December 3rd – 10th

IMG_5755
Snow down the lane

The first real snow of the winter is falling right now at The Farm School, again switching the pallet of the landscape to wintery white and brown, and shutting out all the noise. We’re only expecting a few inches of snow here in central Massachusetts from this storm, but with temperatures forecasted to go down into the single digits a few nights next week, I think we are safely in the grip of winter. We spent the week doing some overdue deep dives into nooks and crannies around Sentinel Elm Farm, emptying the hayloft, tackling the back office, and putting the Hero’s Wall up. Once the forecast crystalized, we also raced around to put the final touches on winter prep, with the understanding that things left out may not reappear until spring. Bradley spent a few days taking down some sad looking spruce trees in rough shape on the east side of the bunkhouse, and his work has transformed the look of the farm. Spruce wood is not good for much, so we burned most of the limbs and logs when we did our burn pile.

The Learn to Farm program charged ahead with tractor, chainsaw and draft horse

IMG_5756
The chickens stay on the path with new snow.

refresher training, as well as soil class, small fruit class, and a visit to Hettie Belle Farm just up the road in Warwick, MA. Olivier and Jennifer focus on meat and poultry production, and after spending years teaching at The Farm School, they always welcome our students for a close look at the logistics and business of running a family livestock operation. Olivier will come down to Maggie’s later in the winter for an in-depth look at his business model, and share his insights gathered from years of running a meat-CSA.

IMG_5759
Some new art in the PVS Bunkhouse

In the later summer and fall, we built an elaborate sheep alfalfa pellet feeder at Maggie’s farm, and I’ve written about that project. The new feeder has been working really well, and has achieved our goals of letting us feed the sheep without having to wade through them, keeping the sheep inside their fence, and keeping everyone safe. However, sheep got in the habit of climbing up into the feeder to get at the last little crumbs of alfalfa, and with them came mud and poop. In general, we aim to keep mud and poop out of feed dishes as a rule, so we recognized that something had to change at the new alfalfa feeder. This week we installed vertical boards every ten inches down the length of the feeder, spaced so sheep can get their heads in to eat, but not get their bodies in and defile the trough. So far, this adaptation seems to be working well, but I am sure that sooner or later we’re going to find a sheep stuck on the wrong side, unable to remember what space it squirmed through coming in.

The staff of the Program for Visiting Schools spent a day at The Mission Hill School this week, renewing and strengthening the wonderful connection that we share with that great organization. Students from Mission Hill come out to the farm in every grade, and

IMG_5753
The view from the top of the pasture

that unique setup makes our relationship with the school, and the kids, really strong. We work closely with their teachers to make sure that our program meets these kids right where they are, and we watch the kids grow up over the years in a wonderful and powerful way. I have been at the farm for eleven years, and have seen Mission Hill students from their first year of school through to their graduation, and the bond between our programs is one of the truly profound aspects of the work that we do.

Advertisements

Thanksgiving – Dec. 3rd

We had a great Thanksgiving week at The Farm School, but there was not much time to write an update of everything that we got up to. We had a short week of work on the farm, with the adult students heading off for the holiday on Tuesday evening, and the kid’s programing only running through Wednesday. It sounds like everyone really enjoyed their turkeys, and there was plenty to eat for everyone.

IMG_5743
The round bales have been arriving. 

Although we have not had much really cold wintery weather yet, the farm is taking on the feeling of winter more and more every day. Most of the fences are down for the winter, and the green of the pasture grass has faded to the light brown of winter. The home gardens are resting under blankets of mulch hay and wood chips, and our stack of round wrapped bales is growing by the day. We got our large tractor setup with a bale grabber this fall, and that has made the work of loading, unloading, moving and setting up round bales so much faster and easier than it has ever been for us. Rather than borrowing a bale grabber, or contracting out to get someone to come use theirs to do our work, we have been able to get wagons of bales parked in the yard where we can unload them before they’re driven off to get reloaded. Instead of trying to get all the bales delivered in one or two crazy days, we have had a much more gradual and easy-going go of it so far, and I really appreciate that!

