Late Summer

With a bit more rain this week, vibrancy and vigor continues to seep back into the pastures and the vegetable beds at The Farm School. Plants are standing tall and glowing green again, the ground is soft under foot, and the animals are busy grazing and growing.

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Looking fresh and healthy!

With everyone but the beef herd back out grazing, the rhythm of the farm is returning to normal after the strange lull we experienced in June and July. Pasture rotation is back at the top of my list, with daily checks on grass condition, paddock size, and planning for the next move. It is wonderful to see the sheep and dairy cows back out on the hillsides doing what they do best, and I am really looking forward to getting the beef herd back out grazing again next week. From a mix of soil conditions, slope and aspect, and probably many other factors that I don’t fully understand, their pastures have been much slower to recover than the sheep and dairy cow’s.

 

The Farm School has undertaken a large forestry project over eighty acres or so down below the Maggie’s Farm complex. In cooperation the state of Massachusetts, the NRCS, and a local forester, our project is thinning the forest by between a third and a half, with a focus on removing poor quality trees.

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A view of the log landing.

The NRCS encourages this type of work, and even pays us to do it, in support of a goal of a healthier forest full of larger, and ultimately, more valuable timber. The forester walks the forest and marks the trees that are to be removed, the logger buys the trees as they are based on the foresters calculations, and then harvests them for sale. The vast majority of this harvest is going into wood chips since the trees coming out are small, crooked or are otherwise low quality. For us, this project includes a nice payoff, but it also sets our forest up for long-term healthy growth into the future, and the potential for smaller more lucrative harvests down the line. This approach, called ‘low-grading’, is the counter to ‘high-grading’, which would be the harvest of only the largest, best, and most valuable trees. This would pay in the short-term, but leads to the degradation of the forest over the long run as only the weakest and worst trees are left. The work of forestry at this scale is now done almost entirely by machine, with feller-bunchers, skidders, a truly massive chipper, and semi-truck loads of chip leaving all day. Although the project as it is happening is loud and rough, tearing things apart and cutting lots of trees, the long-term response of the forest should be a real positive for us and that ecosystem as a whole.

With just a couple of weeks before school programing resumes at Sentinel Elm Farm and the Program for Visiting Schools, work has begun on our annual efforts to renew the bunkhouse and surround grounds. Every nook and cranny gets a deep clean first, extra stuff that’s collected from the year gets moved along, and the while place gets a detailed inspection. We’ve had some light carpentry on the boy’s side of the bunkhouse, we’ve got some painting going on now, and, as usual, Ben and Brad are busy at work making the grounds beautiful. Flower plantings are ready, the weed-whacker is humming full time, and place is really looking nice. We host a few different events in the weeks before school starts again, from teacher retreats to visiting friends, and the work to keep the place looking nice for every visitor never stops.

Past the mid-point

We’ve gotten a bit more rain since my last entry, with half an inch in the rain gauge by evening chores yesterday. Every bit helps a lot right now, and like I described last week, we are really thinking more about the timing and sequence of the rain events more than the actual accumulation.

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Corn loves hot dry weather, it has grown well this year.

We have a promising outlook for the next five days, with thunderstorms and lots of rain forecasted. The issue on many livestock producer’s minds in Massachusetts now is the second cut of hay, and if the recent rains are going to do enough to make a decent hay crop at the end of August or beginning of September. For The Farm School, this is especially relevant because we feed our small dairy herd wrapped round bales of second, or even third cut hay in the winter (not this year!). Those bales provide the cows with a super premium feed through cold winter weather, and they really go a long way to keep the milkers healthy, well fed, and making good milk. Opening a fragrant round bale of high-quality second-cut hay on a cold day in January is a momentary journey back to summer, and a reminder of all the warmth, sounds and smells that went into making that bale.

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Tom and King cool off in the shade between jobs.

The dairy herd went back out on pasture this week, taking it bit by bit ,to transition their digestive systems back into fresh grass shape. They have loved the change back to pasture, and have been happy to lounge on fresh grass, rather than in their old holding-yard. The sheep flock also went back out onto grass this week, and we’ve taken a similar slow and steady approach to get their rumens reacquainted with fresh green forage. The sheep, always by far the most vocal group on the farm, have suddenly gone silent, with their heads down in the grass rather than up complaining about something. We were even able to find some fresh grass for our two rams, cleaning up around the lower barn at Maggie’s Farm.

