Getting Going

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The lambing board at the start of the week.

This year’s growing season is picking up steam, and as spring takes a firm hold of our farm, greening the pastures, warming the soil, opening buds and guiding our work, I can feel the head-long rush into the coming frenzy begin to swirl around my feet like undertow, pulling me on from each finished task to the next. We make our plans in the cold weather; we try to execute those plans when it’s warm, and the move from plan to execution is the mystery of each year. Every element of the farm is alive and real; none can be stopped or turned off while we finish the work or go back to redo the project. Once the warm half of the year begins, the urgency of the present defines our diversified New England farm, and the deepening green of the pastures outside my window attest that that time is here.

This has been a vacation week for the schools in our area, so Sentinel Elm Farm has been

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A new door and ramp for the egg-mobile.

pretty quiet over the past few days. We did our best to keep the work going without any visiting students however, splitting and stacking tons of firewood, getting the laying hens out of their winter coop and onto the farm in their egg-mobile, prepping the calving pen for our first calf expected next week, and working hard to get the kitchen-garden going for the season. We also hosted a few great workshops in the bunkhouse, with composting on Tuesday, plant-based dying on Wednesday, and farm chemical safety on Thursday. Our compost workshop was our second in the last two years as we work to develop a farm-wide plan for generating, managing and using our own compost. Our various livestock operations produce quite a bit of manure and bedding material, and we have a rough composting yard for mixing and curing it all, but we are hoping to improve the system and maximize the impact we can have on the fertility of our land. Organic certification mandates strict processing guidelines for the production of the organic compost that our certified veggie acreage needs, and we are trying to determine the feasibility of trying to make that compost ourselves from on-farm products.

Some of our cultivated acreage dried down enough this week for Alex and the student farmers to get out there for the first round of tillage in preparation for spring planting. With the greenhouse filling with starts, our veggie team is eager to get beds plowed up and ready for the initial rounds of planting out in the fields.

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Our new seeder.

We started setting up temporary electric fences for the grazing season this week. We’ve been working over the past several years to increase our high tensile fencing, which stays up permanently, and decrease the amount of temporary fences that we have to put up every spring and take down again in the fall. The high-tensile fences are more durable, work better for containing livestock, and withstand the pressure of weeds and other debris on them better than the temporary fences. One advantage of the temporary fences however is that they are quick to put up and take down, making them more flexible in meeting the changing demands of our pasture throughout the grazing season. We use high-tensile fences in places that we know we want fences to stay perpetually, like the perimeter of pastures, and use the temporary fences to make divisions within those perimeters to manage daily pasture moves. This time of year we are building some high-tensile fences and setting up some temporary fences in places that high-tensile fences are not an option.

I spread several acres of grass seed last week, hoping to grow some fresh grass over the

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Some casual nursing.

areas where the cows overwintered this year. Grass seed is slow to germinate, and the little grass shoots easily dry out before they can get their roots down deep enough to draw from moisture down in the soil. It seems like we’ve had a little dry spell every year just after I’ve spread our annual grass seed, and we’ve had poor growth every time. This year however, we’ve had a nice soft soaking rain yesterday and today, and I am optimistic that this moisture will give our new grass the jump that it needs to make a good start and grow up into solid pasture. I’ll let you know how it all comes along next week.

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