The Learn to Farm program spends these weeks between Thanksgiving and our winter

IMG_5720
Josh and the students picked up this year’s meat from the slaughter house this week. 

break renewing everyone’s training with the draft horses, tractor and chainsaw, in preparation for the intense firewood production season that is coming after break. We have a nice pile of logs in the farmyard, setup well for safe bucking, and with one-on-one supervision, we’ll get everyone a few hours in that work to keep those newly acquired chainsaw skills fresh. Bradley is taking two students at a time to re-introduce them to our draft horses, Tom and King, show them our equipment, and give them a few hours to drive the team around the farm and keep themselves comfortable working with horses. Finally, everyone also gets another couple of hours on the tractor, and with more direct instruction, we’re introducing bucket work and heavy lifting. All of these tools and

IMG_5736
Two new winter piglets meet the old piglets. 

skills are the foundation of our firewood work, and we want to make sure that everyone has the skills that they’ll need to move that work ahead efficiently and safely. This span of the program also starts to have more and more classes, as we transition from full days out on the farm, to a more even split of classroom and outside time.

This has been the last week of fall programing at the Program for Visiting Schools, and we are ending on a high note with a full week of fourth and fifth graders from The Orchard Gardens School. A good portion of these kids are native Portuguese speakers, and it has been wonderful hearing them fill the farm with this beautiful language. They have been actively translating for each other throughout the week, and while this has slowed some of our programing a bit, it has

IMG_5745
We’ve refreshed the cow road, and made a mud season pad with wood chips. 

made us distill all of our wonderful chatter into concise and bite sized pieces, finding the relevant meaning in all the talking that we’ve grown accustomed to. This has been a really enlightening process for everyone, and has been a great way to reconnect to our message and work with a fresh perspective. We’ll spend the next couple of months working on the farm and infrastructure, and welcome kids back again in late winter.

November 13th – 20th

IMG_5698
A very artistic picture into the layer house

I’m a bit late in writing this week’s entry after a busy few days setting up for and processing our Thanksgiving turkeys. We aim for turkey processing to happen on the Sunday before Thanksgiving every year so the birds never have to go into the freezer, and they are ready for folks in our community to pickup, whatever their plans. Sunday was a pretty nasty day, and we had some really large turkeys, so this year’s setup included some additional elements that made the whole process a bit more cumbersome this time around. Sunday’s weather forecast called for the day to start warm and rainy, with rain all of Saturday night too, and then a cold front blowing in mid-morning, winds picking up, and temperatures dropping. We setup pop-up tents over all of our work areas to keep the rain off, and built a roaring fire in the stove in the neighboring wood shop, and things got off to a pretty cozy start around 8am Sunday morning. About a third of the way through our work the wind suddenly gusted in, and our pop up tents were saved by some quick thinking farmers

IMG_5690
A dusting of snow on the Flat Field and hoophouse

who grabbed them as they tried to blow away. The rain was light enough by then that we could just take the tents down, though that was an adventure too with the wind gusting, swirling and blowing in hard from the west. The rest of the process was cold and wet, with colder and colder air pushing in on a strong and steady wind, regular spits of rain to keep us all uncomfortable, and only infrequent peaks of sunshine. The wind played havoc with our propane burners, and it was a real challenge to keep the scald water hot enough for proper plucking. We resorted to putting backup pots of water on the wood stove in the shop where they heated pretty nicely out of the wind. The shop became an essential part of the process, with our crew rotating through the heat (and hot coffee and donuts) inside to warm up before heading back out to keep the work going. Luckily the turkeys were warm inside, so there was a strong incentive to keep busy. The larger birds also called for a careful and patient approach to the work, especially at the killing end. The large toms can be really powerful, and slow and steady teamwork helped keep everyone safe through the whole process. We got through all the birds in good order, and they all came out the end looking beautiful! Our largest was twenty-five pounds and the smallest was seven, with most coming in somewhere between seventeen and twenty-one. While we want nice big turkeys to make sure that everyone has a true feast when they cook one of these birds up, we try to avoid growing monsters that no one has a oven big enough to cook. We also culled thirty older layers, and the kitchen crew will brew up some massive pots of chicken stock to squirrel away for winter’s cold season.

