We planted this year’s onions on Friday, marking the first transplant of the season, and officially getting the fields season started. The onions are the largest volume crop that we transplant in the year, and the student-farmers spent most of the day getting the fifteen thousand starts tucked into their black plastic covered beds, and ready for a strong growing season. This planting opened up plenty of space in the hardening-off house and greenhouse, giving us room to keep the seeding moving ahead on schedule. The peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants have all been started in the greenhouse, and are ready to be moved into larger pots for a bit more growing before heading over to the hardening-off house, and then finally out into the fields.
we cleaned the brooder house and got it all ready for the next batch of chicks coming in next week. This next batch will be layers, and we have ordered one hundred and fifteen New Hampshire Reds. This is a breed that we have not tried before, but I am really hoping to get us raising only the more traditional brown-egg laying chickens after the disappointing performance of the Red Stars we raised two years ago. We raised Barred Rocks last year, and they have been really wonderful layers so far. We put the broilers into three houses out on the pasture, with each house holding about thirty-five birds. We are raising two types of meat-chickens this year, Kosher Kings and Freedom Rangers, so we did a house of each type, and a house that is mixed. We will add more houses as the chickens grow, ensuring that everyone has enough space to be as comfortable as is possible, and has plenty of access to the all important feeder. I am hoping that we can observe their growth, feed conversion and general success in our system, and raise the better of the two strains in the future. We are raising these birds a month earlier this year than we usually do, and we certainly had some challenging weather for them this week once they had moved out of the warm brooder. The cool wind from the north and west, blowing at almost twenty miles per hour on Thursday, prompted us to use hay bales as a quick sheltering wall on the north and west sides of the pasture houses, and we’ve left those bales in place through the weekend with cold wet weather forecasted Sunday and Monday.
We have had some ideal grass growing weather this week, and our pastures are really getting nice and tall. This is a difficult moment in the year as we watch the beautiful fresh grass coming up, and know that our grazing animals are desperate to get grazing after a long winter of eating hay. However, the longer that we can give the new grass of spring to grow tall, and dig nice deep roots, the stronger each plant, and the whole pasture, will be for the long grazing season ahead. If the weather continues nicely, as it was this week, I estimate that we are about ten days from starting grazing. We always transition into grazing gradually, giving our ruminants time to gently transition their digestions from hay to the rich fresh grass, so I bet we’ll be fully grazing in more like two weeks. We still have quite a bit of fence to setup, especially in the dairy acreage, so this looks to be a busy stretch of work getting everything in order. The laying hens at Sentinel Elm Farm are already out on pasture, but the egg-mobile at Maggie’s is still idled. We’re hoping to run the layers through the home orchard to help break up the development cycle of the apple tree parasitic insect Plum Curculio, so the bud production date is really dictating our layer launch this spring. These little bugs lay eggs in the newly formed fruit, and their maggots eat their way through the growing apple, causing spots, holes, and for the fruit to often fall off early. We hope that the chickens will be able to eat the bugs as they arrive on the scene, preventing them from laying eggs, and saving the apple crop. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll be sure to let you know all about it.