us and asked if we wanted to buy some Romney cross ewes and their lambs we said Yes! Coincidently one of the lambs was rejected by his mother and now we are bottle feeding the little guy. He’s all black and we’ll have to get some pics of him for you later (it is difficult to get good ones of a black lamb while in the barn). The pictures of the little white lamb is the one that belonged to our neighbor and he has gone home to his flock where he is thriving and jumping, leaping and playing with all his flock mates.

 

Logging: Dicken has been logging hemlock and red pine out of the thirty year old plantation behind the farm. Mountain bike racers will no doubt notice when they start riding again in the spring. Dicken has left some gorgeous hardwood ‘seed trees’ such as beech, cherry and maple with the vision of recreating the hardwood forest that belongs up there. Unfortunately the market for logs of any kind has hit rock bottom in the last couple of weeks, so we’ve temporarily halted logging for a while in the hopes that it will pick up again soon. (I have some great pictures but I need to convert them to jpeg before I can get them up here, check back later).

New Apprentices: We’ve hired a couple for the summer apprenticeship positions, Ian Peach and Jan Buonanno. Ian is coming to us from California, while Jan is from Albany, NY where her father runs a specialty butcher shop. They will be living here at the farm from April through November and participating in all aspects of the farm. Jonathan Sawtelle will also be rejoining us for his third season on the farm (not that he ever really left since he works part-time year round in addition to schooling). Kristen Laney (with baby Nora in tow) and Caity Delphia will also be back as part-timers on the crew- it looks like it is going to be a fun summer.

 CSA and Veggie News: CSA sales are going well with us reaching the half way point a month and a half after brochures went out. The downturn in the economy is definitely hitting people hard, but it seems like most folks are returning and there will be lots of new faces in the distribution room this summer. Our community is growing and it is with great pleasure that we watch this happen. We are starting up the greenhouse and will be mixing up our potting mix in the next week so that we can start planting the onions, leeks, shallots and celeriac. We are also going to be getting the big house up and running since we will soon run out of room in the little house and need more space. The big greenhouse still needs a heater and to be tightened up some before we think about putting tender baby plants in there. It also starts to move quickly from here though and spring and plowing will be upon us in just a few short weeks.

 Farm products: We now have our own grass-fed beef available in our freezers at the farm. It is all natural, no hormones or antibiotics, no grain. We have also just gotten back lots of our delicious pork. The freezers are full of tasty sausages, chops, ribs and roasts. The hens they are a laying and we have dozens of eggs for sale- you won’t find them in the office, it is still too cold and they freeze so you’ll have to come up to the house if you want eggs. Maple syrup is really low but we’ll soon be boiling and the shelves will start to fill up once again in just a few short weeks. Please be patient with us as we are just waiting on the trees.