IMG_5699
Chickens hate snow, but their foot prints are cool arrows! 

Things got cold and nasty enough Sunday night that we woke up to a little bit of snow on the ground Monday morning. This dusting is going to melt away before too long, but it certainly is a clear reminder that the season is changing quickly all around us. We left a bunch of material out in the pastures and fields in our rush to get the livestock into winter quarters before the really cold weather came through a little while back, and now, with a tiny bit of snow, I am really eager to get everything else inside before things start to disappear for the winter. Turkey fences, chicken feed cans, range shelters and pig troughs are all still where we left them, and this week’s work list is made up mostly of entries that start with ‘clean’ or ‘pickup’. We are coming to the end of the working season, the season where we are out and about, traipsing over just about every square foot of this farm. Now comes winter, where we are in the shop fixing things, in the woods cutting, in the yard bucking, splitting and stacking, and hopefully, in the farmhouse, planning for next year.

November 5th – 13th

IMG_5631
Marks from where the sheep slept on a frosty night

We’ve reached the end of the week, and this time, were in the grip of some really cold weather. The thermometer at my house was at 18 degrees when I got up Sunday morning, and Saturday morning was even colder. These are pretty normal winter temperatures around these parts, but conditions don’t usually get this wintery until some time in January. The forecast of cold weather turned the last week into something of a mad scramble to get the farm ready for winter in a hurry, making what is usually the work of several weeks into a hurried few days. The layers moved into their winter houses at both farms, the sheep have come in off the pastures and their indoor space is setup, the ducks are in their winter pen, and the dairy cows have been spending cold nights in their little free-stalls in the back of the dairy barn. We had plans to renew and reconfigure those stalls this fall, but we just put down a lot of straw and they’ve been working okay for this cold stretch. We did move a large stock trailer out to the turkey’s area, bed it deeply with straw, and herd everyone inside for Friday and Saturday nights. We raise turkeys every year, but we have never had them on the farm

IMG_5661
Tom and King soaking up some sun

with temperatures forecast to be down near ten degrees. We have no winter housing for the turkeys, since they are always gone by Thanksgiving, so the stock trailer and straw seemed like our best option. They all went into the trailer without too much fuss, and came back out in the morning pretty content after a night of cozy snuggling. The forecast implies that temperatures will moderate quite a bit next week, so I am hopeful we can go out there and fine-tune some of the work that was done quickly this week, and get to a few things that we’re passed over.

The LTF students had another week of draft horses, chainsaws, and timber framing this week, the second of a three week run that gives everyone a week in each of the three areas. This cold weather made the chainsaw and horse work pretty chilly, while the timber framers, in short sleeves in the heated greenhouse, were pretty comfortable. Friday was a super windy day as well, as this cold weather blew in from the northwest, making tree felling extra challenging. The cold weather, and the

IMG_5629
Breeding a cow, and blowing some minds

smoke coming from our wood fired furnaces turned on in answer to the cold, has also really turned all of our minds to firewood production. We are really eager to get our students out to the firewood yard, using their new chainsaw and horse skills to crank out our yearly supply of firewood. When we have a crew of fifteen, capable of felling, dragging, bucking and splitting firewood, we can really get some work done.

Tyson has been working over the past few weeks to adapt our largest tractor to fit a bale grabber. He got it all put together on Thursday afternoon, and I was able to use the machine on Friday and Saturday to move bales around. Rather than trying to slide our somewhat bent forks under each bale, pick them up and carry them to their spot, and

IMG_5648
Our last two pigs, growing fast on lots of milk

then trying to slide the forks back out from underneath, I can now pickup each bale with a pair of squeezing arms, carry them around, and put them down. This means we can stack bales, turn them around and over as needed, and do all of it with little risk of tearing their plastic wrapping. The airtight wrapping is the key to keeping these bales fresh and delicious for the cows, so maintaining that integrity is a top priority. Getting set up with a bale grabber on our own tractor is a huge improvement for our farm, and it is going to make the work of the winter much better. We also now have the opportunity to teach this skill to students, and have them out moving bales around, setting up the feeding yard, and expanding their abilities.