As hard as it is to imagine, work in the veggie world has already begun to look at the end of the production season. August is in the back half of our short growing season, and Alex and his crew are already prepping and seeding beds for cover crops and rest.

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Brad planted peanuts, and they’re doing well so far.

Harvest, weeding and seeding are still going strong, but the first markers of the season’s decline are passing us now. An observer can get a concise look at the character of New England farming in the August preparation of veggie beds for winter; the season is fleeting, planning and preparing ahead are vital, and some work done today can really make tomorrow better.

Tomatoes really seem to be the most cherished summer product, and I am happy to report that we are having a good tomato year. Tomatoes love hot dry weather, and we’ve had plenty of that this summer. The Late Blight that has effected our area the last few years is not here yet, and the dry weather that we had last month really arrested its progress moving up from the south. Late Blight is a fungal disease that effects our tomatoes, riding here on weather systems from the south, and lit oves humid conditions. We are expecting that type of weather this weekend, so it may be here next week. The tomatoes are doing great now, and we are all enjoying them with every meal!

The fruit is a bit less plentiful that we would like, but the hot dry weather has  meant that each individual tomato is super flavorful and rich, with not too much water is there to make things bland. A similar description can be applied to many of our crops this year, with flavorful individual fruits, but a bit less volume that we like to see. The dry weather has concentrated the production into fewer, but more delicious produce.

Breeding continues in the dairy barn. Patty was in heat this week, but we missed breeding her, and Emily bred yesterday. The Farm School is hosting a farming group from Yale, and they all enjoyed Brad’s breeding demo in the dairy barn at chores yesterday evening. I expect the beef bull to arrive on the scene next week, and breeding in the beef herd to begin directly after that.

Some Rain

We got an inch and a half of rain over last weekend and the beginning of this week, and it’s made us all feel so much better about the season and condition of the farm. We’ve been able to take a break in irrigating the veggie beds, and the pastures, though thin and short, are greening up a bit. The ever-present dust has been rinsed off of everything, changing the world from grey to green again.

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The grapes are coming on, and housing a robin’s nest.

Central Massachusetts is still several inches below our annual average for rainfall at this point in the year, so while this latest accumulation eases the panic a bit for now, all eyes are still on the ten-day forecast, looking for the next storm. When it comes to rain on a farm in the summer, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ is really the issue, and we’re always looking for the rain that’s a few days away.

Our grazers are still in holding yards, eating hay and waiting for the pastures to come back from the drought. I have been doing regular pasture walks every day to check on recovery after the latest rain, and the pasture plants definitely responded well. If we can get a bit more rain this weekend, as is forecasted, we might be back grazing within two weeks. Just like we ease the animals through a transition from eating hay all winter to spring grazing, we will need to be careful as we move the sheep and cows back onto green grass. A full day’s paddock of fresh green grass would make them all bloat dangerously, since their rumens have adapted to digesting only hay for the past few weeks.

Every plant in every veggie bed loved the rain, and they are all standing up tall and strong again after sagging their way through the dry weather. The soil has returned to a beautiful dark brown shade, and with the dust washed off the leaves, things look vibrant and fresh again. The rain is probably going to draw out a flush of weeds, with seeds waiting in the soil for conditions just like this, so cultivation and weeding may move to the top of the list in the coming days. The dry weather had kept weed pressure pretty mild to this point, but that may change now. There certainly were weed varieties thriving in the dry conditions, since there seems to be a weed adapted to just about everything imaginable, but the broad population of weeds out there had a hard time with no rain, just like the veggie plants.

The broilers are growing well, with a scheduled processing day at the end of August. We will be taking most of them to a state inspected processing facility this year, which will mean that we can sell them in the state. Keep a look out for word about that opportunity this fall!

This season’s blueberry crop had a wonderful start, with a strong flush of large berries. Berry size suffered a bit with the lack of water, but production continued on strong, and we hope that the latest rain will help keep the season going a bit further. Berries of all kinds, coming out of the freezer, keep us all going through the winter and remind us of the summer’s growing season.

