Back to Winter, again.

The barn for the beef herd is open to the east, and unfortunately the nor’easter blew snow right in on the herd.

This has been another great week here at The Farm School, highlighted by a significant nor’easter coming through our area on Tuesday. Snow started falling around dawn, and we had several hours through the middle of the day with nearly complete whiteout conditions. We had a steady east wind driving the snow into every nook and cranny of every building, and gusts that shook the trees and knocked branches down all over. We were all truly thankful that the power managed to stay on throughout the storm, and our visiting students stayed warm and comfortable as best they could. We ended up with about a foot of snow, although with the wind pushing it all around, that number is more of an average than a measurement. Two weeks ago, temperatures here were in the seventies and we were thinking about seeding pastures and setting up fences, so this dramatic return to deep winter has been stunning, to say the least. We had been completely snow free, and this latest storm is going to guarantee a significant volume of spring snow-melt run-off to keep the soil wet for a nice spring flush of pasture growth.

Monday seeding days in the greenhouse have started in earnest, and we’ve got onions

Onion starts poking through.

germinating in there now, with Bok Choi, grown for the Big Pig Gig, to come Monday of next week. We grow both sweet and storage onions, with names like Red Wing, Cortland, Red Marble and Elsa Craig. We cure all of our onions in the greenhouse after harvest in the late summer, but the sweet onions, with lower sulfur content, go out in CSA boxes right away while the storage onions go into the root cellar or walk-in cooler to be doled out through the winter. We’ve got 150 trays of onions started, each tray has 128 cells, and each cells has two or three seeds in it, for a potential of more than forty-thousand onion plants coming up in there. The warm humid greenhouse is a remarkable place to be these days with wind-swept tundra all around us, and no signs of anything growing outside, and the emerging potential in there is tangible.

Three lambing jugs in the upper barn.

We expect lambs to start showing up on the scene in the first week of April, and we took a few important steps forward in our preparation for that this week. We use lambing jugs here to give every ewe and her lambs a few days in their own space to get acquainted and gain strength before mixing with the full flock, and we set those jugs up this week. The connection between the ewe and her lambs is the most important factor in determining our level of success in raising each lamb up to be big and healthy, and independent of direct hands on care from us, so we try to do everything that we can to help ensure that their connection is strong. Using lambing jugs gives us the chance to isolate the ewe and her lambs, to give them a good chance to cement that bond, as well as giving us the chance to make regular observations of the new family in a controlled space. We can check on the ewe and her lambs, watch for successful nursing and growth, make sure everyone is being cared for, and address any challenges

The new brooder, with a classic JB diamond window.

that we see before they go out into the larger group and become much more difficult to get a hold of. I also lead our yearly lambing class with the student farmers on Thursday, introducing them to the lambing process and going step by step through the vital part that they will play in assisting ewes and lambs through the event. We strive in our management of the flock to promote easy lambing and good mothering, but there is always a little support provided to each ewe and her new lambs. My objective is to give our students a good introduction to the progression of lambing and their role in it so that they are able to provide calm and effective support through the process.

Work also continued on our new brooder house this week, with progress on the east wall, including a frame for the high window and completion of the ceiling.

Sugaring Season

Ten days ago it felt just about like summer here at The Farm School, with temperatures

1st cut, 2nd cut, and straw. I love an organized barn.

well up into the seventies and the snow melting fast. Rivers and streams in the area, bursting with the quick snow-melt, rapidly climbed to the tops of their banks, the yard turned to mud, and the evaporator in the sugar shack was going full tilt. Farmers here have even been finding ticks on themselves and their dogs. The temperature has been going down pretty steadily all of the past week though, and by this morning, we sit at 2 degrees. We were so blinded in our glorification of spring that the returning cold air froze the cow barn water system before we realized that winter wasn’t quite over yet.

Steaming coming off the pan, Stephanie in charge.

Last week was a busy sugaring week, with some big runs throughout the week, and the sugar-shack cranking out syrup at full speed. We boiled all day, and most of the night, throughout the week, and worked through several full tanks of sap. The shelves are filling up with finished half gallons of syrup, and the quick warm up of the week is reflected in a quick transition from the clear syrup of the early season to the darker syrup of warmer weather. The initial run of sap, coming up from winter storage in the roots, is the cleanest and sweetest sap of the sugaring season. Once the weather warms, and the tree begins to take in moisture from the soil again, things begin to get a little more cloudy. This phenomenon is strongly enhanced by warm air temperatures, since the sap begins to age more quickly in the buckets at each tree as the temperatures rises. These two issues can lead to a darker product coming out of the evaporator pan, though that usually means a stronger maple flavor as well. Most serious maple producers strive pretty strictly for the clearest Grade A Light Amber, but here at The Farm School, the kids eating in the bunkhouse are happy with just about anything sweet and delicious coming out of the sugar-shack. Now that temperatures have gone way back

A view under the eave.

down to single digits, I really hope that we have reset the season a bit, and that we can go back to some nice clear sap runs and lighter syrup for a while. We’ve got a little stretch of poor sugaring weather here forecasted for the middle of this week, but then it looks like we settle down into another good stretch of warm sunny days and cold nights to keep the maples pumping up sap.

Work has moved ahead on the new Maggie’s Farm brooder house, with our focus last week turning to the ceiling and eaves. We really need to make sure that this building provides our tiny little chicks with a safe environment to grow up in, and that means doing everything that we can to keep out other creatures, and to keep the heat in. We are sheathing the underside of the eaves in 1×10 rough-cut pine from Heyes Forest Products, and putting the same product on the underside of the rafters to create a ceiling. This work will hopefully keep the roof system inaccessible to any and all intruders, make sure that no one is nesting in there, and help to keep the chick space inside cleaner.

IMG_4291Last week was our final push on cord-wood for the winter, and we took down a few trees right around the yard, and bucked, split and stacked them for the furnace. Those trees had been standing between the main farmyard and one of our closest pastures, and the change in the view from the yard is remarkable.

Last week also included our yearly series of pruning workshops with Brad Maloney. He comes out every year to take the students through three full days of pruning, starting with an introduction to the basic concepts and tools, and moving pretty quickly out onto the farm for work in the trees. We have fruit trees all over the ridge, and between Brad, Carlen and all the IMG_4289students, they try to prune them all. This series of workshops has been happening here at the farm for quite a few years, and by this point, our trees are beautifully shaped and healthy.