 

 

October 30th – November 5th

IMG_5621
Spinach and carrots ready for winter harvest

All but two of the pigs have gone, six cows have gone, fourteen sheep have gone, and the turkeys are gobbling and growing out behind the bunkhouse. We’ve got a long string of cold weather in the ten-day forecast and more than half of the leaves are off the trees. Despite the string of warm wet weather that we’ve had over the past two weeks, I think fall is finally really creeping over the farm, and we have begun in earnest our work to winterize our systems. The beef herd is in their winter barn, with bales setup on pasture and hay in the indoor feeder, but the sheep setup needs to be converted into its winter configuration and all the chicken flocks are still out on pasture. We’ve got the winter chicken houses just about ready for occupancy, but we’ll need to put the finishing touches on them early next week and get the birds in there as soon as we can. We try to do a pretty complete clean-out and refresh between the last winter’s chicken housing season and the next, hoping to break any parasite cycle in the house by letting it sit clean, dry and empty for as long as we can. That includes getting all the old bedding out, vacuuming the nooks and crannies, and spraying a strong vinegar solution over every surface we can access. I’m hoping that we can keep the hawks off the layers in their winter quarters this year and avoid the trouble we’ve faced the last few winters.

Wednesday was our final veggie harvest of the season, and Thursday was our last CSA

IMG_5622
Our sawmill is going full speed this fall.

drop-off market. Everyone here was excited to see the end of the long harvest season, but the veggie work immediately turns to completing the processing of all the storage crops, putting the remaining beds under cover crops, and packing everything away for the winter. Alex will quickly begin an inventory of equipment and tools to determine repair and replace priorities, and the garage and shop will soon be filled with implements and tractors getting tuned up and ready for next season. Veggie cultivation in New England, where rocks make up such a large portion of our natural environment, is really hard on our cultivation equipment, and winter is the season to bring all of those tools back into proper working order.

IMG_5614
The greenhouse/timberframe shop

This was the first week of the Learn to Farm’s big three-parted fall training stretch, with a third of the students in the timber frame shop, a third driving horses, and a third in the woods felling trees. This year’s chainsaw and tree work is happening on the edge of a pasture that we call The Runway, and trees are coming down into our pasture. We have found that for this initial training, when students are cutting down the first tree they’ve ever cut, working on the edge of the woods, with some open space on a couple sides, really helps ease the process. Controlling the direction that a tree falls, and doing it safely, is the key to the Game of Logging approach that we use and teach here at The Farm School, and having a few less trees around to get in the way makes that first attempt a bit simpler. The trees are dropping where we had a high-tensile fence, so we’ll be rebuilding that in the spring as our annual high-tensile fence building and training project. I am excited to move

IMG_5620
Timber framing tools

the fence twenty or thirty yards further into the forest, expand our pasture a tiny bit, and give our cows a nice big chunk of thick shade for when the heat of the summer returns.

Our sheep and chickens had their annual AWA inspection on Thursday, and the inspector was very happy with the progress that we’ve made over the past year in bringing those two components of our farm into alignment with their standards. We still have a few small tweaks and enhancements to make between now and our next inspection, but most of our work will be in beefing up our record keeping system. Every inspection gives me new insight into ways that we can improve our livestock’s experience on the farm, and the AWA’s singular focus on animal welfare sets down a strong marker to help keep us, and all their participating farms, with our attention on the animals. I will let you know about the things we do this winter to further adapt our farm under their guidance.

