Transitions

Although the last few days have certainly felt like summer, we have been getting little tastes of fall around the edges, and the end of the growing season really seems to be approaching.

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The beef herd grazing as the sun goes down.

There are leaves changing color up and down the ridge, we’ve had nighttime temperatures down in the forties, and the ten-day forecast even includes a few nights down in the thirties. Other signs of fall include the greenhouse full of curing root crops, turkeys growing out on pasture for Thanksgiving, and the pullets just starting to lay the first eggs of their lives.

 

We got a huge rainstorm through this part of Massachusetts Sunday and Monday, with over three inches of rain falling here on the farm.

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Our rain gauge, checked often…

The rain was so welcome here, and really has the potential to setup the whole rest of the fall growing and grazing season. Ponds in the area have a bit of water back in them, the ground is not too hard to put fence posts in anymore, and the pastures are green and vibrant again. Getting all that rain in a matter of hours was a bit much for such parched ground, but, at this point in a droughty year, we’ll take rain in any form we can get it.

The Student Farmer class of 2016 has graduated and left the farm, and we’re down to a skeleton crew to keep the whole place rolling along as best we can until the next class arrives. Their first day is October 6th, so we’ve got a couple of weeks to hold it together until the cavalry arrives to pitch in. The Maggie’s farmhouse is getting its yearly refurbish, with drywall, paint, plumbing and electrical work going on throughout the building. The farmhouse is more than two hundred years old, heavily used by many many people every day, and it takes some real work to keep it together through the year.

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The bull on the left, a steer on the right. Aside from the obvious differences between them, a bull also develops other visible traits that show his fertility. The clearest one shown here is the curly hair on his head and shoulders. 

 

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Dry beans processed and in storage.

The extended dry summer has given us the opportunity to brush-hog in pastures, corners and roads where we rarely get to go, and we have been able to tame some pretty wild areas of the farm. Surprisingly for a farm stretching along a ridge, we have quite a few spots that are consistently too wet to drive a tractor over, and those spots can end up growing some pretty gnarly stuff without the attention of the brush-hog. Though there are few benefits to long-term dry weather, one silver lining is the manicure we can put on all of those spots usually too swampy to address.

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Wind and Rain

There is a definite chill in the air this morning, and with the thermometer reading in the low 40s at dawn, it certainly feels like fall is here.

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Visiting students learning to milk.

A cold front went through here yesterday afternoon, but the rain that it brought never got close to this farm. We did have a quarter inch of rain on Sunday, but the farm remains profoundly dry. This cooler weather should lead to nice heavy morning dews, so that should pep the pastures up a bit, and hopefully will carry us through October.

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The lane at Sentinel Elm Farm at dawn.

 

 

The rain Sunday was accompanied by some really strong gusts of wind, and our little pasture turkey house went for a short flight before a rough landing. One turkey was killed in the event, and three others seemed injured. We moved them into the hospital ward in the barn, but things were looking pretty bad. Surprisingly, within 24 hours they were back on their feet and acting totally normal, so they were put back in with the big group on Tuesday.

Storage crops are coming this week, with pumpkins, winter squash and potatoes coming out of the fields. These crops are out there for a long time, growing big and full, and curing a bit in the field before we harvest them.

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Pumpkins ready for harvest.

These big crops are really capstones to the veggie production year, and the proper wealth our of farm can be genuinely felt looking into the greenhouse with all these beauties piled up for more curing before they out to the CSA or into storage. The watermelons have been coming in this week too, though they head out to market and CSA pretty quickly. The hot dry summer concentrated the flavors in each melon this year, and the results have been delicious!

This has been the final week for the student farmer class of 2016 in the Learn to Farm Program, with graduation this Saturday at Maggie’s Farm. This has been a wonderful group, and they have faced a truly difficult and unique season enduring this droughty summer.

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Milkers enjoying fresh grass.

They have all found ways to make our work better, they have made The Farm School a stronger place, and we have all justly enjoyed working alongside them. Some are going on to college, some to farm on other farms, and some are still working on their next move. They will all make the world of agriculture stronger.

Our forest-thinning project came to an end this week, and I think that we are all relieved that it is over. The machinery and traffic at the sight was really remarkable, and although the long-term impact of the work will be a huge positive for the land that we steward, the immediate impact has been astonishing. I will try to get down into the site next week for pictures and a good write-up of the whole thing.

Further Fall

There are trees on the ridge just beginning to show the first signs of a change in color, and the start of fall seems to be creeping in here at The Farm School. The clearest sign of the changing seasons is the change in daylight,

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Afternoon light in the dairy

and I realized fall must be coming this morning as I clipped a pasture in the dark at 5:30. At the peak of summer, there is enough light to go to work right at 5am, and often those early hours are a vital part of full day of work. Those days are winding down as we move deeper into September, and my thoughts have begun to turn to how to wrap up this season. It seems strange to think of extra hours of work as a luxury, but at the height of the crazy summer production season, the early morning hours are a wonderful opportunity to stay ahead of the workload, and are often the difference between getting it all done, and not.

