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.
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.
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.