It’s breeding season in the dairy, and we are on the look-out for heats. When a cow comes into heat, which she does about every twenty-one days, the other cows will periodically jump up on her back end.

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Brad trying to breed Phoenix.

If she stays still, rather than running out from under them, then she is in ‘standing heat’. That’s the sign to call the breeder, and luckily we have a resident cow breeder in Brad. This picture shows Brad trying to breed Phoenix, and two-year-old heifer, and this would be her first pregnancy. Brad’s left had is in there to feel the various parts of the cow’s reproductive system to make sure that the breeding tube, holding the tiny straw of thawed semen, in his right hand, finds the right place. Things can be a bit trickier with a cow that has not bred before, but Brad felt confident that this attempt went well. We do all of our breeding with purchased semen, rather than owning or renting a bull.

Field Trip

The Farm School’s Learn to Farm Program has always included a Vermont farm trip in the summer, and we went up for our annual tour this past weekend. This year’s itinerary included stops at Shelburne Farms, in Shelburne, Maple Wind Farm in Richmond and Huntington, and Vermont Shepherd in Putney.

We left The Farm School early Friday morning, made a quick stop at the Brattleboro Co-op for supplies, and headed north for a 10am appointment at Shelburne Farms. Head grower Josh Carter met us at the Visitor’s Center, and we spent the next couple of hours checking out their impressive operation. With 1,400 acres of conserved land, Shelburne Farms is a magical kingdom of rolling hills, open pastures and deep forest. The action certainly spreads out a bit over all that land, with cows, sheep and tidy veggie beds coming into view around every turn. We stopped at the Farm Barn to see cheese making, the bakery, and some delightful animals in the barnyard. We took a quick look at The Breeding Barn, with its massive open indoor space and fascinating history. We saw the greenhouses, orchards, sugar-shack, compost area and campers in action picking berries. The visit was a whirlwind, but we got a good sense of the incredible breadth and quality of the work being done at Shelburne Farms.

Our next stop was Maple Wind Farm, which is spread over three properties near the Camels Hump State Park about half an hour south-east of Burlington Vt. Bruce Hennessy and Beth Whiting lead the charge at Maple Wind, and it is quite an undertaking. The heart of the operation is the Andrews Farm in Richmond, where they have built a USDA inspected modern processing and storage facility for the 40,000 pastured broilers that they produce yearly. This new building also includes cool storage for vegetables coming out of their seventeen acres in cultivation. The Andrews Barn sits above the Winooski River, and the property includes beautiful river-bottom pastures where about thirty steers graze to finishing weight. Above the barn, on the other side of Rt. 2, are further high hillside meadows where the rest of the ninety cows and calves graze. Bruce describes their pasture management as ‘soil-first’ and ‘tall-grass-grazing’, and the work they have done to develop the fertility and health of their pastures shows in the vibrant grass and healthy animals. Maple Wind Farm also raises about a hundred pigs for processing each year, and 1000 organic turkeys for the Thanksgiving market. Their home farm, where the whole thing started seventeen years ago, is home to the sows that produce each year’s piglets, bulls for breeding the beef herd, and winter housing for all the animals. Bruce and Beth are very clear in their commitment to producing the highest quality food possible, and they take that obligation to heart. There are no corners cut, nothing is half done, and every single part of every one of the many components of their farm is considered, researched and executed to the highest standard. All of that focus and persistence is in service of their singular goal of super high quality food.

The last stop on our Vermont farm tour, on Saturday morning, was Vermont Shepherd, in Putney, Vt. David Major and Yesenia Ielpi own and operate this historic farm, milking between 150 and 200 ewes twice per day, and producing award winning sheep’s milk and sheep and cow’s milk blended cheese. David’s parents owned and operated a sheep farm on the sight before Vermont Shepherd began, and the current generation of farmers was able to add a neighboring property to bring the whole place up to its current size. They make all their own hay over hundreds of acres, graze several groups of sheep, and manage the whole thing with a team of border collies born and bred on the farm. David took our groups through the entire cheese creation process, from milking the sheep, processing the milk, forming individual cheeses and finally into the cheese cave. We even got a taste of this years batch, and it was wonderful!