October 22 – 30

IMG_5581
Patty having a drink at dawn

Although the pace of work certainly begins to slow along with the dwindling daylight here at the end of the year, there are a couple of frantic moments built into this stage of our farm calendar. Most have to do with the livestock, moving those animals ready for processing through our loading chutes, into the waiting trailer, and off the farm. Our last big load of pigs went off on Wednesday of this week, we loaded six cows out of the beef herd Sunday morning, and we take twenty-five lambs and ewes in on Wednesday of next week. Cow loading Sunday morning went really well, but it is a nerve-racking event for me no matter what, and I am really relieved to have it behind us now. We raise a really docile strain of Red Devon cattle, but they are still pretty big animals, and convincing them to go through our chute and up into the trailer can be a little daunting. There is also the real pang of regret knowing the fate of these animals, and knowing that the good life we’ve worked so hard to give them here is coming to an end.

This year’s load of cows was an interesting one, and it was really tough to develop the list

IMG_5585
The dairy herd headed back out to pasture

to fill the six spots we need to satisfy all of our beef needs. We had two steers born in 2015 that were ready, and with their big racks of horns, we are really happy to see them off the farm. We’ve had a cow abandoning her calf within the first week after birth both of the past two years, and, through a process of elimination, we sent off two cows that may have been the culprit. Finally, we’ve been struck by an almost total failure of the ear tags that we were using in past years, and the last two spots on the trailer were filled with cows who’d lost their tags and had therefore fallen out of our record keeping. We have a whole bunch of cows with no ear tags at this point, and we either need to run everyone through the chute and retag them, or cull out all the unmarked cows.

IMG_5592
The beef herd and some winter round bales

After a summer that featured pretty consistent rain, we had been going through a very dry fall. However, we’ve had more than eight inches of rain this week, and the world of The Farm School has been transformed. We had two separate three-inch rain events in the first half of the week, and another two inches of rain Sunday night. Each storm was significant, with heavy rain falling for hours and hours, and Sunday night included strong wind that knocked our power out. Streams and ponds in the area quickly filled and flooded, cultivated fields turned to liquid mud, and our livestock took shelter as much as they possibly could. Radar maps online showed huge storm systems stretching from Florida through Maine, and patterns that I have never seen before. Wednesday’s storm showed an almost totally vertical north/south line of rain about three hundred miles wide, streaming from the south to the north, and barely inching incrementally from west to east. That river of moisture from the south poured on New England all day Wednesday, adding more than three inches of rain to the deluge we got earlier in the week. I am an avid consumer of weather information and maps, but I have never seen a storm system shaped like that!

Both the beef and the dairy herds are eating round wrapped bales by now, signifying the

IMG_5576
The plastic went on the winter-fresh hoop house Friday.

true end of the grazing season here at The Farm School. There is a little bit of grass out there in the pastures, but we’ve found that leaving a nice mat of green out there gives the whole system a nice foundation to start with in the spring. The grass on the surface mirrors the root structure in the soil, so letting our pasture plants shut down in the fall with a nice collection of roots should make them more ready to start vigorous growth when conditions are right in the spring. Now we have to start really collecting all the round bales that we made over the summer, and the ones that we’ve ordered from hay producers in the area. We’ll collect massive stacks of them at the beef winter barn and at the dairy, and dole them out as needed throughout the winter. We are working to retrofit our largest tractor to make it capable of operating a round bale grabber, and hoping that will allow us to unload, stack and deploy round bales without having to borrow a machine.

IMG_5598
A wet field, ready for cover crop seed

The greenhouse is empty and clean, and a new floor has been put down in preparation for its annual conversion into our winter timber-frame workshop. This week is the start of a three-week stretch of the Learn to Farm program that we call ‘the trifecta’ that includes a group learning to work with draft horses, a group learning to use a chainsaw and cut down a tree, and group learning how to timber-frame. Each group spends a week in each of the three areas, and they come out the other end with a whole new world of skills. I’ll keep you informed as it all goes down!

