Winter at The Farm School

As I mentioned in the previous post, which was a lost episode that I rediscovered as I got things cleaned up for this effort to renew the Farm School Manual, I am planning on reviving this blog. My plan is to post weekly with updates from The Farm School, trying to cover as much of the work we’re doing as I can. I manage the livestock at The Farm School, so that area will take more of my focus than others, but I’ll try to report on everything that’s going on. Thanks for coming back, enjoy.

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You can see brush pile, a cleared section, and the rest.

Although there are a few snow flakes falling on the farm right now, and although Boston is getting real snow for the second time in a week, we have had a very light winter out here in North Quabbin region. I love winter, it’s a great time for all of the natural systems that drive our farming environment to reset, but this light winter has afforded us a unique opportunity that I have never experienced before. The ground is frozen, but there is no real snow, and we can cut brush and trees more effectively that we have ever been able to before. Skidding logs, either by tractor or horse, is easier with some snow to slide along on, but cutting trees, clearing brush, and cleaning up bar ways and hedgerows is tougher when you’re dealing with a deep snow pack. Last winter, we were three or four feet off the ground, and had to do some serious snow excavation before we could start our yearly firewood production push. This winter, we can get right at the ground, cut trees low, access the base of the brush, thorns and bushes we

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A completed section

need to cut, and really do a thorough job of it. We are trying to take advantage of this opportunity to clear the persistent ten or twenty feet at the borders of seemingly every pasture, taking them back all the way out to the stone walls, and maximizing the space for growing grass. These walls are beautiful, and the work that went into creating them is mind boggling. Their re-emergence in the visuals of the farm is a wonderful added bonus, and feels like a nice nod to the farmers on this land before us.

We convert the greenhouse into a timber framing shop for the winter months, and student farmers hack and chisel out a sixteen by sixteen timber frame for sale, or use on the farm. That whole process just ended, and the greenhouse is getting a deep clean in preparation for turning back into a heated safe-house for seedlings and baby plants. All the wood chips and sawdust get swept out, the  whole place gets a spray down, the tables move in and get setup,

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The timber frame is gone, time to cleanup for starting seeds.

the soil bins move in, and all the sensors and record keeping supplies are installed. The greenhouse may have been the most dynamic and transformational addition to our farm over the past five years, and there are time in the year when it is the heart and soul of this whole place.

Timber framers turn into lumberjacks when the frame is completed and cleaned up, and our yearly firewood production time is now upon us. We make 5 cords for neighbor Maggie, (Student farmers live and work at “Maggie’s Farm”) 20 cords for the outdoor wood furnace that heats the Chicken Coop School and Maggie’s Farm farm house, 20 cords for a similar furnace that heats the Bunkhouse at Sentinel Elm Farm (home of the Program for Visiting Schools), and 23 cords to heat staff housing cabins, sugaring wood and wood for the pizza oven. All together, that’s 68 cords of firewood, produced at various lengths to fit various uses. Our resident teamster Bradley uses the horses to pull the majority of the logs from the woods to our production yard, but we do buy some from a local logger to supplement the supply.

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The firewood yard at Sentinel Elm Farm


We had a bear visit our bee hives this winter, with quite a bit of damage. I wish that I had a picture of that to share with you. The hives have been re-enforced and protected in the hope that we can get the surviving hives through to warm weather and rebuild the farm population. Anne has setup an electric fence around the hives and strapped them down tight to their stands in the hopes that that will keep anybody from getting after them again.

Livestock is in winter quarters all over the farm. The rams are still in with the ewes, making sure that everyone is bred. They will be sheared with the ewes in the first week of March, and then separated into their own fenced pen before lambs come. It is much easier to deal with lambing ewes without two rams getting involved too.

That’s all for now. Next week I hope to report on the hawk that has been getting after our laying flock, more pictures and updates from firewood production, and everything else happening at The Farm School.



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