Each stop on our tour added to our growing sense of the depth and diversity of the farming community in New England. Every farmer has to find a way to keep their farm healthy and thriving, from the veggies to the bottom line, and the three great farms we toured on this trip offered insights only they could share, knowledge gained only in their experiences, and expertise found only on their farm. Every chance that we have to dig into that process with a farmer is inspiring and precious for our burgeoning new farmers.

Trapping Flies

The middle of Massachusetts is in a drought, and our pastures have turned brittle and brown. We’ve stopped grazing, and now have all three groups of ruminants off pasture. There isn’t really anything to eat, and we need to keep our grazers from doing long-term damage to the pasture plants. The beef herd, our flock of sheep, and our little dairy herd, are in three different locations around the farm, but all three locations share similar characteristics. These ‘yards’ have to have good shade so that every animal can stay out of the sun comfortably throughout the day. We need easy access with water so that we can ensure there is a constant supply for thirsty livestock on a hot day. Finally, we need a close and ample hay supply, since all of animals are now eating purchased hay in place of pasture grazing.

Another concern that these events have raised for me is flies. One of the great side benefits of rotational grazing is the fact that the moving animals get to leave many of the flies behind every time they change pastures. Although this does not eliminate flies on the animals, it does enough to keep the situation somewhat reasonable. However, now that these groups of animals are stationary, the flies have the potential to get out of control. Our animals experience regular face-flies as well as the wide variety of biting flies. We have purchased several different types of flytraps to address this issue, all with varying degrees of effectiveness. However, last week we built a large biting-fly trap that is really interesting.IMG_3245

After some internet research, I found the Horse-Pal Biting Fly Trap, as well as several similar products both commercially made and built at home. I asked students in the Livestock Track to do some thinking and planning of their own as well, and last Friday we set to work trying to build one of these things ourselves. Taking inspiration and design elements from several different ideas, we came up with a trap that, so far, has proved to be effective. It cost us less than $100, we built it in four hours, and it is trapping flies.

This design is based on the observation that flies always fly up when leaving an animal that they have landed on. They can certainly fly down, but only go up and away when leaving their host, or when trying to escape. This trap takes advantage of this trait by enticing them to land on an object that mimics a potential host, and trapping them from above and funneling them into a space they cannot get out of. As they continue their attempts to fly up and away, they are funneled further and further up, and finally into the container on top, where they are trapped to die.

The black ball hanging beneath the trap is a painted horse-ball (sold as a toy for bored horses) which we have painted black. It warms in the sun to attract flies which, looking for a live animal, are drawn to warm dark objects. Once the flies have landed on the ball, they realize it is not what they were looking for, and fly up to leave. The screen pyramid-shaped section funnels them up toward the peak, which finally emerges inside a large re-purposed water-jug. Once they are in the jug, again they won’t fly down to get out, and just head up and away to be trapped against the side and eventually die.

We found a lot of innovative and creative designs out there for trapping flies, but this seemed like something we could figure out and build. So far it has been effective, and the jug is filling with flies. Yum!

Dry days and loose hay

Not much has changed around here in terms of the weather, so the irrigation work continues full speed, the dairy herd, and now also our flock of sheep, are off pasture, and we are currently setting up an area for the beef herd to start eating baled hay too. We’ve had some near misses on the rain, and the forecast for today calls for more than half an inch to fall, but nothing has come down yet.IMG_3194

There are many challenges for farmers growing in New England, with hills and rocks, hard winters, and poor soil. There are many benefits to farming in New England as well, and perhaps the biggest is consistent and abundant rainfall. We don’t have much extreme weather, but we get regular rain throughout the year, and a hurricane once in a while as extra. This spring and summer, with no rain at all, has taken that wonderful gift from us, and we’re scrambling to adapt to these challenging conditions. We have never suspended grazing in the season over the past ten years that I have been here managing the livestock, and we have never irrigated at this pace and for this long either.

We try to make some loose hay every summer, and this work is always a highlight of the season for me. In contrast to today’s haying technology, with large tractors powering PTO driven mower-conditioners, rakes and balers, our loose hay production is a human and horse powered endeavor. Brad and his team mow the tall grass with ground-drive John Deere Big #4 mower from the 1930s.