October 15-22

At risk of sounding awfully repetitive, I’ve got to report that we have reached the end of another summery week here at The Farm School, with daytime temperatures well above normal and full powerful sun all week. The leaves are in their full fall colors however, and are falling quickly, and the air feels pretty chilly in the shade, belying the look of summer everywhere else. This mix of summer temperatures and a fall look is somewhat disconcerting, and I have had several people respond in surprise when I say that we’re about to stop grazing for the year. These shorter days have sent the message to plants

IMG_5573
A view over the fall garden

and animals alike that the growing season is over, and add to that the remarkable lack of rain we’ve experienced this fall, and the growth of our pastures has come to a definite stop. I will be setting up round wrapped bales of hay early next week, and both the dairy and beef herds will transition to those as their primary feed supply before the week ends. I don’t worry much about the change from pasture to stored hay, dry or wrapped, though we will take careful steps to manage the transition in the other direction come spring. Ruminants can get themselves into plenty of trouble gorging on fresh green grass after a winter of eating only hay, but with high quality stored hay, the inverse is not an issue.

I love to take a moment to go back through these posts from the last year, looking mostly

IMG_5557
Dairy cows and foliage

at the pictures and reading the first paragraph of each post. The scope of the year, the work and struggle, the successes and growth, all pass by in a moment, and I can feel the sweep of all of it again, though with a bit less sweat and worry this time. The arc of weather that passed over us here at the farm is always interesting to me, watching conditions that seem interminable in the moment change dramatically, and then change again. This spring I wrote again and again describing weeks of rain and no sun, soaked soil and challenges getting the veggie year started. Now we are firmly in the grip of a strong spell of dry weather, with heat and sun dominating the past weeks and even months. Between these two ends we’ve had runs of wet and dry weather, and each, to us here at the farm, has felt everlasting.

IMG_5571
These two moved to Sentinel Elm.

We took the first Maggie’s Farm batch of pigs in for processing on Thursday with eleven pigs heading off in the trailer. We loaded thirteen on Thursday morning, and the extra two were the two smallest pigs in the group. We will keep them down at the kid’s farm for another couple months of growth, where they’ll get all the milk, hickory nuts and apple drops they can eat. They’ll also be the objects of intense affection and curiosity for our visiting students, and Gus, and serve as placeholders until our batch of little winter piglets arrive on the scene at the end of November. The pig load itself went really well on Thursday, relieving a whole lot of worry on my part leading up to the event. Pig loading is one of my least favorite events of the year, and I work hard to develop a loading setup that I think is going to be workable and safe for farmers and pigs. Three of the pigs actually backed up the whole chute this time, and while that is not an outcome that I liked much, they actually got all the way up to the trailer and in, backwards the whole way, so I can’t complain much. On Wednesday we’ll have to get the rest of the pigs, so the pressure will be on to find and corral everyone in there for a run through the chute. I always sleep a bit better after the last pig has left the farm for the year, knowing that there is no more chance of the pigs escaping.

We have started taking down the grazing fences at the dairy, clearing the fields and pastures and getting everything in storage in the barn. The fencing does not age well out in the field over the winter, and our high-octane cross-country ski and sledding scene demands unimpeded open spaces to achieve maximum awesomeness. Once the fences come down we can spread manure and do other pasture work much more freely, and Brad can start doing some selective tree cutting on the hedgerows too. We are losing ash trees in this part of New England, and there are a few good firewood trees ready to come down every fall as these giants finally succumb to the forces arrayed against them. Ash is

IMG_5562
Carrots and spinach waiting for winter

a straight grained easy-splitting firewood that some say can even burn newly cut, and although we are sad to see these great trees disappear from our farm, we are happy to have them filling up the firewood yard and wood-stoves.

October 7th-15th

IMG_5548
Colder weather is trying 

With summer lingering here in the middle of Massachusetts, we haven’t really gotten much of that fall feeling here at The Farm School yet. Veggie harvest and the grazing rotation are still chugging along, and with more than an inch of rain falling during the day Monday, I’m optimistic about strong growth going forward. The ten day weather forecast does call for our fist night-time temperature truly below freezing on Monday, so that may start to really convince our resident plants and animals to shut down growth for the year.