The dry weather has continued here over the past week, and we watched Hurricane Hermine spinning off of Cape Cod with a bit of longing. Although we would never wish dangerous weather on anyone or on our farm, we certainly could have used some of that rain! The brief period of regular rain that we had in August is a distant memory at this point, and we are back to a world of dusty roads, browning pastures, and irrigation on the veggies. There are fewer new plantings out in the veggie beds, so there is much less urgency in the watering work, but there are still crops that need support to continue growing and producing. That rainy time did produce and moderate bit of growth in the pastures, so our grazers are out there now enjoying what may prove to be the last green grass of the season.

Rumor is that the forest thinning project we’ve been hosting over the past month is about to wrap up, and I am really excited to get in there to see the results. I have been looking into the possibility of generating an accurate map of the logging roads that have been established throughout the forest, and I will be sure to put out a full write up with images as soon as the project is truly completed. Once the loggers leave, the NRCS foresters will be back out to make sure that the work was done within their guidelines, and then hopefully they’ll pay us for the work.

The Visiting Schools program has begun again this week with our first school group of the fall season. The Charles River School seventh and eighth grades are our first compnay of the fall every year, and they always bring a big group of enthusiastic kids to get this place back in action. The fall season is just three months long, and we have plenty of work to get done before winter arrives, so we are always super excited to see big groups of big kids, ready to dig right into the work.

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Dry beans, grown on the farm, shelled by students.

They are out there now helping to finish up the last loads of hay in the dairy barn hay loft, process the dry beans with Bradley, make a final push to get the year’s firewood cut, split and stacked, cook our meals, and keep all the livestock fed and happy.

Next week is the final week for the 2016 class of Maggie’s student farmers, and it certainly is a bittersweet time. Every student is now a vital and effective part of our farm community, and we are so proud of the work and learning that we have done together over the past eleven months. It is truly heartbreaking to see them leave now, with all their skills, their confidence, and their deep knowledge of this farm, but we are also really excited for the impact that they are going to have out in the world, on their own farms,

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The corn says the season is about over…

working for another farmer, or in their communities. It has been a challenging and wonderful year with these great folks, and we have all been honored to work with them.

September

With a few close misses on the rain over the past ten days, unfortunately the farm has really started to dry out again. Irrigation restarted on the veggie beds today, with two water wagons, generators, pumps and drip tape redeployed up and down the ridge.

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Our young turkeys have moved out of the brooder.

Our pastures have lost that vibrant green glow they were showing last week, and although there seems to be quite a bit of grass out there now, I am concerned that this might be the last gasp for the pasture plants for the year. We typically graze until the first week of November, but if we only have one more turn through our pasture rotation, I don’t think we’ll get past the end of September. We have secured a pretty healthy supply of winter hay, and even made some of our own, so we might just squeak through the year by a breadth. It is a bit alarming to consider just how much rain we’ll need to make up for the deficit this summer has put us in, and a local farmer shared with me yesterday his belief that we’ll need weather systems coming in from the ocean, rather than as they usually do from the west, to change our current situation much.

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This year’s bull has just one horn.

The rental bull arrived on the farm yesterday, and went in with the beef herd to get to work. He came from Rotokawa Estates, in Hardwick MA, and he is a new bull for us. Cows are pregnant for about nine and a half months, or 285 days, so we expect calves to start arriving on the scene next June some time. There is always some doubt about how quickly a bull will start breeding the cows, and there are lots of factors that go into that process. Depending on the cow’s heat cycles, the bull’s assertiveness and how easily he integrates into the herd, we expect breeding to get going within a day or two. By comparison, the ram is mounting and breeding ewes within a minute or two of going in with them in November.

 

Our forest thinning project has continued through this week, with semi-truck loads of chip heading down the hill on a regular schedule all day. I have not had chance to walk down to see the work, but I am getting very positive reports from our forester who is on site to inspect twice per week.

We harvested storage onions from the Flat-Field early this week, and they have been setup to cure in the greenhouse under a shade tarp. The garlic is in, the pumpkins come in next week, the beans have been harvested and the veggie season shows signs of nearing the end.

Although there are plenty of crops that we will tend and harvest all the way to the first frost, we’ve passed some of the big landmarks of the season here at the first week of September.

 

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Broilers in the freezer

Our broilers came back from Stillman Quality Meats at the end of last week, and they are in the walk-in freezer ready for sale. This will be our first try at raising birds for sale, and we are all eager to see what the demand out there is like.