With quite a bit of restoration work and upkeep, Brad has that piece of equipment cutting better than ever. The mower, with a long sickle-bar of teeth running quickly back and forth, cuts the tall grass off cleanly, and lays it down in a smooth row a few feet wide. (A mower-conditioner, used by most hay producers today, follows the cutting with a series of spinning textured cylinders that crush the hay, ‘conditioning’ it.) The grass lays in the pasture for day or two to dry (depending on the weather), turning from grass into hay, and might be raked or tedded as needed. When its time to collect the hay, Brad and his team pull out the McCormick-Deering hay loader, also from the 1930s (or before). This is another piece of ground-drive equipment, although it is a bit harder to explain than the mower. The frame of the loader is dominated by a large diagonal track going up from the back toward the front, with wooden slats on ropes across for the hay to ride on and a spinning cylinder with metal fingers on the ground to sweep up the hay. The hay rides up the track as it rolls, and is dropped onto the wagon pulled directly in front of the hay loader. A farmer rides standing on the wagon with a hayfork, and distributes the hay, pouring off the top of the loader, all over the wagon for an even load.

 

This work is slow, the sounds are the creak of the old equipment, the calls of the farmers, and the breath of the horses. This work is fun, and the final product is a giant pile of loose hay in the hayloft (loaded by hand). Loose hay is nice to rest in after a long day, nice to jump in from a height, and our livestock prefers it to all other types of feed. Every time that I find myself working to bring in the loose hay, I am struck by the idea that before diesel and combustion, this is how hay was produced all over the world. There was, and may still be, truly deep knowledge of how to do this work well, and it feels like we have forgotten almost all of it. I watch our farmers doing admirably to keep this work viable, and I know that someone knew, or still knows, this work intimately.

Now that we have groups of animals staying in one place for a bit, we are going to try to build some home-made biting fly traps in an effort to keep ahead of any trouble on that front. I’ll let you know how it goes next week.

Dry Weather Continues

The hot dry weather here in central Massachusetts has stretched on for another week, and veggie irrigation has stepped up another level here The Farm School. We’ve got two trailers of water traveling around the farm full time now, powering drip tape on the driest and most sensitive crops to keep them holding on until the rain returns.

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The ‘Old Sheep Pasture’ has been baked dry.

We can now cover about seven 300-foot beds per day, and we’ve been focusing on shallow crops and the newest transplants that cannot access moisture in the soil down deep. Baby cabbages, just planted in anticipation of fall harvest, got the full treatment today.

The dairy herd has exhausted their pastures, and we’ve moved them into a holding yard behind the barn to eat hay and rest in the shade. Although hay producers in the area are getting nervous about their next cutting of hay, most had a pretty good first cut. We have been able to secure additional hay, above what we typically buy, and we will use that surplus to feed the dairy herd until their pastures grow back. The beef herd has about ten days of pasture remaining, and then they will move into a similar holding area to eat hay until the grass comes back.

We try to plan these holding areas so that they have easy access for water, there is ample shade so the cows can get out of the sun, and we can easily roll large round bales of hay in. The dry weather puts a lot of stress on the pasture plants, and although there is still some green grass out there, my priority now is to reduce the pressure on the pastures as much as we can in the hopes that they can recover enough for a good late summer and fall of grazing.Grazing more now would wipe them out for the rest of the year.

Our 100 broiler chicks have moved out of the brooder and onto pasture for the summer. They went into two ‘chicken tractors’, which are light-framed wooden houses with no floor, sitting on skids so we can pull them around the pasture.

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Patty’s new daughter, Penguin.

Our maturing flock of pullets, next year’s laying flock, is in a chicken tractor out there too, so the three houses are sitting side by side in the sheep pasture surrounded by an electric net fence. The pullets had been under a bit of predator pressure out there, and the addition of the electric netting has eliminated that issue for the time being. We took the precaution of putting the netting around the broiler houses too, just to make sure that those delicious little birds have the chance to grow up.

We are anticipating a bumper crop of blue berries this year, and although The Farm School does not grow blueberries on the farm, we have partnered with Blue Ox Farm, just down the road from us, to tend their blueberry bushes and harvest some of their berries. Both the apple and peach trees look like they will not produce fruit at all this year, so we’re hoping that a strong blueberry harvest can fill our freezers instead.

There is quite a bit of rain in the forecast for today, tomorrow, and through the weekend, so keep your fingers crossed and I’ll let you know how it all goes down.