This was a full week for our new student farmers in the Learn to Farm Program, with chore and harvest trainings, a full day of tractor safety training, more cooking classes, and a full day carpentry intro workshop as well. The beginning of the student’s year is really heavy with introductory training, as we work as quickly as we can to get vital skills into the hands of these new farmers. Although we try hard to intersperse physical work in with more information based sessions, and to not overwhelm folks with too much material, we definitely recognize that some students get maxed out, and we are diligent in revisiting all of this intro material repeatedly down the line, and in making sure that folks get a refresher before we ask them to use these new skills on their own.

We don’t have many big projects going right now as we focus almost all of our time and

FullSizeRender (1)
Beautiful, notorious, the boss, Daisy

attention on trying to give our new student farmers a strong introduction to Maggie’s Farm. We are starting to setup our chutes and systems for pig loading, hoping to have everything in place for our first batch of pigs headed off next Thursday. We will take ten pigs per week for the next three weeks, with everyone gone by the first week of November. Hopefully we won’t have too many freezing nights before then, since the pig’s water system seizes up when the hoses freeze, and the pigs don’t get any water. The system usually thaws out pretty quickly once the sun comes up, and we can always supplement with big water dishes, but ideally we’ll have all the pigs gone before the real cold weather sets in.

IMG_5554
Another misty morning

Alex has been busy most of the week finishing veggie beds for the year. He does a final cultivation to mix in all of the left-over vegetable matter still in the field, tills the mix down to a really nice smooth and fluffy surface, and then puts down a cover crop seed of winter rye and vetch. Our soil is nice and damp right now, and the beds of cover crop, put in place to keep the soil locked down all winter and give it a boost of organic material to eat in the spring, have been coming up tall and dense. These strong crops of green material will go dormant for the winter, but the winter rye will survive till spring, keep any early spring weeds under control, and will be tilled into the soil before spring planting to boost our organic material. Cover cropping gives us a whole bunch of really

IMG_5547
This week’s incredible shitake harvest

significant benefits, and it is a practice that more and more farmers are using to support their approach to soil management.

September 30 – October 7

IMG_5518
Some of the fall harvest

Our new student farmers are on the farm, and Maggie’s Farm is buzzing with a mix of excitement, nervousness, and the incredible volume of information that we are going to try to share with these great folks over the next days, weeks, and months. We went around the circle on Friday morning to give everyone the chance to share how they’d arrived at this place at this time, and, as usual, the stories were inspiring, funny, thoughtful, and gave me a sense of real excitement in helping all of these new farmers take a step forward that they’ve been contemplating for a long time.

We are passing through what I think will be the final grazing rotation of the year, visiting pastures and paddocks for the last time before fall and winter really set in. Most of our grazing acreage has performed really well this year, and despite the dry fall that we’re

IMG_5527
The pigs enjoying hickory nuts

going through right now, the grass out there still looks pretty good. I have begun taking down fences behind the dairy herd and beef herd where I can, and I’ve even spread a little manure too. I think we have a few more weeks of grass available out there, and that should take us pretty close to our November 1st goal for the end of the grazing season.

Last winter’s beef feeding system, with round wrapped bales setup out on the pasture in a large grid, and fencing moved to allow the cows to access fresh bales as needed, ended up turning the pasture into mud. Our cows were super dirty, mucking their way through some really unpleasant conditions when temperatures were not cold enough to keep the ground frozen solid. With the mild weather we had last winter, we ended up with just about six weeks of well frozen ground, and the rest of the winter saw various stages of muck and mire. This year we have worked to develop a small feeding yard on some ground that we hope will not turn into mud, and plan to use this space for feeding when mild winter weather keeps us from putting the cows out to eat at the pasture bale setup. We scraped as much topsoil off as we could, leaving some hard packed sand and clay behind, sloped the area so that it can drain a bit, and now we’ll build some fences to give us access with a tractor for setting bales and scraping the area clean. We are going to have to do something similar for feeding the dairy herd this winter as well, hoping to keep them high and dry through muddy weather as well as we can. We have put huge piles of wood chips to good use over the past couple of years to help keep the dairy herd out of the mud, and I expect we’ll try something similar this winter until we can develop a solid feeding yard at the dairy farm as well. The dairy herd can always stay inside if the conditions really preclude sending them out, but our preference is to have them out as much as we can. With body temperatures over 100 degrees, the cows are usually most comfortable out in the weather, and we really only start to worry about them when things get wet, or the ground is not safe for them.

