Saturday, May 31, 2014

Spring farm Update 2014

 Farm Update: Spring 2014

In the Greenhouse: 

After a long and extremely cold winter we're glad that spring has finally arrived. The pastures are green again, and we're not milking in sub-zero temperatures! We're on-target with planting in the garden so we finally have some time to write a blog post and tell everyone what's been going on in the farm.

In the greenhouse we've started all sorts of crops: the first planting of cold-season crops like Broccoli, cabbage, kale, swiss chard, leeks, arugula, spinach, lettuce, kohlrabi, green onions, and cauliflower, as well as warm season crops like summer squash, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and herbs. Having the greenhouse this year has been great, no more electric lights, no more cramming flats upon flats in a room in the barn that is susceptible to freezing temperatures. But one thing that you have to be aware with greenhouses, it gets HOT! Big surprise, I know. Unless you have the temperature and environment controlled by some expensive machinery, regulating the temperature is all on you. For our greenhouse, we've found that if the air temperature is over 50 F and the sun is out, time to roll up the greenhouse sides.  We lost the first of our cold season seedlings to a warm sunny weekend in April that got cooked our onions, celery, shallots,broccoli, and kale down to nothing.

Lesson learned: There is no such thing as a day off on the farm. With the animals, they still need food, water, some attention and fresh pasture, plants still need water in the field and the greenhouse, and temperature has to be monitored in the greenhouse.

In the Garden: 

As the CSA Garden goes, we are on-track and have the first two plantings of cold-season crops planted and transplanted.  Our first warm season crops are out--lots of green beans (purple, yellow and green), summer squash, and cucumbers. In the greenhouse we have tomatoes, cucumbers, Luffa gourds, eggplant, herbs, and peppers growing in the ground. The tomatoes, cucumbers, and Luffa will be trellised, and we're already starting to see the first tomato flowers forming! Looking forward to some early tomatoes with all the greens in the early part of the season. Of course, once you transplant those fragile little seedlings out into the big wide world (er, a greenhouse or field) you give up a lot of control over its environment and open it up to a lot of environmental and pest-related stress. The day after transplanting the cucumbers and squash we found cucumber beetles had moved in and started feasting. Deer had snarfed down most of the spinach and cabbage. Flea beetles are at it again with the Eggplant. But that is farming, c'est la vie.

So we turn to our faithful tools of last year: Neem Oil and Plant Skydd. Neem Oil is an organic broad spectrum fungicide and pesticide found in seeds of Neem trees that hinders insect's ability to feed and repels insects. Plant Skydd is an organic rabbit and deer repellent made mostly from blood (eew) but pretty effective. Next up we'll be transplanting herbs, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, garden huckleberries, tomatilloes, and ground cherries out in the garden and seeding corn, sunflowers, and okra. Then we'll be putting out more summer squash, cucumbers,  and green beans (the pests last year taught us to stagger these crops). Then melons, winter squash, and watermelons, and finally a last planting of cool season crops that will be growing in a partially shady spot next to the hedge row. We're hoping this shady spot will allow us to grow greens longer into the season. 

New Permaculture Area!

We'll be talking about this more in another post, but we've added a new area of cultivation to the farm! We've put in 4 Hugelkulturs on the south-east side of the property, next to Mirkwood. These are essentially raised beds filled with wood, large trunks in the bottom and middle, twigs and branches on the outside. On top of this you put soil, compost and topsoil, and plant into this! We've divided our rhubarb, planted these and perennial herbs, flowers and strawberries in these raised beds. As well we're doing potatoes in towers of tires. As the potatoes grow, rather than piling up soil around the potato sprout as it grows to make more root space, we're adding more tires and soil around the plants as they grow. Hoping for some great potato harvests this year!

In the Coop: 

Our egg laying hens had a cold winter, mostly stuck in their coop because of the mounds of snow in their fenced area. We purchased a 3 gallon heated waterer for them this year, you can kind of see it in the picture below on the right hand side. Though the waterer took forever to get here, we were pretty happy with it. Our one complaint was that the top handle is a pretty flimsy piece of plastic that is bound to break. And it was difficult to transport the waterer if it was full any decent distance, the bottom portion was too easily opened by the swishing of movement and hitting against your pants, resulting in wet carharts. No fun. So, essentially, you have to fill it up at the coop rather than at your water source. But it beats having to deal with icy waterers during a Polar Vortex. 
We opened up the entire coop for the chickens to stretch their legs during the winter, often giving them some left-over skim milk from cheese making to supplement their diet. Now that Spring is here, we've decided to let the chickens free range across the entire farm, and use their electric poultry fence for the meat chickens instead. Things we've noticed since switching to completely free range: Egg production has dropped by about a quarter, likely because their laying somewhere else that I have not found yet. They also scratch the cow's manure piles, eating bits of grain and fly larvae, which has helped some with the fly population on the farm. And finally, we don't have to feed them as much because they are getting so much of their diet by foraging around the farm, in cow pies in and the compost heap. We feed them in the morning and a little in the late evening to encourage them to come inside the coop at sunset. 

In the Pasture: 


This year we started the meat chicks in the turkey hut of last year, and we've seen great results. We only lost one chick in the first few days, trampled by the looks of it.  We were concerned last year that they were outgrowing their leg's ability to hold them up, (not unusual for Cornish Cross chickens, they are bred to grow grow grow). So this year we started taking away their food at night earlier in their lives to prevent them from outgrowing their legs.

They're just past three weeks old now and we've moved them outside. We've kept the chicken tractor pretty much the same as last year, but have expanded their foraging range by allowing them to enter and exit it into a larger fenced area. We thought about cutting a door into the side of the chicken tractor, but decided instead to keep it simple, and prop it up with cinder blocks to let the chickens walk under one side of the tractor.

Meanwhile, Rosie is glad to be back outside and on fresh pasture. Pippin is still drinking most of her milk for us, at 4 months, and is growing fast. We've set up the pastures to allow us to rotate the cow's pasture, to let some areas rest and regrow. We've also set up temporary pastures around the farm, grassy areas along the road we might have let go to seed or mow down, we're instead letting the cows take care of these areas for us.

In the Pig Pen:

Arya, our 400+ lb gilt, does not appear to be pregnant, from either interacting with a boar over two heat cycles, or from A.I. She wouldn't let the boar anywhere near her and fought and tried to escape most of the time she was on vacation at another farm. We were hopeful after the A.I., even saw her puking one morning, but she came back into heat. At this point, we can keep trying, or we can accept that she is not easily going to get pregnant, and may be getting too old soon to get pregnant easily, and therefore wouldn't make a good sow. 

This means, that we'll be getting a lot more sausage and bratwurst sooner than we thought. As much as we've enjoyed having Arya on the farm, she is a great hog--able to survive cold winters, friendly and non-aggressive, fine with heat and doesn't sunburn in the sun, and 14 nipples on her!--she won't conceive nor tolerate a boar, and that's a big big problem. So for this year we've bought 4 Hampshire piglets from a local farmer we know, and probably won't keep one as a sow for the next year. We'd like to keep a sow and breed our own piglets, but it doesn't look like it's a possibility this year.  

Penny and Leonard cuddling

We've got 3 boys and 1 girl, haven't decided on names yet, but Farmer Figgins has been calling them Sheldon, Wolowitz, Leonard and Penny after the Big Bang Theory. 

Arya is pastured on the hill right now, we'll be keeping her for another month to make doubly sure she isn't pregnant, then she'll be off on one last vacation. Though we've loved having her on the farm (she's certainly Farmer Figgins' favorite part of the farm) it didn't work out this year, and we'll remember her with every delicious bite of brawtwurst. 

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