Drought

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The summer sun has been so intense I had to get a new sun hat.

Our fields and pastures have been getting pretty dry over the past couple of months, and in the past week they have gotten much worse. We’ve started a full time irrigation schedule on the most delicate veggie beds, trying to keep the youngest and most vulnerable plants from succumbing to the dry conditions. We do not have an irrigation system installed, so our approach has been to use a 350-gallon tank mounted on a trailer, a small generator and sump-pump, and drip line irrigation hose.

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Patrick and Bennet explaining our irrigation system to Student Farmers.

We can cover three or four long beds per day, and each treatment should keep the plants going for about a week, so we’re optimistic that we can ride out this dry period until it rains again. We can’t irrigate our pastures however, and they are gradually turning brown. The stress of the hot dry weather makes the grass hurry to put out seed, in the fear that it won’t get another chance, and without any rain, nothing has come up underneath the initial growth to fill in. Pastures that have been grazed during this dry spell have not grown back, and I am getting pretty nervous about our next grazing rotation.

All of our goats have had their babies for the year, and we have five goat kids running around there being the cutest things on the farm. One mother goat is only letting one of her babies nurse, so we have a baby to bottle-feed. Our visiting students love that chore more than anything, so no one complains too much about the added work.

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The beef herd in summer splendor.

In addition to a baby goat to bottle feed, we have an orphaned calf from the beef herd that we’re bottle-feeding in the dairy too. Monday afternoon, two student farmers weeding carrots, noticed a little red calf wobbling along in the pasture nearby. They knew that the beef herd was more than a half-mile away on another pasture, so they called me. We caught the calf easily, loaded into a truck, and drove it to the dairy barn. The little heifer calf was super weak with a totally empty stomach. We’ve been slowly getting her milk rations ramped up, she is great with the bottle, and we hope that we can get her back on track. However, now that she has been separated from the beef herd for so long, we will not be able to get her back in the care of her mother.

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Little Sojourner, now in the dairy barn.

We’ve all been speculating about how this little calf, who the kids are calling Sojourner, got so far from the beef herd, but no explanation makes much sense. Once this little girl has gotten her strength back, we’ll see if we can’t get her adopted by one of the dairy cows and moved out into their care.

We have eleven laying ducks here at Sentinel Elm Farm, living in a fenced area with a moveable pond and shade. We shift their scene all over the farm through the warm months, and collect their eggs every day to add to those from the chickens. Ducks, unlike chickens, are not really interested in nest boxes for laying, and seem to prefer laying their eggs all over their area on the ground. This makes collecting eggs a bit of a search, but we try to get every egg every day.

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A duck egg, half eaten by crows, on some horse manure.

These girls are prolific layers, so we are getting seven or eight eggs per day. An average hen will lay right around two hundred eggs in a year, and our Khaki Campbell ducks can easily lay over three hundred eggs in the same time period. However, our resident crows have noticed that the ducks lay eggs all over the place, and have gotten into landing in the duck area, picking up an egg (I’m not sure how they can do this), flying out of the pen, and pecking open the egg to eat it. There are duck egg shells on the ground around the duck area, and several folks here at the farm have witnessed this behavior.

Keep your fingers crossed for some rain at The Farm School, and I’ll keep you up to date as the season unfolds.

Summer Dry

We’ve been going through quite a dry stretch of weather here at The Farm School, and we are several inches short

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The beef herd enjoying fresh pasture.

of our usual rainfall totals for this point in the year. Things can certainly change quickly in New England, but the concern we’re facing now is that we are experiencing late summer dryness several weeks ahead of what are usually our driest months. We expect hot dry weather in July and August, brown grass and dusty dirt roads are pretty normal after the 4th of July holiday, but being August-dry in middle of June is a little worrying. If our dry season is as dry as usual, we could be in for a tough growing season for both pasture and veggies.

Several years ago, in the midst of a particularly wet summer haying season, an equipment dealer in our area called to try to sell us a preservative sprayer to attach to the back of our hay baler. His argument was, with climate change, we would never have enough good dry stretches of weather to adequately dry hay before baling. His piece of equipment, bolted to the back of the hay-baler, would spray a preservative onto the damp baling hay so that it would not mold or rot in the barn. However, in the years since, we’ve been facing significantly more periods of drought conditions than rainy weather. I’m certainly no ‘climate change denier’, but weather records show that average rain-fall amounts are typically reached through several years of below average rain-fall and a single year way over average. We’re eagerly waiting for that wet year to come soon!