Firewood season is sneaking up on us here at The Farm School, and Brad’s saw is a more and more common sound coming from the woods around the farmyard. Tom and King are pulling logs in for the sawmill, as well as for firewood production, and their earth-shaking walks through the farm are always a highlight for the farmers and visiting students. The Student Farmers at Maggie’s Farm will be trained up on the sawmill in the coming months, and then will mill the timbers for the next timber frame, using pine logs from our surrounding forests. Students will also have the chance, once they’ve completed a three-day draft horse intensive training at Fair Winds Farm, to help Bradley and the horses in pulling logs from the woods to the sawmill. Once the timbers are milled, they’ll get them over into the timber frame shop (the greenhouse emptied and setup with sawhorses, tools and louder music), and spend a couple months with Josh Buelle chiseling out a frame.

IMG_5531
We are making progress on the new goat house. 

Sept. 25-30

IMG_5463
The beef herd trying to get in the shade

After a run off really hot summery weather, with afternoon temperatures well over ninety degrees most of the week, we have finally broken through into some real fall weather here at the end of the week. The thermometer dropped down into the lower forties last night, and our forecast is calling for the lower thirties by Saturday evening. Though the temperatures have dropped significantly, we have been super dry around here for the past few weeks, and things were starting to look dusty and droopy. As I write this Saturday morning however, rain is falling, the bright green has returned to the pastures and plants, and all our animals are all having a rainy Saturday morning snooze under cover (if they can find it).

The hawks are back after the chickens this fall, repeating our experience from the last two years when red-tail hawks showed up in the fall looking for easy meals. Our layers and pullets are still out on pasture, so I am having a tough time coming up with an effective way to keep the chickens safe without the security measures that we have in place at the winter coops. This year, unlike the past two, the hawks have even gotten brave enough to go after the layers at Sentinel Elm Farm, where our Program for Visiting

IMG_5498
Cover crop, trying to grow, and fall crops ready for harvest

Schools happens, which had been much safer because of all the kids and dogs running around everywhere. As I’ve mentioned before, I have no interest, nor is it legal, to do the hawks any harm, so we need to find ways to deter them, harass them a bit, and generally get them to decide to go hunting elsewhere.

Our fresh class of Learn to Farm student-farmers arrives on the farm next Thursday, and we have been busy all week getting the facilities and program into tip-top shape to welcome them into our community. We are really excited about some great refinements to our program, hashed out during some in-depth meetings over the past couple of weeks, and the buildings and grounds which are looking great too. We never feel fully ready for the new group, with an endless list of little tweaks we could make to just about everything, but we keep getting better and better, learning as we go. This will be another full class of fifteen students, and we have high hopes for their next year here with us, and for their ability to launch from here to make a difference in the world. Check out farmschool.org/learntofarm to get a good look at the program!

IMG_5487
Turkeys enjoying their new yard

The turkeys have been setup in a large day-yard, and released from their houses. The houses, with food and water, are in their area for shelter and roosting, but the birds are out enjoying the big open space, mixing in with everyone, and generally being silly. We loved the security that their houses provided them, but the exuberance that they show now that they’re out seems to be worth the risk. (They are too big for the hawks). We have not been herding the inside their houses at night, and so far they have been fine, with most choosing to sleep inside on the roosts, some on the feed trailer, and some just nesting down on the ground. Now we need to think of a way to collect them all the day before processing so that they can be caught and dealt with.