We’ve had our first goat kid of the year, with Minerva delivering a little buck kid on Tuesday afternoon. The campers here at Sentinel Elm are suggesting names, and we will all vote on Friday before the campers go home. Keep your fingers crossed for ‘Monty’.

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Minerva’s buck kid, a day old.

Maggie’s Farm is now fully in the summer harvest and market schedule, and almost all of the work at that farm is focused on keeping all the veggie fields in tip top shape, harvesting and washing produce, and taking it all to market. We harvest on Monday and Wednesday, and do markets on Tuesday and Thursday. That leaves Friday for classes, field trips and tracking, and not much else on the schedule. Summer is veggie season, one of the strongest examples of the wonderful seasonal nature of farming.

Josh B and Bennet have been working over the past few weeks to restore some our old haying equipment, in the hopes of making some square bales ourselves.

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Our fleet of well-used haying equipment.

We have been partnering with local hay producers to help get the job done on some of our fields, but Josh and Bennet were able to make 40 square bales last week from a small field that the beef herd usually grazes. They have high hopes for cutting and baling more of our own hay in years to come, if they can keep our vintage hay equipment in working order.

Veggie Time

Scrolling back through my posts over the last few months, my eye is drawn to the pictures first. The most striking thing about the pictures is the stark transition from the browns and greys of winter and spring to the overwhelming green of summer. The conversion that the New England landscape goes through from winter to summer is astonishing, and seeing it over a series of pictures really makes it crystal clear. We actually spend many more days with little or no leaf cover on most of our trees, although the thick green canopy all around us now sometimes starts to feel like the standard. I am appalled every year by the unreasonable force of the grasses, shrubs and bushes as they fill every void and push ever outward and upward. Most of my time, from now until the fall, will be spent in a vain attempt to beat back the riot of leaf and shoot in the hopes of keeping our farm infrastructure above the flood.

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The dairy herd on pasture.

The beef and dairy herds have started their second rotation through their grazing pastures, and as rain gets scarcer and the soil gets drier, I have really started looking out weeks in advance and worrying (as usual). I look at the grass growing in the pastures and wonder if it will hold out, whether it will be tall enough by the time the cows get there to graze, and whether there will be enough water in the soil for it to regrow in time for the next rotation. I also spend a silly amount of time looking at the ten-day forecast in the hope that rain is coming. We’ve had a fifth calf in the beef herd, and Patty, due in two weeks, is the last expectant cow in the dairy. We will start breeding again in July in the dairy, hoping for calves in May, June and July, and the bull will go in with the beef herd some time at the start of August.

The full-blown harvest and market schedule starts at Maggie’s Farm next week, signaling a real shift into the veggie season. With full harvest days on Monday and Wednesday, markets on Tuesday and Thursday, the timetable of the farm really has to fit itself into the rhythms of the fields. We keep doing livestock chores to start and finish the day, and we’re now spending Fridays in ‘Tracking’, with each student selecting either Vegetables, Livestock or Small Fruits to focus on every Friday for the rest of the program.

The peppers have all been planted, carrots are poking up in their beds, we’re harvesting strawberries, and all the veggie beds have been cultivated and are just about prepped for planting. Weed control continues full steam all over the farm, mechanically, manually, and with hoes.

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The pigs enjoying some shade.

We have gotten the pigs out to their summer quarters, and after two mass escapes in two days, I think we are looking good out there for a nice few months of growing, rooting, and resting. Pigs absolutely love to be out on the ground, tearing everything apart, arguing constantly about it all, and having a great time. The pig area for the summer includes lots of wet spots, lots of shade, and lots of green plants to eat. The pigs will have it all torn up in no time, but we’ll work to get them more space soon.

We brought in our first square bales last night, purchased from John Moore, who cuts hay just on the other side of the ridge. We’ll try to get between 1500 and 2000 bales of first cut hay in the dairy barn hay loft before the season is over, and add another 500 bales of second cut to that. All of that hay is in addition to the 175 round wrapped bales of haylage that we also buy and produce for winter feeding.